11 Best Things to Do in Chile
Published on: October 24th, 2018
Last modified: July 28th, 2023
Stretched along the western edge of South America, Chile is one of the most geographically diverse countries on earth. This narrow nation abounds with natural wonders, from the towering glaciers of Torres del Paine and the desolate Atacama Desert to the gorgeous Lake District and enchanting islands of Chiloe.
Beyond its most iconic sites, it’s also bursting with vibrant culture, exceptional cuisine, world-class wines and so much more. Whether you’re wandering the streets of Santiago or exploring Patagonia on a luxury yacht, it’s only a matter of time before this country captures your heart. Here are some of our favourite things to do in Chile.
1. Trek through Torres del Paine
No trip to Chile is complete without a visit to its southern tip, where you’ll find the breathtaking Torres del Paine National Park. Its main attractions are the three massive mountains that loom over the landscape – but the terrain around them is equally enthralling. Here you can hike through dense forests and snow-capped peaks, past glacial lakes and sprawling fjords.
During your time in Chilean Patagonia, make sure to keep an eye out for native species like condors, pumas, vicuñas and guanacos. If you’d like to get off your feet for a while, go on a scenic boat trip or kayaking excursion. And when you’re ready for total relaxation, indulge in a day at Uma Spa at the beautiful Tierra Patagonia hotel, or settle into a cosy villa at Awasi Patagonia.
2. Experience Easter Island
Easter Island – also known by its native name, Rapa Nui – is undoubtedly one of the most mysterious places on the planet. This remote volcanic island is located more than 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile. It’s best known for the hundreds of stone statues known as moai, which depict human figures in a distinctly minimalistic style.
In addition to the chance to see the moai in person, Easter Island offers all kinds of adventures. You can go snorkelling, scuba diving or surfing, and traverse the whole island on foot or mountain bike. Explora Rapa Nui offers luxurious accommodation for intrepid travellers, set in a quieter area outside the main town of Hanga Roa.
3. Explore the Atacama Desert
Located at the northern end of Chile, the Atacama Desert is among the driest places in the world. Its landscape is defined by shifting sand dunes, salt flats, geysers and volcanoes – not to mention flamingo-filled lagoons. This otherworldly environment has even caught the attention of NASA, who have used it to simulate expeditions to Mars.
You can discover all the Atacama has to offer with excursions on foot, horseback, mountain bikes or all-terrain vehicles. After a full day of exploring, lay back and look up as the sun sets and the desert reveals a different sort of beauty. This is an absolutely incredible place for stargazing, thanks to unusually low light pollution and state-of-the-art observatories.
4. Discover the Lake District
If you want to fill your days with exhilarating outdoor activities, Chile’s Lake District is the place for you. This pristine region bears a striking resemblance to Iceland, with its vast forests, shimmering blue lakes and snowy mountains. It offers almost every outdoor sport imaginable: hiking, skiing, horse riding, mountain biking, fly fishing, kayaking, whitewater rafting… the options are endless.
Beyond its natural beauty, the Lake District is also home to a rich cultural legacy. Make sure to sample the local cuisine, which is influenced by the legacies of German, Swiss and Scandinavian immigrants – and features plenty of locally sourced seafood. Finally, to relax after a long day of exploring, there’s nothing quite like sinking into the natural hot springs.
5. Marvel at the Majestic Aisen Region
Just below the Lake District, the Aisen Region promises even more dramatic landscapes. This is the most sparsely populated area in the country, and an ideal destination if you’re seeking secluded spots. Go for a spectacular hike through the glaciers, or head out to sea to spot dolphins, marine otters and sea lions.
Many of the hotels in this region are only accessible by boat or on foot, tucked deep into the wilderness and surrounded by nature. They offer various activities and guided excursions on which you can encounter all kinds of wildlife. We especially love the elegant Hacienda Tres Lagos and the super secluded Puyuhuapi Lodge.
6. Wander through Wine Country
Chile has a growing global reputation for its outstanding wines, most of which are produced in the central valleys south of Santiago. An immense variety of grapes are grown here – from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Syrah and Chardonnay – making it an essential stop for wine lovers.
A visit to Chile’s wine region is a great way to get off the beaten path and discover some of the country’s lesser-known charms. After sampling the best vintages this side of South America, you can visit the vineyards on foot or horseback, and enjoy exquisite cuisine at the region’s renowned restaurants.
