Chile things to see and do

Tourist offices

Chile Tourist Office

1550 Avenida Providencia, Santiago, Chile
Tel: (02) 2731 8337
www.chile.travel

Things to see and do

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? DAP airlines (www.aeroviasdap.cl) or Quark Expeditions (www.quarkexpeditions.com) can help get you there.

Atacama desert

Let the uniquely arid landscape of the Atacama desert – the world’s driest - sweep you away with its broad, stark vistas of volcanoes, salt flats, lakes and the abandoned homes of the indigenous Aymara people. There are areas of Atacama that haven’t seen rain for more than 400 years. Some of the oldest mummies found on earth come from Atacama and are estimated to be 9,000 years old.

Backcountry skiing the Darwin Mountain Range

World-class backcountry skiing can be found in the Darwin Mountain Range at the southernmost tip of the country, where the ski season runs from June to September. For the slightly less adventurous, the famous Portillo resort (www.skiportillo.com) next to the Inca lagoon hosts many national ski teams, including the Austrian and Italian skiers over for the European summer. Portillo’s powder snow is a perfect match for boarders. Other slopes in the area can be found at Farellones-El Colorado, La Parva and Valle Nevado.

Chile's Lake District

Ideal for kayaking and rafting, trekking, canyoning and fly-fishing, this area is heaven for those who love the great outdoors. Fishermen should try the laid-back and little-known Llanada Grande Valley on the Puelo River, which also offers many family friendly activities - and an interesting way to enter Chile crossing the Andes by both foot and boat from El Bolson, Argentina. See millennia-old larch trees in the lush, temperate rainforests of Patagonia at Pumalín Park (www.parquepumalin.cl), the vast 283,000-hectare (700,000-acre) nature reserve and government-protected sanctuary founded by American billionaire Douglas Tompkins. Huilo Huilo (www.huilohuilo.com), an incredible 100,000-hectare (250,000-acre) nature reserve/eco resort, has activities ideal for families and adventurers, and offers great accommodation including Magic Mountain Lodge, consistently named one of the world’s most interesting hotels.

Chiloé Archipelago

The quirky group of Chiloé islands, which are separated from Chile by the Chacao Channel, have more than 150 colourful and old wooden churches to marvel at – 16 of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites – as well as precarious houses on stilts lining the water’s edge. There is also a notable penguin colony on the main island of Chiloe. Not to be missed is an unforgettable sunrise kayak through a petrified forest with Chepu Adventures (www.chepu.cl) who are working hard to maintain the fragile ecosystems in Chiloe amidst growing tourism.

Easter Island

A lonely volcanic island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as far away from Chile as from Tahiti, Easter Island is famous for its mysterious stone statues, or moais, that form an almost unbroken ring around the coast. Around 300 statues and related items of stonework, which were built from 10th to 16th centuries, grace the island and continue to fascinate scientists eager to learn how native inhabitants designed and forged the massive sculptures from hard volcanic rock, and how they transported them to the coast from inland quarries. Other sites to investigate include the volcano crater Rano Kau, the Orongo rock carvings and the museum in the main town of Hanga Roa.

Francisco Coloane Marine Park

Located in the historic 560km- (350-mile) long Strait of Magellan, this is the only site in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica where humpback whales can be found feeding.

Humberstone

In Humberstone (www.albumdesierto.cl), a deserted former nitrate mining town in the far north of Chile containing rusting industrial equipment and abandoned homes, visitors will feel the haunting sense of emptiness and eeriness of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Juan Fernández Islands

Re-trace the footsteps of the real-life Robinson Crusoe in the little known Juan Fernández Islands 650km (403 miles) west of Valparaíso. Scotsman Alexander Selkirk was marooned here in the early 18th century, forming the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe.

La Sebastiana

The Valparaiso home of famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda is open for exploration. Visitors can wander around La Sebastiana at will, lingering over the chaotic collection of ship's figureheads, glass, 1950s furniture and artworks by his famous friends. Notable is the inspiring view of the ocean from Neruda’s crow’s nest study.

La Serena

The town of La Serena is a good base to visit some of the region's attractive white sandy beaches. The streets of the second city to be founded in Chile in 1544, are filled with attractive colonial architecture and restored churches (though you might want to avoid the January and February crowds). A day trip to the fishing village of Los Choros is worth the effort for some downtime with bottle-nosed dolphins and sea otters.

