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Chile Travel Guide

25 Best Things to Do in Chile

Narrowing down your must-see list in Chile is quite a challenge, but getting started with this guide of the top 25 things to do in Chile will have you well on your way to being a true Chilephile.

When it comes to landscapes, Chile has it all. Considering the country’s rather slim dimensions (just 217 miles at its widest point and 40 at its narrowest), it might be a surprise that this South American destination has such a wide variety of tourist attractions. Chile boasts glaciers, mountains, altiplano deserts, tropical islands, urban cityscapes, and more, so you can design a trip for any combination of interests.

1 OF 25

Stargaze in San Pedro de Atacama

There are impeccably clear skies all over Chile, but few night skies in the world compare to those above the remote Atacama Desert in the far north. One of the best places to visit in Chile, the Atacama is home to ALMA, an international observatory with the most expensive ground-based telescope in the world (costing a cool US $1.4 billion). The magic of the Atacama skies comes from the combination of altitude, dry weather, and minimal light pollution. Stargaze anywhere in Chile, and you’ll be mesmerized, but stargaze in the Atacama, and your mind will be blown.

INSIDER TIPLuxury hotels tend to have their own telescopes on-site, but if you are desperate for a night viewing on a budget, visit Space Obs, which rents telescopes and has a nightly stargazing session using several large telescopes.

2 OF 25

Voyage to the End of the World

Rounding Cape Horn used to send shivers down the spine of any sailor, and it’s still no easy task. However, for the intrepid among us, this southern tip of South America is one of the most adventurous and unique experiences to have in Chile. Your first step is to get to Puerto Williams, on Navarino Island, the southernmost inhabited island in the Americas. Take the 32-hour scenic ferry from Punta Arenas that goes by dozens of glaciers, or fly over the same terrain in an hour. September to April, Serendipia Sailing takes adventurers from Puerto Williams around Cape Horn in as little as two days. Not sure about sailing? Try hiking the Dientes de Navarino, a dramatic set of peaks that tower over the village of Puerto Williams. Local operator Explora Navarino organizes trekking and kayaking on the island. This is one of the best things to do in Chile in December when you’ll have long sunny days for outdoor adventures.

INSIDER TIPGo during the long days of Austral summer, from November to March. Plan extra days in Puerto Williams for any sailing or kayaking adventure in case your trip gets rescheduled for bad weather. If you want to try for Cape Horn, give yourself a week on Navarino Island to be sure you have a good window of calm winds.

3 OF 25

Visit the Old Town of Santiago

Santiago is a modern metropolis, but make sure to also wander the backstreets of the old town, tucked away in the Bellas Artes and Bellavista neighborhoods on either side of the river. This is the city’s heart, where Santiago’s bohemian intelligentsia chose to reside during the city’s literary heyday. Today, it is still home to some of Santiago’s best museums, galleries, and arty hangouts. Live music, comedy shows, and theatres amass in the narrow streets of these traditional barrios, and an evening hopping between bars and restaurants here is one of the best things to do in Santiago, Chile. Check out more recommendations on Fodor’s Santiago guide.

INSIDER TIPWhen the rest of the city all but sleeps on the weekend, the Lastarria neighborhood of Bellas Artes comes to life with a popular outdoor market and book stands. This is also one of the best streets to buy decent coffee in Chile, so grab a cup and slowly meander through the picturesque streets.

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Winery Hop in the Central Valley

You’ll be spoiled for choice with the wine regions of Chile’s Central Valley. Pick between vineyards in the steep Andes Mountains, looking over the breezy ocean, or stick with the warm, fertile valley floor in between. At the heart of Chile’s Central Valley is Colchagua, where you can visit all three wine terroirs in one region: Andes, Coastal, and Entre Cordilleras (“between mountains”).

This diversity of terroir is what makes Chilean wine unique, and a visit to the wine country is one of Chile’s top tourist attractions. Hop between traditional family wineries (like Laura Hartwig) or modern showcase wineries, which are an architect’s dream (like Lapostolle). You can even catch a horse-drawn carriage and rodeo show at some wineries, such as at Casa Silva.

