In Chile, you’ll find a fantastic variety of terrain, culture, climate, and activities. The best places to see in Chile are often outside major cities, like the vast Atacama Desert or massive waterfalls in the parks outside Puerto Montt.
If you love wildlife and photographing landscapes, you might enjoy the towns and coastlines of Patagonia, while history and culture buffs may be happier around Santiago and the beautiful city of Valparaiso.
Here are some of the best places to visit in Chile for all kinds of travelers.
Arica is one of Chile’s most unique destinations, as the seaside town offers both postcard-worthy South American beaches and easy access to the Andes. Arica is also known for its fabulous weather most of the year, and the lush valleys fed by Andes snowmelt.
While in Arica, head towards the Atacama Desert, a stunning plateau not too far from the city. Here, you can experience firsthand the huge art installation called “Tutelar Figures,” representing the ancient protectors of the Andean people. While in the desert, you can usually find a place to experience a traditional Andean folk music show, or even taste guanaco (a llama-like native species.)
On your way back, consider a stop at the San Miguel Archaeological Museum in nearby Azapa if you love ancient history or want to learn more about one of South America’s most important cultures.
If you want to stay closer to the city, you can hike up Morro de Arica, or just see it from the base. Other options in the area include exploring caves and caverns along the shoreline or staying in town to browse the artisan markets and sample locally grown cuisine. For a tiny town, Arica has some of the best places to visit in Chile for a wide variety of interests.
As one of the major cultural capitals not just of Chile but also of all of South America, Santiago is a must-visit destination in the country. It’s incredibly rich in culture, with fantastic food and plenty of beautiful streets and neighborhoods.
If you’re tight on time, consider taking a tour of the city’s highlights. You’ll want to stroll through Plaza de Armas, the city’s center, filled with palm trees, fountains, and street performers. From there, you can visit the National History Museum inside a former royal palace or stroll through the massive San Cristobal Hill park. Explore the city by yourself, or find a tour that stops by the sights you’re most interested in seeing.
Chile is also famous for its fabulous wines, so if you’re a budding connoisseur, you might want to visit the wine regions just outside of Santiago’s city limits. The vineyards around here are some of the best places to visit in Chile to sample local vintages and blends you may be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Even if you don’t like wine, the fresh olives and olive oil grown outside the city are equally mouthwatering.
Ask any traveler who has been to South America what their favorite place to visit in Chile is, and it’s a safe bet Valparaiso will rank highly on most lists. The name of this beautiful town translates to “paradise valley” in English.
You can reach Valparaiso in only about an hour from San Antonio. On the way, you’ll see the various European influences and bright pops of color and design.
You could also head just north of the town to Viña del Mar, a seaside village with stunning coastal views and even better fresh seafood. Alternatively, you can head southeast of Valparaiso to visit wineries in the budding Casablanca Valley, which has fabulous restaurants and wine tastings. Valparaiso is a very laid-back town, so just relaxing outside an ocean-view cafe is a great way to spend a morning, too.
Read: Best Things to Do in Valparaiso
Punta Arenas is often considered the gateway for those who want to visit Antarctica, but you’d be forgiven for getting to the gateway town and deciding you never want to leave. The small city is built onto the hill next to the ocean, and it’s breezy, laid back, and extremely walkable. It’s also filled with some of the best places to visit in Chile if you love wildlife.
A very popular activity here is heading to Magdalena Island, home to one of the largest colonies of Magellanic penguins in Chile. You can explore the island or sit and watch some of the most adorable penguins in South America go about their days. As you might expect, you’ll need a boat to get to the island, so it’s only visited with an organized and eco-focused tour operator. The trip out there can be choppy and breezy, so be sure to pack an extra layer or water-resistant jacket.
If you want something a little more active, one of the best things to do in Chile is to hike in Magallanes National Reserve. The trek to the top is just over a mile, and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Tierra del Fuego. The reserve is rarely crowded, making it a great place to find a bit of privacy during a nature stroll.
If you love history, you’ll also want to check out Punta Arenas‘ Fort Bulnes, in Patagonia Historical Park. As one of the first settlements in Chile, Fort Bulnes has historical buildings and amazing views of the Strait of Magellan, all while offering a peek into the early days of Chile’s early years.
Puerto Montt is one of Chile’s most walkable cities, packed with picturesque landscapes and active adventures. There’s much to do, but the Petrohué Waterfalls and Lake Llanquihue are two can’t-miss sights.
