Chile is more versatile than you might think. With the arid, desert of the north and the mountains, glaciers and rainforests of the south, and multiple islands, there’s a lot of variety in the country. Whatever you’re looking for from your next adventure, whether it’s hiking, epic landscapes or wildlife, we’ve put together recommendations for the top vacation spots in Chile.
For mountains: Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park is nature at its wild best. Reached through Punta Arenas in Chile’s Patagonia region, well known for its dramatic mountains, glaciers with huge icebergs, bright blue lakes and pampas (grasslands). It’s a hiker’s dream – or indeed anyone who loves a good view. The most iconic site is the three horn-shaped granite towers the park is named for, the Cuernos del Paine, but there are plenty of other phenomenal areas, like Grey Glacier, Lake Pehoe and Cordillera Paine. Although we’ll be touching on some of the best vacation spots in Chile for wildlife watching later on, Torres del Paine National Park (and Patagonia in general) is great for animal lovers, with a wide variety of species calling the park home.
For wine buffs: Colchagua Valley
Within driving distance of Santiago (160 km away) the Colchagua valley is a must-visit for wine buffs (and enthusiastic beginners). Thanks to its warm, dry weather and climate similar to California’s Napa Valley, the region is famous for its red wine, and you especially can’t go wrong with a Carmenere, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon. Wineries are dotted across a huge area so you’re in no danger of getting bored or running out of places to visit. Our pick of the vineyards to visit include Montes and Clos Apalta vineyards.
For lively city vibes: Santiago and Valparaiso
Only a one-and-a-half-hour drive apart, if you’re a fan of your city exploration and soaking up urban culture, heading to Santiago or Valparaiso (or ideally, both) is easy and a must. The Chilean capital of Santiago isn’t to be underestimated, with plenty of culture, an amazing view of the Andes and fun neighbourhoods to explore. Climb up San Cristobal and Saint Lucia hills, walk through the European-style streets of Lastarria and the courtyards of Bellavista (and stop in one of their breweries).
Valparaiso is Chile’s historic port city is also incredibly colourful, renowned for its street art and brightly painted clifftop homes. The steep funiculars are part of the charm of getting around the city, as well as its artsy, bohemian vibe which has inspired many poets and writers. It also has a buzzing nightlife and great seafood, so it’s worth visiting for more than one day.
For wildlife: Atacama Desert or Isla Magdalena
We’ve picked two places here for their contrasting but equally wonderful bird life. In the Atacama Desert, which makes up a huge section of northern Chile, you can spot flamingos, which make quite a sight with their pink feathers against the arid desert environment (trust us, it’s not a mirage). They gather close to bodies of water, so the Salar de Atacama is your best bet, and they can also be found along the Chilean coast.
Alternatively, if small, flightless birds that prefer to use their wings for swimming are more your thing, head to Isla Magdalena for Magellanic penguins. The island is uninhabited by humans but is instead home to a colony of an estimated 60,000 penguins. Although you can’t stay on the island (they most likely enjoy the peace), you can take boat trips to see them from Punta Arenas – the best time to visit is between October and March, when you’re most likely to see them nesting on the coastline.