INSIDER TIPDon’t drink and drive. Besides being extremely dangerous, Chile has a zero-tolerance policy and, unlike some other Latin American countries, the police aren’t flexible.

5 OF 25

Feast on Chilean Seafood

The bracing temperatures of the sea might not make Chile a swimmer’s paradise, but it does make it a fisherman’s dream. Because of the cold current from Antarctica, Chile’s coastline has an envious buffet of delicious seafood: oysters, scallops, clams, crab, abalone, shrimp—and that’s not even mentioning the fish. Sampling some (or all) of this bounty is one of the best things to do in Chile.

You’ll find it all: raw, baked, grilled, and ceviche-ed, and you should try it all. Typical street food on the seaside includes pots of fresh crab with a wedge of citrus, white fish ceviche with cilantro and lime, and freshly fried empanadas stuffed with clams and salty cheese. Hungry yet?

INSIDER TIPIf you can’t make it to the coast, pop into Santiago’s Central Market, where the fish comes in fresh each morning. 

6 OF 25

Hike the W in Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine is often the very reason to come to Chile. If you are an avid hiker, the W route around the Torres del Paine mountains has to be at the top of your list of what to do in Chile. The popular W trek takes four to five days, skirting around the stunning Paine massif, where the palette of blues is breathtaking. The blue lakes, blue skies, and blue mountains are what give this place its name. Paine (pronounced pie-nay) means blue in the Indigenous Tehuelche language. You will hike past mountains, lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, and forests spotting condors, guanacos, ñandús, and maybe even puma en route. Want something more? The O trail takes 7 to 8 days, has fewer people, and is usually still available if permits for the W trail are all taken when you try to book.

INSIDER TIPThis is such a popular trek that you must book refuges months in advance. Whether you’re camping or sleeping at a refuge, it gets particularly busy during the holidays in late December through February. If you want to avoid the crowds, this is one of the best things to do in Chile in April, when there is typically less wind.

7 OF 25

Wake up With the Geysers in the Atacama

The El Tatio geyser field in the Atacama Desert is one of the world’s most spectacular and one of the top things to do in the north of Chile. Best witnessed at sunrise (around 5 am), over 80 active geysers spit out columns of steam in astonishing displays that sometimes reach over six meters in height. Once the sun has risen and you have had your fill of walking around the geyser field at sub-zero temperatures, warm up with a coffee or by soaking in the hot thermal water baths heated by the geysers.

INSIDER TIPLocated over 14,000 feet above sea level, this is a heady experience. Make sure to acclimatize for a few days in San Pedro de Atacama before attempting the journey. The Atacama may be the driest desert in the world, but it happens to be home to several interesting species of wildlife: pink flamingos, vicunas, alpacas, guanacos, viscachas, and lizards. 

8 OF 25

Search for Churches and Wizards in Chiloé

This 41-island archipelago is quite special and one of Chile’s most interesting places to visit. The wild beaches and lush forests are splendid, but the cultural landscape of Chiloé is what proves most fascinating. Indigenous and colonialist philosophies and religions collide in this picturesque archipelago which was once home to over 150 wooden churches (just 70 remain today and are protected by UNESCO) and several wizards (a population which hasn’t declined, according to local residents). Whether you believe in wizards or not, a trip to Chiloé will invite you to consider what truth may lie at the root of these fantastical stories.

INSIDER TIPIf you catch wind of a Minga while you are in Chiloé, go to it! This is a century-old tradition where neighbors all gather to help a neighbor move house. Why is a moving party interesting, you ask? Because in Chiloé the neighbors literally pick up the house and move it. The wooden houses are loaded onto sticks and floated downstream on the water until they reach their new, desired destination. A feast of food and wine is then held at the new location–much like a housewarming elsewhere in the world.


