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Chile by region: where to go

Please follow the links to individual regions to see more detail, including images and hotel listings (many of which include reviews by our clients). Just click the Regions tab at the top of the page to return to this index at any time.

Santiago

Santiago image

In Santiago historic architecture jostles for space alongside modern-day skyscrapers and traditional markets.  Santiago is also a departure point for visits to Chile’s Pacific islands. Further details »

The wine valleys

The wine valleys image

Just south of Santiago are Chile’s famous wine valleys, where Mediterranean temperatures and ideal soils have led to the emergence of world class wines. Further details »

Valparaiso

Valparaiso image

On the coast, Valparaiso is a colourful and charming port town originally built on seven hills linked by sixteen funicular railways - the historic inner city was declared a World Heritage site in 2003. Further details »

Central Andes

Central Andes image

An hour’s drive south­east takes you into the impressive Cajón del Maipo in the central Andes, a majestic river valley dominated by towering Andean peaks and raging rivers. A popular weekend retreat, the valley is dotted with small, sleepy villages and offers everything from hiking and climbing to riding, rafting and kayaking. Further east are several ski resorts (the season runs from June to early October). Further details »

The North

Arica and Lauca

Arica and Lauca image

In the far north, near the borders with Peru and Bolivia, are the coastal oasis town of Arica and the Aymara village of Putre, both of which provide a good base for exploring the Lauca National Park. Here on the altiplano wildlife includes llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, vizcachas (chincilla family), and over a hundred bird species. Further details »

The Atacama desert

The Atacama desert image

Further south the vast Atacama desert is one of the driest places in the world. From the picturesque oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama, whose church is roofed with cactus wood, many of the desert’s most dramatic sights are within reach. Visit the geyser fields at El Tatio at dawn as they thaw, blowing plumes of steam into the air. Bathe in the many natural hot springs, or drive through the Valley of the Moon where almost no rainfall has ever been recorded. Here too is the great Atacama salt lake, harsh homeland to flocks of flamingos framed in the distance by smouldering volcanoes. Further details »

La Serena and the Elqui valley

La Serena and the Elqui valley image

The Norte Chico, about 450km north of Santiago, has an arid landscape of towering mountains which are punctuated by green and fertile valleys irrigated by the rivers that flow towards the Pacific. The Elqui valley is famous for the grapes used to make Pisco brandy, and also for astronomical observatories: with virtually no rain, clear nights are almost guaranteed. Further details »

The Lake District

Northern Lake District

Northern Lake District image

In the Chilean lake district deep blue lakes reflect snow-capped volcanoes and mountains, the slopes of which are carpeted with dense temperate rainforest.  Pucón, a small town on Lake Villarica, is very popular in the summer as a centre from which to go rafting, play golf, or try the quite easy ascent (4 hours) of Villarica volcano. Near the Argentine border the Conguillio National Park, which surrounds the active and smoking Llaima volcano, has amazing lava flows, beautiful lakes, and monkey puzzle forests. Further details »

Southern Lake District

Southern Lake District image

Renting a car is an excellent way to explore, and there is wonderful walking, riding and fishing. The spectacular crossing of the Andes into Argentina by lake and land is possible all year, although it is more likely to be clear in the summer (December to March). Further details »

Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt

Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt image

The towns of Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas, the former with its busy port and bustling market, and the latter with its picturesque Germanic feel and panoramic lake views, are the most usual bases for exploring the surrounding countryside. Further details »

Chiloé Island

Chiloé Island image

From the Lake District it is a short ferry ride to the island of Chiloé, with its shingled houses, many churches and rich mythology. Ferries, either from here or from the mainland, form the first link of the southern highway or Carretera AustralFurther details »

The Carretera Austral

Hornopirén to Pumalin

Hornopirén to Pumalin image

The first section of Chile's southern highway, the Carretera Austral, reaches its first ferry crossing an hour south of Puerto Montt at La Arena. From here, a road heads south, through verdant forest and past hot springs, to Hornopirén, a small fishing village at the northern end of a long Pacific fjord. A daily ferry provides the only road link on the journey further south, arriving eventually at Caleta Gonzalo. This is the northern gateway to Pumalín Park, an isolated area of mountains, fjords and volcanoes stretching the width of Chile from the eastern border to the sea, and reaching as far south as Chaitén. This privately owned park covers a pristine wilderness of temperate rainforest, volcanoes, sheer granite rock faces and countless hot springs, much of it only accessible by boat. In fact, the park (which effectively divides Chile in two) leapt to contention when the land was bought by the American billionaire Douglas Thompkins as a showcase for his 'Deep Ecology' concept, creating Chile's largest foreign-owned ecological park. Further details »

Chaitén to Aisen

Chaitén to Aisen image

The isolated town of Chaitén is the unofficial start of the famous Carretera Austral, the remote road that has opened up Chilean Patagonia’s land of hanging glaciers, towering mountains and mist-shrouded temperate rainforest. Highlights of the northern stretch include Pumalín Park, a privately owned park and a pristine wilderness of temperate rainforest, sheer granite rock faces and countless hot springs; the tumbling Futaleufú river, which offers some of the finest white-water rafting in the world; the Queulat National Park with its hanging glacier; and the picturesque Simpson Valley. Further details »

Coyhaique

Coyhaique image

Further south, still with much of the feel of a frontier town, Coyhaique is an up-and-coming tourist destination, especially popular with fishermen who come to enjoy the Simpson and Baker rivers. Further details »