7. Sample Local Cuisine in Santiago
Apart from the abundant natural beauty of Chile, its capital city offers a totally different sort of attraction. Here you can dive deep into local culture – not to mention a thriving culinary scene. Santiago is where you’ll find many of the country’s best cuisine, from fantastic street food stands to world-class fine dining.
Beyond its gastronomic delights, Santiago is also home to countless museums and art galleries. There’s always something happening here, from cultural events and festivals to live music and shows. The city provides a perfect contrast to the more rugged experiences you’ll have in its remote regions, making it the perfect addition to the beginning or end of your trip.
8. Uncover Ancient Legends in Chiloé
For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, head to the mystical islands of Chiloé in southern Chile. This archipelago is shrouded in mist, creating a magical atmosphere that’s the perfect backdrop for its many myths and legends. The main island – also commonly called Chiloé – features old wooden churches, verdant hills, fishing harbours and the iconic palafitos (colourful houses perched above the water on stilts).
Without a doubt, the best place to stay on Chiloé’s main island is Tierra, an architectural gem that combines modern luxury with traditional materials and handicrafts. It’s an oasis of comfort among the idyllic landscapes of the island, overlooking both the countryside and the ocean.
9. Stroll the Streets of Valparaíso
Set on the coast northwest of Santiago, Valparaíso is a haven of history, culture and art. This vibrant port city is crowded with rainbow-hued buildings, which spill down a steep hillside toward the sea. Narrow alleys and staircases wind between them, with intricate street art around every turn. It’s no wonder the historic quarter has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Valparaíso makes for a perfect day trip from the capital – although we suggest spending a few days there to fully enjoy it. Don’t miss La Sebastiana, the former home of poet Pablo Neruda, which has been transformed into a fascinating museum. You can also ride one of the historic funiculars through the city, and sample fresh seafood at the historic Mercado Cardonal.
10. Embark on a Luxury Cape Horn Cruise
All the way at the southern tip of Chile, you’ll find the breathtaking archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. Its name translates to ‘Land of Fire’ – which might seem ironic considering its windswept glacial landscapes. The best way to explore this area is on a luxury Cape Horn cruise, which will take you through the incredible scenery in comfort.
Our top trips to Chile
Luxury accommodation in Chile
Hotel Vira ViraSet a beautiful area of woodland, fresh water and traditional farmland that is so characteristic of the Pucon Valley, Hotel Vira Vira provides a delightful selection of comfortable accommodation with the intimate feel of a Chilean hacienda in its own 23-acre estate. The design is both modern and at one with the wild surroundings, with large windows and a warming use of wood. Just 21 beautifully crafted rooms are spread between the guest house and the main hotel building’s junior suites, with a handful of villa suites on the banks of the Liucura river and the opulent Ruca Suite set in the middle of the forest. The latter two options offer their own living room and fireplace, with a private terrace and an outdoor tub to enjoy the clear Chilean night skies. Vira Vira’s restaurant offers food created from homegrown produce, a blend of local, ancient indigenous recipes coupled with the best and truly fresh ingredients, accompanied well paired wines. The area around Pucon and the neighbouring Villarrica volcano is famed for its range of actives, from hiking and hot springs to a plethora of adventure activities. Several beautiful wilderness areas are nearby, including Huerquehue National Park, and horseback riding, mounting biking, river rafting, fly fishing, kayaking, varied hiking tours, ascents to the active volcano and even skiing on Villarrica’s slopes can be arranged. Each day, guests meet with Vira Vira’s excursion manager to discuss and plan excursions, or one can chose to explore the area around the estate, getting a glimpse at some of the rare wildlife species that live nearby or visiting the lodge’s farm to learn the skills of artisanal cheese making.
Explora PatagoniaPerhaps the most famous hotel in all of Chile, the Explora Patagonia one of the most stunning settings in the world. Simple and cool from the exterior, things could not be more different once inside. There are large picture windows everywhere (even in the bathrooms) to make the most of the stunning vistas surrounding the hotel. Much of the furniture is hand crafted from local wood and slate, and there are many little design touches to make things more comfortable. The hotel also has a large indoor swimming pool and outdoor jacuzzis. All activities are included in the programme as are all meals and drinks. Food is generally of a high standard at the restaurant.