9 OF 25

Walk Amongst the Giant Moai of Rapa Nui

The giants of Chile aren’t limited to the mainland. The 887 stone giants of the fabled island of Rapa Nui are called moai. Formerly known as Easter Island and a distant 2,300 miles off the coast, this island is full of myths and legends of the Indigenous population and, most notably, the massive stone heads and torsos perched upon stone platforms. Listen to the fascinating stories of how these were built, transported, and sometimes toppled by the native Polynesian population. Visit Rano Raraku, the quarry where the statues were made, and then tour the Puna Pau crater, where the statues’ crowns or hats were sculpted. Rapa Nui is more than archeology and history, it’s also a tropical paradise underwater. Dive into the Pacific to swim among corals and sea turtles.

INSIDER TIPPlan which sites you visit according to the time of day. Go see the sunrise over the 15 most spectacular moai at Ahu Tongariki and watch the sunset at the Ahu Tahai ceremonial center. Visit Anakena, a pure white coral sand beach, for a picnic lunch.

10 OF 25

Learn About the Indigenous Peoples of Tierra del Fuego

The Selk’nam and Yagán people lived on the island of Tierra del Fuego for over 10,000 years before Europeans began sailing by, looking for a route to Asia. Visit the Fernando Cordero Rusque Museum in the town of Porvenir to learn about the history of the island’s Indigenous people and how their descendants are working to preserve their culture and language today. The museum doubles as the tourist office in this tiny town, so check with their helpful staff for information about visiting nearby archeological sites and historic monuments.

INSIDER TIPWhile on the island, visit the king penguin colony at Reserva Natural Pingüino Rey, one of the top tourist attractions in southern Chile. The reserve also has an archeological site where you can learn about the Selk’nam people who used to live there. Reservations are required.


11 OF 25

Follow Pablo Neruda’s Footsteps

The homes that inspired Chile’s most renowned poet are hallowed ground for the literati. Thousands visit his former haunts every year to peer out at what influenced some of the best Nobel Prize-winning poetry in the world. Explore the roots of the Chilean poet, politician, and diplomat by visiting his three unique homes: La Chascona in the bohemian Barrio Bellavista of Santiago; La Sebastiana, with hilltop views of the colorful chaos of Valparaiso; and his large family home in Isla Negra, overlooking the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. Each offers different insights into Neruda’s life and is an important Chilean tourist attraction.

INSIDER TIPGet in the mood for a trip to the scenic Isla Negra with the 2022 film “Burning Patience” about a young poet who looks to Pablo Neruda for advice. If you’d rather stay in the city, visiting Barrio Bellavista is always one of the best things to do in Santiago, Chile.

12 OF 25

Surf Pichilemu

The lefthand break at Punta Lobos has become a surfing legend. With swells up to 25 feet high, this is not a place for beginners. This is the breeding ground of one of South America’s top surfers, Ramón Navarro, and it is a make-or-break wave. Just getting off the rocks into the water is a challenge enough, but managing to ride and catch this wave is exhilarating stuff that gains you some serious kudos in the water—hence why Pichilemu is a favorite pit stop on the big wave world tour. You don’t have to throw yourself at the mercy of the waves to enjoy this important Chile attraction. The bluffs above the beach offer fantastic spots for a picnic where you can watch surfers ride these epic waves.

INSIDER TIPChile’s coast is cold. Wear a wetsuit and a surf helmet for the inevitable wipeout. If big waves aren’t your thing, there are plenty of more accessible surf spots along the coast of Chile, including warmer waters in Iquique.

