There are a lot of reasons to travel: to discover new cultures, to meet amazing people, to see new things. One of the best reasons is to slow down from the rush and pressures of daily life. How to do this is personal to everyone. For some, it could be escaping to the mountain and breathing in the fresh air while looking over a magnificent valley. For others, it’s about taking it easy, slowing down, and even enjoying a few luxuries. If this is more your style, keep reading to see what Chile has in store for you.
The Atacama Desert is full of wonders. Its remoteness brings a sense of peace and awe to any visitor. It also, perhaps surprisingly, is a hub for a taste of luxury. The Atacama is home to some beautiful hotels that honor the traditional style of the region. Relax by the pool of your hotel or enjoy the calm of the morning with a coffee outside your beautifully decorated hut. In the Atacama, you can taste some truly mouthwatering dishes in superb restaurants that celebrate local flavors.
Outside of your hotel, visit the Puritama hot springs, an oasis of warm pools in the middle of the desert. The pools have temperatures between 28°C and 31°C and offer a high concentration of minerals to revitalize your body as much as your mind. Surrounded by tall grasses and the sound of running water, this is the perfect place to slow down, reconnect, and feel like you’re in a little slice of heaven.
Easter Island can only be described as magical. Its friendly people and beautfiul coastal landscapes make it a great place to visit to chill out, enjoy great food, and discover new things.
For the ultimate luxury reset, lie by the stunning pool of your hotel surrounded by green palms and reap the benefits of the island’s volcanic rock at the spa. Alternatively, you can reconnect with nature by spending a day on the white sands of Anakena beach and its clear-blue waters or snorkel with the island’s sea life around the southern tip of the island.
Of course, there’s plenty to do if you want to explore the island more! Take a relaxed tour to see the Moai statues that characaterize the island, enjoy a cooking class to learn traditional Rapa Nui methods, or head out on a boat ride around the island to feel the sea air on your face. Whatever your favorite way to relax may be, you can find it here on Easter Island.
Chile is known for producing some of the world’s best and most popular wines. With that, comes some spectacular locations to retreat to in the country. One place that stands out is the award-winning VIK hotel. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Cachapoal Valley, to the south of Santiago, this is a wine lover’s paradise and an idyllic stay for couples. Enjoy its first-class spa facilities including baths in wine that balances fluid retention and stimulates lymphatic flow through the body, as well as massages, scrubs and wraps to make you feel like new. If you’re looking to reconnect with nature, take gentle walks around the hotel’s reserve, protected by the winery’s sustainable methods. If food is your healer, enjoy for a traditional barbeque amongst the vines or sample its superb restaurant to tantalize your tastebuds.
Alternatively, visit the organic wineries of the Casablanca Valley, an hour west of Santiago. Discover the different techniques, histories, and flavors of the wines here. You can stay at a charming boutique hotel on the hills of Valparaíso and overlooking the magnificent bay. Be sure to include a leisurely guided walk around the city to sample some of the culture.
If you prefer greener, more luscious surroundings, the Lake District in the south of Chile may be the one for you.
Hotel AWA in Puerto Varas overlooks the stunning Lake Llanquihue with views of the snow-capped Osorno Volcano in the distance. Decompress in the beautiful spa facilities, find your zen at an in-house yoga class, or visit the nearby Teatro del Lago for a classic music concert.
Of course, exploring the beautiful surroundings will help you find harmony and peace. Besides leisurely strolls around the lake, you can opt for a light trail through the Alerce Andino National Park to discover 3000-year old forests to truly immerse yourself in nature. If you’re feeling really adventurous, include a (short) hike to up the Osorno Volcano and a visit to the Petrohue falls too!
Whatever your idea of a vacation, the Ecochile team is here to build your perfect itinerary. Hit the ‘Plan your trip‘ button above to get in touch with our travel specialists and we’ll start crafting your dream vacation.
Easter Island, or Rapa Nui by its indigenous name, is a bucket list destination and one of the places that you have to visit. You can feel its magic and mystique as you explore its luscious landscapes and cultural wonders. To say the island is remote is an understatement. Lying in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, some 2,200 miles (3,540 km) off the coast of Chile, you need to take a five hour flight to get here. But you’ll land in a subtropical paradise of green rolling hills, clear blue sea, and an island shrouded in history and culture to explore.
Although you can get a taste of the island in just a couple of days, it’s worth spending a good amount of time here. In five or six days, you can see the island’s highlights, immerse yourself in its culture, and discover some of its more hidden spots.
The Moai statues are what Easter Island is famous for, and you can’t leave without admiring these impressive statues. Carved out of the island’s native stone and miraculously carried to their resting places, these are the guardians of the island. Each one is different and has its own shape and personality. There are over a thousand of them across Rapa Nui, and almost as many ways to see them! That said, there are some important places you need to see if you want to understand the phenomenon of the Moai.
Rano Raraku ia one of the most popular sites on Easter Island, and rightfully so! The historical importance of this place is astounding. The volcanic stone from the quarry here made every Moai statue.
Te Pito Kura is another important site you have to visit. It’s home to the tallest Moai on the island – its ears alone measure 2 meters! Although the statue fell almost 200 years ago, it remains in place and is an impressive sight to see. While you’re here, you can also visit the magnetic stone – a round stone which causes compasses to act strangely. The stone gives this part of the island its name, meaning ‘Centre of the World.’ According to legend, it was carried to the island by the first King and founder, Hotu Matu’a.
If you’re looking for an iconic photo to take home with you, pay a visit to the Ahu Tangariki. This is the largest platform with some 15 statues. If you head here early in the morning to catch the sunrise, you’ll be in for a truly magical experience.
Exploring the culture and history
Since it was discovered by Polynesian travelers sometime between 800-1200 AD, the island has developed a fascinating history and unique culture. Venture to the hotspots of Rano Kau and Orongo to see where the famous birdman competitions used to take place. Tahai, a restored ancestral village, overlooks the island and can show you how locals used to live.
The great thing about Easter Island is the opportunities it offers for intimate cultural immersions. Spending an afternoon with a local artist to learn about the tradition of body painting, including making your own paint and optionally having a go yourself, or visiting a farm run by a local traditional family, you can feel like you really have experienced the island. Rather than just pass through fleetingly, spend a morning learning how to fish the traditional way and cook your catch on a fire pit as locals have done for hundreds of years. It’s an incredibly unique and special experience that makes some great memories.
The hidden corners
Okay, perhaps it’s not a hidden corner, but Anakena beach is definitely worth a visit. If you’re looking to chill out at the beach for a day, this is the only one on the island where you can swim. Relax on the white sands, dip your toes in the clear blue waters and try some beachside treats.
If you’re looking for a bit more adventure in the sea, book onto a scuba diving tour near Hanga Roa. Suitable for beginners to advanced divers, dip below the surface to discover colorful coral reefs, magnificent fish, and maybe even a sea turtle!
Easter Island may not be your first idea when you think of hiking in Chile, but it has some truly lovely routes to explore off the main tourist circuit. Try a spectacular hike along northern coast of the island or climb the island’s second-highest summit, Poike volcano. You’ll come across ancient villages, caves, carvings and moais that most travellers don’t see!
Talk to an Ecochile Travel Specialist about what you’d like to see and do in Easter Island and we’ll create your perfect itinerary.
If you’re planning a romantic holiday with your significant other, consider Chile as your destination! From picture-perfect sunsets and glittering night skies to secluded beaches and luxury hotels, this really is the perfect place for couples to celebrate a honeymoon, an anniversary, or just being together. And it was voted South America’s most romantic destination in 2022 by the World Travel Awards! Whatever your idea of romance is, there is something in Chile for you and your half an orange, as Chileans say.
Sunrise on Easter Island
Easter Island has a certain magic about it that you have to experience to understand. With white beaches, crystal-blue sea and palm trees, it’s a Pacific island tropical paradise. But its history, culture, slow pace of life, and the romance that lingers in the fresh sea air make it a popular destination for couples. Besides delicious food and beautiful hotels, you can have a truly unforgettable trip here.
What do we recommend? Watching the magical sunrise over the 15 giant Moai statues in Tongariki is unmissable for any couple visiting the island. Don’t miss out on visiting the Ana Kakenga cave too. It’s rumoured to be the last hiding place of a young couple who fled punishment for their forbidden love.
Stargazing in Atacama
Experiencing the wonders of the Atacama desert is a favorite amongst our travelers and we think it’s a top destination for couples too. Here, you can watch the sunset over the breathtaking Moon Valley or have breakfast as the sunrises over the Tatio geysers. But our favourite activity for couples here is stargazing. Does it get more romantic than watching the glittering stars in one of the clearest skies in the world? Be sure to stay at one of the local boutique hotels to enjoy a more exclusive feel.
Boutique hotels and wines in Valparaíso
Wander through the charming city of Valparaíso and pass through its lively and famously colorful streets. You can dive into the culture as you sample its cafes and restaurants, take a walk through its galleries, or step into the past on a trolley bus to enjoy this UNESCO World Heritage site. Step up the romance by visiting the nearby vineyards to sample world-famous wines. Stay at one of the area’s luxury boutique hotels for intimate evenings overlooking the sea. Make sure to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city to enjoy the mix of enchanting beaches and intriguing pine forests too – the perfect getaway location!
Visiting a penguin colony may not be the obvious choice for a romantic getaway, but trust us on this one! Watching these penguins is sure to warm your heart. When you visit the colony, you can see the penguin couples work together as they bring food and care for their eggs and chicks. It’s even cuter when you know that penguin couples stay together for life?
For a luxurious romantic retreat, staying at Las Majadas hotel on the outskirts of Santiago is a must. Tucked away in the Andes and dating back to the sixteenth century, this is a real romantic treat. Here, you and your significant other can at relax the on-site spa. Alternatively, you could sample the produce of the surrounding vineyards, enjoy the best local food, or take a stroll through the gardens. Why not escape to the nearby mountains for a beautiful backdrop to your special vacation?
So you want to go to Patagonia, but don’t know where exactly? We don’t blame you! The area called Patagonia is an enormous 400,000 square miles spanning across two countries. It’s one of the most beautiful, wild, and fascinating parts of the world. It’s also incredibly diverse. Once you know what kind of activities you want to do, or what kind of environment you want to be in, it’s much easier to decide if Northern or Southern Patagonia is for you!
If you want to explore luscious forests, see snow-capped volcanic peaks, and swim in wide blue lakes, Northern Patagonia is the one for you. It includes highlights like the Chiloé archipelago, San Rafael National Park, and the towns of Pucón and Puerto Varas. Although less known than the skyscraping monoliths of Southern Patagonia, the Lake District and Aysen are full of adventure to enjoy! Try kayaking in the marble cathedrals of Puerto Rio Tranquilo. If you’re feeling braver, try your hand at white-water rafting in the Trancura River!
Northern Patagonia is great for walkers, too! Make sure you include the Cerro Castillo in your itinerary or walk amongst ancient forests in the Lahuen Ñadi Natural Reserve if you want to explore the region on two feet. With its abundant forests, this area is fantastic for wildlife spotting. From the colourful birds of Chiloé, to the sealions of Metalqui island, or the Puñihuil Humboldt and Magellanic penguin colony there’s so much to see.
If you prefer cultural escapes, this area of Patagonia is packed full for you to discover. Spend a day learning about the culture of Huiliche indigenous people with a local family and discovering their traditions. Or taste the European influence in the region with a stein at the Chilean-Belgain Dolbek brewery in Coyhaique!
Southern Patagonia is much wilder than its northern counterpart in every sense. Green forests are swapped for rocky mountains and lakes for glaciers. Here you can find a whole array of wildlife that will make you feel more connected to nature than ever. Keep an eye out for pumas, guanacos, and condors roaming free in this dramatic landscape.
Of course, you cannot talk about Southern Patagonia without mentioning the world-famous Torres del Paine. The W-trek features on many hikers’ bucket lists, but it’s not the only path to explore here. Alternatively, you could take the southernmost trek in the world on Navarino Island and climb the sharp teeth-like peaks at the end of the world. Or head off the beaten track behind the Torres and discover the Silent Valley.
Southern Patagonia isn’t limited to hiking lovers. If a 4-5 day trek seems daunting to you, you don’t need to miss out on the highlights of the Torres del Paine park! Take a tour to visit the highlights and enjoy a more leisurely stoll alongside the astonishing Grey Glacier. Alternately, take a catamaran across the turquoise Lago Pehoé or discover the fjords by boat. For quieter days, explore the towns of Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. Of course, you could also try to spot some wildlife and head to Magdalena Island to meet the penguins that live there or go dolphin watching on the Magellanes strait.
Valleys of Martian-red rock, snowless white ground, jewel-toned lakes: all over its more than 40,000 square miles, the Atacama is full of stunning landscapes and cultural sites that astound everyone who visits. But there are some that rise above the rest as being truly emblematic of this unique high desert, which has attracted humanity for thousands of years with its timeless beauty, and who then leave their mark on the land. Made by man or made by nature, these are the top must-visit places in the Atacama Desert.
Valle de la Luna
Barely ten minutes from San Pedro de Atacama you’ll find a wonderland of otherworldly rock formations, coated in what appears to be snow. But appearances can be deceiving: that white substance covering the ground and craggy walls is actually salt! The Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) is a truly lunar place, with sandy dunes and salt-covered ground hemmed in by rock walls of bright red. There are plenty of hiking paths that lead to amazing viewpoints, as well as driving roads. Best time to visit for views and to escape the heat is at sunset.
El Tatio Geysers
Roughly an hour and a half from San Pedro is one of the highest and biggest geyser fields in the entire world: the El Tatio Geysers. Meaning either “oven” or “grandfather” in the extinct Kunza language of the Atacameño people, the field is covered in eighty active geysers, as well as hot springs, fumaroles, and sinter deposits (a kind of chemical sediment that forms the strange rock formations found around geysers all over the world). Pathways cross the field allow you to walk past the different geysers and immerse yourself in their plumes of mist and steam at safe distances. It’s like something out of a sci-fi movie and, as it’s best to visit in the early morning, a great way to start the day.
The Hand of the Desert
To reach this giant sculpture of a hand rising out of the desert floor requires a more than four-hour drive from San Pedro, but if you’re planning on visiting the nearby port city of Antofagasta or want to go for a long drive, it’s worth the trip. Surrounded by stark white desert on all sides, the 11-meter tall hand is a striking contrast to the barren landscape and makes for a fantastic photo op.
Tara Salt Flats
The Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia are by far the most famous salt flats in South America, and while the Tara salt flats may not be as vast, they are equally beautiful. Located within the Los Flamencos National Reserve at more than 14,000 feet above sea level, the Tara salt flats are comprised of flat plains of crusty salt, as well as high desert lagoons frequented by local wildlife like flamingos and vicunas, grasslands, and bizarre rock formations like the Pacana Monks, which are vertical rock stands said to resemble the posture of monks.
One of the most striking aspects of the Atacama desert is the richness and contrast of colors, from rocks to salt to water, and nowhere is this contrast more apparent and stunning than at the Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks). The expanse of bright-red rocks, which get their tint from iron oxidation, border on the soft turquoise blue of the Salar de Aguas Calientes lake with colored mountains bordering on the horizon. It’s a deeply beautiful landscape and is an ideal spot for nature and landscape photographers.
Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons
Sitting at over 13,000 feet high, nestled in the shadows of colorful hills and snowy mountains, these high-altitude lagoons are about as picturesque as it can get. The blue lakes, whose colors shift in the sunshine, are surrounded by shrubs and desert grass, and they’re great sites for bird and wildlife viewing. With no other human dwellings nearby except for the ranger station, here the peace and quiet is total and you can allow yourself to be immersed in this high desert beauty.
Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works
While many people come to the Atacama to experience its wealth of beautiful natural landscapes, it also has a vast, multicultural history, which started with indigenous tribes who either lived in the region or migrated through before the Spanish arrived and then colonists came for the saltpeter boom. Saltpeter, which is another term for sodium nitrate, was mined all over the Atacama throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. When a synthetic version was created in Germany, the industry collapsed, leaving the region dotted with the abandoned factories and mining towns that sprung up for workers and their families to live in.
One of the biggest and best preserved is Humberstone and the Santa Laura plant. Nearly a five-hour drive from San Pedro, it’s only forty-five minutes from the coastal resort town of Iquique, which is a great spot for swimming, surfing, and paragliding off the massive sanddunes behind the city.
One of the most famous of the Atacama’s many scientific observatories, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array consists of 66 radio telescopes that use millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths to probe deep space for answers to the mysteries of the universe. The telescope field and Operations Support Facility are located a short drive from San Pedro on the Chajnantor plateau at over 16,000 feet high. Scientists come from all over the world and wait years for just a few nights at the helm of these telescopes. The facility is closed to the public for night tours but there are day tours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Yerbas Buenas Petroglyphs
Time and nature are ruthless in destroying what humanity builds, but at this pile of red rocks roughly 45 minutes from San Pedro, something of ancient mankind has managed to endure. The rocks are covered in an astonishing array of well-preserved petroglyphs and rock carvings. There are over a thousand in total, many of llamas and other creatures that were important in the lives of the Atacameno people. Dating back 10,000 years, it’s a truly awe-inspiring spot that offers a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of a tribe who called this desert home thousands of years ago.
Puritama Hot Springs
Need a day of rest and relaxation? Head out of San Pedro for a day at these secluded hot springs, shaded by desert grass along the bottom of a rocky canyon. A series of geothermically-heated pools are connected by a series of red walkways, and there are bathrooms and changing rooms onsite. Pretty and peaceful, it’s a lovely place to escape for a day and relax.
The Atacama Desert is one of the popular destinations in Chile. It sits in the north of the country, squeezed between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. Famuosly, the Atacama is the driest non-polar desert on the planet, receiving less than 0.6 inches of rain in an entire year. The lack of moisture, unforgiving sun, and desert winds have, over millennia, created out-of-this-world landscapes. Come here to wonder at the lunar valleys, high-altitude lagoons, cracked salt flats, and endless horizons.
Full of natural wonder and with a cultural history dating back thousands of years, it’s a must-visit. But, being such a harsh and isolated environment, there can be some unexpected surprises for first-time visitors. So, take it from someone who knows the area: here are 8 things I wish I knew before visiting the Atacama!
1. There’s so much more to see and do besides San Pedro
When people talk about the top places they want to visit in the Atacama, generally they’re referring to San Pedro de Atacama and its surroundings. These include the El Tatio Geysers, Valle de la Luna, Chaxa Lagoon with its flamingos…the list goes on and on. San Pedro itself is a small adobe town with roughly 4,000 inhabitants. It serves as the hub of Atacama tourism and the starting point for many adventures.
But the Atacama spans over 40,000 square miles; there’s a lot more to see and do outside of San Pedro. You can head to the coast to enjoy the beaches or go surfing at Iquique. Explore the area’s modern history with a visit to saltpeter ghost towns like Humberstone. Head further out of town to seek out the impressive Hand of the Desert monument. There’s so much to do here, so don’t restrict your Atacama exploring to just San Pedro.
2. July-August is the best time to visit for stargazing
The summer months of December through February are high season for tourists. But, if you love stargazing and astronomy, the best time to visit is definitely during winter. The altitude, arid weather, and lack of light pollution and radio interference mean that good stargazing can be found year-round (except during full moons). Nonetheless, the skies are at their absolute clearest and most brilliant in July and August, making for amazing stargazing even without telescopes.
3. It gets really cold at night
Even though you’re going to the desert, don’t think that it’s gonna be all sunshine and heat. The Atacama’s elevation means that the temperature plummets at night: down into the forties or lower. Make sure you pack cold-weather clothing like jackets, sweaters, long pants, gloves, and hats too! That way, you can do nighttime activities like stargazing or visit the Tatio Geysers in the early morning. Just peel those layers off as the day warms up! And if you forgot to pack warm clothes, don’t worry; you can find cozy items made from local alpaca and llama wool at shops around San Pedro.
4. The altitude will affect you
San Pedro is located nearly 8,000 feet (nearly 2.5 km) above sea level: more than a mile high. All over the Atacama, visitable elevations can increase to the same altitude as Everest base camp (17,600 feet). So yeah, the Atacama is pretty high, and the dry air and desert climate doesn’t help. It’s entirely possible that you’ll experience some altitude sickness during your visit. This can manifest as headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Generally, taking it easy the first few days by not pushing your body too hard, drinking lots of water, and avoiding alcohol will help your body adjust. Or take a tip from the locals and try coca tea, made from coca leaves.
