Chile is such a long country from north to south that it incorporates an amazing variety of terrains. So whether you prefer flat countryside or mountains, hot weather or cold, you’re spoiled for choice when picking your location for the best hiking in Chile.
In the central region, you have a Goldilocks mix of temperature, climate and moderate terrain. For more challenging climbs, you have the Lake District with its towering volcanic peaks.
With Atacama and Patagonia, you have extremes of climate that mean hikers need to prepare carefully. Wherever you go, you are promised fantastic views, great food (and wine), and a warm Chilean welcome.
Here are the ten best places to hike in Chile.
Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago
The best way to explore a city is often on foot. You can take in the sights, sounds, and smells in a way that wouldn’t be the same from a car or a bus.
Chile’s capital is an exciting, modern city, with an efficient subway to get you anywhere you want to walk around. Give yourself a great overview by hiking the short, 40-minute trail to the top of San Cristobal hill.
The hill is dominated by the Sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception, which is a statue of Mary, the mother of Christ. Gleaming white, it’s 46 feet tall and stands on a 27 foot pedestal.
The statue is a copy of the one in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna by sculptor Giuseppe Obici. Obici based the original figure on his beautiful mother-in-law, a cause of some scandal at the time.
There is often a line to enter the tiny sanctuary to pray, but you will find other, quieter terraces to enjoy the view. The hill also holds Santiago’s largest public park, including a tiny Japanese garden, so you can extend your walk through that.
A funicular will take you up or down if you only want to walk one way (it’s a steep trail). On a good day, you can see the jagged peaks of the Andes, so you might want to check it’s not too smoggy out before you set off.
Todos Los Santos Lake, Puerto Montt
The spectacular scenery of Todos Los Santos Lake is a major draw, with the active volcanic peak of Volcan Osorno amid other snow-capped mountains drawing the eye. Black or white sand beaches contrast with the surrounding forest greenery, and the lake itself.
You have to register with the park authorities before hiking as the lake is part of the Vicente Perez Rosales National Park. The jumping-off point is the tiny town of Petrohué, just over an hour from Puerto Montt along the scenic shores of Lake Llanquihue.
There are good paths of varying lengths, which can be combined to make up any distance you like. You have a chance of seeing some wildlife, including otters, seabirds, and the fox-like chilla.
Named by Jesuit missionaries, “All Saints” Lake is a mesmerizing blue color when skies are clear. Or greeny-blue; German colonists used to call it Lake Esmeralda for its emerald hues.
The lake’s color comes from tiny particles of rock suspended in the water, the product of glacial erosion. The lake is as cold as you might expect when you see the surrounding glaciers, though very refreshing if the sun is hot.
Todos Los Santos was once an important ferry route between the countries of Chile and Argentina. Nowadays, as well as hiking, it’s used by visitors for boat excursions, kayak trips, and fly-fishing.
Cerro La Campana, Valparaiso
“Bell Mountain” is in the coastal mountain range an hour almost due east of Valparaiso. It’s famous for being scaled by biologist Charles Darwin in 1834, a visit commemorated by a plaque.
Many of the species Darwin described can still be seen on the slopes of the mountain. These include the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), and the distinctive bamboo groves.
You’ll also see the old quartz and gold workings, and the crumbling ruins of miners’ houses. Look out, too, for the many bird species; you may be lucky enough to see eagles or hear the Chilean mockingbird.
The climb to the top of 6,000-foot Cerro La Campana is really an all-day affair. If your time is scarce, the entire forested area protected by La Campana National Park has a number of well-marked, shorter, but equally rewarding routes.
The helpful ranger station at the entrance will provide plenty of options, depending on your time and fitness levels. The park is within easy reach of both Valparaiso and Santiago, so it’s very well set up for city visitors.
The many busy picnic areas add to the park’s appeal and mean you are never too far from help if you need directions. The dramatic viewpoints in the park are well signposted, and generously repay the effort of walking to them with sweeping views.
Petrohue Waterfalls, Puerto Montt
The Petrohué River rises in Todos Los Santos Lake and soon creates the spectacular Saltos de Petrohué, or Petrohué Falls. The emerald green water is part of that spectacle; another is the polished rock created by the fine grit carried down the river when in flood.
The waterfalls are a popular attraction, especially at weekends, so be prepared for that. However, a few walking trails allow you to escape anyone crowding to take a photo of the tumbling water.
One trail takes you around a few different viewing spots to see the cascades from differing angles. Another forest path concentrates more on the local flora and fauna, with interpretation signs in Spanish.
Vendors around the park sell the likes of wool socks and sweaters, in case you didn’t come prepared enough for the cold. Fudge is also popular, and, once back at the falls, there is a café that is always busy.
The classic image of the landmark has the Fuji-like peak of Volcan Osorno in the background. If you want to add this snow-capped volcano to your bucket list, it’s a guided eight-hour hike up and down.
Magallanes National Reserve, Punta Arenas
Only 15 minutes from Punta Arenas, this large reserve has some 35 miles of trails among its unusual rocks, and moss-covered native trees. That total is made up of many smaller, self-guided walks, including a reduced mobility option.
