Top 10 Places to Visit in the Panoramic Country of Chile

Moai on Easter island
Chile, a nation that spans over half the South American continent, is a dormant giant when it comes to tourism. Here's a list of the best tourist locations in this beautiful country.
Did You Know?
Chile is one of the most ethically sound places to travel in the world. It was listed among the 10 most ethical tourist destinations in 2010, 2011, and 2012. This list, compiled by the magazine, Ethical Traveler, ranks countries based on the damage they cause to the environment, human rights violations, etc.
Chile is a South American country situated at the fascinating crossroads of two completely opposite natural phenomenon. Its eastern border is lined by the Andes mountains, while the Atacama desert lies in its western half. The country, with its distinctive shape, is not as popular as other South American destinations such as Machu Picchu or Rio de Janeiro, but is steadily attracting more visitors every year.

Chile is only about 200 km wide on an average, but this tiny distance is enough to encompass everything from the snow-clad Andes mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, to grasslands and the driest desert in the world! With the amazing variety of destinations in store, it is slightly puzzling why Chile took so long to register on the global backpacker's map, but better late than never. If you are planning a vacation in Chile, you are in for a great time. Here are some places in Chile that you simply can't afford to miss.

NOTE: The destinations have been listed in no particular order.
10 Best Places to Visit in Chile
A crucial point for those planning to travel to Chile is that the country lies in the Southern Hemisphere. So, according to the southern summer months, the best time to visit Chile is during the northern winter―December to March. However, tourism in Chile is fairly independent of seasons. The Atacama desert, one of the prime tourist attractions, can be traversed any time you want, but obviously, summer temperatures in the arid lands can become unbearable. Easter Islands, another crucial tourist hotspot, can also be visited at the tourist's convenience, and fits in nicely in a (southern) summer itinerary across Chile. Chile's Andean region is also home to numerous ski resorts that are open throughout the southern winter.

Southern Chile, being close to Antarctica, is a no-no during southern winter months. Torres del Paine and Patagonia is usually not accessible during the northern summer (June-September), and is at its best in the northern winter months.
Santiago
Santiago de Chile
Being the capital of this fantastic country, Santiago is the gateway into Chile for international tourists. It is much more than just a stopover, though. Santiago is surrounded by the Andes, lying in the Central Chilean valley. It has many museums displaying the history and heritage of Chile, such as the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural and Museo de Artes Visuales. It also has many hills (cerros) around its scenic location, the most famous of which is the Cerro San Cristóbal. There are a few wineries close by, such as the Viña Concha y Toro and Viña Santa Rita. It was the home of the famous poet Pablo Neruda, and his house is open for visitors from 10 am to 6 pm everyday except Monday.
Chiloé Islands
Houses on stilts in Castro city, Chiloe island
Chiloé island is the largest island in the Chiloé Archipelago. The archipelago is situated just north of the Chilean Patagonia region. Its isolation from the Chilean mainland has resulted in it being a unique culture. Its architecture is famous, predominantly relying on wood shingles. Many distinct designs of wood shingles can be seen in Chiloe. Many wooden churches can also be seen in Chiloe. The influence of the Christian tradition has been tempered on the islands, by retaining local traditions. Semana Ancuditana, a fest celebrating Chiloé's culture, takes place in mid-January. Unlike Easter Island, these islands are not very far from the mainland and are served by ferries from Pargua, 56 km from Puerto Montt. The main city on the islands, Castro, is connected by air to Santiago.
Pucon
Villarica Vulcan mountain range
The town of Pucon is a major tourist attraction in Chile. It is situated close to Patagonia, 780 km south of Santiago and 100 km from Temuco. Its idyllic location by the Villarrica volcano and the lake of the same name, lends itself to various adventure sports. Skiing, hiking, rafting, kayaking, etc., are popular tourist activities. The town is also very close to the Villarrica National Park and National Reserve. The volcano can be ascended, and also fuels the natural hot springs in the area.
Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine national park Chile
Situated in the staggeringly beautiful Patagonia region of Chile, the Torres del Paine is one of the most popular national parks in Chile. More than 150,000 tourists visit this park every year. It can be accessed from both Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. It is home to animals such as guanacos, foxes, pumas, and the endangered South Andean deer. Birds such as the Andean condor, caracaras, and owls are also seen in the park. It is a popular hiking site. Three granite peaks, known as the three towers of Paine, have become popular symbols of this park. Glaciers such as the Grey Glacier are also located in the park, and are fascinating highlights of a stunning trip through the pristine region.
Los Pingüinos Natural Monument
Colony of Magellanic penguins in Patagonia
The Los Pingüinos monument is home to, as the name suggests, huge colonies of penguins―Magellanic penguins, in particular. Over 60,000 breeding pairs are estimated to be found on the Magdalena Island and Marta Island. This site is just 35 km from the city of Punta Arenas.
Valparaíso and Viña del Mar
Vina del Mar South America
Valparaíso, lying about 112 km northwest of Santiago, is well-known for its bohemian culture. It is an important, historic city in Chile, and houses the first public library of the country. It also has the Pablo Neruda museum, and is home to several stunning examples of colonial architecture. It is also quite close to Viña del Mar. Viña del Mar doesn't have many tourist hotspots, but has an excellent beach, and a famous flower clock.
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Puerto Varas
Osorno volcano, Patagonia, Chile
This town is popular for its culture as well as its scenic beauty. It has an anomalous German culture, due to the high number of German Chileans living there. The architecture and the cuisine in particular is a mixture of German and Chilean traditions. Puerto Varas is located on the banks of Lake Llanquihue, and is quite close to the volcano Osorno. The latter is a popular ski resort. Puerto Varas is located in Chile's southern region, about 1,000 km from the capital city of Santiago. It can act as a base for trips to Los Pingüinos and Torres del Paine.
Lauca National Park
Lauca national park
The Lauca National Park is in the northern, Andean region of Chile, and extends into Bolivia. Putre, less than 8 km away, is a popular stepping stone for tourists entering Lauca. It is home to llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and cougars, as well as 150 bird species. The park also features Chungará lake, one of the highest lakes in the world, and the volcanoes Parinacota and Pomerape.
Atacama Desert
Road through Atacama desert
The Atacama is one of the two major crowd-pullers for
Chile's tourism industry. The city of San Pedro de Atacama, center of many desert activities, is more than 1,600 km north of Santiago, but is connected to the capital by daily flights. It is the driest desert in the world, and also the highest. It features some iconic places such as the Death Valley (the driest place in the world) and Valle de la Lune. The Pan-American Highway, which passes through the Atacama, also provides a fantastic route through stunning nature for the petrol heads.
Easter Island
Easter island Chile
The prime attraction in Chile, this island is home to one of the most famous icons in the world. The 887 moai statues were carved by the Napa Rui people sometime early in the first millennium. The island was annexed by Chile in 1888, and is a special territory. It is more than 2,000 miles away from continental Chile, and is connected by flights from Santiago. Easter Island also has excellent beaches and aquatic activities.
Tourism in Chile is a burgeoning business, helped by millions of foreigners as well as local tourists. Some of these locations are indeed once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. If you are planning an exotic vacation, one that you will never forget, Chile definitely deserves a place in the shortlist of destinations.
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