5. Want to visit the Tatio Geysers? Be prepared to get up early
Paying a visit to the Tatio Geysers is a must when visiting the Atacama. This is the highest geyser field on the planet at over 14,000 feet (4,000m) above sea level! But the best time to see the steam rising from the geysers is at dawn, when the air is cold enough for the steam to erupt in giant plumes. Since the geysers are an hour and a half drive from San Pedro, that means that you’ll need to get up super early (I’m talking 4 am!) to make the trip.
And don’t forget to wrap up; not only is it early, but you’re also nearly doubling your elevation, so wear layers! But the sight is well worth the early rise and most tours bring along breakfast and coffee to enjoy at the site.
6. Most observatories aren’t open for nighttime tours
The Atacama is home to some of the most advanced observatories in the world. Scientists and astronomers come from all over to use their state-of-the-art telescopes to explore the night sky. One of the most famous observatories, ALMA (which stands for Atacama Large Millimeter Array), is located just a short drive from San Pedro and their impressive telescope collection attracts a lot of interest. Lots of visitors want to see the facilities and possibly even go on stargazing tours.
However, since ALMA and other places like it are working observatories, they are not open for nighttime tours. Many do offer daytime tours on the weekends, though (at ALMA, they offer tours of the Operations Support Facility on Saturday and Sunday mornings). For stargazing, there are plenty of other astronomy tours (like those offered by San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations) around San Pedro and further north at tourist observatories in Valle de Elqui.
7. There is no airport in San Pedro
Even though most people start and end their Atacama trips in San Pedro, you’re not gonna be stepping off the plane there. The nearest airport is in Calama, a mining town known as the ‘Gateway to the Atacama’, roughly an hour and a half away. From Calama, you can either take buses or rent cars to get to San Pedro, but most tours include transportation from Calama to San Pedro in their packages.
8. Pack a swimming suit
Even though you’re going to the heart of the world’s driest desert, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to get your feet wet! A short drive from San Pedro you’ll find the Puritama Hot Springs, a series of eight geothermal hot springs hidden by desert grass inside a rocky canyon. And, out on the salt flats, there are several salt-water lagoons that you can swim and float in. So don’t forget that swimsuit!
From the tops of its highest peaks to the rocky, wind-battered shores, Patagonia is a place that’s full of adventure and wonder. Whether your goal is to see spectacular landscapes or to experience a place whose culture was forged in adversity and resourcefulness, you’ll find it here. But as a region, Patagonia covers hundreds of square miles: too much to see and do in any one trip. What are the top things to do in Patagonia? Here are our recommendations!
1. Do the base of the Torres Hike
It’s not a trip to Torres del Paine if you don’t make the hike to the base of the park’s famous Torres (Towers). A roughly eight hour round-trip hike that ranges from intermediate to advanced level of difficulty, anyone in good physical condition can make this iconic trek. Starting from near the Las Torres Hotel at the base of the Paine Massif, you hike up and through the Pass of the Winds and then descend into the Ascencio Valley. After hiking along the base of the valley through forests and over streams, you reach the bottom of a giant jumble of rocks, the remains of a glacial moraine. Hiking to the top is the most difficult part of the hike, but it’s well worth the effort because then you can enjoy your lunch and a drink of water with a view of the three granite pillars for which the park is named.
As the most popular hike in Torres del Paine, the trail and viewpoint are frequently busy, which is why some visitors choose to spend the night at the Chileno Camp and Refugio Cabins in the Ascencio Valley and then get up early to hike to the lookout and watch the sunrise over the Towers and lake. The rising sun paints the spires the most amazing shades of red, orange, and pink, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
2. Sail to the Grey Glacier
Located on the western end of the Paine Massif alongside the final leg of the W Trek, the Grey Glacier covers over 100 square miles from its origins in the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, funneling down valleys to finally spill into Grey Lake. The front wall towers nearly a hundred feet over the lake’s waters, and if you’re lucky, you can see icebergs of all different shapes and icy blue shades crashing into the lake.
While from the W trail you have a better vantage point to appreciate the sheer scale of the glacier, nothing can compare to sailing right up close to the front wall itself. At the far end of Grey Lake near the Lago Grey Hotel, you can board a giant catamaran that will take you right up to the glacier itself. And then, on the return trip, you can enjoy a pisco sour served with glacial ice taken from calved icebergs!
3. Go puma tracking
Seeing a puma in the wild is an incredibly rare experience, but Torres del Paine is actually one of the few places where you’re the most likely to get to see one of these majestic cats in their natural habitat. After fires in 2011 and 2012 destroyed large areas of lenga forest, the local guanaco population moved to better grazing grounds on the pampas, which are closer to many of the park’s roads and tourist infrastructure. And when the guanacos moved, their natural predator, the puma, followed. As such, it’s now easier than ever to see these wild cats either from the road while driving or while out hiking on the pampas. If you want to increase your chances of seeing them, go puma tracking with a local expert, who, based on knowledge of the land and animal behavior, knows exactly when and where to look to increase the chances of seeing a puma.
4. Attend a traditional asado
Before Patagonia was known for its trekking, it was a place of vast estancias and South American cowboys, all working in service of the millions of sheep that brought prosperity to the region through their wool. It’s said that Patagonia was built on the back of a sheep, and one of its most iconic culinary traditions, the asado, involves a young sheep as well. A slaughtered and skinned lamb is butterfly-strapped to a special spit, angled over a fire of hot coals, and then left to cook in the rising heat for hours. The result is the most delicious lamb you’ll ever have, with crispy skin but succulent and tender meat. The roasted lamb is usually served with sides of potatoes, pebre (a topping similar to pico de gallo), and plenty of red wine.
Nowadays, asados are mainly held for special occasions, and some estancias perform them for visitors so they can experience this most Patagonian of meals for themselves and learn about the estancia lifestyle. So during your Patagonia adventure, be sure to pay a visit to an estancia and enjoy a delicious asado!
5. Go for a horseback ride at an estancia
In addition to the asados, living the estancia life for a day offers a unique glimpse into the culture that helped colonize this region. Many estancias near Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares, while still working as sheep ranches, have now opened their doors to visitors so they can experience this lifestyle for themselves. One example is Estancia La Peninsula, an estancia located on the far side of Last Hope Sound from Puerto Natales, the gateway town to Torres del Paine. Here, you can go on horseback rides through forests and fields and along coastlines to epic lookouts showcasing the majesty of the region’s fjords. Then, at the end of the ride, you can watch sheep-shearing and sheep-herding demonstrations to see how these ranches are run and operated. But going for a horseback ride across the pampas is just about the most Patagonia activity ever and is a great way to see and appreciate the landscapes, so be sure to sign up for one!
6. Ice hike on Perito Moreno
The grand dame of Patagonia’s most accessible glaciers, the 240-foot-tall Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park is always swamped with visitors. But anyone can take a picture from a lookout or go for a boat ride close to the front wall: the ultimate way to experience the Perito Moreno Glacier is to walk on it! Even though the glacier is famous for its frequent calvings, it’s actually very stable and safe so you can go for guided ice-treks along the glacier’s surface, traversing iced-over crevasses that cut deep into the heart of the glacier, passing ice caves, and crossing streams of meltwater. And you don’t even need any prior experience to do so; that’s how safe it is! Then, before returning to the nearby town of El Calafate, stop for a celebratory drink at GlacioBar, an ice bar that’s the first bar in the world to be made out of glacial ice!
7. See the king penguins of Tierra del Fuego
Second only in size to emperor penguins, the king penguin can stand up to three feet tall and reach almost forty pounds as adults. Sporting sleek black and white feathers and orange markings, king penguins are normally only found on the Antarctica’s more temperate outer islands like South Georgia. This is what makes the king penguin colony in King Penguin Park near Porvenir, Tierra del Fuego so special: it’s the only known breeding colony outside of the species’ normal breeding grounds. To reach the main island of Tierra del Fuego requires a ferry crossing from Punta Arenas and a car ride to Inutil Bay where the colony is located; here, visitors can walk around the park on designated paths and walkways that allow them to observe the penguins and their nesting areas from a safe distance. While the colony can be visited year round, visiting from September to March offers the best chance of seeing the most penguins.
Similar to many other Polynesian cultures, Easter Island cuisine – Pascuense cuisine – was and still is to this day strongly influenced by and dependent upon the offerings of the surrounding ocean. Fish and seafood like mahi-mahi, tuna, swordfish (kana-kana), octopus (heke), lobster, sea snails, eels, and shrimp are all commonly used in traditional Easter Island cooking. These delicacies are complemented by fruits and vegetables like bananas, pineapples, pumpkin, sweet potato, taro, and coconut.
In the past, most foods were prepared by wrapping the ingredients in banana leaves and roasting them in an “umu pae”, an earth oven. Some of the most traditional recipes include tunu ahi (grilled fish on hot stones), po’e (a type of bread pudding made from flour, pumpkin, and plantains/bananas), and ceviche.
But it can be argued that the quintessential dish of Rapa Nui is the Easter Island curanto. The dish include meat, chicken, vegetables, seafood, and other ingredients, all cooked on top of hot stones placed in a hole in the ground and covered with plantain leaves. This feast was only prepared for special events and was a huge community event, as it still is today.
Nowadays, elements of traditional Chilean and European cooking have integrated themselves into the island’s gastronomic history. Nonetheless, many of the restaurants around Easter Island and in the town of Hanga Roa still offer Rapa Nui dishes. The classic tastes of the land and sea reign, as they have for centuries. When visiting the island, make sure you get to taste the real Rapa Nui. Here are the best places to eat on Easter Island.
1. Haka Honu
This casual oceanfront eatery specializes in fresh, seasonal seafood dishes that are endemic to Easter Island. It’s said that this place gets first pick of the catch of the day. Native fish like mahi-mahi, kana-kana, and tuna served with fruity sauces and garnishes are popular menu mainstays, as well as tangy ceviche. International dishes like burgers, salads, pasta, and steaks are also available. Drinks-wise, beer and cocktails pair especially well with the sunset ocean views and the fresh-pressed fruit juices are perfect for quenching your thirst.
While popular with tourists, during the low season it’s also the haunt of choice for the locals. So if you’re visiting during winter, head here for the party! Accepts credit cards.
2. Te Moana
Cue the Moana songs! Well, actually no… While you won’t find singing Disney princesses and crabs here, you will find some of the island’s best traditional Rapa Nui dishes, as well as Chilean and Polynesian fare. Fresh fish is available daily, and their octopus and langoustine dishes are big crowd pleasers. But a real treat is enjoying a meal prepared on their outdoor, waterfront grill; watching your meal cook while the sun sets over the ocean beyond is a thing of beauty. They also do great fruity cocktails, complete with flowers. Seating options include indoor or outdoor veranda. Accepts credit cards.
3. Tia Berta
If you’re craving a taste of mainland Chile while on the island, pay a visit to Tia Berta’s. Famous for her huge, delicious, and filling empanadas. Seafood empanadas are her forte, including tuna, tuna with cheese, shrimp with cheese, and mariscos (assorted seafood like mussels). The menu also includes traditional fish soup (caldillo de pescado) and ceviche. Open for brunch and lunch. Cash only.
4. La Kaleta
Looking for the best meal in town? It just might be here. In 2016, a leading Chilean newspaper named La Kaleta the best regional restaurant in the whole of Chile. The proof is in the pudding – or rather, the ceviche! Ever since – and especially during the summer season – this place is always packed for lunch and dinner.
It’s not just because of the food, either: the white-washed, thatched roof restaurant is located just steps from a sandy beach and has unobstructed ocean views. Their seasonal ceviche is always a hit, as well as their fish, seafood pasta, and “Papas Vaiani”: fried potatoes, octopus, and shrimp covered in a cheesy sauce. They also have one of the best wine lists on the island. Accepts credit cards.
5. Te Moai Sunset
Pretty much every restaurant worth its salt on Easter Island has an ocean view, so how do you stand out from the pack? Offer an ocean view with Moai as well, that’s how! This hip newcomer to the Rapa Nui dining scene is set back from the beach on a small bluff. It offers an enchanting, panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean with the Ahu Tahai and Ahu Ko Te Riku in the foreground. It’s the perfect spot for dinner, and the food is just as winning as the view.
Succulent ceviche, catch of the day fresh from the ocean, shrimp and octopus risotto, and fish stew are just some of the highlights. An exceptional cocktail list and diverse wine menu complete the experience. Be sure to start your evening by enjoying an aperitif while lounging in the hanging wicker chairs on the outdoor patio. Accepts credit cards.
6. Hani Hani Tunu Ahi & Bar
For visitors and locals alike, it’s always a good time at Hani Hani’s. This popular restobar is a lively nightlife spot that also offers a full menu for dinner, as well as bar food. They prepare fresh meat, fish, and other seafood on their special barbecue. Good raw options are also available. like the house specialty of Ika Mata: prime cuts of fresh raw fish and ceviche combined with fruit and veggies. Decorated with a Polynesian theme and with an extensive drink menu, this is the place to be for a fun night out on the town. Cash only.
7. Mahalo Terraza & Bistro
This laidback but refined bistro puts a unique twist on traditional island and Polynesian dishes. With elegant platings and inventive combinations, ceviche, filet of fish, shrimp curry, and other dishes are some of the house specialties, each with nicely paired wines. Located in an upscale bungalow with subdued Polynesian decor, Mahalo’s perfect setting (did we mention the ocean view dining terrace?) and delicious cuisine makes for a lovely date night spot. Their cocktails are especially refreshing. Accepts credit cards.
8. Te Ra’ai
Want to experience a traditional Easter Island curanto feast? Te Ra’ai is unquestionably the best. The family that owns the restaurant has been preparing curanto for generations, offering it to the community for Tapati (the week-long cultural festival) and to visitors to introduce them to Easter Island cuisine.
To make curanto (Umu Rapa Nui), a large hole in the ground is filled with hot coals or hot stones, with plantain leaves placed on top. Meat, chicken, fish, sausage, etc. are laid on top of the leaves, covered with another layer of leaves and ingredients like fruits and veggies. One final layer of leaves tops the curanto and then the food left to cook. The result is a steaming smorgasbord of delicious flavors.
At Te Ra’ai, you can taste the traditional curanto for yourself, as well as see how it’s prepared. In addition, the restaurant also offers cultural shows, music, and plays, complete with costumes and make-up. This place is extremely popular, especially during high season, so reservations are recommended. Accepts credit card.
With the advent of the Internet and the popularity of travel guides and travel blogs, it’s easier than ever to find out information about places you want to visit. It can help you plan your trip better, make arrangements in advance, and decide on what you want to see and do. But even with all that info floating around, there are still things that can surprise you when you reach your destination.
Doing some research in advance is especially important if you’re traveling to an isolated place like Easter Island. Located 2,182 miles from the mainland, here you are literally in the middle of nowhere. It definitely helps to be prepared and know what to expect! What kind of money should you bring? Are there ATMs? How can you get around the island? Not to fear, we’ve got you covered! Here are 9 things I wish I knew before visiting Easter Island.
1. You won’t always have Internet
Easter Island is extremely isolated and, in many ways, cut off from the rest of the world. While it has modern infrastructure and amenities, the distance means that sometimes the Internet doesn’t want to cooperate. WiFi is only available in the main town of Hanga Roa at hotels and Internet cafes (most restaurants don’t offer WiFi) but even then, the connection can be patchy.
In 2016, the Chilean government implemented its WiFi ChileGob program on the island, a public service project that provides free WiFi in public places. However, this too is only available in Hanga Roa and doesn’t always work. But being on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific seems like the perfect place for a digital detox, so feel free to ditch the devices and focus on enjoying your stay!
2. It’s not always sunny and tropical
Yes, Easter Island is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and part of Polynesia. But that doesn’t mean it’s always a South Pacific idyll. Technically, Easter Island falls under the category of having subtropical weather, meaning that, in general, the weather is warm and humid, but during winter temperatures can drop into the 50s. Easter Island also gets a lot of rain (which is spread out throughout the year but usually peaks during the winter months of June to August), which can make the island feel unseasonably chilly, so don’t forget to bring raingear as well! Find out more about when is the best time to visit here.
3. Anakena Beach is cash-only
Anakena Beach, located on the opposite end of the island from Hanga Roa, is the only swimmable beach on the island and so is extremely popular among visitors and locals alike. With a large, half-moon beach of white coral sand, tranquil waters that are protected by the cove, and gently waving palm trees, it’s a slice of Polynesian paradise in the middle of nowhere.
With no hotels or accommodations in the vicinity, most people travel to the beach for the day from Hanga Roa, and local vendors have set up food stalls and stores; picnic sites, bathroom facilities, and a parking lot are also available to cater to these day trippers. But the one thing you won’t find is a credit card machine: everything on Anakena Beach operates on a cash-only basis. ATM machines can be found in Hanga Roa, so be sure to withdraw enough for the whole day!
4.You’re not allowed to touch the Moai
The Moai are amazing examples of art, design, and engineering that boggle the mind. Who wouldn’t want to touch a piece of history like that, especially because many of them are located close by the trails and paths? But still: keep your hands off! The Moai are protected by local law and touching one even comes with a fine; one tourist was fined more than $17,000 USD! This is mainly because, due to time and exposure to the elements, the Moai are naturally deteriorating, but having tourists constantly touching them speeds up the process. So, remember to keep your hands to yourself and instead pick up a Moai figurine as a souvenir.
5. Getting here is expensive and requires some advance planning
To combat over-tourism and because the island is so small, flights to Easter Island are limited and pretty pricey: round-trip fare from Santiago in high season can be upwards of $500 per person or even get into the thousands of dollars. There are several ways to snag cheaper flights, though: visit during the low and shoulder season, book well in advance, or plan out a longer trip (flight fares go down if you’re staying on the island longer instead of just visiting for a few days).
6. There are no buses on the island
Easter Island is pretty small: only 63 square miles. With everything concentrated in Hanga Roa, that means that there are no local buses running routes around the island, except for tour buses. However, since the island is so small, that makes it easy to get around on your own. You can rent a car (there are several car-rental agencies), or go cycling (which is especially popular as the island is mainly flat and makes for easy riding). You can also hire a local taxi (there’s no Uber here!) to take you to certain sites.
7. Everything is charged in Chilean Pesos
Since Easter Island is legally a part of Chile, the primary currency accepted on the island is the Chilean Peso. But since so many visitors come from the United States, US dollars are also widely accepted. There are several money exchange offices in Hanga Roa, or you can convert your dollars to pesos in the Santiago airport before leaving the mainland.
8. That Moai at the bottom of the ocean? Yep, it’s not real
You’ve likely seen pictures of a Moai resting on the bottom of the ocean near the island, with people scuba diving nearby. Sounds like an amazing experience, right? Well, yes, but you should know that the Moai is actually a fake. It’s a leftover prop from the 1994 movie Rapa Nui. But still, makes for a great scuba diving adventure!
9.It’s not just the flight that’s expensive
Any way you swing it, Easter Island is a pricey destination. In addition to the flights, food and lodging can also be costly, especially since lots of things on the island need to be flown there from the mainland. But there are ways to save money and stretch out your budget. You can bring customs-approved snacks and food from the mainland, making reservations well in advance, and visiting outside of peak tourist season.
Plus, taking extra care to make sure you’ve packed everything you’ll need while on the mainland will help in avoiding any last-minute, “oh no, I forgot to bring…” purchases while on the island, where they’re guaranteed to be more expensive. But everything that Easter Island has to offer more than justifies the hefty price tag.
Just off the coast of Chile’s verdant Lakes District can be found a magical place full of mystery and beauty: the archipelago of Chiloe. This chain of islands consists of the main island and many smaller ones scattered into the surrounding ocean. You can only access it from the mainland by boat, ferry, or plane, and its centuries of isolation has created a wholly unique culture and way of life.
Here there are legends about trolls and ghost ships and nearly 300 kinds of potatoes! Plus, the locals (known as Chilotes) are so friendly they’ll invite strangers in for tea. In addition to its unique culture, the natural environment is stunning. it’s a wonderful place for outdoor sports like hiking, kayaking, and bird-watching. Here are ten reasons to visit Chiloe during your Chilean adventure!
1. Kayaking at Chepu
With its many lakes, channels, and bays, Chiloe is prime territory for excellent kayaking, both for sport, to enjoy the landscape, and to look for local wildlife like birds and otters (known as “”chungungos”). But arguably the best place to go kayaking is at Chepu. This tidal river and wetlands area is located about an hour and a half from the island capital of Castro.
You can start by kayaking down the river to the open ocean where you’ll encounter the sunken forest, an eerily beautiful place of sunken trees poking out of the water. The area was formed when the 1960 earthquake – the biggest ever recorded – sunk the land and caused a tsunami. A great time to visit and go kayaking is in the early morning as the sun is rising. It’s the best time to look for animals and to enjoy this majestic place at its most peaceful.
