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 and the central valley
Santiago lies in the Andean foothills with ski resorts and beaches just an hour's drive away. Also around Santiago are many of the country's best vineyards, several of which are open to visitors.
In the Chilean capital historic architecture jostles for space alongside modern-day skyscrapers and traditional markets. Santiago's central location makes it a convenient base point to further explore the country and is also a departure point for visits to Chile’s Pacific islands. Further details »
The wine valleys
Just south of Santiago are Chile’s famous wine valleys, where Mediterranean temperatures and ideal soils have been used to grow wine grapes, which were originally brought over from Europe, since the Colonial period and have led to the emergence of world class wines. Further details »
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. The city is widely known for its bohemian culture, brightly coloured houses, and beautiful seaside views. Further details »
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 is mostly barren due to the presence of the Atacama desert, the world's driest desert. But there’s life here as well, in the fertile valleys producing pisco grapes, papayas and avocados. Clear skies mean exceptional celestial observation and many international telescopic, optical and radio projects are based here.
Arica and Lauca
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
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. Further details »
La Serena and the Elqui valley
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
The further south you go in Chile, the greener it gets, until you find deep blue lakes reflecting snow-capped volcanoes and mountains, the slopes of which are carpeted with dense temperate rainforest.
Pucón and the Northern Lake District
In the north of the region, 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 »
Puelo and the Southern Lake District
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 around
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 »
From the Lake District it is a short ferry ride to the archipelago of Chiloé, composed of 30 islands with their brightly colored wooden houses, many churches and rich mythology. Ferries, either from here or from the mainland, form the first link of the southern highway or Carretera Austral. Further details »
The Carretera Austral
The famous Carretera Austral is Chile’s iconic southern highway that has opened up Chilean Patagonia’s land of hanging glaciers, towering mountains and mist-shrouded temperate rainforest. Have a look at our suggested self-drive itinerary for this famous route: Driving the Carretera Austral
Hornopirén to Pumalin
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. Further details »
Chaitén to Aisen
The isolated town of Chaitén is the unofficial start of the famous Carretera Austral. 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 »
Further south, still with much of the friendly, welcoming feel of a frontier town, Coyhaique is an up-and-coming tourist destination, especially popular with fishermen who come to enjoy the excellent fly-fishing on the Simpson and Baker rivers. Further details »
Balmaceda to Cochrane
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 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. Further details »
The Far South
The far south of Chile has an end-of-the-world feel to it with vast ice fields giving way to majestic glaciers and the splendor of mountains like Torres del Paine, San Valentín and Cerro Castillo.
Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams
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. Further details »
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
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 »
Chilean Pacific Islands
Far out in the Pacific are two Chilean island possessions; the Juan Fernández Islands and the Polynesian island of Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, the most isolated inhabited spot on earth. Both possess dramatic views of the Pacific and can be reached relatively easily by air from Santiago.
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 moai, more than 600 stone statues each up to 9 metres in height. Further details »
Juan Fernández Islands
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 »