Covid-Related Travel Update, July 2023: Chile is open to international tourists. Visit the Chilean government’s official website for travel-related information and regulations. Don’t forget to read the government’s rules to be followed in public spaces here. My guide to Chile visa would be helpful for Indian citizens.
My List of top things to do in Chile
Table of Content.
- Best Things To Do in the North of Chile
- Best Things To Do in the Central Valley of Chile
- Best Things To Do in the Lake region, known as Los Lagos in Chile
- Best Things To Do in the South of Chile, known as Patagonia
- Some General Top Things To Do in Chile.
I spent six months in Chile that were spread across July 2016 to April 2017.
Here I am sipping coconut water and writing about the best things to do in Chile, but a few years ago, I didn’t know much about Chile. I just decided to travel to Chile and teach English there on an instinct.
After I had been to Chile, an artist in Pushkar told me that Chile is like a long river, flowing on the edge of the American continent. And Pablo Neruda describes Chile as a long, thin ship. Running from the Atacama desert in the North to almost into Antarctica in the West, every corner of Chile has been well-planned by nature to surprises its residents and travelers alike.
Though you might think that Chile is a long but small country, let me warn you that there are an unprecedented number of things to do and beautiful places in Chile. From watching the penguins ganging up on the glaciers to hiking in fjords, from participating in a community activity “minga” to eating mussels steamed underground, from exploring a cavernous moony landscape to stargazing at night — you can do something new in all the many places to visit in Chile.
If you are going to Chile for two to three weeks, you should have a rough or an exact Chile itinerary. Otherwise, you would get confused about choosing between the plethora of the fun things to do in Chile at the last minute. But if you are visiting Chile for longer, you can wing your trip a little bit.
When in Chile, leave all the worries behind. Por tienes que disfrutas – You have to make the best of it!
Let me get started now.
I have described the geography of Chile in detail in the Chile travel guide, and you can read it here. To summarize — Though Chile is divided into sixteen administrative regions, I have divided Chile into four main geographical regions for the narrational ease. These regions are The North, the Central Valley, The Lake region also known as Los Lagos, and the South that is known as Patagonia.
Best Things To Do in the North of Chile
The highlight of the North is the dry Atacama desert that is a perfect setting for any Hollywood or Hindi drama. Nature dons a surreal robe in the Atacama.
1. Start your journey with San Pedro de Atacama village
This tiny adobe town is the gateway to the Atacama desert. Frozen in time, San Pedro is the perfect place to slow down, explore a fairly laid-back Chilean lifestyle, visit adobe houses and adobe church, and see the surrounding desert.
San Pedro is a bit more expensive than the rest of Chile, so pay attention to your expenditure.
Accommodation: Stay at the eco-friendly La Casa EcoExplor that is 200 meters away from the bus stand and offers budget dorms, private rooms, and a kitchen.
How to go: Take a bus from Santiago to Arica and then another one to San Pedro. Or fly from Santiago to Arica and then continue by road.
2. Visit the Miscanti and Miñiques lagoon, Piedra Rojas, and Chaxa lake in the Atacama desert
Start your Atacama expedition with these lagoons and the red rocks(Piedra Rojas in Spanish) as they make a comfortable day trip. These out-of-the-world destinations are bound to overwhelm you.
The blue lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques are surrounded by amber grass and backdropped by copper mountains. The volcanic red rocks lead up to a flamingo-studded emerald lake circumscribed by smooth peaks. The Chaxa lake is the perfect reflection of the purplish volcanoes that rise like gigantic ice-cream cones in the dry desert. If you get dizzy because of the high altitude, flamingoes feeding in the lake could be misconstrued as strolling between the upturned volcanoes.
How to go: Either take this GetYourGuide tour or rent a car and drive. Download the offline Google maps and have a hard copy of the map in case your phone runs out of battery (which is often not the case now for we all carry power banks). Many travel companies in San Pedro also arrange regular tours to these destinations.
3. Walk in the Moon Valley (Valle de La Luna) in the Atacama
About 13 km from San Pedro, the Moon Valley of the Atacama gets its name from its moon-like surface. Various sand and stone formations have been formed in the valley by the continuous wind and water action.
The cavernous valley is fringed by volcanoes, and one can get a good view of a sunset over a volcano by sitting on the high rocky hills or the sand dunes. The best time to go is the sunset when the color of the sky changes from pink to purple to finally dark.
How to go: Either go for an all inclusive tour or drive yourself
4. Float in the Natural Salt Lake (the Laguna Sejar)
The natural salt lake Laguna Sejar lies in the Cordillera de el Sal (mountain range of salt). Floating in this lake is one of the most fun activities to do in the Atacama — you float effortlessly under a clear blue sky in the middle of this vast desert while gazing over the volcanoes and mountains in the distance.
Combine the trip with Ojos del Salar and Tebinquinche lake. If you are on a tour, you would be served pisco sour, a popular Chilean drink, at sunset over Tebinquinche.
How to go: Take this all-inclusive GetYourGuide tour or drive yourself.
