Chile Tours and Travel Guide
Chile Attractions & Landmarks Guide
Chile, which runs like a thin ribbon nearly 3,000 miles down the western coast of South America yet averages only about 100 miles in width, is blessed with a remarkable variety of notable geographic features.
Ocean coastline? Of course.
Andes Mountains? Look no further.
The world’s driest desert? Right here.
Beautiful lake country and offshore islands? Chile has both.
Vineyards? In abundance.
Patagonia? Shared with neighboring Argentina.
Cape Horn and Easter Island? Both part of Chile.
World-class cities? Start with Santiago and Valparaiso.
It all adds up to an indispensable destination in South America.
For a country that seems to be almost entirely coastline, Chile offers an unexpected range of modern cities, stunning wilderness, and a warm and vibrant culture, even as far South as freezing Patagonia. Traveling in this country is as much about rugged adventure as it is about world class dining and fine arts and there are tours that cover it all, from the Northern deserts to the shivering South of Patagonia.
For nature lovers who crave the most extreme and remote locations, Chile is ideal. With a stretch of 4,000 latitudinal miles, the climates and landscapes vary greatly. In the North, visit the Atacama Desert with its dry, otherworldly scenes of orange sand dunes and the rocky and desolate Moon Valley. Glistening white salt flats crunching underfoot and aquamarine salt flats in the middle of remote altiplanos are scenes from another planet entirely.
In central Chile lies the Elqui Valley, a lush, fertile valley strewn with vineyards and pisco production. By day, take a hiking tour or go to different pisco factories for tastings. However, the real surprise appears when the sun dips behind the mountains. As darkness spreads, so do the number of stars along the sky.
The valley has on average, 360 clear days a year, making it ideal for stargazing. Guided tours can take you to one of the many observatories or you can appreciate the celestial magnificence during a guided horseback ride. The layers upon layers of constellations are dizzying in this dark and silent valley.
Hiking Trails in Chile
Chile tops many a trekker’s bucket list and yet it can be daunting figuring out just where to go. Based on how long you have, your fitness level, your penchant for adventure, whether you want to camp or stay in luxury lodges and how independent you’d like to be, your Chile guided tour might include any of the following:
1. “W” Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, four to five long, fairly strenuous hiking days and an easier trail than the full circuit
2. “O”Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, eight days, covering even more lakes, mountains and glaciers than the “W” Circuit
3. Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine National Park
4. Glacier El Morado, in Cajón del Maipo near Santiago, no more than four hours of hiking up through the Andes for a close-up look at the glacier (the hot springs at the trailhead are an added bonus!)
5. Villarrica Volcano, Pucón, an opportunity to trek up an active volcano (take advantage of the town’s myriad adventure activities, from whitewater rafting to mountain biking to kayaking)
6. Valle de la Luna, in San Pedro de Atacama, a moon-like landscape that truly transports you to another world
7. Kari Gorge, in San Pedro Atacama, a complementary trek to Valle de la Luna, with its out-of-this-world landscape of sand dunes, red cliffs and a desolate gorge that winds on for miles
Here in the “spine of South America,” a diverse landscape allows for many distinct ecosystems and therefore a wide range of wildlife. Ever seen a penguin outside of a zoo? Now’s your chance. Hoping to add the prized Diademed Sandpiper-Plover to your life list? Give it a try here. From flamingos to elephant seals, Darwin’s fox to the elusive puma, a rich wildlife population makes the pristine landscapes of Chile its home.
In mighty Torres del Paine National Park, search for guanaco and the Andean condor, the largest flying bird in the world. In Patagonia, and particularly on Isla Magdelena, get to know a Magellanic penguin and its thousands of mates. And who can resist taking (too) many photos of the pudú, a tiny deer (in fact, the smallest deer in the world) that lives deep in the forests of southern Chile.
5 Great Places to Spot Wildlife in Chile
Grab your camera equipment and head to these five top spots in Chile to glimpse the local wildlife in its natural habitat:
1. Atacama Desert, home to the undeniably photogenic Humboldt penguins; light and dark brown guanacos and vicunas, relatives of the llama and alpaca; the Andean American gray fox; salt flat lizards; and three species of flamingo, which make their home on the Atacama salt flats and in the Los Flamencos National Reserve.