13 OF 25

Get Up Close and Personal with the Glaciers of Patagonia

The glaciers of Patagonia are more accessible than in many other parts of the world because you can witness the majesty of these ice cathedrals and gaze into their glowing blue crevasses without climbing a 14,000-foot mountain. Between the regions of Aysén and Magallanes, there are dozens of glaciers close to sea level that you can visit by hiking or biking. One of the top things to do in Chile is to see these magnificent glaciers from the water. Dozens of glaciers flow into lakes and the sea, where you can kayak among icebergs. At Francisco Coloane Marine Park, pair your glacier tour with whale watching and visits to forested islands where penguins live among trees. A favorite way to finish your glacier experience in Chile is to have a pisco on the rocks–glacier rocks. Want to get even closer? At the Laguna San Rafael National Park, you can walk on the Explorers Glacier with crampons and a guide.

INSIDER TIPThe most convenient launching points for glacier visits are Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales, and Punta Arenas. However, discovering the glacier routes and hikes in Aysén or southern Tierra del Fuego will get you away from the crowds. Check with Viejo Lobo de Mar Expediciones for tours to the southernmost glaciers of Tierra del Fuego.


14 OF 25

Take a Road Trip Down Ruta 5 (and Carraterra Austral)

Chile’s main highway, the Ruta 5, stretches from beyond the Atacama Desert down to the gateway to Patagonia and makes for an epic road trip. The highway passes through the best of what to see in Chile: wine valleys, wild forests, and salt flats. However, the most spectacular landscapes can be enjoyed slightly off-piste as you detour through the different landscapes on the east and west of the route.

Whether driving to the beaches and coastline on the west or into the mountains and lakes region of the east, you’ll always end up on Ruta 5, the artery of Chilean transport. The Ruta 5 finishes in Puerto Montt, but from there, you can take the Carretera Austral through the wild landscapes of Patagonia—a most splendid way to finish the road trip of a lifetime.

INSIDER TIPAs with any major highway, there is the good, bad, and the downright hairy! Ruta 5 is a major trucking route, so give yourself plenty of time to account for unexpected traffic.

15 OF 25

Climb Cochamó, the Yosemite of South America

If you’ve made it to the southern end of Ruta 5, you can’t miss the Cochamó Valley, easily one of the most beautiful places in Chile. Dubbed the “Yosemite of South America” in 1996, this valley of granite half-domes and countless waterfalls is a magnet for rock climbers from around the world. If you’d rather walk than climb, the wide valley floor is filled with giant old-growth trees, some as old as 3,000 years. The area also has some unique history, as the cattle ranches and remote location attracted Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to hide out there in 1901. Over a hundred years later, it’s too popular to be a hideout, but it’s no less remote. A few families still raise cattle in the area, and most of the land is privately owned, though residents have been investing more in ecotourism than cattle in recent decades.

INSIDER TIPVisit from September through April. During austral winter, from May to August, this temperate rainforest gets 90% of its annual precipitation; June alone sees 18 inches of rain.

16 OF 25

Meet Some of Chile’s Many Penguins

These tuxedoed birds are easy to spot, with over one million resident penguins in Chilean waters. In fact, Chile is home to nine species of penguins, and you can find them the whole length of the country. North to south, the best places to spot penguins are Isla Damas, Algarrobo, Chiloé, Seno Otway, Isla Magdalena, Tierra del Fuego, and “Antárctica Chilena.” Chile claims a big chunk of the Antarctic Peninsula and named its most southern region “Magallanes y Antárctica Chilena.” Thankfully, you don’t have to go all the way to Antarctica to see penguins, though the best penguin tours are in Patagonia, and the farther south you go, the more species you’ll see.

INSIDER TIPThe best place to walk amongst the penguins is Isla Magdalena, where you can walk across an island covered with Magellanic penguins. Boat tours from Punta Arenas run from October to April. Go in November and December to see their chicks hatch, one of the most adorable things to see in Chile.

