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.
Chile is famed across the world for its world-class wines and no visit to Chile is complete without visiting one of its vineyards! The majority of wineries lie in the central region of the country – in the outskirts of Santiago and towards the south. That means you can include a tour and tasting day trip from the capital!
Just a few kilometers from Santiago, you can find the Maipo valley. As well as being home to a marvelous backdrop of mountains and hiking trails, this expansive valley hosts some of the most well-known Chilean vineyards. Specializing in reds, the area produces some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère grapes in the country.
Step off the beaten path to the small vineyard of Viña el Principal for a tour. Enjoy a tasting before a traditional asado (barbeque) with a stunning view overlooking the valley. Alternatively, head further out to the Pirque valley. Here, you can discover the passion project of a horseracing and wine aficionado at Haras de Pirque. You can spot the love for horses everywhere, from the horseshoe-shaped cellar to the racing memorabilia at the restaurant. Enjoy a tasting of their exclusive wines in a spectacular atrium here, or cycle the vines here for a peaceful afternoon.
The Casablanca valley lies between Santiago and the coast. The difference in climate and terroir here favours white wines, like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The wineries here also offer unique techniques. Head to Bodegas Re for a wonderful mix of innovative blends and ancient techniques, where the wattle and daub cellar walls and clay amphoras offer a unique experience and flavor. Or fancy yourself as an enologist for the day at the Emiliana vineyard. Specializing in organic wine production, enjoy the beautiful grounds with a picnic amongst the vines. You can even make your own blend to take home with you!
The Colchagua Valley produces some of the world’s most prestigious wines. A couple of hours’ drive south from Santiago, you’ll venture into the heartland of the Chilean countryside.
You can find the luxurious vines of Lapostolle, Montes, and Clos de Apalta here. Head to the Viu Manent vineyard for a little romance as you take a ride on a horse-drawn carriage around the grounds followed by a sunset tour. If that’s not your thing, get active on an e-bike tour or enjoy a picnic amongst the vines. Be sure to make a stop at the award-winning restaurant for an exquisite lunch, too!
Talk to us today about your ideal wine experiences in Chile so we can make them a reality.
Whether you’re a foodie or not, the food you eat on vacation can become some of your favourite memories. It’s a way of experiencing different cultures, relaxing at the end of the day, and finding new flavours. In the Chilean capital, you can find some of the best restaurant in the country, region, and even the world. From experimental to traditional cuisine, from indigenous flavours to fusions, there’s so much for your tastebuds to discover. During your stay in Santiago, you’ll be overwhelmed with choice, but here are our top ten restaurant recommendations for places to eat.
1. Boragó Restaurant
Boragó has twice been included in the world’s top 50 restaurants in recent years and in 2018 the restaurant won the Sustainable Restaurant award. Its chef and owner, Rodolfo Guzman, is at the vanguard of the molecular endemic cuisine in Chile. The food menu varies as much as the wine; everything served in this restaurant is delicately chosen to match the season and the finest produce Chile has to offer. Booking is required and there is often a waiting list, so book well in advance if this restaurant is on your list!
Address: Av. San José María Escrivá de Balaguer 5970, Vitacura, Santiago
Monday to Saturday from 6:30 p.m. (last reservation at 10:30 p.m)
Regularly on the list of Latin America’s 50 best restaurants, Ambrosia offers a homely atmosphere with Chilean cuisine and international flair. Its food is creative, original, and a treat for the senses.
Address: Pamplona 78, Vitacura, Santiago
Monday to Saturday: 12:30 pm to 4 pm & 7:30 pm to 10:30 pm
Sunday & Holidays: Closed
3. Peumayen Restaurant
Peumayen is a celebration of the cuisines of Chile’s indigenous communities. From the Aymaras in the northern desert, to the Mapuches in the southern forests, to Rapa Nui in a Pacific island paradise, this food is as diverse as Chile. You can order a-la-cartè or you can also try a tasting menu called “Orígenes” with four different menus that contain nibbles inspired by the different cultures of the country, accompanied by a variety of wines, pisco or creative cocktails.
Address: Constitución 136, Barrio Bellavista, Santiago
Tuesday to Saturday: 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm & 7:00 pm to 10:45 pm
Sunday: 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm
A journey to the senses, this wine bar & restaurant offers pairing with all their meals giving its name, “Mouth-nose”. The menu is designed as a map of flavors with each dish perfectly created to bring out the best of its wine pairing. The magazine Wine Spectator has nominated Bocanariz’s wine menu as one of the best in the world for six years running. If you’re a wine lover, this one is a must.