The reserve is relatively flat, but still delivers good views of the Strait of Magellan and the island of Tierra del Fuego. However, the frequent rain means the trail can be muddy, and high winds also add to the difficulty factor.
The most rewarding hike is to the Mirador Zapador Austral, with panoramic views over Punta Arenas. This lookout is a popular family outing on Sundays.
Birdwatchers love this park for its abundant, unusual bird species. Look out (and listen) for the likes of Magellanic woodpeckers, Austral thrushes, and Chilean flickers.
Less common are sightings of Patagonian animals such as Darwin’s leaf-eared mice, Andean foxes, or the tracks of a puma. However, botanists will not want to take their eyes off the indigenous lenga, and coigüe trees that can both grow over 80 feet tall.
Llanquihue National Reserve, near Puerto Montt
Only 45 minutes from Puerto Montt, the Llanquihue National Reserve takes you straight into the wonders of Patagonia, and some of the best hiking in Chile. At its heart is the prominent peak of Calbuco Volcano, to which all trails tend to lead.
Actually climbing the 6,611-foot-high volcano, however, is banned after an unexpected eruption in 2015 wiped out the trail to the top. You’ll be glad to know that the volcano has returned to its lowest level alert—for now.
A popular walk is to the Salto del Río Blanco, a picturesque 45-foot waterfall that tumbles into a pool on the river. The path is short, with no major climbing involved.
The reserve is a rainy temperate forest, protecting many indigenous species of flora, including guaitecas, and lenga cypress trees. Some South American bird species you’ll see here include the caiquen, black woodpecker, peuco, huet-huet, and tiuque.
Created in 1912, Llanquihue is one of the oldest protected wild areas in Chile. The terrain, while beautiful, can be rough underfoot, so make sure you have appropriate footwear.
Fort Bulnes, Punta Arenas
Just under an hour from Punta Arenas, Fuerte Bulnes is a much longer journey into the past. It was founded in 1843, the first symbol of the new Chilean government in this far-flung region.
This reconstruction of that original “Wild West”-style fort shows you how hard life really was for those early settlers. So no excuses for you when you take a walk through this beautiful but harsh terrain.
Do dress for the always windy, often rainy weather in these deep southern climes. If time is very short, there are some other interesting trails around the fort.
However, another 45-minute drive south is San Isidro lighthouse, the American continent’s most southerly. It has been guiding ships through the dangerous Strait of Magellan for more than a century.
The hike between the two historic points is a challenging all-day one, over the rough coastal terrain. Even a short section will give you memorable views of the Strait of Magellan, and Dawson Island.
You should see plenty of seabirds, including possibly the mighty albatross. You may even be lucky enough to spot dolphins, sea lions, or whales.
Alerce Andino National Park, Puerto Montt
This vast park of forest and lakes is home to some of the oldest tree species on earth. Their forebearers survived the ice sheets of 12,000 years ago, protected by its setting in a deep granite ravine.
Most important are the truly ancient alerce, or Patagonian cypress (Fitzroya cupressoides) trees, some of which are more than 2,500 years old. One tree, known as “Alerce Milenario”, is claimed to be the world’s oldest living tree at around 5,500 years old.
Most of these alerce trees are more remarkable to visitors for their vast diameter, up to 10 feet, and their towering, 150-foot height. They are a southern relative of North America’s better-known giant sequoia.
The park has a number of short trails, varying in length at about a mile or so. They can all be combined into longer walks, with one extra trail that is over five miles.
Reserva Nacional Laguna Parrillar, Punta Arenas
For many serious hikers, Punta Arenas is the start of the famous W hike around Torres Del Paine. That takes a whole week, with extra days getting to and from the trailhead.
For a more casual experience, Punta Arenas itself has some interesting walks. One of the best things to do in Chile is to hike to the Mirador Cerro La Cruz for an overview, or stroll the modern new waterfront with its interesting historic buildings and views of Tierra del Fuego.
Less than an hour from downtown is the Laguna Parrillar National Reserve, which has a number of more formal hikes. These vary in length from a half-mile to 15 miles, with various combinations to make as much length as you want.
The reserve, as its name implies, is centered on a lagoon but also has peat bogs, and is heavily wooded. It is named for the zarzaparrilla shrub (Ribes magellanicum), a member of the currant family.
The relatively flat, rolling landscape around the lagoon makes for good vistas. The forested areas bring the eye closer in to admire details such as orchids, or to look up for bird species such as Patagonian eagles or Austral parakeets.
Camino Costero, Valparaiso
Valparaiso’s Pacific coast is lined with beach resorts, particularly to the north with the popular suburb of Viña del Mar.
From there, you can walk further north along promenades and sidewalks to Concón, passing some beautiful natural viewpoints, and equally beautiful houses.
The sea here is often too cold to swim in for long, so walking is a natural way to take a break from tanning. With plenty of cafés and restaurants serving authentic Chilean food, you are also never too far from refreshment.
It’s about ten miles each way, and easy enough to find a bus or taxi to return to your starting point. The route is as popular with cyclists as it is with walkers.
Look out for birdlife as you walk, with species such as oystercatchers, whimbrels or Inca terns being common. Other sights include the popular Chilean beaches of Playa Amarilla, Reñaca, and Playa Las Salinas.
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