17 OF 25

Follow the Flamingoes at Lauca National Park

If you want to see Chile from north to south, Lauca National Park’s contrast of desert, wetlands, and volcanoes is the best place to start. You’ll be amazed at the wildlife found in what seems like such a harsh environment: foxes, guanacos, and vicuña are common sights, and you should bring binoculars for the more than 130 species of birds that call the park home. If you want to try one of the more challenging things to do in Chile, try climbing Parinacota, the highest of the park’s four volcanos, where you can look into the crater at 20,774 feet. Not up for a hike at a high altitude? Drive right to the shore of the bright turquoise Lake Chungara at the foot of the twin Payachata volcanoes and watch flamingoes without getting out of the car. Even better, drive to the Surire salt flats, where you can see three species of flamingoes and soak in the Polloquere hot springs.

INSIDER TIPLauca National Park is at a high altitude, and the main areas are at around 10,000 feet of elevation. Take it easy the first two days if you’re coming from sea level, and drink lots of water. Take ibuprofen with you, but also try the local altitude remedy of chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea.

18 OF 25

Try the Smorgasbord of Curanto 

The Chilean curanto is much a cultural event as a dish, making it a delicious and fun thing to do in Chile. A traditional cooking method developed by the native Chono population, curanto is an extravaganza of shellfish, meat, potatoes, and vegetables cooked underground. Early in the morning, a fire is lit in the bottom of a stone-filled deep hole. Once the stones glow red-hot, it’s time to put out the fire and pile on the food. Layers of giant nalca leaves are used to separate the ingredients as they bake and steam for over an hour. This is the best way to try some of the 400 native potato varieties of Chile, many of which are small and cooked whole in curanto. The meal is meant to feed a village; you can expect as much to turn up for a traditional curanto party.

INSIDER TIPWant to try making a curanto at home but don’t have a fire pit? The indoor method is a crockpot or slow cooker, using cabbage instead of nalca leaves.

19 OF 25

Drink a Pisco Sour in Pisco, Elqui

There’s an age-old rivalry between Chile and Peru about the origin of pisco. Both countries claim the spirit as their own. Chile’s pisco heartland is in the town of Pisco, in Elqui, where the lion’s share of Chile’s clear grape brandy originates. Distilled from a blend of white grape varieties, you will find a range of styles in Chile—earthier, more rustic versions from small artesian distillers to clean-cut, triple-distilled modern styles often made by luxury spirits brands. Each will add a different profile to the ultimate pisco cocktail, the pisco sour: a blend of fresh lime juice, sugar syrup, whipped egg whites, and Pisco. It’s the perfect sundowner on a hot summer evening.

INSIDER TIPCan’t make it up to Elqui? You can enjoy Chile’s top tipple at almost every bar in the country, but one of the best spots in the capital is Chipe Libre. It’s the country’s first pisco bar and one of the best-hidden gems in Santiago, Chile.

20 OF 25

Ski Down a Volcano

Chile is the land of volcanoes. There are over 2000 to explore, and several of them are covered in a cone of picture-perfect white snow. While plenty of great ski resorts are on the many mountains in the Andes, Chile’s volcanos also offer exhilarating slopes for snowboarding and skiing. Particularly popular backcountry ski slopes are found on Villarrica, Quetrupillan, and Lonquimay volcanos. There couldn’t be more picture-perfect with the bright white snow, blue skies, and smoldering volcano in the background. It’s one of the most iconic things to do in Chile.

INSIDER TIPThe ideal antidote to a day skiing on volcano slopes is an evening soaking in the hot thermal pools that usually surround it at the bottom.

21 OF 25

Play in the Lake District’s Outdoor Wonderland

The Lake District is one of the top Chile attractions that should be on your list if you want to spend all your time outside. Go for the shimmering crystal-blue lakes, snowcapped volcanos, and lush green forests, then stay for the adventure. Try cycling around Lago Llanquihue and picnic on one of its many black sand beaches. The numerous lakes in the region are perfect for kayaking, sailing, and fly fishing. It’s also a haven for adrenaline junkies who want to go mountain biking, zip-lining, horse riding, or skydiving. Daredevils might want to try climbing the Villarrica Volcano, one of Chile’s most active volcanoes, with an open lava lake at the top. Of the several national parks in the region, visit Corcovado National Park to explore a temperate rainforest. Check out Tagua Tagua Lake and Cabrera Lake in Hornopirén National Park for turquoise waters. Marvel at the giant trees in Alerce Andino National Park. Read more about the Lake District in Fodor’s Chile Travel Guide.

