10 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Chile
Vast stretches of empty wilderness dot the central and southern parts of Chile, a rugged country known for its spectacular coastlines, golden beaches, and varied geography that has led to its many nicknames: the "Land of Fire and Ice," the "Pearl of the Pacific," and the "Land of Eight Waters."
Chile's star attractions are its beautiful seaside resorts, beaches, and national parks. Santiago, a thriving and sophisticated urban center is home to many interesting neighborhoods and gorgeous modern buildings. Although it might not be the first place that comes to mind, Chile's capital is packed with plenty of sights of its own, including excellent museums, great nightlife, and one of the best culinary scenes in the region.
Like other South American nations, Chile is blessed with gorgeous natural sights, from mountain ranges and jungle-covered valleys to towering volcanoes. While these naturally stunning landscapes can be seen all over Chile, they are most easily seen in the Chilean Lake District and the majestic Patagonian Andes.
Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions in Chile.
Situated on a bay on the northwestern coast of Chile, the picturesque port of Iquique has a warm, homey feel and easy access to nature. The city's large tree-lined avenues and relaxed ambience are a real contrast to other northern Chilean cities. During the days of the 19th-century transit of the nitrate region, the city thrived on trade with nitrate farmers working in the nearby deserts and mountains. Today, visitors to Iquique are attracted to the natural beauty of its coastline and mountains, which can be seen on many excursions or hikes. The natural wonder of nearby Patagonia's Laguna Calbuco is an interesting excursion, while the mouth of the Iquique River is another popular sight. Iquique's port has a dozen excellent hotels, including the América Hotel, which has its own colonial style, with its French Empire façade and restaurant overlooking the old port.
Chile's Atacama Desert, located at the very edge of the South American continent, is the driest desert in the world. Its staggering astronomical total of almost 200 days per year, or around 4,000 hours of continuous sunshine per year, has led to the formation of one of the world's finest archaeological sites, the rocks of which contain spectacular ancient paintings and sculptures. Long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the region in the 1530s, Andean Indians had made their way along what are now the driest and most inhospitable deserts in the world. Along with the people and artifacts they left behind, the region is graced with almost eight hundred art galleries, museums, hotels and restaurants that offer spectacular desert views. The area's appeal is made apparent in the brief yet colorful history of the region. Of great interest is the fact that northern Atacama is believed to be the oldest human settlement in the world. Tons of gigantic human-like cairns can be found scattered around the desert and make up the 'paintings' of early civilizations.
San Pedro de Atacama
The Atacama Desert is an arid plateau found at the northwestern corner of South America, and Chile's second largest desert. It is so inhospitable and remote that it has no roads, railways, or supply lines of any kind, and its terrain is so rough that only llama trains and jeeps are used to move people and supplies. It's one of the driest places in the world, averaging 1.8 inches of rain a year. Atacama is also home to Chile's best observatory, the world's highest northernmost Chilean observatory at 3,420 meters above sea level, and the Observatory of San Pedro de Atacama, at an even higher elevation of 3,820 meters, which is operated by the National Optical Astronomical Observatory. Together, these three institutions provide visitors with an unparalleled view of the night sky above the Andes, including the nearest place on Earth where the heavens are the same as they would appear from space.
The southernmost city in Latin America is famed for its natural beauty and the warm Andean hospitality of its inhabitants. Puerto Montt sits in a broad valley created by the Rio Blanco, a clear mountain river that begins on the Chilean-Bolivian border. Mountains, dense rain forests, and lowland meadows and pastures create a dramatically scenic backdrop for the historic port, many of whose warehouses and 19th century houses have been preserved. The Miraflores Lighthouse stands as an imposing monument, perched on the rugged cliffs on the bay's northern tip and serves as the main attraction. Hike the Lighthouse Path that meanders along the edge of the bay or enjoy the ride to the lighthouse. Visitors can also see fishing boats at work in the bay or a visit to the handicrafts cooperative, an institution started by a German immigrant, where artisans display and sell their handiwork. The cobblestone streets and parks of the central historic center invite visitors to stroll and enjoy the shade of the giant evergreen trees. Chileans enjoy their drinking, and the number of bars and cafes in the main plaza are legendary.