Balmaceda to Cochrane

Balmaceda to Cochrane image

South of Balmaceda (the town’s airport) the Carretera Austral defines the word remote: through the imposing mountains of Cerro Castillo, the gravel highway skirts the Ibañez river through a spectacular array of landscapes from rugged steppe, narrow gorges and the desolation caused by the eruption of the Hudson volcano in 1991 and opens out as it reaches the picturesque scenery bordering Lake General Carrera. Further details »

Tortel and Villa O'Higgins

Tortel and Villa O'Higgins image

Tortel is a charming and ususual village established at the turn of the 20th century by cypress loggers and whose 'streets' are wooden walkways over steep hillsides and the calm waters of a Pacific fjord. The final ferry of the Carretera Austral, at Puerto Yungay, leads to the final 100km stretch of road and the remote settlement of Villa O’Higgins. Here the road meets the impassable barrier of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field (the largest in the world after Antarctica and Greenland) and a diversion along Argentina’s famous Ruta 40, or a lake and land crossing to El Chaltén, is necessary. Further details »

The Far South

Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams

Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams image

The gateway to Chile’s far south is the port of Punta Arenas. Founded in 1848, the city was an essential stop for ships rounding the southern tip of South America and an outlet for the sheep products of Patagonia. Nowadays it is the departure point for cruises heading south-east through stunning fjords towards Cape Horn and Tierra del Fuego.

Puerto Williams, the southermost town in the world, is on the southern shores of the Beagle Channel, in Chilean Tierra del Fuego. It is sporadically connected to Punta Arenas by small plane, and otherwise reached by boat from Ushuaia. Further details »

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales image

Three hours by road north of Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales is on the shores of Last Hope Sound (Seno Ultima Esperanza) and the ideal jumping-off point for the spectacular Torres del Paine and connections to Calafate (for Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park). Further details »

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine image

In the 1,630 square kilometres of the Torres del Paine, sheer granite walls rise up to heights of 8,000 feet, glaciers and a sea of ice stretch into the distance and turquoise lakes are constantly replenished by water from the Patagonian ice field. This stunning national park has a network of well-marked trails, and comfortable refuges, lodges and hotels. Further details »

Easter Island

Easter Island image

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) lies 3,790km off the coast just south of the Tropic of Capricorn - a unique and utterly remote Chilean outpost. It was first inhabited by Polynesians, who are believed to have arrived by sea about 1,200 years ago. The main attraction is the more than 600 stone statues, or moai, each up to 9 metres in height. Further details »

Juan Fernández Islands

Juan Fernández Islands image

The Juan Fernández islands were made famous by Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (inspired by the real life adventures of Alexander Selkirk). Discovered in 1574, the group is made up of the islands Robinson Crusoe, Alejandro Selkirk and Santa Clara and with rugged scenery and challenging walking, tourism is slowly growing. Further details »

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Travel information

Practical facts and figures on Chile

Capital

Santiago

Area

750.000km²

Population

14.1 million

Time zone

Mainly GMT-4, except for Easter Island (GMT-6)

Voltage

Mainly 220V

Language

Spanish and a handful of native languages including Aymara, Mapuche and Rapa Nui.

Health

The standard of health in Chile is one of the highest in Latin America, no inoculations are mandatory and there is no malaria. You should be up-to-date on tetanus, typhoid and polio.

Visas

Not required for most nationalities for 90 day stays. New Zealand citizens need visas.

Money

The Chilean currency is the Peso ($). Most newspapers give the latest exchange rates and it can be worth shopping around the banks and exchange houses if you have time, both the rates and amount of commission can vary. Most hotels will also change money, though not at such good rates. Credit and cash cards are widely accepted. Pay for any hotel extras with US$ or credit card to avoid paying the 19% tax.

Gastronomy

Fish is excellent in Chile, with very fresh salmon, trout, sea bass and herring popular for typical dishes such as seafood soup or ceviche. More obscure offerings from the sea include giant barnacles, sea urchins and king crab. Regional specialities include Curanto, a traditional dish from Chiloé and held in high esteem as a hangover cure - fish, pork, chicken, potatoes and vegetables all cooked together in a hole in the ground, over a bed of hot rocks, and held in high esteem as a hangover cure. Paila Marina is a delicious seafood soup and a national favourite. Chile is becoming renowned for producing fine wines, in particular from vineyards in the Central Valley.

Telephones

The Chilean telephone system is somewhat complicated, as there is intense competition between companies. The exit code is 00 and country code 56 (for incoming calls). Hotels tend to add hefty surcharges so for all but local calls it is better to go to a telephone office. You usually pick up a ticket for a booth, make your call (dial 00 for international and 44 for the UK, leave off the zero of the town code). You pay when you have completed the call. BT Chargecards theoretically work, although this depends on the network you are using (there are several). For Entel dial 123 for instructions, 123-003441 for direct connection to the UK (sometimes works)! Alternatively, and for long distance national calls, make the call from one of the many phone company booths which you will see in any town - the most common are Entel, CTC, Chilesat & Bell South Chile. You make your call and pay the cashier when you have finished.

Driving

Traffic drives on the right, the speed limit is usually 100km/h, and a valid UK driving licence is all that is required to drive as a tourist, provided you are at least 18. An International Licence is not strictly necessary, but there is no doubt that in remoter areas the translation and photograph do make it look a bit more official. Be particularly careful to try and avoid stones thrown up by passing vehicles on gravel roads.