Torres del Paine National Park

Exploring Chile's Top Tourist Destinations

Note: This article consists of two parts. Stay here if you want to read about Northern Chile, Santiago and Central Chile or follow this other link if you want to go to Easter Island, Patagonia and Southern Chile.
If you are planning to travel to the South of the World, specifically Chile and you need to know which are the most interesting places to visit, here you will find a guide with the best destinations to tour. 

In Chile you will discover a variety of tourist attractions as well as a range of environments and climates, a condition that few countries can offer.  In recent decades, Chilean tourism has received more and more recognition, to the point that in 2017 alone the country received 27 International Awards in various categories, including Destinations and Infrastructure and in all subsequent years the recognitions have continued. 

Northern Chile: Archaeological Wealth 

Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth
First of all, it must be said that in Chile is often talked about two Norths, the "Norte Grande" (Big, Great or Far North) and the "Norte Chico" (Small, Little or Near North). The Norte Grande is mostly occupied by the Atacama Desert, a place so arid that it has been used by NASA to test its Mars Rovers, this very special condition makes the region a place of great attractions, as well as being a territory of great archaeological wealth where have been found mummies much older than the mummies of Ancient Egypt. (Here Wikipedia's article on Chinchorro Mummies). Certainly, Atacama Desert and the Altiplano are the places where most of the tourist attractions of the Norte Grande are concentrated although the Norte Chico does not lag behind, the aforementioned Elqui Valley being one of the most renowned.

Parque Nacional Lauca

One of the most beautiful Natural Sanctuaries in Chile, located in the commune of Putre, Arica y Parinacota Region. The Park highlights the archaeological wealth, the dominant Aymara culture of the area, the rich wildlife of the Altiplano, and the many places that can be seen such as Lake Chungara, the Cotacotani Lagoons and the Payachatas (Parinacota and Pomerape) volcanoes. This is also a great destination for lovers of mountaineering. The surface area is 137,883 hectares and the altitude varies between 3,200 to 6,342 meters above sea level, so you should avoid rough exercise.

Gustavo Le Paige Archaeological Museum

This Museum depends on the Universidad Catolica del Norte and is located in San Pedro de Atacama, little town known as the "Archeological capital of Chile". Named after the distinguished Belgian Jesuit priest Gustavo Le Paige, who devoted most of his life to the search, collection and study of archaeological remains in Northern Chile. It keeps about 380,000 pieces belonging to the Atacameño Culture, (300 B.C. - 900 A.C.), strongly influenced by the Aymara and Quechua peoples.

Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon)

Valle de la Luna, situated 13 Km. West of San Pedro de Atacama, is one of the most famous tourist spots in the North of Chile, an unmissable tour when visiting this part of the country. Its main features are its huge sand dunes, valleys, hills and formations of rock and salt. 

The landscape resembles a view of the Moon, as a result of the fusion of the desert with the mountains, which gives rise to strange formations of sand and rock. Very close, just 2 km from San Pedro de Atacama, is located El Valle de la Muerte (Valley of Death), in the middle of the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountain Range). Its name comes from ancient times, when the one who tried to cross it, died in the attempt. The place is so dry that no vegetation grows and no insects live there.

El Tatio Geyser Field  

El Tatio Geysers,
a view like from another planet... Located 95 km East of the town of San Pedro de Atacama, at about 4,200 meters above sea level (the height here makes the water boil at only 86° C.) El Tatio is the largest group of Geysers in the Southern Hemisphere (about 80 active fountains) and the third largest in the World. Its name in the extinct Atacameño or Kunza language would mean "the crying grandfather". Tours leave very early in the morning, between 04.00 to 05.00 since the best views are achieved between 06.00 and 09.00 hrs.

Astrotourism in Chile

The skies of Northern Chile (Norte Grande and Norte Chico) are considered the best in the World for Astronomical Tourism. It is worth mentioning that currently, Chile has 70% of the world astronomical instrumentalization in its territory. Countless Research Organizations and Tourist Companies are installed here taking advantage of the conditions offered by this part of Chile  either due to atmospheric and economic conditions, stability of the country, etc.
Many of these Astronomical Observatories can be visited making the corresponding reservations in advance via Internet. However, in most cases you can hire a tour in the local agencies to visit one of the many Tourist/Educational Observation Centers. Outstanding are the scientific facilities such as the ALMA, the largest radiotelescope in the World, consisting of 66 high-precision antennas. Information about Public Visits to the ALMA Operations Support Facility Here. Detailing a complete list of observation points of scientific and touristic nature would be very long, let's leave this in the hands of a specialist in Astronomical Tourism Here.

