- Ryan Cowden
Four Must See Destinations in Chile
Photo: Laguna Tayajto, R Cowden
Chile has become a favorite destination of mine in recent years. From Santiago's food and nightlife to the high-altitude desert of the Atacama to Patagonia, there is something for every visitor.
Chile is incredibly rugged; there are 45 peaks in the Andes Mountains that are taller than Denali. 14 are either fully or partly in Chile while many others are just beyond in Argentina. The tallest mountain in the Americas, Argentina's Aconcagua, is unmistakable when landing or departing at Santiago's airport.
As one of the narrowest and longest nations in the world, it encompasses some of the most diverse, and extreme, landscapes on Earth. From waterfalls to mountains, hot springs, and volcanoes, tropical desert beaches to sub-antarctic fjords, aquamarine alpine lakes to rainbow-colored mineral lagoons… you never know what you might come across next.
It's no secret that the country provides many exciting things to do and see for people of all ages. As a traveler, you will find a rich culture both of European and indigenous backgrounds, fantastic cuisine, lively nightlife, incredible vistas, and memorable wildlife watching. It will keep you busy for as much time as you can allow.
So I've created a list of four of Chile's best destination spots that you must see first.
Photo: Wulff Castle, between Valparais and Viña del Mar
Photo: Costanera Center and "Sanhattan" to the left, central Santiago to the right, from Cerro San Cristóbal
Santiago is the capital of this majestic country, and it certainly doesn't lack character. As the largest city in Chile, you will find that residents and tourists enjoy it for many reasons.
Each neighborhood nestled within the city's borders is distinctly different from the next. For instance, as you enter Bellavista, you are introduced to historical European homes and free-spirited energy that you can't ignore. When exploring, you also discover that you are surrounded by Santiago's largest concentration of vivid street murals.
At night, the bohemian and party set kick off the night at any number of restaurants, sidewalk eateries or hole in the wall joints. Want a few options in a central location? Then stop by Patio Bellvista for the culinary offerings from Mexico to Peru to Italy or Japan.
Bellavista is also the hub of the LGBT oriented nightlife, complete with top DJ's from around the world playing here. It is Latin America after all, if you want to stay out until dawn, the clubs close at 5 or 6, just in time to find another opening at 6 or 7am!
Below: a mural in Bellavista
With colorful buildings, marketplaces, and street art around nearly every corner, your eyes could wonder each crevice and still find new details. Head to iconic Santiago Central Market and browse under the Victorian cast iron roof (it was designed by a Scotsman) or the Mercado Santa Lucía for tourist souvenirs but also handicrafts such as leather or alpaca woolens. In fact, I'm still using the same wallet I purchased there on my first visit in 2017!
Do you enjoy climbing to get a view? You have three great options, Cerro San Cristóbal via a teleférico, with your own two feet up the remnants of an extinct volcano at Santa Lucía Park or the elevators to the top of the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere at the Costanera Center.
As a bonus, for wine lovers, there are vineyards on the periphery of the suburbs that visitors can reach on a multi-stop tour or for the intrepid, by metro/bus/taxi.
Story Time: While in Chile, visitors must try the Carménère wines. This grape fell victim to a sweeping blight in its native France in the 1860's and was believed to be extinct. But it was brought to Chile nearly 200 years ago and was called “Merlot”. It was rediscovered almost by accident in 1994 when a expert noticed one small detail that meant it was not actually Merlot, but its sibling. It is now a hallmark of Chilean wine and always has me questioning my duty free limits.
Photos, Top to Bottom: Costanera Center and Santiago from Serra Cr, R Cowden; Lastarria street market, R Cowden; Plaza de Armas, R Cowden; La Moneda Palace, R Cowden; Neptune Fountain at the foot of the Cerro Santa Lucía, R Cowden; Vineyard at Casillero del Diablo, R Cowden
If the street art of Santiago gave your eyes pleasure, wait until you experience Valparaiso.
This city is one of the most desirable places for tourists due to its bountiful number of cafes, art galleries, funicular rides and coffee shops. But even the architecture forms part of the open air gallery as the already colorful walls, flower pot filled alleys and tiled stairways provide a vivid setting, and canvas, for a vast number of murals.
Experience the rich history of this port town in by viewing the protest art created by young protesters in the 60's and 70's that referred to themselves as the "Ramona Parra Brigades," or take a walk through the open museum of Museo a Cielo Abierto
to get a glimpse of murals that are beyond your wildest dreams. Follow that up with a visit to the former home of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, perched above the city.
Tired of navigating the hills? Take the tram around the headland to the north and visit the beach town of Viña del Mar.
Tip: If you don't have time to visit Rapa Nui and the moaia, the museum in Viña has a few you can visit!
Photos Above: Scenes from around Valparaiso, R Cowden
Photo: Palafitos in Chiloé, yohb0 from Pixabay
Isla Grande de Chiloé
The beautiful beaches and thick forested areas of Isla Grande de Chiloé seem to go on forever with their beauty. It is also well know for the palafitos, the homes on stilts, and its UNESCO World Heritage listed wooden churches.
As you explore, you will find waterfalls, wildlife, pastoral settings and empty beaches no matter where you go on the island. The winter months in Chiloé are a bit more quiet, but Chileans summer offers a special opportunity to view wildlife. Both Humboldt and Magellanic penguins to form their breeding colonies here. Marine otters, sea lions, cormorants, albatross, pelicans, terns, the flightless Steamer Duck and many other migrating birds use this island in their natural rhythm of life. If you time your visit just right, you'll also likely see dolphins and southern Humpback whales.
You may even encounter one of the largest living mammals on Earth, the Pygmy Blue Whale!
Photo above: The wooden 17th and 18th Jesuit Mission churches on Chiloé are UNESCO World Heritage Site listed, due to their architectural fusion into the landscape. yohb0 from Pixabay
Photo: Magellanic Penguins in Chile. Maria-Lisa Stelzel from Pixabay
San Pedro de Atacama
Photo: Laguna Chaxa and one of its star attractions to the salt flat. R Cowden
Known as one of the driest desert regions on this planet the Atacama is inhospitable. Nestled in the altiplano is San Pedro de Atacama, just at the edge of the Andes.
But maybe the most vivid memory that I have etched in my mind isn't the arid desert, fresh snow or pink hued salt flats or even the desolation. Instead, my most vivid memory is that the I was experiencing under the bluest skies I've ever seen!
Photo above:San Pedro de Atacama street and the incredibly blue sky. R Cowden
Photo below: fresh dusting of snow near Socaire, Chile. R Cowden
Nevertheless, the area provides some of the best night skies and exciting hiking adventures while the town itself is full of desert resorts and adobe walled buildings. Make sure to check out the Laguna Chaxa, a salt flat littered with crystaline salt rock and resident flamingos. Next head in the pre-dawn hours to the high elevation geyser field of El Tatio for a soak in its hot springs.
Photos clockwise: Deserted Andean Altiplano roads with fresh snow; village church in San Pedro de Atacama; 6am visit to the Tatio Geyser field, (the largest in the southern hemisphere, at well over 14,000 ft it is the worlds highest, and 3rd largest on Earth); smoking volcano in the Andes. R Cowden
Photo below: Socaire, Chile. R Cowden
Does an outdoor adventure appeal to you? Do you also want just a little bit of a mix that will get you to the heart of a destination and its culture? Then perhaps a visit to Chile is exactly the destination for you.
Ready to plan your trip to Chile or beyond? Schedule a chat to get started!