Casa Real Hotel at Santa Rita VineyardsLess than an hour from Santiago in the Maipo Valley, the Santa Rita estate combines celebrated wine with a long history. Chilean independence leader Bernardo O’Higgins and his men took refuge here during their struggle, while the grand neo-gothic chapel has been gloriously restored by the same craftsmen as the Sistine Chapel. Even the restaurant, the much-celebrated Doña Paula, is a National Monument, and you can venture further back in time at the pre-Colombian Andean Museum. Among beautiful and expansive gardens, find the old landowner’s elegant house, now converted into the Casa Real Hotel. There are 16 rooms, each comfortable and traditional with antique furniture and lofty ceilings. Explore the grounds to find a swimming pool, tennis courts, sauna and café in the former bakery. You can also take a ride in the horse drawn cart or borrow mountain bikes out to the vineyards and enjoy extensive tasting sessions in the cellar, with the estate’s wine flowing at every opportunity from picnic lunch to sundowners.
Tierra PatagoniaIt’s this hotel’s bizarrely beautiful shape, designed to imitate that of a sun-bleached fossil on the ruggedly wild shores of Lake Sarmiento, which makes Tierra Patagonia such a striking place to stay. In fact, this sustainable lodge is known worldwide for its innovative architecture, which blends naturally into the landscape. The revitalised pampa, where the complex is based, has benefited from great conservation efforts, as well as focus on minimising footprint in this beautiful area. This impressive blonde-wooded, design-led ‘shell’ houses 40 simple yet sophisticated Scandinavian-style rooms. Their exposed timber interiors create a tangible Sauna-like warmth that contrasts well with the views of the desolate pampas outside. There are family apartments of two adjoining rooms available, as well as the extensive Uma Spa, which is particularly welcomed after a hard day hiking the Torres del Paine National Park, which is simple given the hotel’s superb team of guides and the varied activities on offer here. From horse riding to climbing, this great range of opportunities means you really can take full advantage of your truly magnificent surrounds.
Nayara Alto AtacamaAlmost imperceptible from its backdrop of baked red rock, emerging as a perfectly placed traditional adobe settlement, it takes an even closer look to discover that this is, in fact, the very conscientiously designed and luxuriously authentic Nayara Alto Atacama. Its beauty is matched by its sustainable ideals, with the resort dedicated to integrating into the environment without causing harm to the immediate landscapes or ecosystems. In the shadow of the Cordillera de la Sal and with the San Pedro River coursing by its enviably remote and magical position in the Atacama desert means it is well placed to explore the surrounding natural sights of deep, sweeping valleys and canyons, kaleidoscope skies, serene lagoons, ancient ruins and tempestuous geysers. Yet the location is only part of the hotel’s unique allure; its design both in and out stylishly embraces the aesthetic of the Altiplano and Atacama. Varying textures in the form of colourful earth-tone tiles, Brea lamps, cave paintings, local iconography, sculptures, and coarse Aguayo tapestries and Amerindian textiles, blend to create an inviting, warm and intimate atmosphere to the contrasting wilderness outside. Each comfortable room features its own terrace and is equipped with many modern appliances and luxuries. What’s more the hotel’s activities and expeditions are expertly planned and personalised to you, with private guiding available. The staff will do their utmost to look after you and there are many facilities to enjoy at the hotel, such as yoga, spa treatments, hot springs, or just sitting under the patio awnings gazing at the spectacle in front of you.
The Singular SantiagoThe Singular Santiago is a luxury hotel in the Lastarria neighbourhood of Santiago. A sister hotel to The Singular Patagonia, The Singular Santiago is located in one of the artiest areas of the Chilean capital, Lastarria: the Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Visual Arts, and the Gabriel Mistral Center are all within walking distance of the hotel. It’s not just the location that’s appealing: the rooftop pool provides a scenic setting in which to both cool down after a day exploring Santiago and take in the view; the spa offers post- or pre-long-haul flight massages; and the Singular Restaurant serves French dishes alongside local specialties, such as Guanaco and Penca, to keep the flavour decidedly Latin. The ninth-floor Sky Bar is the perfect place to polish off a day in Lastarria. There are 62 rooms: the Patio Rooms and the Classic Rooms overlook the Plaza Mulato Gil, and the Deluxe Balcony Rooms have views across the Parque Forestal. All rooms at The Singular benefit from stylish decor and all the mod-cons you could wish for, including wireless internet, LCD TVs, large and comfortable beds, and well-equipped, spacious marble bathrooms.