INSIDER TIPThe adventure capital of the Lake District is Pucon, where you’ll find plenty of tour operators. If you have a rented car and good maps, venture further afield and off the beaten track into Aysen—you won’t regret it.


22 OF 25

Experience Rodeo as a Team Sport with the Huasos 

In Chile, rodeos are the national sport though fútbol (soccer) is even more popular. A Chilean rodeo is a team event called collera, where two huasos work together to pin a calf against the side of the ring. The Chilean huaso (pronounced wa-so), might not be as famous as the Argentine gaucho, but they are no less a part of popular culture. This archetype of Chilean identity is tied to the Chilean Corralero, a stocky and muscular breed of horse descended from the Andalusian horses brought by the Spanish. Equestrian fans can enjoy this Chilean heritage with a horseback ride on estancias (ranches) throughout central and southern Chile. Horseback rides are generally followed by traditional Chilean steak asado at a quincho, an open lean-to designed for outdoor grilling.

INSIDER TIPIf you don’t have time to go to a rodeo in person, there are live rodeos and reruns constantly on local Chilean TV. You can also watch Rodeo En Vivo online to get a taste of this unique bit of Chilean culture.

23 OF 25

Paddle Through the Psychedelic Marble Caves

Paddling into the Marble Caves is like slipping onto the pages of a Dr. Seuss book and one of the most unique things to do in Chile. The fantastical blue and white stripes in the main caves are like nothing you’ve ever seen before, and they’re not the only colors that will amaze you. Some of the smaller caves have yellow and pink stripes, a product of other minerals in the marble. The intensity of the colors depends on the light, so it’s best to go on a bright sunny day. The caves were carved by the waves of General Carrera Lake and are only accessible by boat. Though the caves are in Chile, the eastern side of the lake belongs to Argentina.

INSIDER TIPThis is one of the best things to do in Chile in April. Visit during Chile’s spring from September to November or fall in March and April when the lake water level is lower, and you can more easily paddle into the caves. Between December and February, nearby glaciers melt so much that the water level is sometimes too high to enter the caves.

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Soak in Traditional Chilean Termas

Wondering what to do in Chile when you just want to relax? Take a tip from Chileans who enjoy the great outdoors relaxing in a traditional terma (natural hot spring). The country’s volcanic activity makes it one of the best places in the world for geothermal waters. You’ll have more than 270 to choose from, and they run the length of the country, from Termas de Puritama in the north to the remote Termas de Puyuhuapi in the south. As far back as the 1800s, Chileans built hotels and resorts around geothermal waters, advertising their medicinal and therapeutic benefits. Pick between well-run large resorts found in Chillán and Puyuhuapi or natural pools in Colina, Polloquere, and Puyehue, or even the rather unusual Termas Geometricas in Panguipulli.

INSIDER TIPPlan your afternoon around the termas and bring a picnic for afterward. Most termas are in beautiful spots but also often remote enough for there to be few restaurants nearby.

25 OF 25

Get Lost on Robinson Crusoe Island

You might not actually want to get lost like Daniel Dafoe’s protagonist Crusoe, but you will certainly enjoy escaping to this tropical island on the Juan Fernandez archipelago. The island is a nature lover’s paradise, a playground of blue lagoons, palm-tree-lined sandy beaches, coral reefs, and quaint thatched huts. It is renowned for its fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving, especially down to the wreck of a World War I battleship. Almost directly west of Santiago and accessible with direct flights, you may feel farther than 470 miles from the sprawling capital city, making this one of the top tourist attractions in Chile that doesn’t really feel like Chile.

INSIDER TIPThe island has excellent lobster, and if you feel so inclined, you can go lobster fishing with the locals to get your own fresh catch of the day.