5. Stargaze all you want under the clear Atacama sky – One of the best things to do in Chile
Due to less air pollution, dry air, and a lot of cloudless nights, Chile is a perfect place for astronomers. And due to less light pollution, Atacama is the best even in Chile.
Make sure you keep one extra night or more for stargazing in the desert. Many travel companies arrange stargazing activities. You can also camp on the roof of your hotel to get some sky action.
How to go: Take a stargazing tour or camp in the desert with a local’s help.
Tip: Some of my other favorite things to do in the Atacama were visiting the hot Geysers del Tatio and relaxing in natural hot pools. Here is the hot pool to and fro transfer I took. You can get a tour of the geysers or drive there early morning to see steam shooting out of the geysers and into the sky.
6. Take a Uyuni Salt Flats tour from San Pedro
Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats are one of the world’s most bizarre landscapes. This vast salt desert is close to the border of Chile.
Most people go for a 3-4 day salt flats tour that could either begin in San Pedro or the Uyuni town of Bolivia and end in either one of these. On the cross-country tour, you would see many natural reserves of Chile, geysers, blue lagoons, flamingo colonies, and the salt flats of Bolivia. If you take a salt desert tour, you can skip the geysers and the other lagoons I mentioned above for you would see similar landscapes on the tour.
Here is a GetYourGuide tour that starts from San Pedro and goes to Uyuni in Bolivia.
7. Gape at the Hand of the Desert – Mano del Desierto
This giant structure constructed by the artist Mario Irarrazabal who depicts humans’ helplessness and vulnerability in the hand is 70 km away from the Antofagasta city. If you are around, pay a visit.
**What not to miss in the North: My favorite places in the desert were the Chaxa lake and the Moon Valley. Oh, do try quinoa ice cream in San Pedro and the delicious Chilean wines in the village plaza.
The Atacama is poetry. Won’t you agree?
Follow-Up Read: My Guide to San Pedro De Atacama and the Atacama Desert
Best Things To Do in the Central Valley of Chile
The Central Valley of Chile might not be as surreal as the North but it has its beaches, velvety countryside, vineyards, artists, graffiti, and colorful residential hills to flaunt.
Central Valley is known for its big cities: Santiago, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, Valdivia, and Concepcion. All of these are connected to each other by bus, flight, and road.
8. Keep a few days for Santiago
Although I might have been looted in Santiago once, I would recommend traveling in Santiago for a few days because trying to understand a country without seeing its capital is like drawing a map without the North.
Chile might be about its deserts, beaches, and glaciers, but it is also about its cosmopolitan capital where you feel unsafe as soon as you step out of the center, and even in the center sometimes. My (and about hundred other Santiago local friends’) best safety tips for Santiago are: find a hotel in a safe neighborhood, stay inside at night, hold your bags and mobiles closer especially in the metro, bus, and crowded or empty places, keep an eye on people around you, and carry limited cash.
Some of the best things to see in Santiago are: Plaza del Armas (the main square), Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral (the main church), Santa Lucia hill (remains of a 15-million-year-old volcano), National Astronomical Observatory of Chile at Cerro Calán (you might have to contact the observatory in advance), San Cristobal Hill (for good views), Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts(for us art lovers), Museum of Memory and Human Rights (to know more about the Pinochet rule), Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (another museum), Palacio de La Moneda, and the Bahá’í Temple of South America.
How to commute: Use metro, bus, and Uber(still illegal but functional). Prebook a pickup from the airport to your hotel if you are arriving in Santiago for the first time. If you are going to stay in Santiago a bit longer, consider this introductory tour to Santiago with a local guide.
Where to stay in Santiago: I have handpicked the below accommodations from throughout Santiago as per safety, locality, reviews, experiences, prices, and services provided.
Guest House Mery, Barrio Brasil – Run by a Chilean family, in downtown Santiago, close to historical places and metro, amazing reviews, kind staff, beautiful rooms, and patio, and pick up and drop from the airport at reasonable prices. Best for solo or couple travelers.
Book the hotel here on Booking. This place gets sold out well in advance.
Amistar Apartments – In downtown Santiago near Santa Lucia hill, entire apartment for 3/4/5 people, clean accommodation, kind owners, great reviews, and pick up and drop service from the airport. Best for a group of friends or families. Browse the apartments here on Booking.
And now for the hostel lovers.
Hostal Rio Amazonas: In central Santiago near Baquedano Metro Station, boutique hotel, gorgeous interiors and paintings, comfortable rooms with private bathrooms, friendly staff, inhouse bar, and wifi. Best for couples, family, and solo travelers.
Click here to see the availability and book Hostal Rio Amazonas.
9. Soak poetry in Pablo Neruda’s houses – One of the best places to visit in Chile
Neruda is one of the most loved poets of Chile who is not only known for his love poems but for his odes to things like socks and vegetables. His three homes: La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaíso, and the one in the Isla Negra are all open for public on all days of the week except Monday.