To see the Petrohué Waterfall, head to Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. It’s one of the most beautiful and stunning places to visit in Chile as it’s home to a mind-blowing amount of diversity and landscapes. You’ll find rapids, lakes, waterfalls, and even old lava tubes leftover from ancient eruptions. You can even see the eastern slope of Volcan Osorno. There are a few hiking trails in the park, or you can take a park tour that will drive past most of the major sites.
Read: 10 Stunning South America Waterfalls
To get a more leisurely look at the stunning landscapes of Puerto Mott, take a trip to the massive Lake Llanquihue. It’s one of the largest lakes in Chile and sits in the shadow of the Osorno Volcano, so it’s a fabulous place to visit if you like landscape photography.
You’ll probably drive through Puerto Varas to reach the lake, an absolutely charming German-style town known as the “city of roses.” If you’ve got some time, it’s worth stopping here for lunch or to check out some of the unique shops.
You may not be familiar with La Serena, since places to visit in Chile like Santiago and Patagonia often get most of the attention. But the fact that La Serena is under the radar makes it all that much more special for guests who are lucky enough to visit.
La Serena has some of Chile’s best beaches, and since it’s the second-oldest city in the country, it also has centuries of history to discover.
Start your visit to La Serena by visiting Fort Lambert, a seaside fort originally built to protect a wealthy resident’s possessions from being pillaged by pirates. Stroll around the surrounding neighborhood to explore the charming and unique mix of Chilean and British influences.
Of course, you almost have to visit the beach while in La Serena, since it’s considered one of the best beach destinations on South America’s Pacific Coast. A great choice is La Herradura Bay (Horseshoe Bay), named by infamous English pirate Francis Drake. From the moment he first gave it that moniker in the late 16th century, it became a haven for pirates, partially due to its protected horseshoe shape.
Fortunately for travelers, it’s now a well-developed beach destination with warm water and fantastic small shops and ocean-view restaurants. It’s also where you’ll find La Serena Lighthouse, one of the most popular places to visit in Chile for both history and architecture aficionados. Built in 1950 in a traditional style, it’s on the country’s list of national heritage buildings.
If you have a second day near La Serena, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the Elqui Valley, where you can visit a distillery to learn how they make Chile’s world-famous pisco spirit (and taste it, of course). Tours are fun and thorough, taking you through the entire process from grape to bottle.
As you travel through the Elqui Valley, take time to stop and enjoy the views. The valley is one of the most unique places on earth, bordered by both the Andes and the Atacama Desert. The region is so special—and has such a clean and healthy ecosystem—that it had the honor of being designated as the world’s very first Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2015. It’s an incredibly popular destination with photographers and nature buffs. There are also a few mountain villages in the valley worth visiting, especially if you get a chance to try some traditional Chilean food and drink.
Chilean Fjords and the Strait of Magellan
With volcanos, mountain ranges, deserts, and stunning valleys, Chile has one of the most diverse landscapes on earth. And that diversity extends to the oceans around the country. You’ll need to be on the water to take in some of the best sights, so if you’re able to set sail for a few days, visit the Chilean Fjords or the Strait of Magellan.
The fjords of Chile, near the southern tip of South America, are some of the wildest and most beautiful marine landscapes on the continent and one of the best places to visit in Patagonia. As you sail through these waters, keep an eye out for some of the world’s oldest glaciers; you’ll know you’re getting close if you start to see chunks of ice floating nearby. There’s usually a chance of whale sightings, depending on the time of year, and you may even see rare Chilean condors swooping over the coastlines.
South of the fjords is the Strait of Magellan, one of the most important channels for ships traveling between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This is the real Patagonia, and it’s one of the best places in Chile to really feel South America’s extremes, from landscapes and winds to beauty.
This area, along with Cape Horn, is a can’t-miss destination for anyone traveling through this part of South America. Even frequent travelers may sail away thinking this is one of the most beautiful places they’ve ever been.
To see the very best of the country, from the northern deserts to the most remote stretches of southern Patagonia, consider booking a luxury cruise to Chile. That way, you’ll get to enjoy sightseeing during numerous port visits, and sail through some of the most beautiful parts of the country that can only be reached by boat.
Browse cruise itineraries on our website and plan your next incredible vacation today.