2. Visiting the UNESCO Churches
One of Chiloe’s main claims to fame are its astonishing wooden churches. They built under the supervision of Jesuit priests who came to the archipelago in the 18th and 19th centuries. The churches were made with local wood and traditional methods, so no metal nails were used in the making. Everything was pieced together through ingenuity and wooden spikes. The results were a collection of steepled, brightly painted, and thoroughly impressive altars. It’s no surprise that 16 of them were declared UNESCO monuments in 2000. While all of them are a wonder to behold, the churches in Castro, Achao, Nercon, Dalcahue, Tenaun, and Chonchi are the most popular.
3. Seeing the palafitos
Poised along the waterfronts of Castro are some of the most iconic sites on Chiloe: the palafitos. These multi-colored wooden houses perch over the water on stilts. In the past fisherman would ride in and out with the tide from the porch of the house. The outsides are also covered in artfully stencil Chilote tiles made from the alerce tree. Palafitos used to be a much more common sight around the island, but many of the coastal ones were destroyed in the 1960 earthquake and tsunami. Most of the palafitos are still lived in by locals, but several in Castro have been converted into charming boutique hotels.
4.Visiting the penguins at Ancud
There are penguins on Chiloe? Yes, indeed! There are several nesting sites along the coast but the most famous one is located near Ancud. Here you can find colonies of Humboldt and Magellanic penguins. This nationally protected area, the Puñihuil National Monument, is also significant as it is the only known shared breeding site for both species of penguin. To see the penguins, you take a tour boat out to the three islands where the sites are located. Note that the waves can make the ride can a little bumpy at times but being able to see penguins in the wild is worth it.
5. Hiking through the island’s protected lands
Chiloe is blessed with a wide variety of landscapes, from dense forest to coastal cliffs to wetland. Many of these habitats are protected as national or privately owned parks. The most famous is Chiloe National Park on the Pacific Coast, which has amazing examples of the island’s temperate rainforests, great hiking paths, and amazing ocean views. At the far of the main island, Parque Tantauco is great for coastal hiking and keeping an eye out for migrating whales.
6. Trying a traditional curanto
This Chilote tradition is similar to a clambake (baked clams) but much larger, and possibly better! A large hole is dug in the ground and the bottom is covered with red-hot stones. Then, huge local nalca leaves are added and stuffed with mussels, chicken, sausage, potatoes (Chiloé is famous for its many species of potatoes), milcaos (a kind of potato pie) and other types of seafood. Another layer of leaves is added to lock in the heat and steam and the whole pile is left to cook for several hours. Open the leaves when they are ready for an authentic chilote feast with a delicious aroma and flavor!
7. Exploring Castro
The capital city of Castro is Chiloe’s cosmopolitan center and the place where most people stay during their explorations of the islands. Here you can find the stunning Church of San Francisco: a wedding-cake-like church covered with yellow and purple siding that towers over the Plaza de Armas. You can also see other examples of traditional Chilote architecture, like the palafitos. You’ll also be able to sample some of the island’s best culinary offerings. Rucalaf, Travesia, El Mercadito, and El Cazador: Casa de Comida are several of the best, offering fresh, delicious seafood and traditional Chilote recipes. Wander the streets, watch the tide go in and out of the channel, and soak up the local vibe!
8. Reaching the end of the Pan-American Highway in Quellón
Everyone knows the Pan-American Highway: that ribbon of asphalt running from the top of North America in Alaska all the way down to the end of South America. The route splits north of Santiago and the eastern prong takes the road all the way down to Ushuaia. But the Pacific-side route ends at the far end of the main island of Chiloe in the town of Quellón. Here, you can take your picture with the official marker. On clear days you can see volcanoes dotting the horizon on the mainland nearby.
9. Discovering beautiful handicrafts at artisan markets
Thanks to its physical separation from the mainland, the islands of Chiloe have developed their own unique culture. You can see it in their amazing artistic handicrafts made by local artisans. Some of the best examples to be found are the woolen goods. These cozy sweaters, hats, and ponchos made from the wool of the island’s many high-quality sheep. You can also find mugs for yerba mate (an herbal drink that is widely used throughout Patagonia), as well as wood-and-wool wall hangings and figurines of figures from Chilote mythology like the Caleuche ghost ship. The artisan markets at Dalcahue, Castro, Achao, and Ancud are some of the best places.
10. Visiting the Muelle de las Almas
While this spot is very popular with tourists and so can sometimes be a bit crowded, it’s well worth the trip and the wait. This wooden dock — an art installation by architect Marcelo Orellana — extends off the edge of an rounded hill overlooking the stormy Pacific coast of the island. The end of the dock seemingly disappears into the blue sky. The views are amazing and standing on the end of the dock with the sea in the background makes for a phenomenal photo-op.
Just a 30-minute boat ride from mainland Chile, lies a beautiful archipelago called Chiloé. These incredible islands draw tourists from all over due to the beautiful nature, colorful buildings, tasty dishes and unique culture. Chiloé is special because it feels different from the mainland. Islanders call themselves “chilotes” and take pride in the place they live. There are countless reasons to put in Chiloé on your travel bucket list. Here are some of the biggest:
People who come to Chiloé are often in awe of its landscape. The islands are marked with bright green hills, fields of yellow flowers and peaceful waters. There are various ways to take in the scenery and enjoy the outdoors.
Go on a Trek:
Chiloé has a lot of natural attractions, many which offer fantastic trekking options. One of the best treks is called “Muelle de las Almas,” which translates to “Dock of Souls.”
It takes somewhat between one and a half to three hours to go there and back. The length of time depends on the hiker’s abilities and weather conditions. Trekkers should be prepared for any weather condition, no matter what the season. It rains often in Southern Chile, which can cause very slippery and muddy terrain. All visitors should wear proper hiking shoes that have a good grip, in addition to hiking sticks and some water.
The trek takes visitors through untamed forest, up misty hills and to a stunning view of the ocean alongside evergreen cliffs. The ending point is a wooden dock over the water. It’s the perfect place to snap a photo and take in the gorgeous view.
Take a Boat Ride:
Chiloé is an archipelago made up of more than 30 different islands. Therefore, a great way to explore the area is by boat.
There are several different boat tours that allow tourists to see different parts of Chiloé. One popular boat trip shows visitors different wildlife in the area. You can spot all sorts of creatures, such as penguins, dolphins, whales and various birds.
Additionally, many visitors enjoy kayaking around the archipelago. On a kayak, visitors can go to little villages, explore the wetlands and travel freely from island to island. It is a peaceful activity and a great way to spend the afternoon.
Additionally, many visitors love Chiloé is because of the island’s historic atmosphere and old fashion charm. The Chilote islanders steer towards tradition, keeping many of their homes and buildings in the original, unique style. You can see and learn about these old fashion buildings when you come to Chiloé.
Go Church Hopping:
Back in the 17th century, the Spanish Jesuits came to the Chiloé archipelago. On the islands, they started to build churches which drew inspiration from both indigenous and Spanish architectural style. At least 70 churches were built using unique architectural and design techniques. Today, 16 of these churches are UNESCO World Heritage sights and serve as some of the top tourist attractions in Chiloé.
In Castro, Chiloé’s capital city, the most famous church is the Church of San Francisco. It sits in the center of town and is easily spotted from a far due to its bright yellow and purple colors. The church takes a more Neo-Gothic style, and is without a doubt one of the prettiest churches on the island.
Additionally, visitors like to check out the Church of Santa Maria de Loreto, which is one of the oldest churches and Church of Quinchao, which is one of the largest. There are many different churches you can visit and each one has its own special qualities.
Chiloé’s culture is so interesting because it differs from the rest of the country. To get a true feel of the islands, make sure you take the time to learn the culture.
Admire the Colorful Palafitos:
When you think of Chiloé, the first image that often comes to mind is a rainbow array of small wooden buildings on stilts. These buildings are called palafitos, and in Chiloé, there are a lot of them. Inside the palafitos are restaurants, people’s homes and boutique hotels. These buildings are both visually pleasing and functional for a community that lives alongside the water.
There are a few viewpoints where you can admire at these colorful buildings from afar. Additionally, you can rent a kayak and paddle right next to them. Locals will smile and wave as you paddle towards the buildings, showing off the true, friendly spirit of Chiloé.
Wear Traditional Clothing:
The Southern half of Chile is known for having cold, windy and even unpredictable weather, especially during the winter months. To keep warm during winter days, Chilotes wear clothing that is made from wool. Visitors can purchase handmade hats, socks, ponchos at small, local markets, known as “ferias.” These items are useful while traveling on the island, and serve as a great souvenir or gift to bring home.
Additionally, if you come to Chiloé during the September independence holidays, you can see the traditional outfit of a Chilote at one of the many festivals and parties on the islands. Males dress in wool hats and high socks, and they use a collared shirt and a woven vest . The women dress in a black skirt, white collared shirt and a black bandana in their hair.
For the main meal, you must try the most famous dish of Chiloé — curanto. This dish consists of various shellfish, potatoes and meat, all cooked together in a hole in the ground. The meal is filling, and perfect for meat and seafood lovers. Additionally, a potato pancake called Milcao can be enjoyed on the side. This snack is unique because it is cooked together with both raw and mashed potato, which is then either fried or baked.
After a hearty meal, leave room for dessert. In Chiloé , you can try an apple empanada, a sweet twist on the traditional empanada. This snack resembles a small apple pie and is a great way to finish a meal.
Once it’s safe to travel again, we know that you’ll want to get back out there traveling and exploring as soon as possible to make up for time lost; we want to do the same thing too! But the travel landscape is bound to be a bit different after the pandemic, making it more important than ever to plan ahead in order to protect your health, safety, and money.
Here’s how planning a trip a year or so in advance will benefit you:
Booking farther in advance will give you more options for activities and accommodations. Furthermore, many 2020 travel bookings that had to be canceled because of COVID-19 were pushed into 2021, meaning that there might not be as much availability as you’d expect during certain seasons and at popular destinations. Plan and book well in advance to guarantee finding the best hotels, excursions, and transport available.
In the wake of COVID-19, the travel industry has implemented extremely flexible booking, postponement, and cancellation policies to help protect clients and operators like tour companies, hotels, and airlines. We at EcoChile have also outfitted our tours with the most flexible, accommodating policies possible, working with leading travel insurance companies, so that if something comes up and you need to cancel or change anything, we’ve got your back.
Like many in the travel industry, we’ll be offering special promos and early-bird specials to entice future travelers. So take advantage of those deals while they’re available: you’ll be saving money yourself and helping support an industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic. And when you book late, there will likely not be special rates, so book well in advance!
Not only are all these logistic reasons important, but it can also be fun to have something to look forward to. Instead of rushing to plan and organize a trip a few months in advance, you’ll be able to relax and look forward to your perfectly organized trip!
Santiago is usually the point of entry to Chile, but many people quickly bypass the city on the path to exploring the more talked-about natural wonders in the south or north. However, Chile’s capital definitely has a unique charm and boasts exciting activities whether you’re looking for luxury, comfort, or affordability.
Here are some of our top picks for activities in Santiago:
Tour Santiago’s city center
If you only have a limited time in Santiago or want to become acquainted with the most famous landmarks all at once, we highly recommend starting in Plaza de Armas, Santiago’s central square, and taking a guided tour. From there, you can easily access the City Square, Palacio La Moneda (government house), the Supreme Court, and the Opera House. Plaza de Armas has a contagious bustling energy and the adjacent cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago) is visually mesmerizing – definitely worth a visit.
A 15-minute walk away, Barrio Lastarria, which is the place to be for upscale bars, restaurants, and trendy nightlife. If you’re lucky, you might also encounter street artists, food vendors, and various live musical performances. This makes for a great first day or half-day introduction to Santiago’s architectural highlights.
Discover hidden treasures at a museum
Santiago has a collection of amazing museums, many of which give free entry every day or at specific times of the month. In Plaza de Armas, you can take a peek into the Museum of National History, which walks you through the country’s history and heritage. In Quinta Normal, you can visit the National Museum of Natural History, with its impressive collection of animal habitat and dinosaur exhibits, and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, which portrays in heart-rending exhibits human rights violations performed by the Chilean state between 1973 and 1990. Through testimonies, videos, letters, artwork, and photographs, you can learn more about the military coup, repression, resistance movement, and policy changes – a different side of Chile’s multifaceted past.
The Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art offers a fantastic array of historical art and artifacts from indigenous groups across South America, Central America, and Mexico. For true art fans, the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts has a small art collection enclosed in awe-striking architecture.
Hike San Cristobal
If you’re looking for exercise and picturesque scenery, Cerro San Cristobal provides great hiking and biking trails and beautiful views of the entire city. You can ascend the 860 m hill by gondola and, on the way down, visit a small 12-acre zoo, which is home to many exotic animal species. From the top, you can check out the Statue of the Virgin Mary and a small church. Both the cable car and the funicular are a fun experience for people who don’t want to hike all the way up and down. During the summer months, you can enjoy a refreshing treat from vendors of ice cream and mote con huesillo, a sweet peach juice and husked wheat (mote)..
For a leisurely romantic stroll, the Santa Lucia Hill is an architecturally stunning park close to the city center with an array of monuments, fountains, and statues.
Sample Traditional Cuisine at La Vega Central
One of the traveler’s favorite locations in Santiago is La Vega Central because you can find literally anything, from sit-down meals and snacks (huge sacks of flavored cereal, nuts, candy, and chips), to the most affordable fruits and fresh produce in the city. Many tourists find the food in Chile higher in price by Latin-American standards, but here you can grab a delicious traditional lunch for $3-$5 USD, such as fried fish, pastel de choclo (corn pudding), prietas (sausage), cazuela (soup of corn, pumpkin, and meat), and porotos granados (stew of white beans, corn, and vegetables). The market does get crowded on weekends and at peak times, so off-hours are often more enjoyable for sampling Chilean specialties.
For the freshest seafood, Santiago’s Mercado Central opens early selling a variety of fish, which you can either take home to cook or savor at one of the nearby restaurants.
Picnic at Park Bicentenario
For a relaxing picnic, Park Bicentenario supplies lawn chairs and umbrellas until around 8 pm and first-rate people-watching. You can even stumble upon an open-air ballet performance in the evening during the weekend. Located in the upscale Vitacura neighborhood, the park is beautifully landscaped with palm trees, playgrounds for the children, and a charming lagoon.
Stroll through a crafts market
You can’t leave Santiago without taking home a few souvenirs. Santiago has a number of malls with recognizable brands, theaters, and grocery stores. In our opinion, the best arts and crafts – paintings, leatherwork, ceramics, woodcarving, and more – are available in Pueblito Los Dominicos and Centro Artesanal Santa Lucia.
Visiting Easter Island is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences; a tiny speck of land located far out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a trip here is a chance to go back in time and immerse yourself in a wholly unique way of life. Known as Rapa Nui in the local indigenous language, the island has become internationally famous for its Moai: immense, human-esque rock statues that are dotted around the island. The mysteries surrounding their creation and how they were moved from place to place beguiled historians and archaeologists for years, and their size and stature mean that they have to be seen to be believed. With hiking and cycling trails, idyllic weather, sweeping oceanic vistas, endless fresh seafood, and a warm and welcoming local population who are eager to share their culture, it’s one of those destinations that has to go on your bucket list.
But even though all of Easter Island is worth exploring, there’s only so much time per trip and you want to make sure you hit all the highlights, the best that Rapa Nui has to offer. From the tips of volcanoes to pristine beaches to sacred sites, these are the 6 unmissable spots to visit on Easter Island!
An extinct volcanic crater attached to Ma′unga Terevaka, the largest of Easter Island’s three dormant volcanoes, Rano Raraku is one of the most historically and archaeologically important sites on the entire island for one big reason: it was a Moai factory.
On the slopes of Rano Raraku, Rapa Nui islanders found a massive quarry of tuff (a type of rock made from volcanic ash). Comparatively soft and easier to carve than most other rocks, tuff was ideal for crafting Moai, so 95% of the island’s famous statues came from the Rano Raraku quarry.
Used by islanders as a source of tuff for over 500 years until the early eighteenth century, at the quarry you can see for yourself the design evolution of the Moai statues. Various incomplete Moai dot the site, as well as the surrounding hillsides. Some of the most striking differences between these Moai and the ones at sites like Ahu Tongariki include their lack of pukao tophats or the fact that several are buried up to their shoulders instead of showing the whole body. In fact, it’s actually these hillside Moai statues that are some of the most famous examples of Moai on the island: since they are buried up to the neck, it is from them that the world got the term “Easter Island Heads”, as this was before excavation revealed their subterranean bodies. With 400 Moai in and around the quarry (including one attached to the quarry wall that’s 71 feet long and weighing an estimated 200 tonnes), the discovery of Rano Raraku was key to helping the world understand how the design and creation of the Moai were carried out over time.
There are various paths running around the site that take visitors past the quarry and the “Easter Island Heads” on the hillside. You can also climb up to the rim of the crater, which now holds a freshwater lake; it’s worth the climb for the panoramic view of the island and ocean.
A short walk from Rano Raraku, you’ll find one of the most instantly recognizable sites of the island: the row of 15 Moai statues standing side by side with the ocean in the backdrop.
Placed on top of an ahu (a large stone platform), Ahu Tongariki is the largest ahu on Easter Island. In the past, it was the capital of Hotu Iti, an area spanning the eastern portion of the island that was governed by a clan of the same name. During the island civil wars in the late 1770s and early 1800s, the Moai were toppled off the platform (many others around the island met a similar fate). Then in 1960, an earthquake off the coast of Chile (a 9.5, the strongest ever recorded) caused a tsunami that swept the ahu and its Moai inland. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the ahu was restored to its original place and grandeur, following a five-year retrieval and renovation project.
A wonder to behold any day of the year, Ahu Tongariki is especially amazing to see during the Summer Solstice, when all the Moai face the setting sun head-on. The site is also popular for watching the sunrise over the ocean with the ahu in the foreground.
Rano Kau & Orongo
On the southwestern headland of Easter Island can be found one of the island’s most striking geographic features: the enormous crater of the Rano Kau volcano.
Rising 1,063 feet up from sea level, Rano Kau is an extinct volcanic crater (like all the other volcanoes on Easter Island), making its immense, circular crater a must-visit for views of the island, ocean, and the freshwater lake in the base of the crater. A single trail leads to the rim (a tiring but relatively easy hike), where you can take in the crater’s conical walls, the lake and surrounding vegetation, and the ocean beyond. The crater – which is more than a mile across – is especially interesting because, thanks to the tall walls that shelter the base from winds, the crater has formed its own micro-climate; vines and figs grow especially well here. From the far end of the crater, you can also see where the outer walls of the volcano plunge down as steep sea cliffs into the Pacific Ocean.
Here, you’ll also find Orongo, a stone village that used to be an important ceremonial center. Made up of 53 circular stone houses, which were built low to the ground and without windows, Orongo was the site of one of the most spectacular and dangerous feats in Rapa Nui culture. Every year, a competition was held to bring back the first “manu tara” (sooty tern) egg of the season. The terns nested on a small island just off the coast called Motu Nui; to reach the island, contestants had to climb down the sheer volcanic sea cliffs, swim to the island, grab an egg, and then repeat the journey back up the volcano. Incredibly dangerous, many participants were killed during the race, either by falling from the cliffs, being eaten by sharks, or drowning. The man who finally emerged as the victor was dubbed the “Tangata manu” (Birdman).
Now a World Heritage Site inside Rapa Nui National Park, you can visit Orongo and see for yourself just how treacherous the race was.
Ana Te Pahu & Ahu Akivi
Easter Island was created more than 750,000 years ago by volcanic explosions. During its formation, flowing lava created subterranean channels all over the island, which hardened into rock and formed cavities in the earth. Ana Te Pahu (meaning “the cave of the drum”) is the largest of these volcanic caves.
Located near the base of Ma′unga Terevaka, in the past, the cave was likely used as a place of shelter, since the cave entrance is easy to access. A nearby chamber of the cave holds a water reservoir and archeologists have found evidence of ancient cooking stoves. The entrance to the cave was also surrounded by banana trees, earning Ana Te Pahu its second name “the cave of bananas”.
Visitors can explore the cave on their own, as there are rudimentary paths, but it’s recommended that they bring sturdy walking shoes and a flashlight.