If you haven’t read Pablo’s poetry, let me first recite a few verses to raise your curiosity,
It pleased me to grow with the morning, to bathe in the sun, in the great joy of sun, salt, sea-light, and wave, and in that unwinding of the foam, my heart began to move, growing in that essential spasm, and dying away as it seeped into the sand. From October Fullness, The Essential Neruda
These words are only a drop in Pablo’s ocean of poetry. The Essential Neruda poetry book I have linked above is a collection of some of his best poems in both their English and Spanish versions. His poetry can only beckon good things, I promise.
La Chascona: Fernando Márquez de la Plata 0192, Barrio Bellavista, Providencia, Santiago, 56-2-2777-8741; fundacionneruda.org. Named after Pablo’s secret lover, this house is at the foot of Cerro San Cristóbal. Pablo bought this house for his secret lover and himself.
La Sebastiana: Ferrari 692, Valparaíso, 56-32-225-6606; fundacionneruda.org. Sits on a Valparaíso hill overlooking the city.
Isla Negra: Poeta Neruda s/n, Isla Negra, El Quisco, 56-35-2461284; fundacionneruda.org: This house is on the coastline about an hour away from Valparaíso. Pablo is buried here along with his third wife. On the way to the house, you can visit many vineyards and fine restaurants some of which still serve Pablo’s favorite food.
If you want to go with a tour, this one goes to the Isla Negra house, explores the beach, and then takes the tourists for wine tasking in Casablanca valley.
10. Lose yourself in the Central Market of Santiago (Mercado Central)
One of my dear friends introduced me to Mercado Central. Abundant seafood, typical Chilean preparations, fresh fruits and vegetables, pulses and porotos (read beans), everything can be found in this market. I do remember eating in the dingy backside of the market but it has a great food court where you can get fresh seafood preparations.
Mercado Central is one of the most interesting places in Chile to understand the country’s culture. Don’t miss it. (Here I’ve written about some interesting traditions of the culture of Chile.)
How to go: Take this bike tour that also goes to the market amongst other things or visit on your own. The nearest metro station to the market is Puente Cal y Canto. You can also take a bus and get down near the market. Though illegally, Ubers, also work in Santiago.
Must-try dishes: Porotos (red beans), pasta del choclo (corn preparation), seafood, humitas (another corn preparation) along with some Cusquena beer or wine
11. Hike in Maipo Valley (Cajon del Maipo)
Cajon del Maipo is a canyon in the Santiago Metropolitan Region of Chile.
Many rivers including the el Maipo River, El Volcan River, Colorado River, and Yeso River merge in this valley. The turquoise rivers circumscribed by the tall Andes make the canyon a perfect hub for adventure.
Cajon del Maipo offers a potpourri of activities ranging from hiking in the canyon, skiing, river rafting, hiking a volcano and visiting hot springs, exploring the national park, and relaxing with beautiful views. The trails in the Maipo Valley are both tough and easy, so choose yours as per your fitness level and comfort. Mostly, travelers head to Cajon del Maipo for a day or a weekend, but you can even book one of the cabins there and stay for long.
Look for a place to stay here, and I have linked to the tours with the activities above.
12. Gaze over the Pacific from the Wulff Castle, Viña del Mar
About 120 km from Santiago, Viña del Mar is a coastal city that is close to another popular coastal destination called Valparaíso.
Located right opposite the Cerro Castillo (Castillo hill), the Wulff castle was built by the Wulff family, first as their home, and then the home was remodeled into a castle. The castle doesn’t have an entrance fee, has beautiful art exhibitions as now it is a government heritage center, and the view of the Pacific from the castle is stunning.
Viña del Mar: Browse through Viña’s accommodations here.
13. Ride the squeaky funicular elevators of Valparaíso
Only 120 km away from Santiago, Valparaíso (or lovingly known as Valpo amongst the locals) is a colorful city built over steep hills on the shores of the Pacific. Like other port cities, it is a bit random and unstructured, and thus colorful. Valparaíso is the only Chilean city where street art is legal so you can imagine why I call it colorful.
People reside on the hills of Valparaíso, and these elevators, or cable cars, were built to carry people up and down on the steep hills. Although once there were about 31 elevators, now only about 14 of these are functional.
How to go: The two most popular and easy to access funiculars are the Acensor Reina Victoria (connecting Avenida Cumming with Paseo Dimalow) and the Acensor El Peral (connecting Plaza Sotomayor with Paseo Yugoslavo.) Carry some cash or coins for the ticket price is about 100-200 pesos.
If you are short of time, take a tour from Santiago to Vina del Mar and Valparaíso that goes through the main sites of both the cities.
Tip: While in Valparaíso, you can check out the Botica Salcobrand medical shop on Plaza Aníbal Pinto where the pharmacy is ready to take you for a spin in the past.
Where to stay: Click here to see and book accommodations in Valparaíso.
