37 Best Sights in The Central Valley, Chile

Museo de Colchagua

Fodor's choice

One of the best museums in Chile, this attractive, colonial-style, 20th-century building houses exhibitions on the history of the region. It's the largest private natural-history collection in the country and second only in size to Santiago's Museo Nacional de Historia Natural. Exhibits include pre-Columbian mummies, extinct insects set in amber viewed through special lenses, the world's largest collection of silver work by the indigenous Mapuche, and the only known original copy of Chile's proclamation of independence. A few early vehicles and wine-making implements surround the building. The museum is the creation of Santa Cruz native and wealthy businessman Carlos Cardoen. His foundation, Fundación Cardoen, runs three additional museums in greater Santa Cruz, which are dedicated to wine, antique cars, and indigenous arts and crafts. Purchase a Route of the Museums pass if you want to visit two or more.

Viña Gillmore

Fodor's choice

The Gillmores, who own this winery, were instrumental in creating the VIGNO label, a type of appellation of origin for Maule Valley Carignan whereby wines must be made from at least 65% old-vine, dry-farmed grapes. This experimental vineyard has also raised the profile of Chile's long neglected País grape, which was previously used only for bulk wines. Try both, as well as the lush red blends, on a tour or tasting. In addition to making fine red wines, the Gillmores have created a fun place to stop and spend a couple of hours or stay on for a night or two. Take the Pan-American Highway to the "Camino a Constitución" turnoff, south of San Javier. Head west over the Loncomilla River and through the rolling hills of the Coastal Mountains for 20 km (13 miles); Viña Gillmore is on the right.

Viña MontGras

Fodor's choice

Despite dripping with charm and class, MontGras is one of the friendliest and most approachable vineyards in the valley, with excellent English-language tours of the property as well as the option to just taste wines by the glass. Creative tour options include a blind tasting, an open-air barbecue, or a “Winemaker for the Day” class where you can create your own blend. If your visit coincides with harvest (February-April), you can also do a “My Harvest” tour to pick grapes and then foot-tread them in a traditional way.

Camino Isla de Yáquil s/n, Santa Cruz, Chile
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Tours from 18000 pesos, Closed Sun. and Mon., Reservations recommended

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Viña Tipaume

Fodor's choice

A great counterpoint to the huge wine exporters is this small, biodynamic winery 34 km (21 miles) south of Rancagua. It's run by a lovely French-Chilean couple who were regional pioneers in aging wines in clay amphoras. Intimate tours end with a tasting in the subterranean wine cave. You can also sleep on-site at the small B&B (from US$80 per room) to wake up ensconced in the wild organically grown vines.

Bouchon Family Wines

Bouchon Family Wines' historic Mingre Estate, about 10 minutes west of Viña Gillmore on the road to Constitución, is a wild and atmospheric setting for an afternoon of wine tasting. Tours start in the wine cellar and barrel room, and end in tastings of three wines, including two unique interpretations of the rustic and long maligned grape País (one of which is made from extremely old vines). The attached Casa Bouchon hotel is one of the region's most luxurious stays.

Km 30, Camino a Constitución, San Javier, Chile
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Tours from 15000 pesos, Reservations essential

Casa Silva

The Silva family is a true wine dynasty of Chile, and the family vineyard, just five minutes off the Pan-American Highway, is one of the most convenient in the area to visit. The atmospheric wine cellar is one of the oldest in Colchagua, and the colonial architecture has been tastefully refurbished throughout the winery and production rooms, where a tour shows you the main facilities as well as the family's collection of classic cars. Finish up with a tasting in the modern wine shop, or cycle, drive, or walk through the vineyards to the excellent restaurant overlooking the polo fields.

Hijuela Norte, San Fernando, 3070000, Chile
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Tours from 16000 pesos

Cerro la Virgen

You can make out the city's orderly design from this hill that affords a panoramic view of Talca and the vineyards in the distance.

Iglesia de la Merced

A block north of the plaza along Calle Estado is this 18th-century church that was declared a national monument for its beauty and significance in the city's fateful history. It was in this bell tower that O'Higgins waited in vain for reinforcements during the Battle of Independence. The somber, neoclassical twin spires are a fitting memorial.

At Cuevas and Estado, Rancagua, 2820000, Chile

Iglesia Parroquial

Facing the central square is this imposing, fortress-like, white stucco structure. Originally built in 1817, the church has had numerous refurbishments following major earthquakes.

Mina El Teniente and Sewell

High in the mountains north of Termas de Cauquenes, 60 km (37 miles) northeast of Rancagua, the El Teniente Mine is the world's largest subterranean copper mine, in operation since colonial times. In 1905 the city of Sewell, known as the "City of Stairs," was constructed at 2,130 meters (6,988 feet) above sea level to house miners. Abandoned in the early 1970s, Sewell was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006. Rancagua tour operator VTS offers guided tours of both the mine and the city every day (except Monday), with transport from Santiago or Rancagua.

Millán 1020, Rancagua, 2820000, Chile
Sights Details
Rate Includes: From 44000 pesos

Museo Colonial de Vichuquén

Ceramics, stone tools, and other artifacts collected from pre-Columbian peoples are on display at this small outpost from Fundación Cardoen, which operates four other museums near Santa Cruz.