Beaches of Northern Chile  
Cavancha Beach, city of Iquique
With more than 4,000 km of coastline, Chile has beautiful beaches that are worth to visit and enjoy. The beaches of the North of Chile, all bathed by the South Pacific, are characterized by their warm waters. Currently, one of the most popular beaches is Cavancha, located in the center of Iquique, featuring gentle waves, white sands, recreational areas, palm trees and restaurants very close, suitable for the whole family. Like all the beaches in this part of Chile, the waters are warm in summer and cold in winter, but never like in the south of the country. The nearby dunes allow the practice of paragliding, an experience you will not easily forget.

In the city of Arica, following Comandante San Martin Avenue you can go to the beautiful La Lisera Beach, of semicircular shape and approximately 150 meters long, without large waves, suitable for swimming and diving. Because of its mild climate, it can receive visitors throughout the year. Another great tourist destination is the city of La Serena, in the "Norte Chico" (Smal North). Along the Avenida del Mar, there are 12 beaches, almost all suitable for swimming and with first class facilities to receive bathers. In the Third Atacama Region, 6 km South of Caldera is the Resort village of Bahia Inglesa, famous for its white sands, turquoise, warm and gentle waters. With approximately 12 km long it is ranked as one of the best in the country featuring several beaches: La Piscina (surrounded by rocks) ideal to go with children; Playa Blanca, Playa El Chuncho and Las Machas.

La Serena and Valle de Elqui

La Serena is famous for its extensive beaches, its dominant colonial and neocolonial architectural style, as well as its dozens of churches, a characteristic that gives rise to the name "The City of Bell Towers". 

In addition, due to the exceptional quality of its skies, the region concentrates a large percentage of the important astrotourism offer, which includes tours to tourist and scientific observatories provided with magnificent equipment to carry out diverse and very interesting activities themed in the observation of the Universe. Most of these tours depart from La Serena.

Valle de Elqui (Elqui Valley) constitutes a separate chapter in Norte Chico, a great tourist destination along the Elqui River basin which flows into the city of La Serena. Here you can learn more about the tourist attractions of Elqui Valley.


The capital Santiago and Central Chile

A view of Santiago
at the foot of the Cordillera de Los Andes
Santiago, the Chilean capital, because of its surroundings full of attractions and its own attributes is considered one of the best tourist destinations in the World, because of its privileged location in a fertile valley at the foot of the Andes Mountains, as well as for its historical heritage, dynamism, quality of life and great progress in all aspects.

The city of about 7,000,000 inhabitants is composed of a historic center and around by many "communes" from popular to very modern districts with large skyscrapers, shopping malls and financial centers that have nothing to envy to the great capitals of the world. The Chilean capital also offers a wide variety of Museums where you can learn more about its History, people, natural wonders, art and culture, etc. Click here for a guide with the best places to visit in Santiago de Chile. 

Here you can see other interesting places around Santiago:

Urban Parks in Santiago

Bicentenario Park - Commune of Vitacura
There is a vast network of Parks within the city and natural areas in the vicinity, to name just a few: 
Parque Metropolitano, also known as Cerro San Cristobal (San Cristobal Hill), the fourth largest urban park in the World an one of the must-sees in Santiago, halfway up the hill you can visit the National Zoo, and at the top, the Sanctuary and statue of the Inmaculada Concepcion. In the summer season you can also visit the Tupahue and Antilen Swimming Pools and year round take and enjoy the Cable Car, recently modernized and re-inaugurated. The park is also made up of Chacarillas, Los Gemelos hills and other areas that constitute a small mountain range within the city. In the heart of Santiago is located Cerro Santa Lucia (Santa Lucia Hill), much smaller than the San Cristobal but not less beautiful, also with a wonderful view from the top and a great historical value because, sheltered by this hill, the city was founded in 1541.

Another old urban park of the city is Parque Forestal, on the South bank of Rio Mapocho. Important cultural and recreational activities are carried out here. Throughout the Parque Forestal, from its western limit with the Parque Balmaceda to Parque de los Reyes on the eastern end, you can find important places that make it even more attractive, like the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, important sculptures and monuments such as the Fuente Alemana (German Fountain).