14. Tour vineyards when in the Central Valley – One of the cool things in Chile
The Central region of Chile has the perfect temperature and most accommodative soil for grapes. Viña del Mar, Valparaíso, Santiago, and Casablanca, a white wine city between Santiago and Valparaiso, are stuffed with vineyards that encourage tourists to visit. And travelers go for Chilean wine is one of the best wines in the world.
How to go: Here are some brilliant winery tours you can take: Concha y Toro official winery tour (one of the most popular and the oldest in Latin America), Undurraga vineyard in Maipo, or visit the wineries of Casablanca from Santiago. You can also hire a car and drive around yourself.
15. Immerse in the graffitis of Valparaíso
Valparaiso started becoming an art center when Pablo Neruda, a resident of the city, invited his Mexican friends and painters to the city. Soon the city’s walls, steep staircases, cobbled streets, dainty shops, and open roofs all were covered in graffiti. In no time, locals joined the artists, too.
During the dictatorship in Chile, the wall art of Valparaiso was one of the most effective ways for revolutionaries to communicate and to encourage people to keep fighting for freedom. Now the city has legalized street art, and property owners argue over who would get the best artist to paint their garages and roofs.
Valparaiso is dense with these wall paintings, and you would find them in the most obscure places. Go up a narrow street or stroll in the back lanes or peek behind a dusty car, if you will, and you are bound to run into some heartening display of color.
The best places to see the local art are the hills of Carcel, Miraflores, Alegre, Pateon, Concepcíon, and Bellavista. You should also go to the open-air museum that holds the art of more than 70 artists who put their art together after the dictatorship.
Be careful while roaming in Valparaiso for the place is known for delinquents who love snatching off bags and phones. Walk in the city in daylight, be with a friend or group preferably, keep your belongings close to you, and don’t wander in a deserted street even in daylight.
Valparaiso is one of the most important places in Chile to understand the country’s artistic growth. So be cautious, but do visit.
How to go: The safest and most informative way to explore Valpo’s art would be to take a tour with the locals.
16. Celebrate the New Year eve in Valparaíso by watching firecrackers put on a colorful show over the Pacific – One of the most unique and best things to see in Chile
For about half an hour, the sky above the Pacific shore near Valparaiso dazzles with colors as hundreds of firecrackers are busted there at midnight. People gather over their rooftops, in balconies, and on the beaches to see the celebration with champagne spilling out of their glasses and empanadas spilling out of their tables.
Don’t miss this experience if you are in Chile around the new year.
How to go: Book a hotel in Valparaiso and get to the roof or your balcony in time. Don’t forget to bring some of that delicious Chilean wine.
**What’s not to miss in Central Valley: Wine, art, and poetry.
Valdivia is neither part of the Central Valley nor of the Los Lagos region of the South. So I am putting it here in between the two.
17. Visit the Mercado Fluvial in Valdivia
Valdivia is an old city set at the junction of the Calle-Calle and Cau-Cau rivers and is slightly above the lake region.
Valdivia’s vibrant local grocery market Mercado Fluvial sells a myriad of fish, mussels, prawns, street food, vegetables, fruits, handicraft, and wooden artifacts. The market is on the shores of the Valdivia River, and sea lions resting on the wooden planks behind the market behold the sight of the visitors rather than the trouts and the avocados. And while the shop keepers get distracted with customers, the seagulls fly off with a few anchovies now and then.
On a sunny afternoon, the market is a great place to eat, buy a handmade souvenir, or you can also start a boat tour through the interconnected network of canals and rivers from the market.
Where to stay in Valdivia?
Airesbuenos Hostel y Permacultura, Valdivia– I stayed at Airesbuenos (350 m away from the bus terminal) for about 2 nights. Great affordable place for solo or couple travelers. Wifi, breakfast, and a shared kitchen included. Find the availability of Airesbuenos on Booking here.
And if you don’t like this hostel, then feel free to browse through other options in Valdivia.
18. Cruise through the Valdivian rivers visiting old forts
As the fourth settlement founded by the Spanish, Valdivia has many forts and castles that are spread around the city.
Mercado Fluvial is the starting point of a boat ride through the network of waterways that go through the many Valdivian rivers. Along with a pleasant ride, you will also visit the historical places and forts on the way. Fort Niebla is one of those popular forts and flaunts its own beach (playa) and a local market (feria).
19. While in Valdivia, don’t miss the Kunstmann brewery
Chileans love their wine, but they are no less a fan of beer.
Kunstmann, one of the oldest and popular Chilean beer, has a big brewery in Valdivia. Understanding the brewing process while sipping honey or cinnamon Kunstmann could be a fun thing to do on a windy evening in Valdivia.
Best Things To Do in the Lake region, known as Los Lagos in Chile
The lake region marks the beginning of Patagonia, the South of Chile, and from here you enter the zone of some of the world’s most beautiful places.
Los Lagos is known for its deep blue lakes, azure rivers, active volcanoes, lush national parks, and scattered islands. Some of the main towns of the region are Puerto Varas, Osorno, Puerto Montt, and Pucon.