Museo Regional de Rancagua

This three-room museum re-creates a typical 18th-century home, complete with period furniture and religious artifacts. A small collection of 19th-century weaponry is the type that would have been used in the momentous Battle of Rancagua. Dioramas illustrate this dramatic moment in the country's quest for independence. The whitewashed colonial building is a few blocks south of Plaza de los Héroes.

Museo San José del Carmen de El Huique

Here you can look into the lifestyle of Chile's 19th-century rich and famous. Construction began on the current house in 1829 and was completed with the inauguration of the chapel in 1852. The Errázuriz family, who can trace the 2,600-acre estate back through family lines to 1756, donated it to the Chilean Army in 1975. It was reopened as a museum in the 1990s and is now the only remaining preserved, intact estate of its kind in Chile open to the public. Inside, sumptuous suites are filled with opal glass, lead crystal, bone china, antique furniture, and family portraits evoking Chile's aristocratic past. Servants' quarters are also part of the tour, as are the kitchens and 16 working patios, each dedicated to a specific household chore, such as laundry, butchering, or cheese-making. Guides are knowledgeable and have tales to tell, as many grew up hearing family stories about working at the estate. The tour ends with a visit to the chapel, which has Venetian blown-glass balustrades around the altar and the choir loft. Visits are by prior reservation only, and English-speaking guides are available with sufficient notice.

Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja

This hikers' paradise, a few hours' drive southeast of Concepción, converts to a maze of ski runs in winter. Part of the Sendero de Chile, or Chilean Trail, there are several routes for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, some of which have gentler grades for people with mobility problems. Most impressive is the 36-km (22-mile) trail that rings Laguna del Laja, the country's largest natural reservoir. It crosses dozens of wooden footbridges before arriving at a valley carpeted with hardened lava—a sign of the last eruption of the now-dormant Antuco Volcano. About four dozen different species of birds can be spotted in the park, including the condor and black-headed Andean gull. Predators like the Andean fox and the puma prowl the perimeter. The ski runs are open during snow season: June through September. To get to Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja, take Ruta 5 south to Los Angeles, then Route Q45 east toward Antuco. Some parts are unpaved, so take care in adverse weather conditions.

Ruta Q45, 4440000, Chile
No phone
Sights Details
Rate Includes: 4000 pesos

Parque Nacional Radal Siete Tazas

This 10,000-acre national reserve, 70 km (43 miles) southeast of Curicó, is famous for the unusual "Seven Teacups," a series of pools created by waterfalls along the Río Claro (although it is more accurately five teacups since the 2010 earthquake displaced two). The falls are a short hike from the park entrance, where you'll find a CONAF station. Farther along the trail are two other impressive cascades: the Salto Velo de la Novia (Bridal Veil Falls) and Salto de la Leona (Lioness Falls). Black woodpeckers, hawks, and eagles are common throughout the park, and condors nest in the highest areas. If you're lucky, you might glimpse the scarce loro tricahue, an endangered species that is Chile's largest and most colorful parrot. Camping is permitted in the park, which is snowed over in winter. October–March is the best time to visit.

Plaza de Armas

The lovely Plaza de Armas has a pretty fountain ringed by statues of dancing nymphs. Nearby is an elaborate bandstand constructed in New Orleans in 1904.

Plaza de Armas

In the center of the palm-lined Plaza de Armas is a colonial-style bell tower with a carillon that chimes every 15 minutes. Inside the tower is a tourism kiosk with information leaflets.

Plaza de los Héroes

Today's Rancagüinos enjoy relaxing in the city's central square, the Plaza de los Héroes. A statue of the valiant war hero and future first president Bernardo O'Higgins on horseback stands proudly in the center of the plaza. Although each side of the statue base contains one of his famous sayings, curiously enough, there is nothing to indicate to visitors and newcomers that it is a statue of O'Higgins.

Plaza de los Heroes, Rancagua, 2820000, Chile

Ramal Talca-Constitución

There may be no better way to get to know the Central Valley than by taking a ride on one of Chile's few remaining narrow-gauge buscarril lines, which runs from Talca to the wine region of Gonzalez Bastias and on to the coastal port of Constitución. It departs from Talca's Estación de Tren three times daily. A good option is to stop at the Estación González Bastías and visit Gonzalez Bastias winery to get a tasting and traditional campestre (countryside) lunch. You can then continue to Constitución or return to Talca.

Reserva Nacional Altos de Lircay

With long trails that cut through native oak forests and overlook canyons, mountain lakes, and volcanic cones, the Reserva Nacional Altos de Lircay is, unsurprisingly, quite popular with hikers. To reach the CONAF–administered park, head 66km (41 miles) east of Talca on paved roads that turn to gravel for the final 20km (12 miles). The resort town of Vilches near the park entrance has restaurants and cabins for those who don't want to camp. The park is snowed over--and largely inaccessible--July through September.