Address: José Victorino Lastarria 276, Barrio Lastarria, Santiago
Monday to Wednesday: 12:30 pm to 12:00 am
Thursday to Saturday: 12:30 pm to 12:30 am
Sunday: 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm
Reservations: http://bocanariz.cl/index.php/reserva/ or email@example.com
5. Salvador Cocina y Cafe
Located in downtown Santiago, this small restaurant offers a menu based on cuisine from the countryside of Chile at moderate prices. The cuisine specializes in celebrating cuts of meat that usually go to waste and offers ‘menu del día’ (set lunch menu) and lighter options too. This is one of the more humble options on our list, but the same care and attention are paid to the dishes served. If you find yourself in the Lastarria district, visit Salvador’s sister branch, La Salvación.
Address: Bombero Ossa 1059, Santiago Centro, Santiago
Monday, Wednesday & Thursday: 8:00 am to 7:00 pm
Tuesday & Friday: 8:00 am to 8:30 pm
Saturday & Sunday: Closed
Reservations: Not necessary
6. Liguria Restaurant & Bar
This is the most typical restaurant on our list, offering typical Chilean food like ‘plateada’ (boneless short rib), ‘mechada’ (brisket), ‘pescado frito’ (fried fish), and traditional accompaniments. Wherever you are in Santiago, you won’t be far from Liguria with four restaurants in the most iconic neighborhoods of Santiago.
Address Lastarria: Merced 298, Lastarria Neighborhood, Santiago
Address Manuel Montt: Av. Providencia 1353, Providencia, Santiago
Address Luis Thayer Ojeda: Av. Luis Thayer Ojeda 019, Providencia, Santiago
Address Pedro de Valdivia: Av. Pedro de Valdivia 047, Providencia, Santiago
Monday to Saturday: 12:00 pm to 1:00 am
7. Bidasoa Restaurante
The Bidasoa Hotel hosts an excellent restaurant with a great variety of inspired and creative plates. This restaurant is our favourite for vegans and vegetarians with an entirely separate menu offering plant-based dishes. For those who can’t resist seafood or meat, enjoy the Chilean-European fusion menu, including ceviche, paella, and steaks.
Address: Av. Vitacura, 4873, Vitacura, Santiago
Breakfast: Monday to Sunday: 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. (Sunday until 11:00 a.m.)
Lunch & Dinner: Monday to Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Don’t let Silvestre’s humble entrance deceive you. This bistro is full of colourful, fresh dishes with a menu that changes daily to use only the freshest produce. From grilled octopus to hummus and veggies to the Chilean classic, cazuela, this is a must-visit if you find yourself in Barrio Italia.
Address: Tegualda 1509, Ñuñoa, Región Metropolitana, Chile
Tuesday to Saturday: 12:30-23:00
9. Lorenza Bistró
This lively bar offers a variety of dishes based on contemporary cuisine and cocktails that look like works of art. We recommend the cocktail called “Merecido Descanso” – you will be surprised!
Address: Alonso de Córdova 3854, Vitacura, Santiago
Founded by jazz musicians who fell in love with the restaurant industry in New York, Lolita Jones is a multicultural hub. It offers Mexican street food with original touches and a drink menu that ranges from eccentric liquors to signature creations. Fun, fashionable, and delicious, add this one to your list for something different.
Address: Alonso de Córdova 4355, Vitacura, Región Metropolitana
The Atacama is not exactly known as a foodie destination. But rest assured, there’s much more to the dining scene here than just backpacker fare (although you will find tasty burgers and pizzas). Relying on seasonal ingredients, meat from local animals like llamas, and desert herbs and flowers for flavor, a truly unique regional cuisine has grown up over centuries of humans etching a living from this land.
Inventive new chefs are taking these building blocks and opening exciting and delicious new restaurants, bistros, and cafes around San Pedro, while many family-run restaurants continue to preserve classic recipes for pure, uncomplicated enjoyment. And fresh seafood is always in abundance, as the ocean is never far away, and so fresh fish, shrimp, mussels, and crab are right at your fingertips even in the middle of the desert. So, to experience the fruits of Chile’s high desert, these are the best places to eat and drink in the Atacama.
Las Delicias de Carmen
A short walk off San Pedro’s main drag, this charming and unassuming spot may have the occasional tourist but more often than not, it’s packed with locals. Ask someone from San Pedro where to go to eat and they’ll say Las Delicias de Carmen. Named after the woman who owns the joint, Las Delicias specializes in gigantic servings of traditional Chilean and Atacama fare; the soups and stews like patasca (made with beef, white corn, and potatoes) are especially good. Go for a casual but delicious time.
The alfresco dining patio at this chicly rustic spot, which features Southwestern-style wooden pergolas, brown adobe walls, wood tables, and a communal bonfire space, is always packed, as much for the ambiance and decor as the food. Serving Chilean and international cuisine, the dishes are delicious and filling (we recommend their meat or fish dishes) and they also have a great drinks menu with plenty of wine and strong pisco sours.
Featuring hearty servings of Chilean and South American cuisine (I’m talking giant empanadas, heaps of perfectly cooked meat, fresh seafood, the works), La Casona is always bustling. Some of their most popular dishes are Chilean “chupes”, which are like meat pies made with crab or mussels, and “pastel de choclo”, which is a baked corn pie with chicken and other ingredients. A full bar serves a great selection of wine to go with the food, as well as beer and cocktails. The dining room itself is also charming, with white walls, dark wood paneling, and an adobe fireplace, and there is an outdoor dining space as well.