20. Chill in the Chiloé island or the Isla Grande – One of Chile’s best places to visit
I stayed in Castro, the capital of Chiloé, for five months and taught English to government school students as part of a volunteer program. So its only natural that I talk about this island far more fondly than the rest of the places to go in Chile.
Rolling countryside hills of the island houses colorful stilt homes (palafitos), wooden heritage churches, and apple fields. The windy beaches of the island aren’t very busy for the water is cold throughout the year. The only known attempt of someone swimming there was of a friend who was dissuaded after his first attempt as he almost froze while dipping in, shouted for help, and was driven home in his swimming trunks by a stranger.
Chiloé and the people of Chiloé, who are lovingly called Chilotes, are known for their signature seafood and folklore. The homes here are covered with bright multi-colored shinglings of various shapes and sizes.
Chiloé is a place to slow down in Chile — Wake up in a stilt house or in a wooden cabin, eat bread and cheese or algae soup for breakfast, stroll in the countryside, pluck a peach or two, walk by the beach, eat as much seafood as you like at a cocineria (food court where locals make almost home food), visit a World Heritage wooden church, and then go to another local restaurant for a hearty meal with wine.
Where to stay in Chiloé?
Let me recommend some places in and around Castro for you will start your island trip from there.
I highly recommend these private domes in Castro (on Airbnb) that are owned by a lovely Chilean couple and my best friends. Veronica and Marco are the warmest hosts who don’t let their guests leave without serving them amazing pisco sours and homemade seafood preparations. This could be one of the best places to stay in Chile for location, comfort, and hospitality. Do try. And if you do, tell Vero and Marco that you read my blog. You would definitely get a few extra piscos.
But if you are not on Airbnb or don’t like this place, here are some other good stay options.
Palafito WaIwen – Located by the Gamboa river and only about .6 miles from the Castro center, double rooms and dorms with heating, ocean and city views, wifi, kind staff, complimentary breakfast, shared kitchen, and a terrace overlooking the ocean. Best for couples and solo travelers.
Click here to book this stilt house.
Casa Chilota B&B – In downtown Castro, a typical Chilote home with wooden flooring, friendly and kind Chilean owners, and clean rooms with a complimentary breakfast spread. Best for families, couples and solo travelers.
Look at the pictures and see Casa Chilota on Booking.
Cabañas Lomas de Ten Ten – Located in Ten Ten, a small countryside area about 4-5 km away from Castro downtown, beautiful wooden cottage, kitchen included, and ocean view from the cabin. Ideal for families or a group of friends. Book these cabins on Booking here.
Apart from these, do look for cabins and wooden cottages out in the countryside. Chiloé has some beautiful and secluded scenic accommodations and you should get one for yourself. Find some here.
Here are some of the specific things to do in Chiloé.
21. Spend a day or two in Castro, the capital of Chiloé (One of the most famous places in Chile but for the right reasons)
Walk around the main plaza, admire the purple and yellow San Francisco Church there, eat at the seafood restaurants, buy fresh fish or eat ceviches in the Mercado Municipal near the harbor, look for some souvenirs in the market, drink wine at the cozy bars (43 was my favorite), and participate in a “minga” or get invited to a party and see the locals’ way of celebration.
Oh, stroll around the viewpoint Gamboa, walk along the harbor in the direction of ten-ten, and eat in one of the “palafitos” there while looking over the ocean.
22. Visit the Cocineria of Dalcahue (food court where locals make home food)
The quiet Dalcahue serves as a boarding point for the ferry of Achao (another island I would suggest you visit), but Dalcahue can be visited for just its cocineria.
The several restaurants of the food court run by eight local families sit in a small wooden house that overlooks the ocean and serves homemade preparations of Chilote’s best-known dishes.
Find seafood preparations here, casuellas (soups), algae and potato preparations, porotos granados (red beans), and the famous colorful Chilote potatoes.
Carry cash as cards wouldn’t be accepted.
Insider tip: Another great place to visit in Dalcahue is the artisan fair that happens twice every week where artisans from all over Chiloé come to Dalcahue to showcase and sell their products.
23. See the heritage wooden churches of Chiloé – One of the unique things about Chile
When the missionary Jesuits arrived in Chile in the 17th century, the building techniques of Spain were merged with the local Chilote wooden boat construction techniques. One thing led to another and nailless churches emerged.
Chiloé had 51 of these larch and cypress wood churches out of which only 15 remain now. But, less is more couldn’t be more true than in the case of these heritage churches as they stand timeless, some even earthquake safe, and keeping the people inside them warm (such is the wooden insulation) from the fierce cold in Chiloé.
Achao has the largest wooden church on the Chiloé archipelago, Curaco de Velez has the oldest, Tenaúm’s church is gorgeous, and Castro’s is colorful. And there are more.
24. Buy Chilote artisanal souvenirs and wooden artifacts
I wish I could share the picture of that handwritten wooden chai mug that I bought for my father from the Mercado Municipal in Castro, but he has the mug. But not just mugs, you can buy handpainted or handwritten wooden pocket mirrors, pen, hairpins, spatulas, cutting boards, and other paraphernalia, too.