2. The Lake District, where you may be lucky enough to spot Darwin’s frog, an odd little creature that could easily be mistaken for a dead leaf. Keep a trained eye out for the slender-billed parakeet, distinguished by its bright green body, red tail feathers and blue wings.
3. Torres del Paine, like the Atacama, is home to guanaco and the Andean gray fox, plus the daunting Patagonian puma and Andean condor (largest of any land bird).
4. Río Los Cipreses National Reserve, home to the majestic condor, small herds of guanaco and the fascinating burrowing parrot.
5. Tierra del Fuego, the rugged and southernmost spot on the planet, home to Magellanic penguins, the only colony of King penguins in the Americas and a new colony of black-browed albatross.
And a bonus! Take the ferry from the mainland to Chiloe, where around a decade ago, scientists discovered hundreds of blue whales in the waters around the island. Keep an eye out, also, for Humboldt and Magellanic penguins, and the Southern river otter, the rarest otter species on Earth.
Patagonia is a dream for serious trekkers and adventure seekers. This is a land of vast, untouched landscapes and lonely gauchos, riding for miles across freezing deserts, their breaths fogging the pure mountain air in front of their noses. Here, you can trek for days, marveling at novel sights like massive glacier walls or scraggy mountain peaks reflecting the pink orange hues of the sunrise.
Patagonia spans an area of over 400,000 square miles (which is larger than the entire United Kingdom), which means you have dozens of options for things to see and do, and how to get between destinations. Some of the most popular sites include the two, world-class national parks Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares.
The two are physically close to each other, and are often combined on many group tours of Patagonia. If luxury accommodation and good meals are somethingy ou care about, then you should consider spending most of your time in this area: it is well developed, and there many beautiful lodges, hotels, and restaurants for tourists.The farther south you go, the more rugged Patagonia becomes.
The coast of Patagonia is an oft-forgotten bonus. Home to some of the best whale watching on the planet, with gorgeous, desolate fjords framing your view. If wildlife is one of your main interests, Patagonia's coastline is also home to year-round populations of killer whales, elephant seals, fur seals, dolphins, sea lions, and even penguins.
Can’t-Miss Chilean Cuisine
All that outdoor adventure on your Chile guided tour is sure to leave you with a hearty appetite and fortunately, the country’s niche cuisine won’t disappoint. Flavorful, farm-to-table meals mainly comprised of meat, seafood and veggies will satisfy any palate - be sure to wash it down with one of the many remarkable local wines or a tangy pisco sour, a local specialty.
Dive into these dishes on your next Chile tour:
1. Empanadas are decadent, doughy and delicious, typically filled with cheese, seafood, beef and onion.
2. Humitas, also known as Chilean tamales. These can be sweet or savory - look for them in most corner markets, stuffed with corn, basil, onion and ground paprika and tied up with thread or twine.
3. Pastel de Choclo combines the Spanish empanada and Andean humita, resulting in a sweet and savory corn pudding full of beef, olives, onions, egg and raisins.
4. Asado, a must for lovers of barbecue. Beef, pork, mutton or chicken is prepared over charcoal for several hours, resulting in a slow-roasted, succulent treat.
5. Charquican stew, a traditional recipe passed down through generations, prepared from dry preserved meat and pumpkin. It’s not only delicious, but this favorite Chilean comfort food is high in nutritional value as well!
6. Chorillana, a popular Chilean fast food. Take a heaping pile of French fries and pile on sauteed beef, onions, sausages and fried egg. It’s found in almost every bar in Chile - don’t leave without trying it!
What to wash it all down with? Chilean wine, of course. The award-winning vintages of the Colchagua Valley make for one of the best wine lists in the world.
A few to put on your must-taste list: Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (named best Chilean winery for 2017), Montes Folly Syrah 2010, considered Chile’s best, and Concha y Toro Don Melchor “Puente Alto Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.
