Things to Do in Chile
Nicknamed the King of the South, snow-capped Osorno Volcano is one of Chile’s most visible landmarks. Towering over Lake Todos Los Santos and Lake Llanquihue, the conical volcano can be seen from as far off as Chiloé. The volcano’s near perfect shape is the result of some 40 craters scattered along its base. The volcano has erupted 11 times during the 18th and 19th centuries, but always in these craters; never at its peak. Today, a windy road leads visitors to the base of a ski resort, where chairlifts ferry passengers to a point near the volcano’s peak — a worthwhile excursion even for non-skiers simply for the stellar views of the alpine lake below. Experienced climbers can make the full-day trek to the summit of Osorno.
With 15 gigantic stone-carved moai lined up on a 200-foot-long platform and a remote location framed by the looming Rano Raraku volcano and the crashing ocean, Ahu Tongariki is nothing short of spectacular. For many visitors, this is the star attraction of Easter Island, and looking up at the towering figures, the largest of which stands 14 meters tall, it’s hard not to be in awe of the Rapa Nui people, who achieved the seemingly impossible feat of carving and moving the 30-ton stone boulders to their waterfront perch.
Ahu Tongariki is the largest ceremonial site ever made on the island, featuring the largest number of moai ever erected on a single site, and each statue is unique, with only one featuring the iconic red-rock “pukao,” or ceremonial headdress. Even more astounding, considering the size and weight of the statues, is that the site was almost completely destroyed by a tsunami in 1960, with the rocks flung more than 90 meters inland.
With its stretch of white sand fringed with Tahitian coconut palms, a backdrop of grassy hills and ocean waters that rarely dip below 64 degrees F (18 degrees C) even in the winter months, few places come as close to paradise as Anakena Beach. One of only three beaches on Easter Island, Anakena also plays an important part in the history of the island. It was here that King Ariki Hotu Matu’a first landed on Easter Island and later, the beach became a spiritual center for the Miru tribe–the remnants of which can be seen in the seven beautifully restored moai of Ahu Nau Nau and the single moai of Ahu Ature Huki that overlook the beach.
Aside from its striking setting and dramatically situated moai, the main draw to Anakena Beach is, of course, the ocean and the warm, clear waters make the ideal spot for swimming, surfing and snorkeling.
In 1896, German explorer Eberhard Hermann entered a cave and found strange remains inside, the fur and bones of the extinct Mylodon sloth. Named after the giant ground sloth found within, Milodon Cave (Cueva del Milodon) is the largest of several caves within Cueva del Milodon National Monument. But the sloth wasn’t the only inhabitant of the caves. Remains of other extinct species, including a saber-toothed cat and a dwarf horse, as well as evidence of human habitation from as early as 6,000 BC have been found within the caves.
As visitors enter the monument, they’re greeted by a full-size replica of the mylodon sloth, standing 13 feet (4 meters) tall. The mylodon was said to resemble a giant bear, though the mammal was in fact a very large herbivore that went extinct over 10,000 years ago. A viewing point atop the cathedral-sized cave affords visitors views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers and the Eberhard fjord.
The town of Puerto Varas sits on the banks of Llanquihue Lake in Chile’s magnificent Lakes District. The lake itself, the second-largest lake in the country after General Carrera Lake, sits at the base of the near-perfect conically shaped Osorno Volcano, adding to its already picturesque qualities.
The shores of the 336-square-mile (870-square-kilometer) lake share a German heritage, yet each attracts visitors for a different reason. Puerto Varas is the lake’s adventure capital, while Frutillar on the western banks of the lake appeals to Chilean tourists on summer holiday. The charming Bavarian-style town of Puerto Octay offers remote accommodations on the north shores of the lake, and rustic Ensenada on the eastern banks sits at the entrance to Vicente Perez Rosales National Park.
At the heart of Santiago de Chile's historic district is the city's social hub, the palm-shaded Plaza de Armas. Surrounded by the neoclassical facades of Santiago's most important buildings, including the Metropolitan Cathedral; the Municipalidad, or federal building; and perhaps most striking, the magnificent Correo Central, or old post office. Two pedestrian malls, lined with handicrafts vendors, independent musicians, and plenty of cafes and shops, stretch out from the festive city center. Most of Santiago's museums and important sites are within a few blocks.
Since 1540, the venerable expanse of stone, cement, and sculpture has been a social hub, and it still serves as a gathering place for folks from across the cultural spectrum. Whether you're here to learn some history, feed a few pigeons, or just enjoy a glass of wine, the Plaza de Armas probably offers the finest people-watching in Chile.
The Santiago skyline is dominated by San Cristobal Hill - or Cerro San Cristobal, a forest-carpeted mountain rising from the city, protected as the Parque Metropolitano, or city park. It was once called Tapahue, after the indigenous headdress it resembles, and developed into a public greenspace at the beginning of the 20th century, after the astronomical observatory was constructed atop.