Reserva Nacional Río los Cipreses

Numerous short and moderate trails lead through thick forests of cypress trees at this 92,000-acre national reserve 50 km (31 miles) east of Rancagua. Some of the trails come to clearings where you are treated to spectacular views of the Andes above. CONAF, the national parks service, has an office here with informative displays and maps. Hiking, swimming, and horseback riding are all available, and you can camp overnight at well-run grounds. Just south of the park is the spot where a plane carrying Uruguayan university students crashed in 1972. The story of the group, some of whom survived three months in a harsh winter by resorting to cannibalism, was told in the book and film Alive.

Ruta del Vino

The local Ruta del Vino office provides basic information and a variety of tours that range from simple half-day visits to a single winery to combination packages that include hiking, biking, and rafting. It is a useful place to visit as Curicó Valley vineyards are not as focused on tourism as other regions. English-speaking guides are available.

Ruta del Vino de Colchagua

Right on the main square, the Ruta del Vino office organizes tours and tastings at 21 of Colchagua's best-known wineries. Prices start at 12,000 pesos per person and rise up to almost 200,000, depending on the complexity of the tour. Some options include traditional meals or hikes amid the vines. The harvest season—March and April—kicks off with the Fiesta de la Vendimia (Grape Harvest Festival) and is always a great time to visit.

Though most wineries have their own guides, few speak English, and some wineries accept visits arranged only by Ruta del Vino.

San Clemente

This town 16 km (10 miles) southeast of Talca, hosts the best rodeo in the region, with riding, roping, dances, and beauty-queen competitions. The events take place 11–6 on weekends from September to April. The national championship selections are held here near the end of the season.

Tagua Tagua Observatory

On a clear night, the Colchagua Valley can be excellent for stargazing. Eccentric expat Ian Hutcheon runs an observatory just outside of Tagua Tagua, where events begin with a welcome glass of wine (made with meteorites in the barrel), after which there is entertaining discussion, presentation, and observation through advanced telescopes. During the day, Hutcheon leads nature hikes in the area with a buried treasure surprise.

Termas de Cauquenes

On the southern banks of the Río Cachapoal about 34 km (21 miles) east of Rancagua, the Termas de Cauquenes spout mineral-rich water that has been revered for its medicinal properties since colonial days. The Spanish discovered the 48°C (118°F) springs in the late 1500s, and basic visitor facilities have existed since the 1700s. José de San Martín, who masterminded the defeat of Spanish forces in Chile, is said to have relaxed here before beginning his campaign. Naturalist Charles Darwin, who visited in 1834, wrote that the springs were situated in "a quiet, solitary spot, with a good deal of wild beauty." Nowadays though, the Gothic-style bathhouse and accommodation are a little run-down and the view is interrupted by pipelines and a road mainly used by trucks heading to the nearby mine. To reach the springs, take Ruta 29 from Rancagua to Coya and then head south for 5 km (3 miles).

Machalí, 2820000, Chile
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Individual bath: 10,000 pesos, Individual whirlpool: 15,000, Jacuzzi (double) 25,000.

Viña Balduzzi

Albano Balduzzi, descended from 200 years of Italian winemakers, built this 1235-acre estate in San Javier in 1900; today it is run by his great-grandson and produces more than 7 million liters a year. One of the most tourist-friendly wineries in the region, it does not require any advanced reservations for tastings or tours, the latter of which include a peek at the cellars that stretch underneath the property. Within the estate is a small wine museum and a beautiful expanse of oak and cedar trees perfect for a picnic; lunches can be organized on request.

Viña Casa Donoso

Ten minutes east of Talca along a dirt road are the massive iron gates that mark the entrance to this historic hacienda with barrel-tile roof. The estate was once called Domain Oriental because it is east of the city, but today it bears the name of the family who owned it for generations before it was purchased by four Frenchmen in 1989 (it's been back in Chilean hands since 2010). The vineyards themselves climb up into the Andean foothills, while the grounds are ideal for a leisurely picnic (which can be booked in advance).

Talca, 3460000, Chile
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Tour from 15000 pesos, Reservations essential

Viña Lapostolle-Clos Apalta

Lapostolle's showcase winery rises impressively from the vineyards in a wooden nest formation, offering a memorable view from both inside and out. The prized grapes are picked from the biodynamic vineyards and taken to the top floor, where they are separated by hand, dropped into tanks on the floor below, then racked to barrels on the floor below that, and so on until the grapes are six floors down into the hillside, where they are finally trucked out and shipped around the world. Join one of the daily tours with tastings, or stay for a fabulous lunch at the Clos Apalta Residence with a fresh and organic menu picked straight from the on-site garden.

Santa Cruz, 3130000, Chile
Sights Details
Rate Includes: From 20000 pesos, Reservations essential

Viña Laura Hartwig

This small winery, which rests on lands where grapes have been grown for more than a century, is one of the few places in the area where you can simply show up unannounced and sip some vino. As you sample the red wines, including Chile's unique Carménère variety, a tasty Petit Verdot, juicy Malbec, and rich Cabernet Sauvignon, you'll notice that the likeness of Laura Hartwig, the elegant owner of the estate, has been beautifully drawn on the labels by the famous Chilean artist Claudio Bravo.