Near the cave, you’ll also find one of the island’s Ahus, Ahu Akivi. Although not as well-known as Ahu Tongariki, it’s one of Rapa Nui’s most sacred sites. Erected sometime in the 16th century, the seven Moai on the ahu were believed to be the reincarnations of important leaders or kings on Easter Island, and so were built and placed facing the Pacific Ocean (instead of inland, like other ahus) as auspicious symbols of protection and luck for the clans of each Moai leader. The site was also used for astronomical observations, serving as points for precision measurement by lining up with the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes (the only Ahu on the island to do so).
Visitors to Easter Island primarily go to discover the island’s unique history and culture. But don’t forget that Easter Island is still a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with lovely weather, tranquil ocean views, and sandy beaches that are perfect for days of rest and relaxation. Anakena is the island’s main beach: a protected cove of white coral beaches, turquoise water, and waving palm trees. Idyllic and isolated, it’s the perfect spot to spend a day enjoying the sun and surf after days of cultural immersion. The water stays warm enough for swimming all year round, and there are nearby restaurants, picnic areas, and facilities for day trippers from Hanga Roa (the main town on the island).
But Anakena is more than a pretty beach: it’s actually the cradle of Rapa Nui’s culture and civilization. The first king of the island, Ariki Hotu Matu’a, landed here with his tribe and established the first colony on Easter Island, and later, the beach and surrounding lands were the home of the royal Miru tribe and an important cultural center. All this is known from the many archaeological artifacts found around the beach and nearby hills, as well as two ahu.
Ahu Te Pito Kura & Paro Moai
Ahu Te Pito Kura forms part of a historic complex of buildings, strategically and symbolically located at the center of the site. The ahu has only one Moai, Paro, which was pulled down and destroyed at some point in the past (it’s believed it happened in the mid-1800s). But Paro is more important because it was the largest Moai ever made and transported on Easter Island.
Made in the Rano Raraku quarry more than 8 kilometers away, moving this behemoth statue – which weighs more than 80 tons and is 32 feet long – must have been an incredibly difficult and strenuous feat. Today, Paro lies face down where he first fell, with his pukao hat a short distance in front of him.
But the site holds other treasures, like the Magentic Stone. Legend says that this large and spherical stone was brought to Easter Island by its first king Hotu Matu’a and that it possesses special energy called “mana”, which acts as a sort of magnet. This can be explained by the presence of large quantities of iron content in the stone, causing it to heat up quickly and affect nearby compasses. In the past visitors were able to place their hands on it to try and feel the energy within, but after some inappropriate behavior, it’s no longer allowed. The stone is what gives the site its name: “The Navel of the World”.
Covering tens of thousands of miles, the Atacama, the world’s driest desert, is full of opportunities for adventure and discovery. But, with such a vast expanse of space, there are far too many things to do than you can fit into a single trip. So what are the best activities that will provide you with the ultimate Atacama experience? These are our picks for the top things to do in the Atacama!
Visit the El Tatio Geysers
Sitting over 14,000 feet high, the El Tatio Geyser field, which is comprised of eighty active geysers, is one of the highest geyser fields in the world, as well as the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and the third-largest globally. Nestled at the base of stratovolcanoes which are the source of geothermal activity, Tatio is one of the most popular sites in the Atacama. The best time to visit is in the early morning when the cold air enhances the steam rising from the geysers, resulting in dramatic plumes that cover the area in mist. And always obey the rules and stay on the path: the temperature of the water and steam reaches dangerous levels and can cause bodily harm, so never leave the marked trails. Otherwise, feel free to wander and marvel at these feats of nature!
Thanks to a winning combination of extreme altitude, very little rain, and no large cities (which means there is virtually zero light pollution or radio interference), the night skies of the Atacama are some of the clearest on Earth. Many top observatories are based in the Atacama (like ALMA), using some of the most advanced telescopes on the planet to produce cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs in the field of astronomy. But you don’t need to be a scientist to appreciate the night sky here: just walk outside or drive a short distance from San Pedro and you can see the Milky Way and other celestial bodies with the naked eye. There are plenty of stargazing tours available around the Atacama, where, with the aid of professional or amateur astronomers and high-quality telescopes, you can find constellations, look for planets and moons, and much more.
Swim in a salty lagoon
Dotted throughout the salt flats that surround San Pedro are lagoons of refreshingly cool water, making them great spots to beat the heat during those high desert summers. But thanks to the location, the water in these lagoons have incredibly high levels of salt, making floating in them feel like you’re completely weightless. There are several such lagoons you can visit, like Laguna Baltinache, but Laguna Cejar is the most popular. The bright blue waters of the lagoon stand out against the stark white of the salt flats, making it both a relaxing and picturesque spot.
Watch the sunset in Valle de la Luna
Just outside San Pedro is one of the most out-of-this-world (literally) places to visit: Valle de la Luna. Meaning “Valley of the Moon”, the strange rock formations and salt-encrusted ground make the landscapes look like something you’d see on the moon. There are various driving and hiking trails around the area, all of which lead to incredible viewpoints and can be enjoyed throughout the day, but the best time to visit is at sunset, when the combination of light, shadow, and color has to be seen to be believed.
Look for native wildlife
Although the barren desert-scapes may look utterly inhospitable to life, the Atacama is full of unique wildlife that has adapted to the harsh environment. You’re bound to see vicuña (smaller, undomesticated relatives of llamas and alpacas) all over the place, as well as domesticated llamas. The Andean fox is a common sight, and when passing by heaps of rocks, you’re likely to spot vizcachas (rodents that are similar to chinchillas) sunning themselves. The birdlife in the Atacama is also extremely diverse, but one species of bird you’re guaranteed to see at the Chaxa Lagoon (roughly an hour outside of San Pedro) are bright-pink flamingos, which gather in huge flocks to feed. And if you’re really lucky and know where to look, you may even see pumas stalking herds of vicuña.
Walk around the historic town of San Pedro
This small town of adobe buildings and dusty streets is the center of Atacama tourism, so while you’ll be spending most days heading out into the surrounding desert for adventures, it’s worth taking a day to roam San Pedro’s streets. You’ll find plenty of artisan shops, restaurants, bars, historic architecture, and museums to visit. San Pedro has a very laid-back, chill vibe, so exploring its meandering avenues, enjoying local food, and buying souvenirs is a great way to unwind after long days of exploring.
Go back in time at Pukara de Quitor
Terraced across a hillside overlooking a verdant river valley, this Pre-Columbian fort, built by the Inca in the 12th century, was used as a defensive fortress against invaders. Comprised of rooms, corridors, and lookouts made from rock and mud walls, the site is incredibly well-preserved and you can walk around it to enjoy the vistas of Licancabur Volcano on the horizon and think about the battles that were once fought here.
Mountain bike at Quebrada del Diablo
The rugged canyons and valleys of the Atacama are perfect for outdoor sports enthusiasts, especially mountain bikers. The Quebrada del Diablo (“Devil’s Throat”) dried-up riverbed is an excellent spot for it, with the trail surrounded by rock walls of bright red.
Go for a sunrise hot air balloon ride
If you thought the dramatic landscapes of the Atacama were beautiful on the ground, just imagine how they look from a bird’s eye view! At dawn, when the rising sun colors the desert in red and gold, it’s a truly awe-inspiring sight. You can book sunrise hot air balloon tours near San Pedro, which include transport to the launch site and a multilingual guide. While the balloon ride is a bit pricey, it’s well worth the cost for the unforgettable views from the balloon’s basket, passing over serene desert landscapes and with mountains and Licancabur Volcano in the distance.
Without a doubt, Easter Island is a bucket-list destination: seeing those giant Moai statues with your own eyes, hiking up volcanoes, learning traditional dances, dining on island cuisine, and lounging on coral sand beaches while listening to the waves. Even though Easter Island is only 63 square miles, there’s a ton of things to do packed into such a small space. Here are the Off the beaten track activities on Easter Island!
Hanga Roa – Before the Europeans came to Easter Island, the Rapa Nui islanders lived spread out all over the island. But now, everything is centralized in the main town of Hanga Roa. Located on the island’s western coast, here is where you’ll be based during your visit: the airport is just outside of town, all the hotels and accommodations are here, tours depart from here, and most of the best restaurants and stores are located here as well. Hanga Roa is also the only place on the island you can get WiFi.
Meaning “wide bay” in the native language, it’s a charming town of just over 3,000 that’s easy to navigate on your own and a great place to experience how historic and modern Rapa Nui have come together to coexist (check out the graveyard to see how Christian and Rapa Nui beliefs and iconography blended; looking out over the ocean, the graveyard is a fascinating blend of crosses and Moai).
In addition to exploring the rest of the island, it’s a good idea to set aside a day or two just to get to know Hanga Roa, as there’s plenty to do and see. By the oceanfront, you can walk along Pea Beach, a scenic strip of white beach where you can soak up the sunshine, look at native flora, and even catch a few waves in the sheltered harbor.
Further along the coast, you’ll also find the stately Ahu Tahai and Ahu Ko Te Riku, two beautifully preserved examples of classic ahus (a large stone platform with Moai arranged in a row along the top) and Moai (you’ve likely seen pictures of Ko Te Riku, with its singular Moai staring with its wide, white-painted eyes). You can also visit the fishing port, enjoy some of the island’s best food at spots like La Kaleta, Te Moai Sunset, and Haka Honu, and be wowed by traditional Rapa Nui dances and music at Kari Kari,
Sebastian Englert Museum – Even though you can see evidence of Easter Island’s ancient civilization all over the island, most of the remnants of the island’s past are now protected inside museums and archives, and one of the best collections of Easter Island artifacts in the world is housed right on the island at the Sebastian Englert Museum in Hanga Roa.
The only museum on the island, it’s named after Sebastian Englert, a German priest who came to Easter Island in 1935 and then dedicated the rest of his life to understanding, documenting and preserving Easter Island’s culture. The museum represents his life’s work: a collection of more than 15,000 artifacts including tablets of Rongo Rongo writing, a rare example of a female Moai, a reconstructed Moai eye, stone tools, and more. Information about the collection and overall Rapa Nui history and culture is available in English, French, German, and Japanese. For a more in-depth look into the island’s history and customs, this is a must-visit.
Ana Kakenga – Known as “the cave of two windows”, this ocean-front cave is famous for its rock-framed views of the Pacific Ocean, but the cave itself – a volcanic tube that was once used as a shelter by different Easter Island tribes – actually is rumored to have a tragic past. It’s said that the cave was the final refuge for a pair of young lovers who, fearing retribution for their forbidden love by their respective tribes, hid there as a last resort.
But it’s easy to see why they would choose this cave as their final place to be together: after climbing down through the opening in the ground that leads into the subterranean cave, you can see the ocean through two rock “windows”, each located down a different passage. With the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks and the picturesque ocean view, it’s quite romantic and makes for a great snapshot.
While open to the public, it’s recommended that you visit Ana Kakenga with a guide, because the entrance (a small hole in the ground) can be difficult to find on one’s own as there’s no signage. A narrow opening that requires a tight squeeze to get through, it’s easier with a guide to direct you and also help you navigate the cave.
Ahu Vinapu – Most of the Moai and Ahu around the island are male in appearance, but Ahu Vinapu is home to one of the few examples of female Moai. Made of red scoria rock, which is the same type of stone used to make the pukao “top hats” seen on male Moai around the island, the female Moai resembles a column and most details have been erased by time, but archaeologists still believe it is feminine in nature. The most notable female Moai, now housed in the museum, was found near this site.
The ahu, which is part of a large ceremonial complex consisting of several ahus with downed Moai, is also important because of how the ahu was constructed. Large pieces of stone were carved and fitted together in a manner similar to how the Incans of Peru constructed their incredibly complex stone cities in places like Machu Picchu and Cuzco. Archaeologists believe these similarly “fitted stones” suggest that there was communication between the Rapa Nui people and the Incans, or, as another theory goes, that the ahu was built by the Incan emperor Tupac Yupanqui when he went on an exploratory trip of the Pacific Ocean around 1480. Several other theories exist, but as no solid evidence has yet come to light, how Ahu Vinapu was built remains one of the unsolved mysteries of Easter Island’s past.
Ahu Vinapu is just a short drive from Hanga Roa, and you can easily navigate and walk the site on your own. It’s a good idea to go with a local guide, though, to provide more background information.
Puna Pau – While visiting sites like Ahu Tongariki, you’ll likely notice that some of the Moai are wearing hats: rounded squares of red stone with a smaller cylindrical piece on the top. These stone hats are called “pukaos” and the stone to make them came from a special place: the quarry at Puna Pau.
Located inside a small crater near Hanga Roa, Puna Pau was a rich resource of scoria, a low-density, reddish rock. Whereas most of the Moai figures were carved from tuff (a darker but also relatively soft type of volcanic rock) taken from the Rona Raraku quarry further up the island, scoria was only used to make the pukaos, Tukuturis (a different kind of sculpture from the Moai), and petroglyphs. Nowadays, the site itself is lovely, with rolling green hills dotted by burgundy-red boulders; a pathway through the hills taken you to the quarry itself.
Ahu Huri A Urenga – Ancient civilizations seemed to have quite a knack for knowing the stars (perhaps even better than we do with all our modern technology), and the Rapa Nui were no exception. At the entrance of Ahu Huri A Urenga, a water well and small indentations made in the stones would collect rainwater to reflect back the stars for observation and study. It is believed that this site was vital for the Rapa Nui calendar, as solar observations taken at the site helped mark the start of seasons and even regulations (like fishing). The ahu platform and the Moai on it (which is one of the few examples of Moai with hands) also directly face the sunrise on the winter solstice. The site was also used for funerals, as there’s a crematorium located at the back of the complex.
Trekking or cycling at Terevaka – Terevaka is the largest of Easter Island’s three volcanoes, and the summit offers wonderful views of the island and ocean. As such, it’s a popular place to go for a hike or for cycling. Despite being the biggest, it’s a fairly easy hike for everyone: the surrounding landscape of undulating hills with ocean views is pretty flat, and the gently-rising slopes aren’t too strenuous.
The summit can be a bit windy, but the views are worth it. Rent a bike in Hanga Roa for the day to go cycling on the trails, or just lace up your hiking shoes and start walking!
Ovahe Beach – Most people don’t go to Easter Island for adventure; aside from some light hiking, cycling, and scuba diving, the majority of visitors are here to experience the culture. But even with such a lightweight schedule, a relaxing day at the beach is always a good idea! While Anakena, the most popular beach on the island, is absolutely lovely, if you’re looking for solitude and to see a lesser-known part of the island, head to Ovahe Beach.
Like Anakena, Ovahe beach was also the site of an islander settlement but now it’s primarily known for its rugged beauty. The small, pink sand beach is surrounded by rocky sea cliffs, making it a perfect place for sunbathing. The warm turquoise waters are a popular spot for snorkeling, as the offshore coral reefs and rocky outcrops are frequented by native sea creatures like sea turtles and fish. However, the currents are stronger here than at Anakena and as the beach is isolated, there’s no lifeguard on duty so caution when swimming is urged. Ovahe is also one of the last refuges for native coastal flora on Easter Island, so you can see local flowers and plants.
The grill is fired up, salty snacks sit on the table and countless Chileans begin to gather together in one small backyard. Grandparents, uncles, cousins, friends, and friends of friends all file into space, greeting one another with a friendly kiss on the cheek. Sunday lunch has just begun and the next five, six or seven hours will be dedicated to eating, drinking, laughing and enjoying time with loved ones.
Like many Latin cultures, social gatherings in Chile often revolve around food. The main meal is lunch, so mid-afternoon is usually the time for families and friends to get together. There are all sorts of lunch options, but Chileans really love barbecues. They are popular year round, but especially when the weather is nice or during the September independence holidays.
A Chilean barbecue always begins with something called “picoteo,” which translates to finger food or appetizers. Picoteo consists of generic foods, such as chips, olives or peanuts, as well as specific Chilean food.
A common Chilean picoteo is pebre. Pebre is a tasty dip made up of chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion and olive oil. You can eat it with many different things, such as bread, sausage or sopaipilla pastries.
Additionally, Chileans serve cream cheese spreads for picoteo. They take a block of standard cream cheese, add different toppings for flavor and then pair it with crackers. Cream cheese toppings can include soy sauce with sesame seeds, chutney or green chili. It is delicious and really transforms regular cream cheese into something special and unique.
The Main Course
But don’t fill up on picoteo! The next round is full of delicious meat. Chileans love to serve heavy, juicy meat at a barbecue, often along with various side dishes, such as potatoes and salad.
To start this course, Chileans like to serve something called “choripan,” which is a sausage (chorizo) wrapped in Chilean marraqueta bread (pan).
After everyone has had a sausage or two, you move on to the steak. Chileans know how to cook a steak just right, leaving the meat juicy, tender and perfectly salted. It can be served in one of two ways. The first is when everyone grabs his/her own plate of meat and side dishes. But in a more casual setting, Chileans like to cut the meat into small pieces and serve straight from the cutting board, letting everyone grab pieces with their fingers.
Even though there is always a lot of meat, there are still options for vegetarians at a barbecue. A new, trendy veggie alternative is to grill bell peppers and green chilis. Chileans cut open and fill the peppers and chilis with shredded cheese or egg to add fun and flavor to the food.
Once the main course has finished, get ready for dessert and hot beverages.
For dessert, cake, fruit, pastries or sweet bread is served. Cakes are typically very sugary and sweet, layered in dulce de leche or white meringue. They are delicious and very popular amongst both Chileans and foreigners.
Additionally, Chileans like sweet bread, known as “queque.” Queque comes in many flavors, such as vanilla or carrot. It goes great with a hot tea!
“Once” and Repeat
By this point in the meal, you are completely stuffed. But give yourself an hour or two to digest and make room for more. Keep in mind — Chilean lunch can last all day and into the night. After dessert, comes “once,” which is Chile’s way of saying, “tea time.” “Once” normally consists of more tea, coffee, and cakes. Additionally, avocado and toast or ham and cheese sandwiches can be served. You will never have an empty stomach at a Chilean barbecue. The food keeps coming and coming until everyone leaves.
Attending a traditional Chilean barbecue is really something special. Not only will you indulge in some incredible food, but you will learn to admire and appreciate the culture, as well as the love and openness Chileans have for one another.
Santiago is a big city. Stretching out from the base of the Andes mountains and sprawling across the valley, its many barrios could take weeks to explore properly, full of museums, art galleries, great restaurants, historic sites, and modern innovations. But there are some absolute must-do and see sights when you’re in the capital for even just a few days, so here’s how to do Santiago in just a weekend!
Climb up San Cristobal Hill to take in the view – A can’t-miss stop when spending even just a day in Santiago is San Cristobal Hill, a tall cerro rising up from the Bellavista neighborhood and overlooking the city center and surrounding neighborhoods. You can walk up the hill or (the more popular option) take the funicular train up to the top, where viewing platforms and a tall statue of the Virgin Mary offer breathtaking views of the city, which you can enjoy with refreshments like empanadas and a glass of mote con huesillo. You can also visit the Santiago Zoo and a Japanese-style garden, which are located near the base of the hill, and after taking in the views from the top, take the aerial cable car back down.
Wander around Lastarria and Bellavista – These are two of Santiago’s most famous barrios, and for good reason. They’re easily walkable and can make for hours of meandering entertainment. In Lastarria, museums and art galleries vye for space with vinyl stores, vintage clothing boutiques, trendy eateries, and street art sellers. The architecture of Lastarria is one of its highlights: it’s very European and you’ll feel like you’re in a corner of London or Paris as you wander the cobblestone streets. Then, cross over the river to explore Bellavista, the capital’s bohemian neighborhood. Here you can find great street art, hip clubs, hippie hangouts, and La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s quirky Santiago home. There’s more than enough to see and entertain visitors for hours on end.
See the historic buildings in El Centro – The city center has some of the capital’s oldest and most refined historic buildings, all located within a few blocks of each other and so easy to explore over the course of a few hours. Start by taking in La Moneda, the stately Presidential Palace, before heading over to the Plaza de Armas where, in between getting your caricature drawn and enjoying snacks from street vendors, you can be awed by both the exterior and interior of the National Cathedral, as well as admiring the classic architecture around the square.
Visit the observation deck at the top of the Gran Torre – The best view in Santiago can be found from the observation decks on the top two floors of the Gran Torre at the Costanera Center, the tallest skyscraper in South America. Located alongside the Mapocho River between the barrios of Providencia and Las Condes, the decks have expansive, sweeping views of the surrounding mountains; views that are not to be missed.
Learn about Chilean (and South American) history and culture at the capital’s top notch museums – You could easily spend whole days at Santiago’s highly informative and engaging museums, but an afternoon or a few hours will do. The Museum of Pre-Columbian Art is not to be missed, filled with thousands of timeless relics from the great civilizations of Chilean and South American history. The Fine Arts museum showcases Chilean as well as international talent, and the Natural History Museum offers a fascinating look at Chilean flora and fauna. But the Museum of Memory and Human Rights may be the city’s best : a reflective, honest look at the history and atrocities of the Pinochet dictatorship.