Another of the top parks in Santiago is Parque Bicentenario de Vitacura, a public green area of 27 hectares along the Eastern bank of the Mapocho River. It has approximately 4,000 trees, of which more than 1,300 are native species. Among its main attractions are the North and South Artificial Lagoons, where you can see Black-necked Swans, Flamingos, Taguas, Herons, Triles and Koi fishes swimming among Lotus flowers. Parque Bicentenario is visited by about 28,000 people a month. At the entrance of the park is the Restaurant Mestizo, designed by the renowned Chilean architect Smiljan Radic. Mestizo, considered by many as the best restaurant in Santiago is the ideal place for lunch, have a drink and enjoy the view taking advantage of its innovative architecture. 

Towards the opposite side of the city you can visit the Parque Quinta Normal, the oldest and one of the most interesting urban parks in Chile, founded in 1841. The Quinta Normal also constitutes an important cultural center because inside there are 5 Museums: the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, Museo Ferroviario (Railway Museum), Museo de Ciencia y Tecnología, Museo Infantil (Children's Museum) and the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, also in the surroundings there are other important Museums and Cultural Centers of the city of Santiago. In summary, Santiago is a city with plenty of green areas, and even more are projected in the near future. To avoid making a long list, only a few more are detailed below:

Parque de la Familia, Commune of Quinta Normal, with water play areas and more than 2000 species of trees and plants.

Parque Araucano, another of the large and major parks of Santiago, located in the Commune of Las Condes, with lots of attractions for all ages.

Parque de los Reyes, covering 31 hectares of gardens and green areas in the Commune of Santiago. It was built for the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America and in honor of the Monarchs of Spain on their visit to Chile. It has an athletic circuit, playgrounds, an artificial lagoon and the Fuente de España.

Near Santiago de Chile 

Valle Nevado Ski Resort  
In the outskirts, on the slopes of the Andes Mountains there are world-class Winter Centers, which receive skiers and tourists from all over the globe. The main and best equipped facilities are Valle Nevado, La Parva, El Colorado, Farellones all at an average of 50 km East of Santiago. A little further North (147 Km., in Valparaiso Region) is located Portillo Ski Center, the oldest in South America, also with excellent facilities and where national teams from Europe and North America come every year to train on its slopes.
Cajon del Maipo (Maipo Canyon) is one of the most important natural areas around the Chilean capital. Located only one hour away from Santiago, along the basin of Rio Maipo at the foot of the Andes Mountains, being a frequent destination for lovers of ecotourism and adventure tourism. The main town is San Jose de Maipo. Here you can see the main tourist attractions in Cajon del Maipo.

Chile is a country renowned worldwide for the production of quality wines. Most of the Tourism Agencies offer innumerable tours to visit the vineyards in the surroundings of Santiago and Central Chile. These itineraries through the wine producing regions are known as Rutas del Vino (Wine Routes).

Another typical place near Santiago, just 50 km away is the small town of Pomaire on the side of Ruta 78 or Autopista del Sol, on the way to San Antonio. Pomaire is the symbol of Pottery in Chile, besides being well known for its traditional food. Click here for more information about Pomaire.

Cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar

A beach of Viña del Mar
Although with marked differences, the cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, located only 120 Km. from Santiago, are also icons of tourism in Central Chile. Because of the growth they have had, the cities are currently united, only administratively apart. Valparaiso is the main port of Chile, its historic center was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and has many interesting places to tour. 

For its part, Viña del Mar, known as La Ciudad Jardin (Chile's Garden City) is, without a doubt, one of the capitals of national tourism. Viña del Mar is mainly known for its beaches, its large number of green areas, beautiful buildings looking directly to the Pacific Ocean and the excellent infrastructure to receive tourists.

Other Attractions of Central Chile

Central Chile, the country's region between the Aconcagua and Biobio rivers (including Santiago), has other important tourist destinations as well, some of them world-class. Some of the most renowned are:

Campamento Minero Sewell (Sewell Mining Camp), today uninhabited, it was the first Copper- mining settlement in Chile. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2006, it can be visited throughout the year because it is open to tourism. Its location is in the middle of the Cordillera de los Andes, 150 km South of Santiago and 64 km from Rancagua, the regional capital. A must-see in Sewell is the Museo de la Gran Mineria del Cobre (Large Scale Copper Mining Museum).