Top Chile Cities
Yes, Chile is a stunning outdoor adventurer’s dream, but what about those of us who also enjoy a sophisticated city with energetic nightlife, worldly dining and a cosmopolitan vibe? Look no farther than Santiago and Valparaiso.
1. Santiago is a boon for museum-lovers, art aficionados and finicky foodies. One can spend days strolling through its many distinct neighborhoods, breaking for alfresco picnics in one of the verdant hillside parks (most within view of the heaven-piercing Andes). Santiago’s bohemian district, Barrio Bellavista, shines with exuberant vitality.
These tree-lined, mural-dotted streets are where Chilean artists and intellectuals live and play. Sit at a sidewalk café, snacking on sopapillas and sipping on a terremoto (literally, earthquake), made from sweet wine and pineapple ice cream. The hum of art and music vibrating from open galleries and bars is palpable as you saunter down the rows of venues, looking for your next drink, and the next dance.
One can’t miss Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago’s largest park - you don’t even need walk the whole thing. Instead, hope onto the funicular or the cable car, on opposing sides of the park, to whisk you off to different sections.
2. Valparaiso, while smaller in scale, is equally as enchanting as Santiago, particularly for lovers of art and boho. This port town is comprised of steeps hills jutting almost immediately from the shoreline. Many brightly colored boxy houses are stacked one on top of the other, lackadaisically, all along the hills, tilting so perilously on stilts, like a child’s imaginative diorama.
Here, high up on a ridge overlooking the entire town and the endless stretch of the Pacific Ocean, is where Chilean Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda’s house sits. His house is a curiosity in itself, giving you a little more insight into this poet’s world, a fantastical, whimsical dream. Making your way back down the steep streets, you are surrounded by brilliant murals, taking up entire walls. Each turn, another piece of art made for and by the public.
If time allows, including a trip to Easter Island and Rapa Nui National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) as part of your Chile guided tour will prove not only worthwhile, but magical - a hefty undertaking for a remote destination 2,000 miles off the western coast of Chile.
The mystical island, also known as Rapa Nui, is just 63 square miles, yet packed full of wonder with its volcanic cones, steep cliffs, rocky coves dotted with megalithic statues.
Explore approximately 900 maoi statues, or Easter Island Heads, as they’re often called, photograph wild horses running unfettered across the rolling hillsides and embrace the lack of dependable WiFi - if ever there’s a time to be disconnected, this is it.
Getting the Most Out of Easter Island
How did the Rapa Nui construct these enormous monuments - on average 13 feet tall and weighing 14 tons? Why did they move them about the island and place them where they did? Why did they ultimately topple them?
And, come to think of it, how and when did the first people arrive on the island? For those with a penchant for archaeology and ancient history, Easter Island is a boon of questions, observations and hypotheses. It is generally believed in academia that the statues were meant to honor ancestors or chiefs, but the truth, while out there, isn’t clear, given the lack of written or oral history about the island itself.
Armchair archaeologists and hobbyist historians will find much to marvel at as one explores the Rano Raraku quarry, where most of the stone came from for the moai. The quarry is home to nearly 400 statues, all in various stages of completion. On a more somber note, the time to visit is now … many of the maoi are rapidly deteriorating, erasing detailed carvings and morphing into plain volcanic rock due to weathering and climate change.
Why the Hats?
Why is it that some of the maoi statues don hats of red stone? Recent research has led scientists to believe that the island inhabitants discovered a quarry where they mined red volcanic pumice. The hats may have first been carved between 1200 and 1300 and likely represent a plait, or top knot, worn by chieftains who were engaged in a struggle of dominance. Just one more piece of the puzzle that is Easter Island.
How to Get to Easter Island
While it’s certainly easier for modern visitors to approach Easter Island than it was for the ancient Rapa Nui people, there’s no denying that the island is, well, far from anything. Hours-long flights depart from Santiago, Chile and Tahiti, bound for this mystical isle. Once there, most visitors get around by hired car, motorcycle or mountain bike.
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