As Chiloé is cold and wet for a large part of the year, locals knit and sell woolen sweaters, hats, socks, ponchos, and other cute warm clothing. Oh, there is copper handmade jewelry, too, of which I have a few pieces.
Walk around the artisanal markets in the many towns and villages of Chiloé for the sake of friends back home.
25. Eat typical Chilote food
I lived with a Chilean family for five months and that implies I mostly ate at home. I wish I had tried more restaurants, but the home food was great, and eating with a bunch of crazy Chileans, British, and Americans(volunteers who also taught English) won over outside food every time.
I was soon introduced to the greasy milcao — potato patty stuffed with pork and deep-fried(this was store-bought), colorful red, purple, and black potatoes that are local to the island, empanadas — pastries stuffed with potato or chicken or beef or seafood, and curanto — mussels and seashells steamed with potato and/or pork underground over coal. These are all unique to the island (except empanadas) so do try.
Chiloé is especially known for its seafood preparations such as casuella (soups)- they even have algae casuella, grilled fish, ceviche, etc. And oh, the portions increase in Chiloé without warning.
26. Go island-hopping on Chiloé archipelago
From Chiloé, take a ferry to the many nearby islands of the archipelago such as Lemuy, Caucahué, Quinchao, and explore the churches and the countryside of these places.
How to go: Getting to another island is as easy as taking a bus that directly goes to the island or walking to the ferry point and taking the ferry to the other island. Have coins or smaller notes to pay.
Where to stay: Either stay in the Castro area and make a day trip to other islands. Or look for some cool accommodation on the destination island. Booking is my friend for this task.
27. Kayak around the Chiloé archipelago
Kayaking in the rivers and in the inland water around the Chiloé archipelago could be a lot of fun on a bright day. Ask your hotel or homestay for more information.
28. Visit the regional museum (Museo regional) in Ancud, Chiloé
Though Ancud, the former capital of Chiloé, is now a mundane town with regular buildings and docks, Museo Regional de Ancud (Ancud’s Regional Museum) is a good place to know more about the Chilote culture and mythology.
29. Take a ferry to the Penguineria Islands near Ancud (Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil)
From Ancud, a ferry goes to a collection of islands that penguins have unabashedly colonized. The best time to see the friendly creatures is December.
How to go: My plan to visit these penguin colonies failed three times due to unexpected earthquakes, strikes, and so on. But finding that bus stand in Ancud from where a bus goes to the ferry point wasn’t easy. You would have to ask the locals or confirm at your hotel. You need to take a bus from Ancud to a ferry point and then you board a ferry or a small boat that takes you to the colonies. If you don’t want to arrange the trip by yourself, here is a GetYourGuide tour that first explores parts of Chiloé and then goes to the Caulin and Puñihuil Penguins Colony.
30. Go to the Dock of Souls, known as Muelle de Las Almas in Spanish.
Muelle de Las Almas is a popular wooden pier in the Chiloé National Park near the village of Cucao.
The popularity of the dock is attributed to the local legend where a boatman Tempilkahue used to carry souls over the river into eternal rest. These souls would wail for the boatman to take them but Tempilkahue didn’t carry them all. If they couldn’t pay him, the souls would linger on in the surrounding cliffs.
When the Chilean wood sculptor and art professor from Santiago designed a long wooden bridge, a pier, at the cliff, the place was named as the Muelle de la Almas.
Stories say that the wails of the dead can still be heard at the pier. This quirky pier is one of the best places to go in Chile for the gorgeous viewpoint and the adventurous hike to the bridge. Don’t let a few ghosts scare you off.
How to get there:
Rent a car to drive or get a local bus, known as micro(pronounced as mee-crow), to Cucao. After about a 1.5 hour drive, the bus will drop you outside a restaurant called Terrasa de Cucao, and then from there another bus drop at the beginning point of the hike, or you can say the parking lot, in about 30 minutes. The last bus to the hike leaves from the restaurant at 3 pm.
After the bus ride, hike for about 45 minutes to one hour through the undulating hills and pastures of the national park to get to the dock. Get there in the morning to get bright views over the ocean and to make the most of the day.
Remember that the last bus from the pickup point (to the restaurant) leaves at 5:30 pm. In case you miss this one, like we did because someone forgot her phone at the top of a hill, walk for an hour or hitchhike to get back to the restaurant for the next bus.
31. Visit the Pablo Fierro Museum in Puerto Varas, Chile
Pablo Fierro museum would be a great stop before Chiloé to understand how the Germans, who entered the island in 1850, influenced the Chilote culture.
How to go: The Museum is free to enter and is a short stroll along the waterfront from the Plaza de Armas of Puerto Varas on the 225 Road heading towards Ensenada.
32. Take a ferry to Hornophiren – One of the best places in Chile for nature lovers
Hornophiren is a beautiful town in the lake region. Most backpackers and travelers miss this beauty on their Chile trip for it is not on a typical travel route.