Try authentic Chilean cuisine – Santiago is in the midst of a culinary renaissance, taking advantage of Chile’s incredible wealth of fresh, local fruits, vegetables, and meats to create bold, experimental new dishes, as well as elevate timeless classics. Some of the best places to try include: Liguria, which makes fantastic Chilean sandwiches; Fuente Alemana for German-Chilean fare and hearty beer; BocaNariz for the city’s finest wine bar; Chipe Libre for knock-you-to-your-knees pisco flights and cocktails; and for a very special night, Borago, considered one of the world’s best.
Take a break from all the crazy with a walk in the park – Running around trying to see all the top sights in just a weekend can be overwhelming, so plan time to take a break and wander through Santiago’s lovely parks. The Parque Forestal stretches along the side of the Mapocho River, and is just minutes away from Bellavista and Lastarria. Quinta Normal is also a great place to meander, with its many paths, leafy trees, and fountains and ponds; it also houses several museums.
Get out of town for a few hours – If you’re not really a big city person and want to spend your time in Santiago also seeing a bit of the surrounding countryside, you’re in luck: there are many fantastic day or afternoon trips located close by the city. If you want to see the mountains, pay a visit to Cajon de Maipo, a gorge just outside town where people go for outdoor sports like rafting and hiking, as well as to see the El Yeso Dam and Reservoir, soak in high mountain thermal hot springs, and hike to a distant glacier. Or, if you prefer something a bit more relaxing, go for an afternoon of wine tastings at the vineyards in the nearby wine valleys of Casablanca or Colchagua. You can also visit the seaside city of Valparaiso, home to colorful houses, funiculars, and street art. All these destinations can be reached in just an hour or a bit more, and offer a great respite from city life.
End the day with a bit of fun – Santiago has a thrilling nightlife scene: plenty of hopping clubs, bars, and even speakeasies where you can drink, dance, and make merry until the wee hours of the morning (Chileans are notorious partiers). So after a long day of exploring, hit the dance floor and have some fun!
A trip to Chile is not complete without a little street art and graffiti sighting. Most of the art can be found in cities, Valparaiso and Santiago. Here’s a look at some of the best spots to find it:
1. Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso
Bring your walking shoes to Valparaiso! This city is full of hills and packed with colorful street art. The most popular hills are Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre, which can both be accessed by foot or old-fashioned funicular. The hills sit side by side, which makes it easy to wander between the two.
Each time you visit, you will find something new and different. Artists, both well-known and undiscovered, frequently come to the hills and create new work.
But even with new art popping up, there are some pieces that never change. The piano stairs, for instance, is a Valparaiso classic. Rightfully so, you can find these steps on Beethoven Street.
Nestled in the heart of San Miguel commune is a place called Museo a Cielo Abierto, or in other words, “Open Air Museum.” It’s not a typical museum, but more of a designated area that displays a number of giant murals.
The project started several years ago as an initiative to restore deteriorating buildings in this working-class neighborhood. In order to improve the quality of the neighborhood, the community came together to create a free, public space for people to view large-scale artworks.
The space features more than 4,000 square meters of colorful, creative murals. Museo a Cielo Abierto has been both nationally and internationally recognized for its art and impact in the San Miguel community.
3. Bellavista, Santiago
Bellavista is a popular spot for both tourists and locals in Santiago. Besides nightclubs and lively restaurants, the neighborhood has plenty of unique street art. It’s a young area due to its funky atmosphere and the nearby universities. However, the neighborhood can easily be enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. Close to Bellavista is La Vega Market and a popular hiking spot called Cerro San Cristobal. Wander to these touristic hotspots and check out the street art as you go.
You can spot cartoonish characters, abstract shapes and different surreal scenes painted on the colorful buildings. The murals vary in content, but always offer something interesting to look at.
4. Cerro Bellavista and Florida, Valparaiso
Don’t limit yourself to just Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion when visiting Valparaiso. There are many other hills and neighborhoods to explore, many which offer a more “off-the-beaten-trail” experience. One spot to visit is Cerro Florida and Bellavista.
Cerro Florida is the hill where a famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda’s “La Sebastiana” house is located. Not far from the house is the Valparaiso Museo a Cielo Abierto (Open Air Museum) in Cerro Bellavista.
This project was directed and led by artist and university professor, Francisco Raúl Méndez Labbé in the 1990s. Renowned painters sketched the murals and university students worked together to execute the vision.
There are 20 different murals in the space and the art takes up several blocks, coloring sides buildings and stairways. Each mural has a sign with the name of the artist who envisioned it.
5. Barrio Yungay, Santiago
Among Santiago’s many neighborhoods is Barrio Yungay. It’s an old, yet charming community close to Quinta Normal Park. The neighborhood prides itself on being one of the oldest, most historical spots in the city, with some buildings dating back to the eighteenth century.
The neighborhood represents great economic prosperity and cultural development in both Santiago and Chile. Many successful artists, politicians, and intellectuals once resided in this community.
In addition to its historical roots, Barrio Yungay also has a lot of interesting street art. The combination of history, colonial buildings, and modern street art definitely give this neighborhood a unique feel.
Fiestas Patrias – otherwise known as “dieciocho” – is the celebration of Chile’s independence from Spain in 1810, and the 18th and 19th of September – which commemorate the first day that the Chilean government gathered to declare independence from Spain, as well as the Day of the Glories of the Army – are the best holidays in the whole country, eagerly awaited year round. Imagine if Christmas, your birthday, and the fervent pride of your country’s independence day were all rolled into one giddy, ecstatic party: THAT is the level of Fiestas Patrias in Chile.
Although the official holidays are Sept. 18th and 19th, most schools and businesses offer extended vacation days so the country can relax and enjoy the fun, and many people take the whole week off work to travel, be with family, and have a grand old time. As the whole country celebrates, there is a overload of food, music, dance, art, and joy, making it arguably the best time to come and experience the true character and flavors of Chile. As the Chileans say at this joyous time of year, “tiki tiki ti!” Here’s all the things you can do in Chile during Fiestas Patrias that make it the best time to visit and experience Chile.
1. Authentic and delicious food – Chileans go all out when it comes to the food and drink for their independence day celebrations, and everything is delicious and wholly Chilean. At the various parties and celebrations that take place during this time of year you can enjoy empanadas de pino (empanadas made with ground beef, onion, and other veggies), as well as sopaipillas (fried disks of Andean squash and flour) and the sweet version of sopaipillas, known as sopaipillas pasadas, which are served drenched in a sweet sauce. And, of course, there is plenty of meat! Chileans love a good barbecue so for Fiestas Patrias you can find everything from standard cuts of chicken, beef, and pork, to anticuchos (meat skewers) and choripan (chorizo sandwiches).
2. The best party drinks – But now you need something to wash all that good food down and get you ready for a good party. Famous for its wine and pisco, Chile has plenty of potent and tasty party drinks to go around, many of which are traditional for dieciocho. For wine, try melon con vino, which is chilled white wine and powdered sugar served in a hollowed out melon, or pipeno, a super-sweet wine that is used in terremotos, an insidious drink made with pipeno wine, Fernet, and ice cream. The mix of sugar and alcohol is so strong that when you stand up from drinking, you sway around or end up on the floor: just like an earthquake, which is where the drink gets its name! Yet another popular drink is chicha, a liqueur-type aperitif that’s very sweet and is distilled from grapes or apples.
3. Wonderful music and dance – The Fiestas Patrias parties is the best place to get your groove on! Bands play traditional Chilean music and songs, dancers wear traditional garb like large-skirted dresses and huaso (cowboy gear), and it’s one of the best times of the year to see Chileans dancing their national dance, the cueca. The dance is performed by a man and woman circling each other, waving handkerchiefs and tapping their feet in an elaborate sequence, and it’s said that the dance is meant to represent a rooster courting a hen. It’s a fun and energetic dance, and even if you don’t get the steps exactly correct, it’s the thought that counts and Chileans love it when you get in on the fun!
4. Party at different venues to see how the country celebrates – You can celebrate Fiestas Patrias at the home of any Chilean or in restaurants, but the best place to get the true ‘dieciocho’ experience is at a fonda. Fondas are official celebrations put on by towns or cities, where large tents or venues are set up, with areas for eating, dancing, and other fun activities like games. The tents are festively decorated with Chilean flags and red, white, and blue, and the air is full of music, noise, and excitement. Although you can find fondas all over the country, arguably the best can be found in Santiago, where you can also watch the official military and naval parades honoring the occasion.
5. Experience the sense of national pride and comradery – The celebration of the start of their fight for independence is something unites the whole country of Chile, and it’s wonderful to watch the whole country getting excited and celebrating together. From the beginning of September, flags start flying and people start gearing up for the big day, and being a part of all that excitement and joy, like the whole country is having one big giant party is a feeling that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Full of rivers, high mountain passes, lakes, and forests, the mountain valleys of Cajon del Maipo are some of Chile’s best kept secrets. Located a mere hour from the capital city of Santiago, these beautiful gorges are a popular place for rafting, hiking, mountaineering, or just appreciating the mountain views. But even though Cajon del Maipo is primarily famous as a destination for outdoor sports, there are plenty of other ways to get to know the region, like visiting the towns and trying local flavors. Here are six reasons why you should escape to Cajon del Maipo for a day!
1. Get away from the city – Santiago is the most cosmopolitan city in Chile, full of museums, parks, nightlife spots, and arts and cultural centers, but even with all that it can still be a good idea to leave the city behind once in a while and go out into nature. Cajon del Maipo is only an hour away from the city, making a great option for a day trip or a weekend getaway!
2. See the El Yeso reservoir – Located deep within the mountainous gorge of Cajon de Maipo, the El Yeso reservoir – formed by the damming of the Yeso River – is truly a sight to behold. Snowy mountains rise out of a tranquil, turquoise expanse of water, making it the perfect site for a photo opp. It’s also a popular place for fishing, or packing a picnic and taking scenic hikes along the side of the reservoir.
3. Visit quaint mountain villages – Cajon del Maipo is home to many charming mountain towns full of culture, local cuisine, and beautiful views. San Jose, the capital of the municipality, is a popular place to spend the afternoon, where you can admire the adobe buildings, try some of the specialty empanadas, and even visit nearby high-altitude vineyards or local microbreweries. The nearby town of San Alfonso is also a popular stop, especially because of its chocolate store, a fantastically designed building that looks like it’s come straight from The Shire.
4. Learn more about the local flora and fauna – The isolated valleys of Cajon del Maipo are home to an astonishing array of unique plants and wildlife, which you can see and learn about during hikes, especially in the El Morado National Monument. Here you can see animals like foxes and vizcachas, and it’s an especially great place to see birds like the Andean condor and eagles.
5. Relax in high mountain hot springs – After a long hike in the mountains, soaking in the amazing views and fresh air, the only way to finish the day is by soaking in some hot water. A trip to Cajon del Maipo isn’t complete without a visit to the Colina hot springs, a series of mineral, thermal hot springs staggered along the side of the Colina Valley. Here you can lounge for hours in different springs that are reputed to having healing abilities, and during certain seasons you can even visit in the evening so you can see the stars over the mountains.
6. See a glacier – Bet you didn’t know that you could see a glacier just a short drive and a hike from Santiago! The El Morado Glacier can be found in El Morado National Mountain and is reached via a scenic hike deep into the heart of the valley. You can either hike on your own or go horseback riding, allowing you to take in the spectacular views and flora and fauna before reaching the glacier, which descends out of the mountain pass and ends in a lake studded with tiny icebergs broken off of the glacier. It’s amazing that you can find such beautiful forces of nature right here in Santiago’s backyard!
The time has come: the time to plan your next vacation! You’re excited, it’s finally here, you can go out and discover another part of this great, big world. But where to go? There are so many options! How about Chile? Hmmm….Maybe. You’ve been hearing a lot about Chile these days, it seems like a really popular place to go at the moment. These are just some of the reasons why you should pick Chile as the next place you go for vacation!
1.Diverse landscapes – One of the hardest parts of deciding where to go on vacation is trying to decide what kind of place you want to visit. Forests? Sandy beaches? High mountains? The desert? In Chile, you don’t have to choose: Chile has practically every kind of landscape and climate imaginable! You can see high desert plateaus, salt flats, and rocky valleys in the Atacama Desert, the driest desert on Earth; visit the pristine beaches near Santiago; go hiking or rafting through the ancient forests and roaring rivers of the Lakes District; or gaze in amazement at towers of granite and glaciers in the far south in Patagonia.
2. You can do almost any sport here – No matter what kind of outdoor sport you like to do, no matter what your skill level is, and no matter what time of year it is, you can do it in Chile! You can ski down a volcano in the Lakes District or in the mountains outside Santiago; hike through Torres del Paine National Park to see amazing landscapes formed over millennia by wind, water, and glaciers; tackle some of the world’s best white water rapids in the Lakes District; go cycling down the Carretera Austral in Aysen; go fishing, boating, or kayaking; glide off a sand dune in the north; virtually any kind of sport you want to do, there’s a place to do it. You can even go backcountry dog sledding!
3. It’s easier than ever to get around – Yes, just getting to Chile takes a long time, to say nothing of having to travel all over the country itself to get to its destinations, but thanks to its new popularity as a tourist destination, getting around Chile has become very easy and surprisingly cheap! You can do it like Chileans do and take long distances buses (which are actually very comfortable and affordable) or if you’re in more of a hurry, many low-cost airline operators are now available to airports all over the country, from the Atacama to Patagonia. And public transportation around towns is efficient and easy to figure out; big cities like Santiago have bus routes and a Metro system, and taxis and colectivos (communal taxies) are plentiful; many towns also have Lyft or Uber as well. So if you don’t want to rent a car, it’s never been easier to travel all over Chile and at very reasonable rates.
4. Safety and security – Chile are one of (if not the) safest countries in South America, with extremely low violent crime rates. People in Chile are incredibly nice and helpful to tourists, always eager to put their best foot forward to give Chile a good impression to visitors. The only exception is that it’s wise to be wary of pickpockets in big cities like Santiago, especially near popular tourist areas, but as long as you are careful with your valuables and are savvy travelers, there’s nothing to worry about!
5. You’ll never go thirsty – It doesn’t matter what your drink of choice is, Chile has something for you! Chile has long been famous for its world-class wines, especially reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and whites like Chardonnay, and the wine valleys near Santiago are great destinations for vineyard visits and to do tastings. But if you’re more of a beer person, not to worry! When waves of German immigrants came to Chile in the 1800s, they brought their love of beer with them and create a deeply rooted craft beer culture. You can find amazing brews all over the country, but many of the best craft breweries are located in the South, especially the Lakes District. And if you enjoy spirits, Chile is renowned for its pisco, which is a liqueur distilled from grape varietals that generally are used to make white wine. Pisco can be drunk straight, but is very popular as a base for cocktails, like the pisco sour. So drink up!
6.Amazing gastronomy – The cuisine of other South American countries like Peru or Argentina may be better known, but food in Chile is equally interesting and delicious. Chileans love a great barbecue just as much as the next person and so the asado is a popular tradition all over the country, especially in Patagonia where a lamb is butterfly roasted over a smoldering fire on a spit. There is also a strong German influence, so around the country you can find sausage-and-potato-heavy dishes, and German desserts like kuchen. And being a country with a coastline that spans the entire country, seafood is especially popular, like paila marina (a seafood stew), sea urchin, fried fish, and chupe de jaiba (crab pie).
7. Interesting mix of cultures – Chile has a fascinating history and cultural identity thanks to the mix of cultures that have come here over the years. Patagonia in southern Chile used to be home to a large group of indigenous tribes, most notably the Mapuche, a fierce warrior tribe who were the only people in South America to drive back the Spanish during colonization, and their beliefs, cuisine, and culture are still prominent throughout the country. Of course, Spanish language and cultural influence are especially strong, and you can also encounter evidence of European culture from the Welsh, English, and German immigrants who moved here for work and land throughout the 1800s. All these melding languages, traditions, and identities have created a unique national culture that varies all over the country, creating some of the most interesting food, music, architecture, art, and dance to be found anywhere in South America.
Borrowing from its blended culture of indigenous, Hispanic, and European influences, Chilean gastronomy has become one of the most interesting culinary scenes on the continent. Utilizing fresh local produce like avocados and corn, plentiful seafood from its 4,270 km (2,653 mi) coastline, and native flavors like maqui berry or cacho de cabra (goat horn) chiles, Chilean have produced a huge variety of unique dishes that highlight the flavors of each region, but there are some classics that are beloved the whole country over. Here’s just ten examples of the best Chilean food and drink that you need to try when visiting Chile!
1. Mote con huesillo – This strange looking but a refreshing drink is summer in a cup for Chileans! Meaning “wheat with peaches”, it’s part liquid, part solid. The liquid part is dehydrated peaches brewed with a sweet, “nectar” type mixture of water, cinnamon, and sugar. Then, when this has cooled, add a ladle of the liquid and one of the peaches to a plastic cup filled with cooked husked wheat kernels. Sugary sweet and a great drink for all ages, a popular place to enjoy this beverage is at the top of Cerro Santa Lucia in Santiago.
2. Marraqueta bread – In Chile, fresh bread is a daily part of life. Either in the morning or before going home from work, Chileans will head to their neighborhood “panaderia” to stock up on bread for the night and next day, and the most popular kind of bread in Chile is the marraqueta. Super easy to make and share due to their shape, marraquetas are great for making sandwiches or enjoying with butter or avocado at Chilean “once” (teatime), an evening tradition where, instead of dinner, Chilean families gather around the table to eat bread and sweets and drink tea while talking about their day.
3. Sopaipillas – A classic street food throughout Chile, sopaipillas are small disks of Andean pumpkin mixed with flour and fried in hot oil. Just a single one will set you back about 200 Chilean pesos (roughly 30 cents USD) and you can top it off with ketchup, mustard, or pebre, a Chilean version of pico de gallo. During the winter, you can also soak them in a sweet syrup to make “sopaipillas pasadas”, which is a tasty breakfast treat or can be eaten for dessert!
4. Cazuela – Cazuela is to soup in Chile as chicken noodle soup is to soup in the States: it’s a classic and everyone has their own way of preparing it. Cazuela can be made with several different kinds of meat, such as different kinds of seafood, but beef or chicken are the most common. The meat of your choice, chunks of potatoes, carrots, and other veggies are added to a simmering broth, cooked until done, and then everyone gets to pick and choose what kinds of vegetables and meat they want for their individual serving. Cazuela can be eaten the whole year round but is especially popular in fall and winter.
5. Pastel de jaiba – The waters of southern Chile are literally crawling with gigantic king crab, which is the main ingredient of this gut-busting crab pie. King crab meat is mixed with cheese, bread, and cream before being baked to gooey perfection.
6. Chacarero – If there’s one thing Chileans know, it’s how to make a good sandwich and the Chacarero is one of the best. This behemoth was named one of the most amazing sandwiches in the world by TIME Magazine and it’s easy to see why. A huge piece of Chilean bread is cut in half, covered in homemade mayo and any other condiments you desire, and then piled high with thin, sizzling slices of steak or pork, sliced tomatoes, pieces of chile pepper, and then (wait for it) a heap of green beans! The green bean addition is what deters most visitors, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
7. Chorrillana – Chileans love to party, and when the fun is done, you need something to soak up all that alcohol. Chorrillana is the ultimate drunk food: a plate of greasy french fries topped with sliced hot dog, slabs of beef, fried onion, and sunny-side up eggs. Share with a few friends and you have the perfect end to a great night out on the town!
8. Patagonian asado – If you’re planning on visiting Patagonia or Torres del Paine during your visit to Chile, you need to make time to partake of an authentic Patagonia asado (barbecue). In the past, the wilderness of Patagonia was colonized and presided over by baqueanos, the local version of cowboys. But instead of cattle, they herded sheep, whose wool was prized back in Europe. During the long stretches of time spent at their ranches or while out in the fields, they created the Patagonian asado, which is butterflying a lamb over an open fire, cooking it for about three hours and moistening it with a mixture of warm water, salt, and garlic, until the meat is tender and juicy. Top it off with a glass of Chilean red wine under the Patagonian stars and you have the recipe for an unforgettable barbecue!
