Discover Chile’s northern delights
Northern Chile offers a dazzling plethora of attractions: visit the fishing village of Los Choros to spot bottle-nosed dolphins and sea otters off shore. World surfing championships are held at Arica and Pichilemu, but Punta de Lobos is the best surf spot for beginners. Explore the eerie mining ghost town of Humberston; and see flamingos and rheas on the salt plains of the Parque Nacional Lauca.
Get the sand between your toes in the Atacama Desert
Let the uniquely arid landscape of the Atacama Desert sweep you away with its broad, stark vistas of volcanoes, salt flats, aquamarine lakes and the abandoned homes of the indigenous Aymara people. The world’s driest desert, there are areas of Atacama that haven’t seen rain for more than 400 years.
Get up close to the San Rafael Glacier
The star attraction of the superb San Rafael National Park is its eponymous glacier. Witness giant icebergs from a glacier cruise, or kayak out to accessible parts. Longer cruises follow a spectacular route through the Beagle Channel and around Cape Horn, passing glacial valleys, fjords and huge icebergs; with stop-off points en route, notably at Puerto Natales and Tierra del Fuego.
Go whale watching in Francisco Coloane Marine Park
Located in the historic 560km-long (350mile) Strait of Magellan, this is the only site in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica where humpback whales can be found feeding. Boat safaris are available from Punta Arenas, from December to April, during the summer months when these majestic cetaceans head north to warmer waters.
Haggle in La Vega Central Market
Raspberries, quinces, figs, peaches, persimmons, custard apples, wine, spices… if it’s from Chile, you’ll find it at Santiago’s La Vega Central Market and Bazaar. Get there early for the best selection and to see the more than 500 enthusiastic vendors in full swing. It’s loud, chaotic and crowded, which is all part of the authentic Chilean shopping scene.
Hike up fiery Volcán Villarrica
One of the world's most active volcanoes, Volcán Villarrica near Pucón is safer than it sounds – it is also one of the world's most monitored, so you should have plenty of warning of any imminent eruption. You can hike up Villarrica in a day, with local tour operators running guided walks, and shoot back down on a thrilling toboggan ride.
Kayak through the Chiloé archipelago
The Chiloé islands, which are separated from Chile by the Chacao Channel, have a quirky range of attractions, including colourful old wooden churches, precarious waterfront houses on stilts, and a notable colony of penguins on the main island of Chiloe. Perhaps the most unforgettable experience, however, is a sunrise kayak ride through a petrified forest with one of several local agencies.
Marvel at Chile's lake district
Ideal for watersports, trekking and fly-fishing, this area is heaven for lovers of the great outdoors. The Llanada Grande Valley is great for fishing, as well as many family friendly activities. See millennia-old larch trees in the lush, temperate rainforests of Patagonia at Pumalín Park, a vast nature reserve. Huilo Huilo, an incredible biological reserve, has bundles of activities as well as great accommodation options.
Mingle with the penguins in Antarctica
Voyage to the world's last undiscovered wilderness, Antarctica, from Chile's southernmost city, Punta Arenas. Where else could you find penguins, vertiginous icebergs and live out the fantasy of being Scott of the Antarctic for a few days? Local tour operators in Punta Arenas can help get you there, offering everything from skiing and mountain climbing expeditions to luxury cruises.
Quaff Chile’s fine wines
A short hop from Santiago lieChile’s leading wine regions, with tasting tours available for keen oenophiles. The Rapel Valley has earned international recognition for its Carménère and Syrah wines. Concha y Toro, one of Chile's oldest winemakers, is famous for its Carménère. Further south of the capital are the Curicó and Maule valleys, also home to some of Chile’s oldest and finest vineyards.
Raft down the rapids
White-water rafting down the country's many rapids is a popular way to experience nature – at high speed. Specialist operators offer up to week-long trips down the Maipo near Santiago, the Trancura near Pucón, as well as the Bio-Bio River in Region VIII. For hard-core rafters looking for an adrenaline rush, however, the impressive Futaleufu River in the south is the ultimate challenge.
Remember Robinson Crusoe on the Juan Fernández Islands
Retrace the footsteps of the real-life Robinson Crusoe in the little known Juan Fernández Islands 650km (403 miles) west of Valparaíso, accessible by plane from Santiago. Scotsman Alexander Selkirk was marooned here in the early 18th century, forming the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe. Today, you can visit various sites, including Selkirk’s cave and his hilltop lookout.
Search for Valparaíso’s poetic spirit
One of the most atmospheric port cities in Latin America, Valparaiso is a place of sinuous hills, a labyrinth of precipitous streets and bright clapboard houses. Its slightly offbeat charms inspired Pablo Neruda. Chile’s best-known Nobel Prize-winning poet, his home, La Sebastiana, is open to visitors. Colour, culture and bohemia sum up this coastal haven located just a little more than an hour from Santiago.
Ski in the Darwin Mountain Range
World-class backcountry skiing can be found in the Darwin Mountain Range at Chile’s southernmost tip, where the ski season runs from June to September. For the slightly less adventurous, the famous Portillo resort hosts many national ski teams. Portillo’s powder snow is a perfect match for boarders. Other slopes in the area include Farellones-El Colorado, La Parva and Valle Nevado.
Stare at the statues of Easter Island
A lonely volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean, Easter Island is famous for its mysterious stone statues, or moais. Around 300 statues and other stonework form an almost unbroken ring around the coast, still puzzling scientists how and why they were made. Other sites to investigate include the volcano crater Rano Kau, the Orongo rock carvings and the museum in Hanga Roa.
Stargaze in Chile’s clear skies
Glimpse faraway galaxies at one of several powerful observatories situated in the northern Coquimbo region, which is famed for its remarkably clear skies. The best of the best is ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array), the world’s largest astronomical project, on the Chajnator Plateau in northern Chile. Or set your sights on the powerful Schmidt Cassegrain telescope in the Collowara Observatory, atop Cerro Churqui near La Serena.
Tackle Santiago’s lofty hills
Perched atop Cerro San Cristóbal is the giant statue of the Virgin Mary, a popular spot for city hikers to enjoy a spectacular panorama over Santiago's vast sprawl. Reward yourself for your efforts by stopping off at the foot of the hill in Barrio Bellavista, to visit the eccentric La Chascona, once the Santiago home of poet Pablo Neruda.
Trek through Torres del Paine
The jagged peaks of Torres del Paine are a defining sight of the far south. Its two trekking circuits, the Grande or the W, provide a taste of Patagonian wilderness; and catch the impressive Southern Ice Fields, a trip best made in summer. For the most southern trek in the world, take on the Dientes de Navarino, located further south on Isla Navarino.