But as if it is out of a fairy tale, Horniphiren has misty volcanoes, deep blue lakes, huge national parks, hot thermal pools, solitary mountains, white rivers, open pastures studded with birds and horses, amongst other things that can lure any adventurer.
Hornopirén’s national park is easily accessible, and we biked up the Andes in the park and then came down flying, all safe. The rivers have good viewpoints, too. There are volcanoes to be hiked, but you would need good weather to climb.
Oh, don’t forget to try the yerba mate and cheese empanadas at the local artisanal joint near the square.
How to go: Get a bus or drive there but remember you would have to get up on ferries a few times.
Where to stay: Have a look at the wooden cabins of Hornopirén here.
33. Hike active Volcano Villarica, Pucon
Climbing up hiking Villarrica is the goal of many travelers when they travel to Pucon, the adventure hub of Los Lagos.
Originally known as Rucapillán or House of the Pillan — home of a powerful disastrous spirit, the volcano hasn’t erupted for many years now. For a hiker, climbing up Volcan Villarica would be one of the top 10 things to do in Chile. Plan your trip to have a few days in Pucon so that at least one of them has favorable weather for the hike.
My Villarica hiking experience can be read here.
How to go: Take a guided tour to go up the volcano as you can’t do this on your won. The hike would take your entire day.
Where to stay in Pucon? I stayed at the Chilli kiwi hostel which was comfortable and had ample double rooms and dorms. You can also book any of the adventure activities, hikes, or tours from Chilli Kiwi. Click here to find the availability in the hostel and to book it.
Insider Tip: In the winter, you can ski in the Centro de Ski Pucon (ski center of Pucon).
34. Chill at the Caburga lake beach in Pucon
Relaxing at the Caburgua lake beach after climbing the volcano would be a smart thing to do.
35. Kayak in the quiet Villarrica lake and find remote beaches
Borrow or rent Kayaks from the hotel and explore the lake. You are bound to find some empty beaches. Make sure you aren’t intruding in anyone’s private property and jump in.
36. Hitchhike to the deserted Salto del Claro waterfalls near Pucon.
This waterfall is mostly deserted, and you might want to start early from Pucon as it takes about 4-5 hours of walking to reach there.
The waterfall is about six kilometers out of Pucon, so you can either hike all way or bike or take a taxi and walk or hitchhike.
Make sure that you carry enough water, snacks, a towel, and keep your phones charged as there are no shops or restaurants near the waterfall. If you are lucky, you would be able to hitchhike back to the town.
Follow Up Read: Celebrating the Fiestas Patrias, the Chilean independence day with Chileans
**What not to miss in the Lake Region: People, food, beautiful landscapes, adventure activities, and the unique culture.
Best Things To Do in the South of Chile, known as Patagonia
In the South of Chile, Andes rise on the mainland to form Patagonia. This no man’s land is nothing but icy peaks with glaciers suspended atop, deep blue and turquoise rivers, labyrinthine fjords, gorgeous lakes, and natural caves. Patagonia is mostly uninhabited because of the crazy climatic conditions.
The Carretera Austral or the Southern highway runs along this nomad’s land from Chaiten till the Tierra del Fuego or the land of fire which culminates in Cape Horn, the last stop before Antarctic Peninsula — Patagonia leads our way into the end of the world.
37. Hike in Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine National Park is one of the most sought-after parts of Patagonia. Even though thousands of people trek in this park every year, such is the park’s wilderness, that most of them never run into each other.
Though Torres’s terrain is difficult, it has all levels of hiking trails: easy, moderate, and high difficulty level for enthusiasts and hikers to choose from. From 4-9 multi-day circuits to a day-long hike, one can find them all. One of the longer hikes known as the W trek is one of the most beautiful trails of the park and extends over 8-9 days. Sleeping in pre-booked camps and eating packed meals throughout the trek makes the hike challenging but thrilling. You can also book the W trek and get all the arrangements done.
Or take a full-day tour from the city of Puerto Natales to see the park’s main viewpoints and walk a little and then decide what would you like to do there.
How to go: Frequent flights are available from the major Chilean airports to the two main cities Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas of Patagonia.
Where to stay in Puerto Natales: Browse through hotels and check the prices here.
Where to stay in Punta Arenas: Find a comfortable accommodation in Punta Arenas here.
38. Take a boat trip to Glacier Grey
Part of the Torres del Paine National Park, Glacier Grey is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field –one of the largest ice stretches on the planet.
The boat takes up to a point near the glacier from where you can admire the 40-meter high river of ice.
39. Visit the Mylodon Cave located outside Torres del Paine National Park
The Milodon Caves are said to be formed at the end of the ice age from the erosion of a glacier. Excavations have found animal bones, old tools, and even hints of humans.
A boat ride to the cave definitely adds to the fun.
40. Sail through the Magellan Strait
Ferdinand Magellan discovered this strait when he sailed from Europe to America while making his way around South America through the rough Pacific waters.