La Vega Central Market

Raspberries, quinces, figs, peaches, persimmons, custard apples, wine, spices… if it’s from Chile, you’ll find it at 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.

Parque Nacional Lauca

Parque Nacional Lauca, in the north of Chile, is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve - look out for flamingos and rheas (an ostrich-like bird) on these unique salt plains. The park is also home to Chungará, one of the highest lakes in the world.

Pre-Colombian Art Museum

Santiago's small but magnificent Pre-Colombian Art Museum is a moving testament to the sophistication and artistry of the cultures that thrived in South America 4,500 years before the arrival of the plundering conquistadores. A fascinating collection of ceramics, textiles and Chinchorro mummies, which outdate their Egyptian counterparts, awaits.

Rafting Futaleufu

White-water rafting down any number of the country's rapids is a popular way to experience the country’s spectacular nature - you'll find specialist operators offering up to week-long trips down the Maipo near Santiago, the Trancura near Pucón, as well as the Bio-Bio River in Region VIII. The scenery around the Bio-Bio includes hot springs and waterfalls. But for hard-core rafters looking for an adrenaline rush, the impressive Futaleufu River in the south is not to be missed.

San Rafael Glacier

Nature lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to see the impressive San Rafael Glacier. Witness giant icebergs from a glacier cruise, or kayak out to accessible parts. There is also a spectacular route through Chile's Inside Passage, the Beagle Channel and around Cape Horn, which passes through glacial valleys (including Laguna San Rafael), fjords and past huge icebergs. Passengers can disembark at various points en route, notably at Puerto Natales and Tierra del Fuego.

Santiago views

Hike up towards the giant statue of the Virgin Mary atop Cerro San Cristóbal for a spectacular panorama over Santiago's vast sprawl. At the foot of the hill in the Barrio Bellavista district, nose around the quirky, eccentric La Chascona (www.fundacionneruda.org), once the Santiago home of the poet Pablo Neruda.

Stargazing tours

Get a glimpse of galaxies far away at one of several powerful observatories situated in the northern Coquimbo region of Chile, which is famed for its lack of light pollution and remarkably clear skies. The best of the best is ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array), the largest astronomical project in existence, composed initially of 66 high precision antennas on the Chajnator Plateau in northern Chile. Collowara Observatory, 1,300m (4,270ft) above sea level atop Cerro Churqui near La Serena, has a powerful 14-inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope you can get your eyes on.

Surfing El Gringo

The surf’s up all down the Pacific seaboard – the only decision is where to hit it. World championships are held at Arica and Pichilemu, known for their short tubular waves with a rocky bottom, but the less experienced should start to find their point break at Punta de Lobos, Chile’s most well-known surf spot. You’ll have to head north for an international-class wave, the ironically named El Gringo in Arica – but it’s only for experts.

Torres del Paine

The iconic jagged peaks of Torres del Paine are a defining sight of the far south of Chile. Trek either one of its two circuits, the Grande or the W, for a step into Patagonian wildlife and catch the impressive Southern Ice Fields, a trip best made in summer. For the most southern trek in the world, take on the newly opened Dientes de Navarino, located further south in Chile on Isla Navarino.

Valparaíso

Valparaíso is one of the most atmospheric port cities in Latin America - a city with sinuous hills and a labyrinth of precipitous streets and bright clapboard houses that inspired the poet Pablo Neruda. Colour, culture, beaches and bohemia sum up this coastal haven located just a little more than an hour from Santiago.

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 while peering down into crater. The country’s last major eruptions were in Chaiten in the south, which occurred in 2008, and Puyehue a little further north erupted in 2012.

Wine tasting in Rapel Valley

Just 60km (37 miles) from Santiago, the Rapel Valley is located between Rancagua and Chimbarongo and is a region known for its wide grape varieties. Split into two areas, Cachapoal and Cholchagua, these areas have earned international recognition for their Carménère and Syrah wines. Concha y Toro, one of Chile's oldest winemakers, is famous for its Carménère. Further south of the capital and also worth inspection are the Curicó and Maule valleys. Some interesting and very high quality organic, biodynamic wines are being made by both the Metetic and Emiliana wineries.

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