Today, the park serves as a scenic escape above the smog that can choke Santiago on winter days, and offers fantastic views across this city of 6.5 million to the Andes. Walking trails, picnic spots, and an amphitheater are all dwarfed by the 22-meter (72-foot) statue of the Virgin Mary, erected here in the 1930s.
The park extends into the cerro's skirts, and also encompasses the National Zoo and two pretty public pools, both excellent options for families.
La Moneda is easy to spot – its white, neoclassical walls make up the presidential palace that takes up an entire city block in downtown Santiago. Construction began in 1781 and was completed in 1805, when it was used as a mint, which is what the term moneda translates to in English.
The gigantic Chilean flag that waves in front of La Moneda, from a grassy traffic circle in the middle of the Alameda (Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins), can be seen from blocks away. There are two nearby plazas that serve as popular meeting and lunchtime spots, each with lawns, fountains and benches. History buffs will remember that this building was bombed in 1973 as part of the coup d’etat that ended Salvador Allende’s presidency and preceded Augusto Pinochet’s rise to power. There are still, a few areas where the damage has been left for visitors to see.
When Magellan passed through the strait bound for Chile for the first time, he cruised on past the tiny Magdalena Island, famous for its thousands of penguins. Today, travelers make it a point to stop at this scenic island that’s northeast of Punta Arenas to explore the rocky shores and get up close to the playful penguins.
Visitors can follow well-marked paths to a popular lighthouse for impressive views of the empty island, but it’s the friendly penguins that walk side-by-side with travelers that really draw tourists to this natural haven outside of the region’s capital.
More Things to Do in Chile
Cerro Santa Lucia is one of two hills that overlook Santiago, where in 1541 Pedro de Valdivia founded the city long before Chile existed as an independent country. At the time, the hill was called Huelén by the indigenous people; a nearby street (by metro Salvador) still bears that name.
The hill rises about 230 feet over the surrounding part of the city, and there are excellent views of downtown from several terraces up there. Cerro Santa Lucia has three main constructions: the main entrance on the Alameda, with its wide, curving staircase, fronted by a fountain and backed by a yellow mansion; the fort at the top from which the best views of downtown can be seen; and the Castillo Hidalgo, which often hosts large international events.
Viña del Mar is Santiago’s closeby seaside cousin, just a little bit over an hour away on one of the country’s busiest highways. Viña, as it is commonly called calls itself the garden city, for the profusion of flowers, all over the city, and at Quinta Vergara, the large park there, as well as the iconic flower clock that faces the ocean walk so popular among locals and visitors.
In the summer, Viña fills up with Chileans as well as Argentines from just across the Andes, and international visitors as well. There are restaurants and nightlife, close proximity to more historical Valparaíso, and of course, the long Pacific coastline. Viña del Mar also has a casino and a couple of other points of interest, including a castle you can visit, and the aforementioned Quinta Vergara park, where the summer song festival is held ever February.
Perhaps the most scenic of Valparaiso’s popular cerros, Cerro Concepcion is home to quaint shops, unique art galleries and picturesque views of the stunning Chilean countryside—as well as a whole lot of rolling hills. On clear days visitors can gaze out over the dunes of Concon and even see as far as far off Vina.
The climb to Cerro Concepcion may be steep, but quiet cafes perfect for people watching offer up the ideal place for travelers to catch their breath. Afterwards, the hidden side streets, colorful murals decorating old building walls and spectacular views offer up enough reason to wander slowly from the heights of Valparaiso Heaven back to the reality down below.
Not a single drop of water has fallen onto the Moon Valley in hundreds of years, thus the wind-sculpted salt statues inhabiting its eerie bowl have continued their slow, centuries-old dance uninterrupted. Come moonrise, when valley's light dusting of salt and metallic minerals shimmers all around, you may well see them move.
The awesome spectacle is one of the most popular excursions from San Pedro de Atacama, and at sunset the sand dunes can be covered with tourists, all enchanted by the quality of light. Fewer people visit in the morning, so sunrise may be a more tranquil experience.
Torres Del Paine National Park (or Parque Nacional Torres del Paine) is one of the world's last great, unspoiled spaces, green fields and chill glittering lakes spread out beneath the naked granite spires of the Cordillera del Paine.
These epic massifs, with their wintry snow raiments, call rock climbers and ice hikers to their feet with promises of an adventure at the edge of their abilities. Less ambitious visitors will find all sorts of wonderful trails through the wilderness and herds of guanaco (a type of small, Patagonian llama) that can be enjoyed in a few hours; buses run between lodging and the different trailheads and vistas. The famous W trail takes 9 days for full circuit, and requires more serious preparation.
Its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean and unique mix of clay and sandy soils has made the Casablanca Valley one of Chile’s top wine producing regions despite it’s relatively new arrival on the scene. The first vines were planted in the mid-1980s—more than 100 years later than some of Chile’s other notable wine regions.