How to go: Boat tours for the Magellan Strait leave from Puntas Arenas, one of the two major inhabited towns of Patagonia. Here is one tour that sails through the Strait of Magellan to go to the Magdalena and Marta Islands to observe Magellanic penguins, Patagonian sea lions, and other marine life.
Watching the penguins play around on a remote Southern island could be one of the most interesting things in Chile, or in the world. Go.
41. Go for white river rating in the Futaleufú river
42. Visit the Marble Caves
Cuevas de Marmol or the Marble caves are carved into the Patagonian Andes by 6000 years of wave washing up against the calcium carbonate. Marble caves are located in the General Carrera lake, which spans the border between Chile and Argentina.
The smooth, swirling blues that you see in photos on the cave are reflections of the lake’s azure water on the marble. To get the best colors, visit during September and February when the water is turquoise. Early mornings are the best for the perfect lighting.
How to go: Take a ferry from Puerto Río Tranquilo village. In spite of the remoteness, Marble caves is one of the most tourists places in Chile so you should not have a hard time making a trip to them.
43. Robinson Crusoe Island — Juan Fernández archipelago, Chile (400 miles west of South America in the South Pacific Ocean)
Named after the DeFoe novel Robinson Crusoe inspired by a sailor stranded on this same island for four years with a musket, gunpowder, a knife, a Bible, and carpenter’s tools, the island is an endemic hub of rare plants and extreme beauty.
The island is inhabited by only about 500-600 people most of whom make a simple living by selling lobsters.
Robinson Crusoe island houses beautiful coral reefs, white-sand beaches, blue lagoon, palm trees, traditional thatched huts, tropical fruits, and abundant seafood. Activities such as hiking, horseback riding, birdwatching, snorkeling, sport fishing, and scuba diving are available on the island.
How to go: During the prime season, small planes of up to ten passengers leave Los Cerrillos and Tobalaba airports in Santiago daily. After a two and a half hour flight, a boat ride from La Punta would take you to the island. Carry cash as there are no ATMs on the island.
Where to stay: I can’t seem to find any Robinson Crusoe hotels on Booking. I would update this post when I find more credible information.
**What not to miss in Patagonia: The feeling that you are almost at the end of the world.
Must Read: Chile visa for Indians – A complete guide
Now some general fun things to do in Chile
44. When in Chile, ski
Valle Nevado resort is one of the best ski resorts in Chile. Located on the foothills of the Andes Mountains, this is just one ski option but the country is full of ski resorts and icy slopes.
Or consider this tour that goes skiing in the Andes.
45. Fly off to the Easter island, known as Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua
While the Easter island is one of the most remote places in Chile, thousands of travelers and Chileans visit Easter island every year for its clear natural beauty.
When on the island, see more than the moai statues. The Ana Kai Tangata (Cannibal Cave) is also a visit. This half-day archaeology tour is a good option to understand the history of the island from locals.
How to go: You can fly to the Easter island from Santiago.
Where to stay: Check out these properties in Hanga Roa, the capital of the Isla de Pascua.
46. When in Chile, drink Pisco Sour
Specific to Chile and Peru, Pisco is a liquor made of grapes. Both countries fight on Pisco’s origin and make it with egg white, lime juice, and sugar syrup. Pisco is one delicious drink and goes well with Chilean food.
Don’t miss it.
47. Take a Chilean cooking class
Even though Chilean cuisine isn’t the most respected or loved around the world, its empanadas, casuellas, choclo con queso, and other seafood preparations are special. If you think you would want to make any of these back home, get into a cooking class and learn a few of these while sipping up some pisco.
Your best bet would be to take a course in a small city or island such as Chiloé for an authentic and personalized class.
This food tour in Santiago might interest you if you are a foodie.
48. Learn Spanish in Chile
Chileans speak superfast slang-studded Spanish so Chile isn’t the best place to learn Spanish. But if you start understanding Chilean Spanish, you can converse in any kind of Spanish. So give it a chance.
If I can do it, you can, too. And here are my best language guides to help you:
- Learning Spanish in Chile – My honest journey with Spanish from embarrassing blankness to cracking jokes
- Most Useful Spanish Phrases for Travelers – Print the guide and refer to it whenever you need help or go over the basic phrases to remember.
- Best Tips to Learn a Language on Your Own – Handpicked practices from my experience
49. Teach English in Chile
If you are looking for a paid volunteer program to teach English while traveling, the English Open Doors program in Chile is the answer.
I taught English to government-school students on Chiloé island for five months. The experience was challenging but well worth the efforts. The program provides food and accommodation and a basic stipend for the entire duration. Read all about the application process and the program here.
50. Last but not the least, hang out with the sweet Chileans
Chileans are the nicest people I have met who are ready to help out at any cost. Do accept when Chileans invite you to their homes, which they would. Oh, but do remember that Chileans are as punctual as Italian trains. I talk more about the Chilean people and Chile’s culture here.
Phew! Now go have fun.
Would you love to see Chile? Which of these top places to visit in Chile intrigued you the most? Tell me in the comments.
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