Chileans love ice cream, and nothing helps beat that Atacama heat than some cool, refreshing ice cream. There are several good ice cream joints around town but Babalu is especially well-known for its inventive artisan flavors that use local ingredients like rica rica or quinoa. Grab a cone or cup on a hot day and enjoy!
With only a handful of tables that are always occupied, you can be sure that the food at Baltinache is worth the wait or even making a reservation in advance. And it is. Inspired by the historic cuisine of Atacama indigenous cultures, local ingredients and flavors get reimagined in contemporary ways and plated with creative flair. The restaurant itself is also lovely, with white-washed walls covered in drawings and hangings of native petroglyphs found out in the desert.
San Pedro is not much of a night-life town, but Lola always guarantees a good time. Part bar, restaurant, and late-night hangout spot, they make crazy good cocktails that go down way too easy after long days of exploring, and offer fun entertainment like karaoke.
On every trip, you should treat yourself to a truly fancy meal, and in San Pedro, that should be at Tierra Atacama. Part of the luxe Tierra hotel chain, at their innovative restaurant you get to experience a multi-course tasting menu that takes traditional Chilean ingredients and dishes to new heights, featuring succulent meat and seasonally fresh fruits and vegetables. Start with a rica rica sour, the local take on pisco sours but flavored with the native rica rica herb, and then move on to their excellent wine menu to pair with the 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 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!
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.
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.
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.
Chile’s glorious terrain is rich with colour, lakes and waterfalls and the best way to see them up-close is to cycle through its lands. It may seem like an arduous feat, but there are many ways you can cycle through Chile, enjoy the landscape, wineries and beaches all at the same time.
What’s great about travelling by bike is the freedom. You can simply stop anywhere you want and take photos, and you can rest-assured that your travelling is not impacting negatively on Chile’s unimaginably beautiful landscape.
Here are the top five bicycle tours you should take to see Chile at its finest:
Lakes And Volcanoes District
Take to Chile’s southern region by bike and see the volcanic rocks and glistening lakes from the most natural mode of transport of them all – a bicycle. It might seem like an impossible feat to cycle across the glacial landscape of the south, but in fact the terrain of ripe farmland and dense forest is the perfect ground for a cycling adventure. Get close-up to the spectacular Andes mountains, as well as some of the region’s most mesmerizing national parks. You can also cycle close to the Lanin Volcanoes, through the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve and the newly-paved roads that run around the stunning Lake Ranco – taking the old German settlers route. The climate is also perfect for cycling, at around 65 degrees most of the year.
Cycle the border
Take to the border between Chile and Argentina by bike and see some of the region’s most stunning sights along the way, including glaciers, national parks and ancient forests. The Andes mark the stretch between the two countries, and this tour takes you along some of the original indigenous trails that were created by some of the first people on the continent. This tour is uniquely local, with stops at local villages, as well as untouched forests and as far across to the Pacific coastline trails in the Region de los Rios.
Chile’s wine country
Take this cycling wine tour from Santiago to the beautiful village of Zuniga and enjoy cycling through the vineyards of this quaint little town. The cycle takes you through many other beautiful Chilean towns along this wine celebration, with traditional windmills and the most famous wine region in Chile, the Colchagua Valley. The tour also stops in the wine capital of Chile, Santa Cruz, which is located in the Valle de Apalta. Try some of the most historic wines of Chile here, as well as some of the newest selections of eco wines. The tour travels as far as the stunning shores of the Pacific Coast, where the rugged, beautiful and isolated beaches provide some much-need respite from cycling, before returning via shuttle back to Santiago.
Patagonia bike tour
Start your tour in the stunning lake lands of Bariloche with stunning views of the Andes and the lake. Enjoy a magical boat ride and journey through the Arrayanes National Park, home to South America’s unique myrtle sand, before cycling from Lake Espejo to Cardenal Samore Pass. When you finish the ride there will be a divine thermal baths waiting for you to unwind and rest your aching muscles. Take in Lake Llanquihue by bike, with views of the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. The tour will also head through stunning farmlands, including spectacular waterfalls, such as Saltos de Petrohue, and Puertos Varas – a small lake town where you will complete your cycling journey.
Santiago and beyond
Leaving from Santiago head into Casablanca Valley, known for its delicious wines and untouched eucalyptus groves. Cycle next through the Andes-lined trails of San Antonio Valley, where wine tasting and horse riding are popular pursuits. A stop at the colourful city of Valpariso is also part of this itinerary, before heading over to the coastline at the beach town of Matanzas. Head back into another beautiful wine region, this time the Apalta Valley, where you finish the tour at the premium winemaking destination of Chile before heading back to Santiago.
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.