Visitors to the Casablanca Valley, which is best known for its white grapes, like Sauvingnon Blanc and Chardonnay, can enjoy an afternoon in the quaint city of Casablanca, before embarking on a tour of the scenic region. Travelers love the wine museum at El Cuatro and agree that the eco-friendly and organic practices of Veramonte make it worth a stop.
This one-stop Valparaiso destination is home to plenty of Chilean history, art and culture. As a result, travelers will find lots to explore on a visit to Plaza Sotomayor. Named after Rafael Sotomayor, this popular city square lies in the middle of the city’s historic district. Visitors can get up close to the Chilean Navy headquarters, and pay homage to fallen sailors at the plaza’s central monument dedicated to the Battle of Iquique. Afterwards travelers can make a stop at the National Council of Culture and the Arts before wandering to the nearby Customs House or Estacion Puerto, where commuter trains arrive and depart from other Chilean cities.
Rising toward the fading stars high atop the Andes, El Tatio Geysers erupt from more than 80 vents into wraith-like plumes, which dance in the first crisp golden rays of dawn. It's not quite the largest geyser field in the world (it's the third), or the highest (it's close), but combined with those snowcapped volcanoes that encircle its steaming expanse, it is perhaps the most magnificent.
In addition to the searing-hot fumeroles and geysers, the field has a few more inviting geological features. A large 35°C (95°F) hot spring lets you soak away the Andes' stubborn chill, while bubbling mud pots offer the perfect masque for cleansing away weeks of grime from the road. Relax.
The high Andean starry nights, combined with the cold Atacama winds, can chill the unprepared tourist to the bone. Happily, however, these mountains are volcanic, and pour forth the planet's heat into a series of steaming pools, the Puritama Hot Springs.
The name "puritama" simply means "hot water" in an ancient, pre-Inca tongue, suggesting that these medicinal springs have been used for millennia. With high concentrations of relaxing lithium and minerals accorded all sorts of health benefits, they are guaranteed to mellow you out. Temperatures hover around 33°C (91°F), so they aren't ridiculously hot, making daytime visits a treat. Though most pools have been left in a relatively natural state, there are changing rooms, eateries, campsites, trails, handicrafts vendors and other improvements all around.
Founded by the Guilisasti family in 1986, Emiliana Organic Winery was the first winery in Chile (and one of the first in the world) to make a foray into organic wine production. The winery began its organic agricultural practices in an effort to preserve the environment, promote healthy soil and ultimately improve the quality of the grapes.
In place of pesticides, the winery uses mobile chicken coops that can be wheeled around the vineyards to control the insect population. Besides wine, Emiliana also grows organic vegetables for the workers and their families, as well as produces honey and olive oil from trees grown throughout the vineyards. Tours of the winery take visitors through the vineyards, where they learn about various soil and grape types and the biodiversity of the area. Participants also see the cellars where biodynamic fertilizers are stored and enjoy a tasting of several Emiliana wines.
Built in 1883, Ascensor Concepcion is the city’s oldest elevator. Once powered by steam, today this electric ride sends travelers up to the Concepcion Cerro, where they are met with charming cobble streets, colorful homes and a handful of cafes, restaurants and bars that serve lunch, dinner and coffee el fresco.
While travelers warn the ancient carriages can feel a little risky, the view from the top (and energy saved by not making the climb on foot) is worth the jarring ride. The elevator makes regular trips, which means cars are rarely crowded and visitors will likely find one departing almost as soon as they arrive.
Cajón del Maipo, a narrow canyon where the Maipo River flows, begins just 16 miles (25 kilometers) southwest of Santiago, but its picturesque scenery, fresh air and charming mountain towns feels worlds away. Santiago residents often escape to Cajón del Maipo on the weekends for hiking, rafting, horseback riding, climbing, cycling and skiing. Rafting season lasts from November through March, while winter sports take over from June to September.
At the heart of Cajón del Maipo lies San José de Maipo, the biggest city in the canyon. Founded during a 1792 silver rush, the town maintains many of its colonial adobe structures as well as an eighteenth century church in the Plaza de Armas in the center of town. Hot springs scattered throughout the canyon offer opportunity for relaxation, while roadside stalls sell fresh-baked bread, Chilean empanadas, honey and other food items to stave off hunger pangs during a day of exploration.
- Things to do in Santiago
- Things to do in San Pedro de Atacama
- Things to do in Valparaíso
- Things to do in Punta Arenas
- Things to do in Ancud
- Things to do in San Antonio
- Things to do in Puerto Montt
- Things to do in Pucón
- Things to do in Arica
- Things to do in La Serena
- Things to do in Argentina
- Things to do in Uruguay
- Things to do in Patagonia
- Things to do in North Chile
- Things to do in Lake District