9. Curanto – The preparation of this dish, which is native to the Chiloe archipelago in the south of the country, is similar to a traditional clambake. After filling a hole with hot stones that have been heated in a fire, the hole is filled with clams, mussels, sausage, chicken, potatoes, milcao (a type of potato patty), and veggies, which are then covered with large nalca leaves and left to bake for several hours. When the dish is done cooking, the leaves are removed and everyone gets to enjoy this delicious Chilote smorgasbord!
10. Pastel de choclo – Corn is a key part of the Chilean diet, so of course one of their most famous and popular dishes is a corn pie! Similar to the English “corn pudding”, the corn is ground into a paste and mixed with seasoning, before being baked in a clay bowl that’s filled with ground beef, chicken, pieces of hard-boiled egg, onions, and black olives. The result is a cozy, homestyle dish that’s great for cold winter days.
Of the best parts of traveling and going to new places is learning all about what makes each place special and unique, and the same is definitely true of Chile, and there are some interesting things to know about the country that may surprise you. Here’s 15 fun facts that you didn’t know about Chile!
1.Chile has the world’s largest swimming pool! Found in the coastal city of Algarrobo, the pool is the length of 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools and holds 66 million gallons, making it a Guinness World Record Holder.
2. At 4,270 km (2,653 mi), Chile is the second longest country in the world, only narrowly being beat out by Brazil, which is 95 kilometers longer.
3. Chile has the southernmost town in the world, Puerto Williams, although some people argue that since Puerto Williams is on an island and not the mainland, Ushuaia, Argentina should hold the title of southernmost town.
4. The oldest mummies in the world were found in Chile. Known as the Chinchorro mummies, the mummified remains of individuals from the ancient Chinchorro tribe of the Atacama desert have been dated to be from between 5050 and 3000 BC, meaning that people in the Atacama were mummifying their dead up to two thousand years before the Egyptians!
5. Chile is home to the tallest building in South America, the Costanera Gran Torre. Located in Santiago, the Torre has 64 floors and has two observation decks on the top two floors that offer jaw-dropping views of the city and the surrounding Andes Cordillera.
6. The Atacama Desert, which is located in the north of the country, is the driest desert on Earth, with an average annual rainfall of only 0.6 inches a year.
7. Scientists have used the harsh conditions of the Atacama to test Mars rovers, as the desert terrain and volatile conditions are believed to mimic those found on Mars.
8. It is believed that 90% of the world’s potatoes originate from the islands of Chiloe off the coast of the Lakes District! Even today, the islands are home to 286 unique varieties of Chilote potatoes.
9. Chile is one of the only governments in the world with an official department dedicated to research into UFOs (yes, as in the alien kind). Talk about close encounters of the Chilean kind!
10. Stories from Chile have helped inspire some of the great books and characters of classic literature. In “The Tempest”, it’s believed that Shakespeare based the character of Caliban on descriptions and tales of the natives living in Tierra del Fuego. The Essex, the whaling ship that inspired Melville to write his epic, “Moby Dick,” was sunk by a whale while off the coast of Chile, and the survivors were taken to the city of Valparaiso. Finally, “Robinson Crusoe” was based on the story of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who spent four years stranded on the Juan Fernandez islands.
11. The largest earthquake ever recorded occurred in Valdivia in 1960, registering at a 9.5 and killing aroundly 1,000 people.
12. Even though they look very similar, the flag of Chile is 21 years older than the flag of Texas in the US, which uses a similar color scheme. On the Chilean flag, the colors and symbols symbolize: blue – the sky and the Pacific Ocean; white – the snow of the Andes Mountains; the star – guidance and progress; and red – the blood spilled in the fight for independence.
13. The alerce tree of southern Chile can live to be up to 4,000 years old!
14. Chile is the world’s 4th largest exporter of wine!
15. Where did the name “Chile” come from? Some say that the word may have come from the indigenous Mapuche word “chili,” meaning “where the land ends”, or that it could also be based on the imitation of a native bird call that sounds like “cheele cheele.”
When it comes to visiting Chile, it’s hard to know where to start. With so many different things to do and places to see, it can be hard to plan a trip that fits in all the highlights of a specific region or area, like the central valleys. Home to the capital city of Santiago, the Andean Cordillera mountains, vineyards, and miles of scenic oceanfront and port towns, just trying to pack all that into a short trip can be difficult. But there is an easy way to see and experience all the best activities and sights in just one week!. Our 7 Day Ski Portillo, Santiago, and Valparaiso tour hits all the highlights without feeling overwhelming or rushed, giving you a chance to truly get to know central Chile. Here’s how we do it!
Start by exploring the historic barrios and modern marvels of Santiago – Founded in 1541 by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, Santiago is one of the most historic cities in South America, and in recent years has turned into a booming center for IT and technology innovation, art, gastronomy, culture, nightlife, and shopping. To really get to know Santiago, start by exploring the center of the city, where the La Moneda Presidential Palace, Plaza de Armas, and National Cathedrals are located and where you can see classic examples of Santiago architecture and learn about the foundations of the city. Santiago is a great city for walking, so after spending time in the city center, branch outward to other neighborhoods like the bohemian Bellavista, home to street art, quirky cafes, and Pablo Neruda’s Santiago home; or Lastarria, with its European-inspired buildings, art galleries, and fine dining. Every neighborhood reveals something different about the city’s character, from the business district Las Condes (also known as “Sanhattan”) to the artsy vibes of Bellavista or Barrio Italia. Then, stop for a bite of lunch at the Central and La Vega markets with their wealth of fresh seafood and produce, and afterward take a funicular up San Cristobal Hill to see the city from above, as well as get a better view of the Andean Cordillera. If you want to go even higher, head to the Gran Torre, the tallest building in South America, and take the elevator to the top floors for jaw dropping views.
Then head out of town to go wine tasting at one of central Chile’s top organic vineyards – Now that you’ve gotten to know the capital of Chile, it’s time to see what else the central valleys have to offer. Santiago is located roughly an hour and a half from the coast, and en route to the Pacific Ocean, the road passes through the beautiful Casablanca Valley, home to some of Chile’s most prestigious and high-end wineries. Chile is famous for its dark reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, crisp whites like Sauvignon Blancs, and blends, and most vineyards allow you to drop by for tours to see the grounds, learn about the process, and taste their different varietals. One must-visit vineyard in the Casablanca Valley is Emiliana, an organic vineyard that foregoes the use of pesticides, plants, and harvests by the biodynamic calendar, and uses animals like chickens to get rid of pests and provide manure for fertilizer. After touring the vineyard and learning all about the amazing ways the vineyard operates sustainably and in harmony with nature, you’ll be able to have tastings of the vineyard’s best wines.
Spend a day getting to know the quirky port city of Valparaiso – Then, after the wine tour and tasting, drive just a bit further to reach the Pacific Ocean and the city of Valparaiso. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Valparaiso is affectionately known as the San Francisco of South America or the Jewel of the Pacific because of its vibrant street art, colorfully painted houses, rolling coastal hills, steep stairways, and fascinating history as one of South America’s most important ports. Hop on a trolleybus streetcar to see the historic port neighborhood and other landmarks like the Turri Clock and Plaza Victoria before getting on a funicular to see what Valpo’s famous hills look like. The most popular ones to visit are Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion, as they feature the best street art and murals, some of the best-preserved examples of classic Valparaiso houses, which are covered with corrugated iron that’s been painted bright colors, stunning views of the ocean and the other hills of the city, and endless stairways and alleys down which you can find stores, art galleries, cafes, restaurants, and so much more. Then, be sure to finish the day with a meal of fresh seafood at a local restaurant!
Finish with a few days skiing in the Andes mountains – Now that you’ve gotten to know the cultural and culinary treasures of the central valleys, it’s time to experience some of the adrenaline-pumping action to be found in the Andes mountains just outside of Santiago. There are several top ski resorts that can be reached within an hour or so from the capital, but one of the best is Ski Portillo. Perched on the edge of a high-altitude lake and surrounded by towering peaks, Portillo is world-renowned for its downhill skiing, with 35 runs, 14 lifts, off-and-groomed pistes, hills ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced, ski-in-ski-out, and plenty of other activities and services to keep you occupied when you’re not hitting the slopes like spa packages, heated outdoor pool, jacuzzis, saunas, yoga, gym, entertainment center, restaurant, and more. You can even go heli-skiing! With ski rental options and classes available, Portillo has everything you need to spend a few days enjoying the fresh powder and spending hours skiing down the Andes, before retiring for apres-ski drinks and food in the cozy lodge.
So with exploring Santiago, going wine tasting, visiting Valparaiso, and then skiing in the Andes, you’ve now seen and experienced the best of central Chile in just a week! Learn more about our 7 Day Ski Portillo, Santiago, and Valparaiso tour here!
Sprawled over coastal hills just an hour and a half from Santiago, the city of Valparaiso is known as the San Francisco of South America thanks to its colorful houses, bohemian lifestyle, world-class street art, and steep, winding roads and stairways that lead up into the hills. Its past as an important port city, unique culture, and architecture, and reputation as a haven for visual and performing artists earned it the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, and it’s one of the top places to visit in Chile. Although it’s recommended to stay for a few days to allow you plenty of time to explore the city at your leisure, with our Valparaiso and Wines Day Tour it’s easy to see the best of this Jewel of the Pacific in just a day!
1. Go for a ride on a trolley bus – While wandering the streets of the city, you’re bound to see these low-slung, cream and green electric cable cars lumbering along as their connector cables crackle and twang with electricity, the interior of the cars lined with worn leather seats and lit by warm, amber lights. They look like something straight out of the 1950s, a relic of a bygone time. They’re Valparaiso’s famous troles (trolleybuses). The second oldest streetcar system in South America, the majority of the streetcars were made by the Pullman-Standard Company and their historical significance helped gain the city its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Hop on board at the bus depot on Avenida Alemania, pay 270 pesos (about 50 cents USD), and then enjoy the ride through the streets, passing by city landmarks like the Turri Clock, Plaza Victoria, and Plaza Sotomayor with the Naval Building.
2. Walk around to see the street art – Valparaiso is the capital of Chilean street art, and the best examples can be found covering the walls of Cerros Alegre and Concepcion. Wander along the cobblestone streets for an afternoon and you’ll see everything from giant hummingbirds, to a staircase, painted like piano keys, to the famous “We are not hippies, we are happies” mural, to a stylistic tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. Artists come from all over Chile and the world to contribute murals in a wide variety of styles done with bright, exuberant colors, and there are always new pieces to discover. You can also go explore the Open Air Museum of Cerro Bellavista, just down the hill from Pablo Neruda’s house, where you can see 20 outsize and vibrant murals created by artists from Chile and other countries in South America.
3. Explore Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion – These two hills are the most popular to visit in Valparaiso because they’re home to some of the best examples of Valparaiso architecture. The houses – which are covered in corrugated iron that’s been painted in bright colors – are built in a German/European style that becomes popular in the city after the huge influx of immigrants from Europe in the 1800s. All the houses are intersected by hidden alleyways and staircases full of cafes, galleries, shops, and street art, and you can wander the hills for hours and still not see every part of them. From the lookouts at Paseo Gervasoni and Paseo Atkinson, you can also see stunning views of the ocean and the surrounding hills. If you are looking for a place to experience every part of Valparaiso – the art, the bohemian culture, the colorful houses – this is the place to explore.
4. Ride up and down the hills on a funicular – One of the icons of Valparaiso are its funicular elevators. The cars, which are pulled up and down the hills on their tracks by pulleys, are often painted in flashy colors to match the houses of the city, or done up with street art instead. For about 100 pesos (16 cents USD), you can take the short ride up or down one of the hills, with the elevation opening up beautiful views of the surroundings. In the past, the city has had as many as 26 working funiculars operating throughout the city, but nowadays, only the ones on the most popular hills are maintained. Two of the most popular, La Reina and La Peral, can be found on Cerro Alegre.
5. Visit Pablo Neruda’s house – “Valparaiso, what nonsense you are, what a crazy, insane port.” Thus starts Pablo Neruda’s ode to his beloved port city, where he chose to keep one of his three homes. Known as La Sebastiana, the multi-story house teeters on Cerro Florida overlooking the bay, its many floors chock-full of whimsical items Neruda acquired during his travels, like a wooden horse taken from a carousel in Paris and an ancient map of the world. You can wander from floor to floor learning about the different artifacts and how Neruda lived, seeing his bedroom, living room, and writing study, all of which offer expansive views of the ocean and city. Each room and item offers insight into the unique life of one of Chile’s foremost writers, who, in addition to his poetry, had an impressive career as a diplomat.
6. Enjoy some fresh Chilean seafood in the port district – With more than 4,300 kilometers of coastline, Chileans know how to do seafood especially well. As a famous historic port city, Valparaiso is chock-full of restaurants and diners – many dating back to the city’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s like Bar Cizano – that serve up fresh, delicious Chilean classics year-round: machas con parmesan (clams with parmesan); chupe con centolla (savory crab pie, made with crab, cheese, cream, and bread); paila marina (Chilean seafood stew); sea urchins, and catch of the day fish prepared every which way. Just into any restaurant in the port neighborhood and pair your meal with a glass of white wine: you won’t be disappointed.
With its museums, parks, restaurants, and shopping, Santiago has plenty to keep visitors occupied during their stay. But everyone likes to get out of the city once in a while, and Santiago’s prime location close to the Andes mountains, Chilean wine country, and the ocean, makes it easy to escape for a day. Whether your pleasure is hiking, spending a day at the beach, going wine-tasting, or exploring abandoned mining towns (a niche interest, to be sure, but a worthwhile one!), these six easy day trips from Santiago are great ways to get to know the landscapes, culture, gastronomy, and history of central Chile.
1. Valparaiso and Vina del Mar – The Pacific Ocean is a convenient hour and a half from the capital, so if you’re looking for fresh seafood, beautiful harbor views, and a chance to mix beach fun with learning about Chile’s history, check out these two seaside towns. In Vina, one of central Chile’s most famous resort towns, it’s all about the party: spend the day sunning at the beach, visiting the famous Flower Clock, exploring museums like Castillo Wulff and the Fonck Museum, or trying your luck at the casino. Then, grab a colectivo (local taxi) to go ten minutes away to Valparaiso, the jewel of the Pacific and Vina’s gritty, bohemian counterpart. Here, historic funicular elevators carry you up the hills to see the city’s famous houses, which are painted vibrant colors and splashed with some of South America’s best street art. A great city for meandering, explore Cerro Alegre and Concepcion for the best examples of classic Valpo architecture and street art, as well as cafes and shops, and then head to La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s quirky home on Cerro Florida. Then finish the day with a meal at one of the city’s many excellent seafood restaurants; the paila marina (seafood stew), chupe de jaiba (crab pie), or the fresh catch of the day (fish or otherwise) are always great picks.
2. Chilean wine country – If you’re a wine lover, lucky you: Santiago is just a quick drive from several of Chile’s finest wine valleys, namely Casablanca and Colchagua. Here, surrounded by undulating mountains and valley floors covered in row upon row of bounteous grapevines, some of the country’s finest wines are grown and made, such as Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Spend a leisurely day visiting local wineries like Clos de Apalta in Colchagua or Bodegas RE in Casablanca, where you’ll learn about the history of winemaking in Chile, as well as each vineyard’s unique wine-making processes, explained on behind-the-scenes tours led by expert vintners. Each tour is then followed by tastings of some of the vineyard’s most exemplary vinos. Salud!
3. Skiing in the Andes – With epic pistes and stunning views across the rooftop of South America, some of the world’s best downhill skiing is found right outside Santiago in the Andes Mountains at Valle Nevado and Portillo ski resorts. Although both resorts have great onsite accommodations and amenities like restaurants and ski in/ski out service, their proximity to Santiago (Portillo is located about 2 hours away, Valle Nevado roughly 90 minutes) makes it super easy for you to stay in the city but spend your days hitting the slopes. Both resorts annually get around 24 inches of snow and have a combined total of 79 runs (groomed and off-piste), as well as lifts, a variety of slopes suited to everyone from beginners to advanced, rental stores, and sites for heli-skiing, snowboarding, and freestyle.
4. Cajon de Maipo – Where can you go hiking, rafting, fly-fishing, rock climbing, horseback riding, or just enjoy pure nature within an hour’s drive of Santiago? The answer is Cajon de Maipo. This mountainous valley to the southeast of the city is a paradise of peaks, rivers, lakes, forests, volcanoes, and glaciers, making it the ultimate outdoor adventure playground. Popular activities include treks to the El Morado and San Franciso glaciers, visiting the El Yeso reservoir, relaxing at the Plomo or Morales natural hot springs, rafting on the Maipo river, hiking to the Yeso waterfall, and exploring small towns like Pirque, where some of Chile’s best Cabernet Sauvignon is grown and produced. The area is also famous for its homemade goods, like chocolates, pastries, and empanadas, and is a great place for souvenir shopping thanks to its fine artisan shops.
5. La Campana National Park – For an easy day trek near Santiago that isn’t in the Cordillera, La Campana is the best option for its epic views and wealth of flora and fauna, like the Chilean Wine Palm, an endangered species of palm tree that used to grown all over the country but now only exists in small pockets. Famous for being the site of Cerro La Campana (Bell Mountain) which was scaled by Charles Darwin in 1834, this national park and UNESCO Biosphere is flush with local wildlife including foxes, pumas, birds, chingues (skunks), and butterflies. The hike up features beautiful views of the countryside, plus a chance to visit a nearly hundred-foot tall waterfall and a plaque dedicated to Darwin’s hike. If you want to make it to the summit at more than 6,000 feet above sea level, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys and mountains, and on clear days, you can see as far as the Pacific Ocean in one direction and Aconcagua Mountain in Argentina in the other.
6. Sewell Mining Town – Known as the City of Stairs, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a fascinating glimpse into Chile’s long-standing tradition of copper mining. Founded in 1905 by the Braden Copper Company which owned and operated the El Teniente Copper Mine (the largest in the world), this city, which at its peak housed 15,000 mine workers and their families, was built into the steep slopes of the Andes at more than 7,000 feet above sea level. This made it inaccessible by vehicles, and so the brightly painted buildings of the town, terraced up and down the rugged slope, are all connected via stairways. Closed in the 1970s, it was saved from demolition by the Chilean government and then UNESCO, and now can only be visited on private tours. Located about two and a half hours from Santiago, it’s a bit more of a hike than most other day trips, but is well worth it for the fascinating glimpse it offers into historic Chilean mining towns.
Visiting the driest desert on Earth – San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro lies in the north of Chile, acting as a gateway to the driest desert in the world, the infamous Atacama. In San Pedro and its surrounding there are a lot of activities related with adventures, gastronomy, amazing landscapes and local culture, you simply must go if you’re ever in Chile.
Using San Pedro as a base, you can easily explore the otherworldly valleys, high-altitude lagoons, and ancient hillside ruins. You can also gawp at the night sky – possibly the clearest in the world – by taking an astronomy tour, or simply walking a little away from the light of the town. A starry night here is something you will never forget.
Ideally, you will need 4 days to make the most of your time here. The town is small and easily walkable. There are tour agencies and empanada shops (the best kind). More time will allow you some relaxation and wiggle room, less means you will need to select your activities wisely. Without further ado, here are the best things to see and do around San Pedro de Atacama.
Where to Visit
1. Valle de la Luna
Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, is a spectacular valley located just 13km from San Pedro.
The information desk at the entrance provides maps of the valley, taking you all the way to Las Tres Marias, three unusual rocky formations that jut out of the desert floor.
The first stop, around 3km from the entrance, is the salt caverns. They’re a winding and narrow cave system, containing unearthly geological structures. You can walk the snaking trail in around 20 minutes and either carry on along the main road, or take a right as you exit the caves and explore a less visited part of the valley.
There are more surreal cliffs and caves, but the further you head in this direction, the less people you will encounter, and the more it begins to feel like you are truly isolated in the desert. The midday sun beats down on your face and neck, no matter which way you look.
The main view that everybody comes to see in the Valley of the Moon is the sunset, particularly from the top of the giant sand dune. The path is sandy but well worn; it shouldn’t pose a problem to anybody. The view from the top makes you understand the logic behind the valley’s name. It was also here where NASA tested the prototype for the Mars rover, due to its strikingly similar terrain.
Watching the sun drop behind the ridge is beautiful on its own, but it doesn’t compete with the red-gold afterglow that engulfs the desert. At the top of the dune, you can walk along the ridge in either direction. The right allows you a view of the sun setting behind the sand dune, and if you turn around, you have the full chain of the Andes mountains, complete with several large volcanoes in the distance. The left has a view of the craggy hills and the interminable desert. The path goes on further, too, meaning there is more space to find your own spot, away from the crowds. This is the busiest time on the sand dune, but the view is remarkable all-day long. A sunset here is one you will remember for the rest of your life.