Museo de Colchagua (Colchagua Museum), a private institution, managed by the Cardoen Foundation, located in the commune of Santa Cruz, Region of Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins. It was inaugurated in 1995, the main construction that houses the Museum and 60 percent of its collections were damaged by the February 2010 earthquake. It stayed closed for several months and was reopened in October of the same year. Colchagua Museum is one of the most comprehensive in Chile, very well organized, covering a variety of topics and it is very easy to get there from Santiago. Here you can learn more about Museo de Colchagua.

Lago Rapel (Rapel Artificial Lake), is an 80 km2 artificial reservoir located in the O'Higgins Region, bordering the Santiago Metropolitan Region. It was built in 1969 to feed the Rapel Hydroelectric Plant. Because of its attractive environment, in recent decades, tourism has developed significantly in the place to become an important destination for lovers of sport fishing and all kinds of water sports, at any time of the year. There are varied facilities of good level: marinas, hotels, restaurants, camping sites, cabins, rental equipment, etc.

Pichilemu, the Chilean Capital of Surfing, small town and commune located in O'Higgins Region, also known as Chile's Sixth Region. Its main point of attraction is Punta de Lobos Beach, located 6 km. South of Pichilemu. Depending on the time of year, the waves can reach from 8 to 10 meters in height, in 2013 Punta de Lobos was named World Surfing Reserve by Save the Waves Coalition, a title that has made it one of the favorite destinations for surfers from around the world.

Parque Nacional La Campana, located in the so-called Cordillera de la Costa (Coastal Mountain Range), Region of Valparaiso, 160 km. Northwest of Santiago and 29 km. from the city of Quillota. This National Park is managed by CONAF (National Forest Corporation). The Protected Area includes fauna and flora representative of Central Chile, its Palm forests are the largest in the country. In 1834 the English naturalist Charles Darwin reached the hill top that today gives the name to the Park, La Campana (The Bell). La Campana was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1985 and defined as a Place of Scientific Interest for mining use in 1989. Another interesting fact is that from the top of the hill, on a clear day, you can see the Andes Mountains to the East and to the West, the Pacific Ocean, 2 natural borders of Chile.  
Siete Tazas National Park
 Another important National Park of Central Chile is Parque Nacional Radal Siete Tazas, located in the commune of Molina, Maule Region, 100 km. from Talca, the Regional Capital and 275 km. South of Santiago. 

The main attraction is Rio Claro (Claro River), whose bed of basaltic rock has been molded by water over the centuries, forming a series of waterfalls and pools, surrounded by vast vegetation. The name of Siete Tazas (Seven Cups) is precisely due to the sequence of 7 waterfalls in the middle of the magnificent natural environment.

On the distant Easter Island, located 3700 km. from the coast of continental Chile, lies Rapa Nui National Park, occupying a little more than 40 percent of the surface of the volcanic origin Island, including much of the most important tourist and archaeological sites. Let's remember that the mysterious Rapa Nui culture had its maximum splendor between the IX and XV centuries, when the carving of Moai reached its maximum apogee. Click to learn more about  Easter Island.

Parque Nacional Archipielago Juan Fernandez, another remote National Park, declared Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1977. It is located at Juan Fernandez Archipelago, 667 kilometers from the coast of San Antonio, Valparaiso region, continental Chile. It covers a total area of 18,300 hectares, distributed between the main island Robinson Crusoe and the islands Alejandro Selkirk and Santa Clara. This Natural Sanctuary contains one of the most unique and surprising ecosystems on the planet, it has its own flora, being one of the richest places in native plant life around the World. Here you can learn more on Juan Fernandez Archipelago.

Salto del Laja (Laja Falls), 4 waterfalls belonging to the Laja River, located in the region of Biobio, mostly considered within the Southern Zone of Chile, (not Central Chile). Laja Falls are located 479 km. South of Santiago and 31 km. from Los Angeles, the nearest city. The view of Salto del Laja is one of the iconic postcards of tourism in Chile. In the place there is a complete infrastructure to serve tourists: hotels, restaurants, camping areas, trails for trekking, canopy, horseback riding, sailing, etc. The tours to visit Saltos del Laja depart from the Bus terminals of Los Angeles or Concepcion, the regional capital.