Chile Travel Guide: Santiago, the Andes Mountains, Easter Island, Valparaiso, Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and Much More
A basic image of Chile can be summed up by mentioning wine, the Andes Mountains, Patagonia and the fjords of the south, Easter Island, and an intense passion for soccer. It forms the western fringe of South America with more than 2580 miles of coastline, and its most famous feature is the peaks that stretch almost its entire length. The former Inca nation of Peru lies just beyond its northern extremities, Bolivia touches the northeast, and Argentina dominates its entire eastern edge. Like countries such as New Zealand, Japan, and Mexico, Chile is located on the volatile perimeter of the Pacific Ocean known as the Ring of Fire, making earthquakes and active volcanoes common. Yet, more than 17.2 million people call the country their home.
The best time to visit Chile really depends on the regions you hope to discover. In the north, the heat is least overwhelming from June to September. If going to the central area to cities such as Santiago and Valparaiso, September to April are comfortable, a period bookmarked by 2-3 months of summer at first and autumn eventually. Finally, if you wish to challenge nature in the south, aim to go from December to March which is the summertime, yielding more sunlight hours and favorable outdoor conditions.
Here are some popular destinations to round out your Chile vacations.
- Santiago – the Capital
Santiago, like most South America capitals, hosts a large portion of the country’s overall population. In many ways like Lima, Peru—set on the brilliant Pacific coast, extremely foggy in the winter, with all the sometimes overbearing energy of an intense modern metropolis—Santiago also has all the good and bad of city life. Public transportation, which includes an underground subway in addition to a well-run bus and collective taxi network, make Santiago a visitor-friendly location. Be sure to visit the wonderfully spacious Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral to its western side with 2 demanding towers on your Santiago tour. The Santiago International Short Film Festival in October is a major draw for film buffs.
This is Chile’s second city about 5 hour’s drive from Santiago. A frequently running string of buses provide good connections between Concepción and all other areas of the country. Not as touristy as other Chilean destinations, this is a great place to get your bearings and soak in the essence of the locals’ daily lives.
Valparaíso is perhaps Chile’s most famous port city because it is not only commercially successful, it is also a fun retreat for many Chilenos. Seen from afar, the city’s skyline radiates a rainbow of pastel colors and the society is known for its more alternative and bohemian lifestyle. Take a ride on one of the ascensores (or inclines) to an elevated viewpoint for even more spectacular views.
- Viña del Mar
Just a 10 minute train ride from Valparaíso and 90 minutes from Santiago, there is no more coveted beach and entertainment resort area in Chile than Viña del Mar. There are facilities to suit all types of travelers, from budget hostels to 5-star hotels, and although the beaches are usually too rough to swim at, they are beautiful to observe. February is a busy time because of the popular annual Viña del Mar International Song Festival.
- San Pedro de Atacama
Located in northern Chile, San Pedro de Atacama is for the adventurous. The main attraction is not the city itself, which is rather nondescript, but rather the stunning landscapes to be found nearby. The Geysers del Tatio are set more than 13,770 feet above sea level and are miraculous to experience at sunrise. There is also Valle de la Luna whose geography may remind one of a Martian and moon-like world (hence its name). The Atacama Desert is known to be the driest in the world without a drop of rain for over 400 years, so bring some water with you on your vacation!
- La Serena
South of San Pedro de Atacama but still in Chile’s northern region, the attractive La Serena about 8 hours from the capital and close to the picturesque Elqui Valley. Here, enjoy the charms of small town Chilean life, and in summer, the striking blue hues of the Pacific Ocean alone make the stop well worth it. Visit the Archeological Museum if you don’t have time to go to Easter Island in order to see a real Rapa Nui Moai statue!
- Easter Island
Located at about 2000 km from the next closest inhabited island and at a distance of more than 3500 km west of Chile, Easter Island is one of the most geographically isolated locations on Earth. It is famous for its mysterious Moai statues that were created between about 1100 and 1700 AD and are usually located on ceremonial platforms called Ahu. Easter Island also features two unusual volcanic craters and two white sandy beaches. Scuba diving and snorkeling are also popular activities on this small island.
- Punta Arenas
To see Patagonia on the Chile side, a major hub to make contact with is Punta Arenas. The weather is sporadic no matter the season, making it an adventure destination indeed. The port is an enchanting place to snap photos, and just an arm’s reach away is the penguin colony of Seno Otway. The infamous Torres del Paine National Park and Tierra del Fuego National Park, ultimate destinations for trekkers, climbers, and thrill seekers around the world, are also very close and easy to reach. Finally, use Punta Arenas as your jump off point for going on an Antarctica cruise!
Chilean cuisine is generally less complicated than many other confections such as those in Peru, but it is hearty and humble enough to satisfy even the most fickle foodies. The dishes are usually not spicy, and with such an extensive coastline, much of it is based on seafood. Chilean sea bass is a most popular choice. Its red wine is known all over the world, which can be brilliantly paired with some asados, or grilled barbeque meats that the locals love so much.
Overall, the gastronomy has heavy European influences, particularly Spanish tastes due to the country’s colonial history. As well, tropical fruits and fresh vegetables are often highlighted due to its exotic neighbors and Andean highlands. Chirimoya and lúcuma, both hailing from the mountains, are two fruits with particular popularity for those with a sweet tooth.
If you’re waiting for the perfect time to go to Chile, aim for March when the Grape Harvest Festivals, or vendimias, arrest the attention of wine-drinking Chilenos and internationals. Not only do they celebrate the harvest, but also the coming of summer, which always makes for a happy time! Chile is very famous for its wine production, and visitors may tour many vineyards in the central regions on their holidays. Curicó, Cauquenes, and Isla de Maipo are three of the most famous places to participate in the festivities.
Connie Lee is a travel expert at Latin America For Less, a US-registered travel agency with a strong Peruvian presence. The company specializes in organizing fully customized and best value travel packages to Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.