How to get there Getting to Valle de la Luna can be done in a several ways, depending on your preferences. The best option is to take a tour, which will pick you up from your hotel or hostel and transport you to the entrance, visiting each of the locations with a knowledgeable guide, before dropping you back off at your accommodation. They usually start at 2 or 3 pm so that you can catch the sunset, but an earlier one is possible.
Cycling is easy as well. In your free time you can rent a bike in town and start your trip. The ride from the centre of town to the entrance takes about 25 minutes. However, upon entry into the actual valley, the road becomes rickety and there are steep sections, too. A helmet and visibility jacket are essential for you to take the bike into the valley. I made the mistake of cycling there without either, and was told upon arrival that they would not let me take the bike inside without them.
2. Valle de la Muerte / Valle de la Marte
The Valley of the dead, also known as the Valley of Mars, is closer to San Pedro than the Valley of the Moon. Its surreal landscapes are just as astonishing, but they have the bonus of being less crowded than their bigger and more popular neighbour. That’s not to say that nobody visits the Valley of the Dead, but it doesn’t get as many as the Valley of the Moon.
The entrance is on the right-hand side of the road to Calama, approx 2km from the centre of town.
This valley is the perfect place to sandboard. The Valley of the Moon also has a huge sand dune but you are not allowed to sandboard on it. As well as climbing the dune to ride back down, it is also worth going up for the view alone. The desert rolls out before your eyes, stretching all the way to the jagged Andes mountains, cowboys ride through the rugged valleys, kicking up dust in their wake, and bizarre outcrops defy logic at every turn.
I made the mistake of climbing the dune in a straight line, from the base to the highest point. Don’t make the same mistake as me. I had to use both my hands and my feet, as the surface was almost vertical. My feet sunk into the sand a good 30cm with each step, making the whole ordeal unnecessarily demanding. I had half the desert in my shoes by the time I made it to the top. Luckily, I had enough water to make sure I didn’t pass out from the midday heat. Despite taking the most difficult route (there is a well-trodden track for sandboarders, which takes you up diagonally), it was well worth the effort.
You can also continue on the path further into the valley, which winds its way up to the opposite side of the sand dune, giving you a view of what lies beyond the towering ridge. It looks like an extreme Motocross track, built for giants. I still struggle to get my head around how these valleys were formed.
How to get there
You can travel here using the same methods stated for the Valley of the Moon.
A way to get to the Valley of the Dead is with a tour departing from your hotel. Your van will stick to the main road towards Calama. The sandy hill, directly in front of you as you leave the town, is the entrance. It should not take longer than a few minutes to get there. If you have enough time it is possible to reach very good viewpoints. Take plenty of water and some snacks.
There are tours combined with the Valley of the Moon, if you prefer to visit both at once.
Finally, you can cycle. It’s easy to get here, despite a little up-hill section. Cycling in the actual valley can be quite difficult however, as the sand can be thick. I walked to the top with my bike, then rode down (without peddling), but my wheels jammed in the sand and I flew over my handle bars, almost rolling off the steep road and into the Valley of the Dead below. It would have been a fitting place to die, but it was not to be. You can also cycle from here to Pukara de Quitor in a relatively fast time, as there is a path directly from entrance to entrance.
3. Pukara de Quitor
This fascinating hill-side ruin was once a mighty fortress, perched in a great defensive location, destroying the element of surprise for invaders. You can find it 3km north-west of San Pedro. Like most of the attractions here, there is an entrance fee of a few thousand Pesos. If you have a bike, there is a place to lock it at the entrance.
You can choose between climbing the ridge that runs along the 700-year-old ruins, or the hills in the distance. The hills contain several view points and shelters to rest, as well as a few interesting structures at the top. From the peak, you can look down on the Valley of the Dead to see it from a different perspective. You can also gaze into the valley that leads to Catarpe – an interesting and adventurous bike ride away.
The view from the top of the hills is worth seeing. You see everything from an inferior angle, and whilst you can get a lot closer to the ruins, you can’t go inside them. Having said that, the path is short and is probably worth the 15 minutes it will take to walk.
Near to the entrance of Pukara de Quitor, is another path. Instead of taking the ramp up to the bike storage and ticket office, go the opposite way, sticking to the wall of the rock, and follow the path up to a cave and some amazing archaeological carvings. The cave is pitch black at certain points, so make sure you have a torch handy. Be careful with your head, too, especially for tall people like me. You’ll be bending a lot. On the other side of the cave is a small open area, where you can witness the unusual rock formations up close, and add your own cairn to the masses already there, before heading back the way you came. It might be a good idea to take something to cover your nose and mouth, as you will inhale a lot of dust. Outside, you can marvel at the two giant heads, that have been carved from the cliff face.
How to get there
All the above options apply for here. You can take a tour, walk or cycle.
Arguably the best activity to do here, based on the area’s pristine skies, is look upwards. Within the next year, over 70% of the world’s astronomical observatories will be based here. From this desert, you can see the Large Magellanic Cloud with the naked eye, a foreign galaxy that orbits the Milky Way, over 150,000 light years away. You can also see the Small Magellanic Cloud, fainter and even further away. It’s the farthest visible object in the southern hemisphere, without the aid of telescopes. You can also stare into the heart of our own galaxy. Do you know that strip of cloud-like substance you see in films and the best astrophotography? You can see it with your own eyes.
It takes a brilliant camera to be able to pick any of it up, but luckily for us, almost all astronomy tours will take a group photo on their own cameras. You can ask for one on your own, too.
I went on a tour and couldn’t recommend it enough. They took me on a 2-hour tour, pointing out all the visible constellations of the zodiac and explaining the reasons behind them. They also showed us a short documentary and allowed us to feast on little sausages and snacks.
It obviously helps if you have an experienced guide who can point to Saturn as soon as you ask him and tells you everything about all the stars you see.
I visited in August, the tail-end of their winter, and Saturn was the easiest to see. Early at night, it is possible to spot Mars and Jupiter, too. At different times throughout the year, it’s possible to see all the first six planets with the naked eye.
5. High Plain Lagoons and the Atacama Salt Flats
The high-altitude lakes are definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area. You have the opportunity to watch pink Flamingos in Chaxa National Reserve, walk on a frozen lake at Red Stone, and see Vicuñas (a relative of llamas and alpacas) in their natural habitat – the hills above 3,000m.
It’s best to start early for these places, as they’re a bit further away than the majority of the attractions. I drifted in and out of sleep on the ride there, catching dreamlike glimpses of snowy peaks, sprawling desert and grazing vicuñas, half-listening to the guide talk about how vicuñas are still hunted for their fur, despite it being illegal.
I woke up when the smooth road swiftly changed to a jolting sandy track. I bounced up and down, bashing flailing limbs off parts of the jeep that I didn’t even know existed. Then I was hit by the cold. Mornings at high altitude aren’t pleasant for the half-dressed. Luckily, I was prepared.
How to get there The best way to go to these places is by taking a tour. It’s worth it. We visited all the aforementioned places, as well as Toconao, a traditional village. The main square has large cacti that grow 1cm per year. These cacti were over 2 metres tall, meaning they were planted in the early 1800s! You can explore the handcraft shops and go souvenir hunting, check out the old church, or taste local homemade ice cream. They have Rica Rica flavour, which is a mint-like herb that grows in the shrubby area of the desert. The driver makes a short stop here, too, for you to harvest your own supply.
Other things to do in the area include:
Tatio Geysers – Expect an early start if you visit these. They’re most active around 4.30 am.
Hot Springs / Aguas Calientes – There are lots of hot springs near San Pedro de Atacama. I visited hot springs in Peru and Bolivia – there is nothing quite like bathing in hotter-than-bath water in the middle of the freezing cold Andes. (As Termas Puritama and Tatio Geysers.)
Hot Air Balloon over the Atacama – Ballooning over the Atacama Desert is a breathtaking and unique experience. You will start the tour right before sunrise to see all the colors and rocks of the desert in the morning light. Every tour is different because you don’t know where the wind will take you but you can be sure that you will have an impressive view over the stunning landscape of the Atacama Desert. This is definitely a memory you will never forget!
The Flowering Desert – A lot further south from San Pedro, but still in the Atacama, near to La Serena, there is a natural phenomenon taking place in the desert, causing flowers to blossom everywhere. It only happens once per year and this year is supposed to be the largest ever.
How to Budget Generally, San Pedro is slightly more expensive than other towns of similar size in Chile. The customers are predominantly tourists, which means the prices are inflated. It’s possible to find all type of vegetables, meat, fish and local food. There are many options of restaurants, accommodation and activities for your stay in San Pedro de Atacama.
When to Go The Atacama is dry, with clear skies all year round. You can count the number of clouds you see in your time here on one hand – most likely, you won’t need any hands. On the astronomy tour, the guide said that only 30 nights of the year are cloudy, and even then, they’re not terribly intrusive.
Chilean summer runs from December to February, and their winter, from June to August. However, the climate here doesn’t change that much. Due to the altitude (2,408 metres above sea level), San Pedro experiences cold nights all year round, with the lowest being in July and August, at -1° C, and the highest, around 5-6° C, in January. In the day, the winters can reach 20° C, and the summer, 25° C. The altitude makes the days seem hotter though, because the sun’s rays have less of an atmosphere to cut through before reaching you. Combine this with the unusual clarity of the sky, and basically, you will frazzle.
If you want to avoid the crowds, then the best time to visit is just before winter (northern summer holidays), but after southern summer. April – June is classed as low season here. There will be less people, but never expect it to be empty. San Pedro is a tourist hot spot.
What to Bring
Altitude Sickness Tablets – Depending on your attitude toward altitude, you may wish to bring some medicine. Some people simply don’t agree with being at higher elevations. While 2,408 metres isn’t ridiculously high, some of the activities can go well over 4,000m. You can also buy local remedies for altitude sickness all over town. Coca leaves are helpful for long uphill hikes. Just don’t swallow them.
Vaseline or Lip Balm – This one is fairly self-explanatory. You’re in the driest desert in the world. Without it, your lips will crack, bleed and split. I speak from experience.
Sun Lotion – The altitude makes you burn a lot faster than if you were at sea level.
Map App – While there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned paper map, it won’t help you if you don’t know where you are in the first place. MAPS.ME is a good choice as it allows you to download the maps for offline use (like most apps), but it also shows walking trails and footpaths that are mostly invisible on Google Maps, for instance.
Water and Snacks – Again, it’s self-explanatory. You need lots of water in the driest desert on Earth. If you’re stranded, don’t count on rain to save you. Certain areas here receive less than half an inch per year. Some native people have never seen rain in their entire life, particularly closer to Antofagasta. A little snack is helpful, too, as there aren’t any shops outside of the towns.
Camera – This is an unforgettable place, but it doesn’t hurt to keep photos.
This National Park of 150.612 hectares, located in the very south of Chile, in Tierra del Fuego, was only opened in December 2013. In the east, it borders the Argentine Tierra del Fuego National Park; together, the two parks are called Parque para la Paz (“Park for Peace“).
Yendegaia’s breathtaking landscape includes trees like Antarctic beeches, coigüe, canelo and the Chilean firetree notro, extensive grassland, a rugged coast, fast-flowing rivers, sublime mountains, lakes, glaciers, and also thickets and herbs able to resist the windy climate conditions, heavy rainfalls and low temperatures. From June to September, temperatures can get as low as 11 degrees below zero, but in summer they reach up to 24°C.
Besides the 128 vascular plant species, 49 bird species and other animals – some of them in danger of extinction, e.g. the Andean fox, the Southern river otter and the ruddy-headed goose – have to cope with that climate. Other animals living there are leopard seals, elephant seals and kelp gulls.
The aim of the National Park is to conserve biodiversity and to boost tourism in the areas of adventure, outdoor, special interests and ecotourism. As it was only founded in 2013, there aren’t any official trails yet, but you can explore the area via numerous non-official trails starting from any point of the Y-85 road, from Fagnago Lake, or by boat from Puerto Williams. Also, a road from Vicunya to Yendegaia is being built and will probably be finished by 2021.
To get to this 48 km² island belonging to the Bío-Bío Region, you have to take a boat or a helicopter in Tirúa, which is 34 km away and the closest city on land.
The center of the island has been declared a nature reserve by the CONAF thanks to the forests housing the Chilean myrtle, Lenga beeches and the Chilean ulmo Olivillo, partly on a small mountain chain reaching up to 390 meters in height. On the “Sendero Camino Nuevo“, a walking trail of 1.5 hours, you can also spot some animals, such as chucao birds, pink-footed shearwaters and the rodent Pacific degu, which is endemic to Isla Mocha and critically endangered. Another animal of interest, although dead since almost two centuries ago, is Mocha Dick, the whale that inspired Herman Melville for his famous novel Moby Dick and which contributed to the more than 100 ship wrecks around Isla Mocha.
On its long sandy beaches, fishers share the coast with windsurfers, sailors and other people simply enjoying an easy walk along the Pacific Ocean.
At 15-30°C, it is more relaxing going there in the summer, as in winter temperatures fluctuate between only 10 and 15°C and there can always be a lot of rain. There aren’t any ATMs either on the island nor in Tirúa, so it is important to bring enough cash. Also, there is only one hotel on the whole island. However, the people there are happy to let tourists stay with them, or you can take your chances and camp somewhere in the wilderness.
3) SALTO DEL INDIO, CURACAUTÍN
In the Araucania Region, 14 km from Curacautín city and at an altitude of 719m, the stunning, 20m high waterfall Salto del Indio awaits you.
Even though the waterfall’s visibility is limited by forests, you can get still amazing views of it from the many viewpoints around. There are also tracks leading down to the very base of the waterfall, which is the intersection of the rivers Indio and Cautín, the first of these being the one that ends there and becomes the Salto del Indio. According to an ancient legend, the waterfall was created when the Indian boy Cayú jumped off into Cautín river because he could not be together with his love Millaray, Princess of Araucania.
The waterfall is part of the 12 hectare Senderos del Indio Park that offers restaurants, huts, a hostel, handicrafts, viewpoints and a mini farm in a fascinating landscape shaped by volcanic sediments from Lonquimay volcano.
4) LOS MOLLES
The small coastal town Los Molles in the Valparaíso Region, only 8km away from the Coquimbo Region, provides the perfect place for a relaxing holiday.
Although the town is more than prepared for tourists, – for example, there are 678 houses, but only 636 inhabitants – it is a calm area with sea view restaurants, white sand beaches, fantastic sunsets, camping possibilities and adventure tourism offers like diving or cove exploring.
Besides tourism, agricultural food, craftmanship, fishing and aquafarming plays a great role in the inhabitants’ lives.
130 of more than 300 plant species in Los Molles are endemic and many of them can be found in the Bioparque Puquén, for example the endangered Pouteria splendens and various cactus, the Alstromeria and water clovers. Also colocolo cats, marine otters and seals live there. Highlights include the paleontological deposits with crustace and and insect fossils, as well as a complex with subterranean caves and a so-called “cold geyser“.
5) CHAÑARAL DE ACEITUNO
Chañaral de Aceituno does not describe a town, but a cove in the municipality of Freirina, Atacama Region, two hours away from Vallenar.
The reason so many people come here is whales. During the summer, up to six different types of whales can be seen from this very spot.
Opposite the cove, you will find Isla Chañaral, part of the CONAF Pingüino de Humboldt National Reserve and home to many Humboldt Penguins. At certain times of year, you can also spot different groups of common bottlenose dolphins from here.
6)VENTISQUERO COLGANTE QUEULAT
The name Ventisquero Colgante Queulat describes a “hanging snowdrift” with waterfalls of up to 293m in height, located inside the Queulat National Park in the Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Region in the south of Chile.
The Park borders the Cisner river to the south and the Lago Rosselot National Reserve to the west. Its area of 1541km² (595 mi²) covers glacier-capped mountains, virgin evergreen forests, lakes, lagoons, two small icefields and even a part of the Puyuhuapi Volcanic Group.
The Valdivian temperate rainforests’ trees include tepú, quila, chilco, nalca, coigüe de Magallanes and lenga. Alongside mammals like the pudú and kodkod, birds such as the chucao tapaculo, the Chilean pigeon, the Magellanic woodpecker, the thorn-tailed rayadito, the yellow-billed pintail and many more live in this area.
7)ISLA MADRE DE DIOS
Just a one-day boat trip from Puerto Natales away, you will find the Madre de Dios Island, located in the Magallanes Region, not too far away from the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. It is part of the Madre de Dios archipelago consisting of five islands, only one of them inhabited.
On the steep coasts of the 1043km² island, which is partly composed of limestone and was only declared a nature reserve in 2008, there are numerous natural caves created by the erosive combination of wind and tides. Some of them have been used by the Kaweskar people, who lived there from 6000 years ago until the 21th century, for different purposes like burial places or temporary camping. In 2006, the Cueva del Pacífico cave was discovered, and in it rock art and cave paintings. Another interesting one is the “Cave of the Whales“, where 2600-3500 year-old whale skeletons were found.
The landscape of the island was created at the same time as Chile’s coastal mountain range and the Andes, therefore it is of igneous rock origin and contains several mountains and native forests with trees like canelo and lenga.
Due to the rainy and cold climate – the average temperature is 9°C – the island can become dangerous, and so far has remained nearly unexplored.
8) CERRO LAS PEINETAS
It was only in 2002 that this over 2000 meter high mountain of the Villarrica National Park in the Araucania Region was climbed for the first time. Since then, not many routes have been detected, but there is a six-hour trekking route and a ten-hour climbing route. However, these activities are only recommended for experienced and physically fit climbers.
The landscape around this mountain of volcanic origin presents the green, rugged valley of Trancura river, which is of glacier origin, where you can find trees like the raulí, the coigüe, the lenga and the araucaria.
To get there, you can either start at Tromen Lake, or at several points on the road to the Argentine border crossing point Mamuil Malal.
9)ALTOS DEL LIRCAY NATIONAL RESERVE
If you are in Santiago and wondering where to go, the 12.163 hectare (46.96 mi²) Altos del Lircay National Reserve is not too far away; only about 270km south in the Maule Region, close to the Andes, and the volcanoes Descabezado Grande and Cerro Azul.
Around the three main rivers in the reserve, Lircay, Blanquillo and Claro – the latter ending with a spectacular waterfall – grow the threatened two species Hualo, seven of the ten species of the Nothofagus trees occurring in Chile and also the ciprés de la Cordillera. One of the reserve’s purposes is to protect rare and threatened animals such as Tricahue parrots, Sapito Hermoso, the reptile Matuasto del Maule, the lizard of Cristián, pudús, pumas, and meadowlarks.
The climate there is characterized by warm periods with some extended dry ones, but there can also be snow on the east side during winter and part of spring. The average temperature is at 14.7°C.
When going there, you will have to announce your visit to the Guardaparques Office at the entrance of the reserve and pay a small fee ($5000 CLP for foreign adults). If you want to stay overnight, it important keep in mind that pets, hunting, fishing and camping at the Enladrillado viewpoint or at lagoons of high altitude are prohibited. You have three options for the campsite: Antahuara (point 1), Los Carpinteros (point 6), Valle el Venado (point 10).
As well as horseback riding, there are several trekking routes ranging from 20 minute over 10 hour to 4 day walks.
10)SALAR DE MARICUNGA
As part of the Nevado Tres Cruces National Park in the Atacama Region, about 160 km northeast of Copiapó and at an altitude of 3750 meters, the Maricunga Salt Flat extends over an area of 80 km².
This salt flat once used to be a lake, but with time the water evaporated and, as it is located between two mountain ranges (Claudio Gay and Domeyko) and does not have any access to the sea, the salt remained in the basin.
77 animal species, 65 fauna species and many flamingoes live in the Salar’s desert climate with an average high of 18.4°C and an average low of 4.5°C. As it can be difficult to get there in winter, the Park is only opened from October until April.
Other places of interest inside the Nevado Tres Cruces National Park are the Santa Rosa Lagoon, also in the north, and the Negro Francisco Lagoon in the south of the Park, which is less high than the north.
In this area close to the Argentine border, there is also Chile’s highest mountain peak, which belongs to the Nevado Ojos del Salado volcano, the highest active volcano in the world. Other volcanoes in the salt flat’s surroundings are the Incahuasi, the San Francisco, the Tres Cruces, and many more.
We started our tour by picking up an American couple and headed towards Valparaiso. Javiera, our guide, told us the rough plan for the day and warned us it would probably rain at some point.