The Colchagua Valley in Chile is a short drive from Santiago and offers travelers a unique opportunity to visit one of the country's most prestigious ski resorts and one of the world's most impressive tropical valleys. Famous for its lush green surroundings, fertile pastures and rushing rivers, it's home to around 100 species of birds. When the weather warms up, make a beeline to the many vineyards along the winding rural road and sample the crisp, fruity whites of the region. Chile's second-largest city, Chillán, can be visited as an overnight excursion or as an inexpensive day-trip from Santiago. The Coquimbo Region of southern Chile offers some of the best-kept secrets of the country, such as the distinctive, gravity-defying rock formations of Parinacota and Nevado Tulum volcanoes and the cobblestone streets of Valparaíso, where the country's culture of fine wine and gourmet food mingle with the bohemian allure of a lively port.
Chillán is located on the coast of southern Chile, 60 miles south of Valparaiso, the port of entry to the country, with ferries to the mainland. The original name of the city was Callae, and it became the capital of the Provincia de Valparaíso when it was created in 1831. It has been renamed to Chillán since 1890, but the ex-colonial settlement retains the original architecture, beautiful beaches and bay-front fishing port that still attract visitors today. Chillán is best known for its charming old town, located in a quiet bay south of the centre. The principal attraction is the old colonial-style churches, the two most important being La Oración and La Asunción. Visit them for a glimpse of colonial-era architecture at its finest. Other fascinating buildings include the Old Customs House and the Main Town Hall, with its neo-gothic facade. The town also hosts the largest street market in Chile, which can be found every weekend in the old town square. Chillán is a pleasant town to visit in the cool season, with its beaches bathed in the golden light of the Chilean summer.
Puerto Natales is Chile's most accessible national park. Some of the world's most dramatic scenery and wildlife can be enjoyed right in the town. Thousands of blue-footed, Magellanic, and rufous-winged swans can be seen here on the winter migration to their northern-hemisphere breeding grounds. Other visitors to the park can enjoy the stunning mountains and lakes of the area, especially the wonderful glaciers of the Torres del Paine.
Lake Ranco is South America's deepest lake, with a maximum depth of 3,250 meters. The lake was formed by the eruption of the Collahuasi volcano, which lies in the Andes of central Chile. The mountain continues to erupt periodically, most recently in 2009, and now ice can be seen lying inside the crater. The volcano was added to the official list of dangerous volcanoes in the 1960s. As you make your way around the lake, stop in at Lake Ranco Marina and take a tour around the marina and volcano to visit the volcano. While at the lake, enjoy a scenic boat tour of the lake from the marina or take a boat from the shore to a hidden little beach on the lake.
At the southernmost tip of South America, Chile's beautiful western coast is surrounded by majestic ice-capped peaks and dramatic rocky promontories. One of the most popular destinations for adventure travellers is the city of Punta Arenas, which lies near the tip of the Southern Continent and faces the waters of the Drake Passage, the intense and turbulent body of water separating the Patagonian landmass from the South American mainland. The city has many things to see, including a surprisingly luxurious range of hotels and motels. Punta Arenas has a sizable indigenous population and was home to the last Patagonian Indians. The locals are friendly and eager to share their customs and culture with travelers, with varying degrees of success.
Antofagasta is the second largest city in Chile, and is considered the gateway to northern Chile. From the main plaza in the city center, it is possible to see the majestic Andes Mountains, a beautiful and mesmerizing landscape which overlooks the city. Although there is plenty to see and do in Antofagasta, the main thing to do is relax and enjoy the scenery. There are many wonderful activities to choose from including horse riding, ballooning, rafting and mountain biking, but the main thing is to enjoy the fresh air and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you.