We entered Valparaiso city centre after 1 hour and a half, driving past the congress of Chile, as well as South America’s first ever public library. We parked in one of the large squares, next to South America’s first fire station. Valparaiso is a city with a rich history. It was once the biggest port in South America, and was one of the most important cities when the Spanish first colonised the area. It was actually founded before Santiago, in 1536. Today, it is home to 300,000 people, but the port is no longer the most important in the region, let alone the continent. It’s a source of constant inspiration, being the city with the most graffiti in South America.
It’s one of the most colourful cities I’ve ever been to. Everywhere you turn there is a row of coloured houses, or a majestic mural on the side of an otherwise unimportant half-crumbled building. It’s also made more beautiful by the 44 hills that are found there.
Many of these have lifts, known as funiculars, to the top. Most of them are over 100 years old, and like the majority of the buildings in the city, you can tell. Only 8 of these funiculars actually function, but there is a movement to re-open all the closed ones (more than 20) and return Valparaiso to its former glory.
In Plaza Sotomayor, where we stopped, there is a huge monument in the centre.
This monument is to commemorate the war heroes from the Pacific War, where Chile fought against Peru and Bolivia in the north, in 1879-1883. They won, and managed to sever Bolivia’s access to the sea, taking the Atacama region for Chile. However, during the war, with all of Chile’s forces in the north, Argentina took the opportunity to invade and take control of eastern Patagonia. This is what gives Chile its long snake-like shape.
In 1906, a giant earthquake hit Valparaiso and only 2 buildings were left standing on this square. The architecture here is noticably unique, there are modern office buildings, right next to 18th century buildings in their original decor.
As we walked out of Plaza Sotomayor, Javiera told us how the Starbucks in the square is failing, just as McDonalds did. Valparaiso is one of the only cities in the world where McDonalds failed to make profit and had to be shut down. Yet a 10 minute drive to Viña del Mar and you can find 3 different branches.
As we started to walk further into the colourful city, Javiera explained that sailors painted their houses brightly so that they could find them easily after returning to the port. In the early days, the town would be made from wood and clay and pirates such as Francis Drake would come and burn it to the ground, pillaging it like vikings.
We walked for around two hours from here, around all the graffiti-laden streets. It’s almost as if the entire city is one giant art museum. Everywhere you turn, there is some kind of street art. One of my favourite places is atop the Reina Victoria funicular. There is a hill with painted steps, the ones at the top read “We are not Hippies. We are Happies”.
Towards the end of our walk in the narrow, steep streets, it began to rain. We headed back to the bus and drove up Artillery Hill to have lunch with a view over the docks. It was a bit cloudy, but you could still see the entire bay of Valparaiso.
Having tried Reineta last time I was in Valparaiso, I ordered a good old Salmon with Hungarian sauce. I’m not entirely sure why the sauce was called Hungarian, it was mushroom and prawn, but tasted absolutely amazing. The food was brilliant and the view overlooked the bay.
After we finished, we said goodbye to Valparaiso, and drove to the Emiliana Vineyard, the largest organic vineyard in the world.
By this point, it was raining heavily. Christian, our guide for the vineyard, was very passionate about his job, which made the tour really enjoyable.
He showed us the different things they use to make the compost, including dandelions, Alpaca manure, and other weeds and plants.
We would have seen more but the rain became too strong and the others asked to go back. Inside, we had a wine tasting. I don’t like wine in general, so they gave me a smaller glass of the 4 testers but the Americans really liked it. They bought a bottle afterwards.
For me the cheese was better than the wine. The final cheese – I forgot the name – was like heaven.
After we’d finished we drove back to Santiago. Javiera told us of many places to see in the city and offered to send us more via whatsapp. She also told interesting tales of her adventures around the world. She’s been all around Latin America, Africa and Europe and is full of crazy stories.
We arrived back in Santiago for around 6 and were dropped off. I couldn’t recommend this tour more. It’s made me want to visit Valparaiso again before I leave. The tour was amazing and the city is one of a kind.
At 8.25 in the morning we started our tour to Cajon del Maipo. Everybody was aboard and Felipe, our guide, suggested we get some rest during the drive from the city. He spoke in Spanish first (3 of the passengers were from Argentina, 4 from Brazil, 1 from China, 1 from USA, and me, from England), then repeated in English.
It took around one hour to get to the small café at the entrance to the canyon, where we stopped for morning beverages. We had a small slice of cake each. The group talked amongst themselves, learning about where everybody was from and where they were going.
I was still sleepy-eyed when we entered the café, but during the drive afterwards, the scenery crystallised. We were driving into a verdant valley, mountainous walls rising either side of the road, snowy peaks growing in size, the closer we got. This was Cajon del Maipo. This is what I’d seen in all the photographs beforehand.
The guide spoke excellent English. He was friendly and eager to answer any questions, not just about the tour, but Chile in general. We drove through the small village of San Jose de Maipo, established in 1792. To officially become a village, it had to build a little church, a hospital, and a town hall. It was originally home to the miners of the region, who mined silver and gold. Nowadays, they sell handmade goods, made from the precious minerals.
The guide continued to talk as we passed through the village and the surrounding canyons. The river Maipo that runs through this valley, winding its way through the jagged terrain, is of great importance to Santiago. It provides electricity for the capital, but also acts as a gateway to nature, with lots of choices when it comes to adventure sports. You can kayak and raft on the river, and many Santiago dwellers come here on weekends to get out of the smog of the city. The crisp mountain air refreshes your body and clears your mind.
We continued further into the canyon. We drove past a small train track, with a few stationary trains. Felipe explained they used to take Copper out from the mines, to Santiago. In 1985, they removed most of the track. Also Pinochet, Chile’s old dictator, used to live here. We drove past his old house, but I was taking in so much information, so quickly, that I didn’t actually see it. It’s somewhere in the valley. I’m pretty sure it’s there.
Before I could contemplate what Pinochet had done, we whizzed through another small village, learning about the Almond trees of the area – Cajon del Maipo’s biggest export.
Finally, after almost 2 hours driving, we were able to stretch our legs and take a few pictures. It was possible to see the glacier atop the summit of the mountain – a giant slab of ice, perched precariously on the edge.
The place appeared to be full of large bomb shelters. They looked like something plucked straight from a war film, but Felipe told us that they were occupied between 1953 and 1964 by the builders of the nearby dam. They have curved roofs to deflect wind and allow snow to fall off. However, they don’t have windows, and the builders had to live in freezing cold temperatures for the entirety of the project.
After 20 minutes strolling around here, we drove onto the dam, a short hop down the road, where we left the bus again to explore the beautiful 4 winds corner. It’s not hard to see how it got its name. Before you know which way to turn, you’re blown in several directions, dust stinging your eyes and trapping itself behind your eyelids. Mini tornados swoop over the water in the distance.
A crowd of fellow tourists huddle on the corner, struggling to stand up straight while taking selfies, asking me to take photos of them.
When I was free from my role as an unpaid photographer, I took some photos of my own. The reservoir was just stunning. The snow-tipped mountains enhanced the appearance of the man-made lake.
After a short drive back the way we came, we pulled over to the side of the road, and Felipe told us he’d arranged a picnic. A table was arranged on a little hill, with a trickling waterfall in the rocks behind it. There were olives, little bits of carrot, and bread. The dip for the bread was a mixture of soy sauce, sesame seeds and philadelphia. It was a bizarre mix – one I’d seen another Chilean eat, earlier that week. It wasn’t three things I’d have chosen to put together personally, but it was surprisingly good. Maybe this is eaten everywhere and I’ve just never heard of it, or maybe it’s a modern delicacy of Chile. Either way, it’s definitely worth a try.
There were a few bottles of wine to share between the group, too but I’m not much of a wine drinker.
Chile is an extremely unique land mass. It’s length is stretches down as far as Antarctica with spectacular fjords, great lakes, impressive mountains and glorious glaciers. While the north extends to the Atacama desert, one of the driest desert locations in the world. The two ends could not be more different.
These unusual extremities makes Chile a place of spectacular beauty. So much so that much of this thin strip of land is now protected as National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so the rich biodiversity of the land is able to survive. It also means that visitors can enjoy these famous landscapes knowing they will be protected and managed.
To really discover Chile’s truly diverse terrains, be sure to visit these top five beautiful national parks in Chile.
Rapa Nui National Park
More commonly known as Easter Island, Rapa Nui is the local name for the island that sits out in Chile’s Pacific coastline. The island is known for its ancient Moai statues, which were built by islanders of Polynesian origin who settled on the island in around 300 AD. Between the 10th and the 16th centuries, the islanders competed in building and erecting enormous statues and shrines and today there are around 900 statues still remaining. This unique cultural landscape is not only a prized national park but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its fascinating cultural significance.
Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine is probably one of the best-known National Parks in Chile, as well as one of the largest in size, the park is also the third most visited national park in Chile, with over 250,000 visitors every year. It’s southerly location contributes to its impressive array of ice fields, fjords and glaciers that make up its landscape. The natural beauty on offer in the park is astonishing, with waterfalls, lakes and lagoons adding to serene blueness of this part of Chile. The region is best known for its Cordillera Paine Mountain Range, which is made up of rose-coloured granite and reaches 3,000 metres high. You can access the park from Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas, and combine your visit the stunning nearby Bernardo O’Higgins National Park.
Juan Fernandez Archipelago
The magnificent volcanic islands that make up the Juan Fernandez Archipelago are home to some of the most unique species in the world. The islands have unusual and rare creatures that are not normally found in conditions such as this, including woodpeckers, firecrowns and marsupials. Many of the creatures living on the islands are at serious risk of extinction, and as such the park has been a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1977. The islands’ landscape are just as extraordinary with deep ravines and volcanic peaks topped with snow – ideal for exploring.
Located between Santiago de Chile and Valparaiso, La Campana is one of the country’s smallest national parks, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sights. Easily accessible from one of the two nearby cities, the national park is home to Cerro la Campana, a 6,000-foot-high mountain that Charles Darwin climbed on one of his visits to the continent. From the top of the mountain you can enjoy spectacular views of the Andes and Olume Valley – a view that is well-worth the climb.
Chiloé is Chile’s most northerly archipelago, and is home to some of the region’s most noteworthy architecture. This island national park is filled with a number of wooden churches, many of which are protected under UNESCO World Heritage. The park is also dominated by the many Valdivian forests, known for the pudu (small deer) and Darwin’s fox. From the coast here you can also spot colonies of sea lions, flamingos and pgymy blue whales. Its wet weather and distinct forests give this park a very different feeling from all of the other national parks in South America – a distinctive landscape has been the setting for many myths, legends and stories of witchcraft over the centuries.
Experience the unique terrain of the Atacama desert like the ancient people of the Atacama did on the Ancestral Caravan tour. Trek the desert using traditional Andean llamas alongside local communities and indigenous people sharing their customs and culture along the way. The tour is a great way to learn more about the traditional cultures of the desert and connect with local people.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
See the desert from another angle on a magical hot air balloon ride above the Atacama. Eastern Safari’s “Balloons Over Atacama” offers daily flights over the Atacama Desert and close to San Pedro de Atacama, with views of the endless salt flats, impressive volcanoes and ancient rock formations. Every ride can hold up to 16 passengers, and a premium option is also available, which includes a toast of sparkling wine at the end and a photo of the flight.
Half Day Fishing Tour of Easter Island
Explore Easter Island and learn more about the native tradition of fishing and cooking on this half day tour of the island. With the help of a native Easter Islander fisherman, you will learn the core techniques behind fishing on the island and then fish in its waters yourself. The catch of the day is then prepared and cooked over the island’s natural hot volcanic rocks to create the traditional dish “Tuni Ahi”, which is served on banana leaves.
Horseback riding in Easter Island
Travelling the island on horseback is one of the best ways to see the hidden natural beauty of the region and reduce your carbon footprint. A typical Rapa Nui experience takes you to some of the more remote areas of the island that can only be reached by taking this traditional mode of transport. What’s more, you don’t have to be an experienced rider to make the journey and travel into the past, it’s a peaceful and engaging experience that takes all-levels of riders through regions such as Rano Raraku, Orongo and Mount Terevaka.
Santiago and Central Chile
Penguin Watching Cachagua Tour
Leave the hustle and bustle of Santiago and head to the beautiful beaches and islands off the villages of Cachagua and Zapallar. Known for their delicious seafood and stunning shoreline, the villages offer access to the remote and protected Humboldt Island, also known as Penguin’s Island. Enjoy the magical Chilean countryside on route to the coast, made up of Avocado farms and vineyards, and a boat ride to greet the colony of penguins located on Humboldt Island. There will also be time to swim and sunbathe at hidden bays and sample local seafood.
Snow Hike tour from Santiago
Put on your snow shoes and trek through the heart of the Andes, on this expertly-led hiking experience like now other. Led by an expert mountaineer guide the trek leaves from Santiago to the valley of Cajon del Maipo. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains ranges and snow-topped peaks as you climb, and when you finally reach Aguas Penimavida. Knowledgable local guides will enhance the experience with stories of the mountain ranges and volcanoes before heading back down to the town of San Jose del Maipo, and a delicious Chilean empanada.
Chilean Lake District
Alerce Andino National Park
The Southern Chilean Lake District is one of the country’s most dramatic landscapes, and this tour takes you to one of the region’s most prized natural emblems, the ancient Alerce tree. The tree was made a national monument in 1976 and is a massive 45 meters high and 4 meters wide. Located in the Alerce Andino National Park, this tour takes you through ancients forests and offers views of the Calbuco volcano and the Andean-Patagonia mountain range. Take on three beautiful trails, including a wet waterfall hike and plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Located in the Los Lagos region of Chile, the Chiloe Island tour departs from Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt. Take the ferry across the Pacific to the island, which is the fifth largest island in South America. Visit the island’s oldest village, Chacao, and its distinctive UNESCO World Heritage Listed native timber churches and architecture, dating back to 1567. The tour also includes a visit to Castro, the capital and third oldest city in all of Chile. Visitors will have a chance to shop in the towns and city and sample food at a typical Chiloe Island restaurant.
Whale watching from Punta Arenas
Journey through the first ever Marine National Park in Chile, Francisco Coloane, and spot some of the most majestic creatures in the world, humpback whales. Get up-close to the marvellous creatures surrounded by impressive untouched landscape, including hanging glaciers on the Darwin mountain range, as you journey by boat through the park and regions around it. There will also be a chance to spot some of the other inhabitants of the park, including Magellan penguins, sea lions, austral dolphins, albatross and sea elephants.
Ice Hike at Glacier Grey
There is nothing quite as impressive as walking on a glacier. With Big Foot Patagonia you can ice hike on Glacier Grey, and be on the only tourists there! With the assistance of an experienced guide, you will be supplied with the relevant equipment to climb and take the 2.5 hour trek through cracks, rivers, lagoons and tunnels of the pristine Grey Glacier. Visitors with knee problems should consult guides before booking.
Chile is home to some of the world’s greatest wine regions. With cool and warm climates across hilly, lush mountains and valleys, the lands of Chile offer some of the most fertile fields in South America for growing wine.
Winemaking is a historic pursuit in the country, and some Chilean wineries date back to the 16th century, but did you know that Chile is also one of the world’s most innovative and environmentally-conscious winemakers?
The country is not only home to some of the oldest wineries in South America but is also leading the way in sustainable, organic wines – a creation that is equally as delicious but far less destructive.
Here are the top organic wineries in Chile you must visit:
Founded in 1986 by the Guillsasti family, the Emiliana Vineyards specialise in creating organically grown and eco-friendly wine. In fact, the company are so invested in making organic wine that they became the first ever winery in South America to create a biodynamic wine. Of the vineyard’s 2,812 acres, around 1,470 acres are fully organic and biodynamic while the rest is in transition and is currently an ISO 14.001-certified vineyard. Every process of their award-winning winemaking is overseen by Alvaro Espinoza, one of the world’s authorities on organic and eco-balanced winemaking.
All three estates at Lapostolle received fully organic status in 2011 after years of working to achieve organic vineyard status. This means every grape grown and used to make wine at Lapostolle is made with 100% organic grapes – that is no pesticides, herbicides, regulators, GM organisms or artificial fertilizers are used. Lapostolle uses composting, bees and recycling to help produce its vines and has released its very first organic wine: Cuvee Alexandre Syrah Los Kuras 2009.
Viña Miraflores Del Maipo
Every wine at Viña Miraflores Del Maipo is handcrafted with an inherent respect for the environment and surroundings of beautiful Chile. Located in the Maipo River Valley, the oldest wine producing zone in all of Chile, Viña Miraflores Del Maipo has developed an organic know-how and produces two unique varieties of wine – Sol y Viento and Gil Ferrer. Every wine is created with utmost care and respect for the natural culture of Chile in a bid to protect and preserve the surroundings, and the company also focus on good ethics and offer job security for all of their workers.
Located in the region of Valparaiso in Chile, Cono Sur is one of the leading organic wine producers in the country and has earned an international reputation for its wine. The company take sustainability very seriously, and have optimized their vineyard management to reduce their carbon footprint and make environmentally-friendly wines. The workers navigate the vineyard on pedal bicycles and use natural alternatives to protect the grapes from disease and pests. Cono Sur was the first winery in South America to received a double ISO certification for quality assurance and environmental policies and the first winery in the world to receive a CarbonNeutral delivery status. Try the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauv/Carmenere organic wines.
Established in 1995, the award-winning organic winery Nativa was created as a strand of the larger Vina Carmen – one of Chile’s most recognised historic wineries. In 1999, the Nativa wines made history and became the first organic Chilean wine to be exported. Historically, the company worked closely with organic grape producers until 2008 when they received their very first organic grape harvest, and have been growing their own organic grapes ever since.
All human communities have developed and grown expressions and traditions related to the meeting between the man and the divine throughout history. As a remaining memory of the fusion between the traditions and practices of the indigenous populations and the evangelization in the time of the Spanish Contest (16th century); colorful big festivities, ceremonial costumes, music, dance and deep faith, still remain all along Chile, displaying characteristic aspects of our popular Catholicism.
A large list of celebrations take place all over the country, on different periods and moments of the year. Here I will let you know about some festivities from the north of Chile:
“FIESTA DE LA VIRGEN DEL CARMEN DE LA TIRANA”- 16th of July:
I the middle of pampa del Tamarugal takes place the “Fiesta de la Tirana”, one of the most important multicultural celebrations held in the north of the country, that turn the small town into a colorful carnival with a runway of masks, music, rituals and dances.
As a result of a large history, cultural elements typical from the Chilean and Peruvian population, Atacama and Aymara people, afrodescendents, Chinese and European among others who have lived in this zone throughout the years, come together and get mixed here.
The name of the “Tirana” is based on a local legend that has as the protagonist the Spanish conqueror Diego de Almagro and the daughter of a priest, Ñusta, who fought to defend her territory, receiving the name of “Tirana del Tamarugal” by her enemies.
Where: Locality of la Tirana, 90km away from Iquique, in the Tarapaca Region. Arriving to the Pozo Almonte town (11km away from La Tirana) there is regular and fluid public transportation during the time of the festivity.
“FIESTA GRANDE DE LA VIRGEN DE ANDACOLLO”, the ‘Queen of copper and gold’- 26th of December:
With a history that goes back to the time of the conquest of our country, in the miner town of Andacollo, located in the Coquimbo Region, is commemorated the coronation of the Virgen de Andacollo or the “Chinita” image, with a gold crown that represents the Vatican’s recognition of the significant devotion of their believers and the miracles that she had realized to that moment. The love and faith of her believers is demonstrated with the dances of Chinos, Turbantes and Danzantes, performed by comparsas and local confraternities that take the lead of the celebration.
Where: Locality of Andacollo, 56kn in the southeast of La Serena.
“FIESTA GRANDE DE LA VIRGEN DE LAS PEÑAS”- First Sunday of October:
With confusing written records and altiplanic legends, we suppose that this pilgrimage and place of devotion could be almost 200 years old.
Chamarcusiño, is the start point sector of 20km of pilgrimage that go to the Virgen de las Peñas Temple, a sculpture carved in rock which is more than 1 meter and a half tall. The route of adverse conditions attracts more than 40.000 wayfarers, among them religious dance companies, Bolivians, Peruvians and Chileans, who each year go to render thanks at the rhythm of the Andean wind instruments, for the favors granted or to ask the Virgin for a favor.
Where: 95km to the interior of Arica, and more than 1.200 meters high, next to the San José river. The route to arrive at the sanctuary goes along the Azapa valley, to Chamarcusiño, where is located the vehicular whereabouts. Quebrada de Livilcar (archeologic route), Arica Region and Parinacota.
These celebrations of the Catholic calendar, are not just the place and moment of connection of the man with the gods, they are also witness of our territory’s history.
The dates may vary in some cases each year, so it’s recommended to check them before coming.