Easter Island or Rapa Nui
The Easter Island is one of Earth’s more mystical destination, and a great Chilean highlight. The island is located 3700 km away from Chile’s coast. Interestingly, this island is the most isolated piece of land on Earth (it’s closest neighbor is the Pitcairn Island, 2075 km / 1290 miles away). The flight from Santiago takes approximately 5 hours (there are some flights from Tahiti too).
The island’s main town is called Hanga Roa; it is located in the southeastern part of the island, and it has a population of around 3000 people.
The island’s official Spanish name is Isla de Pascua, because it was first visited by a European on an Easter Sunday. The Polynesian name is Rapa Nui, though it is believed that was not the original name given by the first settlers.
This volcanic island has a total area of 164 km2 (63 sq. mi), and it is shaped like a rectangle. The island’s highest peak is the volcano Maunga Terevaka, at 507 meters (1663 feet) above sea level. The island has no rivers, but it does have three freshwater crater lakes, named locally Rano. These are all extinct volcanoes: Rano Raraku, Rano Kau and Rano Aroi.
Rano Kau is located in the southwestern side of the island, and it stands 324 meters (1063 feet) tall. There is an important archaeological site on the crater lip of Rano Kau, called Orongo. This ceremonial stone village used to be the site of the birdman cult, where races took place each year among the villagers.
Rano Raraku used to be the tuff quarry from where most of the island’s moai were built. To this day, unfinished statues remain in this area.
Certainly one of the main attractions in the island is the moai, or stone statues. It is still unknown how and why these ancient cultures built the statues. The statues are located throughout the island’s perimeter usually facing inland, and are set on Ahu, or platforms. The statues depict human bodies, with disproportionately large heads. Some moai wear red “hats” named Pukao.
Other attractions in the island include: Anakena Beach, a white sand and turquoise beach; Ahu Tonkariki, the largest ahu in the island, bearing 15 statues; Puna Pau, a red scoria quarry where the “Pukao” or hats were sculpted, and the Tepahu Caves, the largest in the island.
The weather on the island is subtropical, mild and generally dry (the rainiest month is May). The temperature ranges from a maximum of 28°C to a minimum of 14°C The island is excellent for water sports such as diving and snorkeling. Regarding the natural world, the island is only rich in marine life, as isn’t a great diversity in land flora or fauna, except for marine birds.
San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama is a small town located in the Antofagasta region in the North of Chile, known for its archaeological sites, spectacular landscape and culture. To reach San Pedro, you need to fly into Calama, and they drive to San Pedro, 103 km (64 miles) southeast through a paved road.
This town is the base for all the wonderful attractions in this area. There are many lodging and dining options here, to suit all budgets. In the city, it is recommended to stop by the church (Iglesia de San Pedro), the Casa Incaica (the oldest building in town), and the Archaeological Museum. The best way to see the narrow streets and colorful adobe buildings is by foot. Apart from that, the town is known for being culturally rich, for its festivals, gastronomy and handicrafts.
Some of the things to see around are:
The Valle de la Luna is located about 12 km west of San Pedro, and its extraordinary landscape is caused by the erosion of salt mountains. This incredibly arid land is best appreciated at sunset. The Valley is part of the “Reserva Nacional de los Flamencos”, a huge protected area that comprises several salt flats and lagoons (such as Miscanti and Miñiques). In its grounds, there are many species of animals such as flamingos, condors, foxes and “vicuñas”. This site is located 103 km (64 miles) south of San Pedro.
The Tatío Geysers, where the hot vapor can reach up to 7 meters in height. This spectacle is said to be in its best in the morning, from 6:30 to 8:30. The Atacama Salt Flat, the biggest one in Chile. The landscape here is dominated by white terrain and lagoons, which are inhabited by flamingos. This salt flat is located 40 km (25 miles) south of San Pedro. Toconao village is located on the flat’s eastern shore. Its houses are built from sillar, a white volcanic material, so it’s an interesting site to see.
Some of the archaeological sites include Pukará de Quitor, the ruins of a pre-Inca fortress located close to San Pedro. At Tulor, there are excavated remains of an ancient village, as well as a museum that reconstructs the housing style of that era.
The weather in this area is deserted, with abrupt temperature changes from day to night. This is a very popular tourist area, so it is recommended to book in advance, especially in the summer.
Torres Del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National park is an incredibly beautiful park in southern Chile. The Paine Mountain Range is an impressive one: granite peaks, glaciers and lakes. The Cuernos Del Paine, giant vertical granite towers are a sight that should not be missed by any traveler!
The National Park is located 115 km (72 miles) away from Puerto Natales. To get to the park, you need to fly into Punta Arenas (4 hours from, Santiago), and stay in Puerto Natales, which is 150 km (93 miles) away from the park, or closer to Torres del Paine (for a total of five hours from Punta Arenas to the park through a paved road).
The park is open year round and has three entrances: Laguna Amarga, Lago Sarmiento and Laguna Azul (it is required to register and show your passport at the entrance)
The vegetation is varied, depending on the altitude levels: it goes from shrubs and Magellan Forests, to Magellan tundra. Animal species include pumas, guanacos, foxes and the rare South Andean Deer; also many species of birds, including condors, woodpeckers, swans and eagles.
The park has many trails of various lengths and difficulties. The main activities here are hiking and trekking, though nearby there is also horseback riding, kayaking and fly fishing. It is mandatory to stay within the trails, as it is dangerous to get lost.
As one of the most popular attractions in Chile, it is suggested to book well in advance if you plan on travelling during the summer months.
The maximum temperatures in the summer reach about 20°C (60°F), and the minimum in the winter are freezing. Sometimes the park may not be accessible in the winter, as the conditions can be quite harsh, but in the summer, the weather is more unstable the wind and rain can cause discomfort.
Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales
Punta Arenas is Chile’s southernmost city. It lies 2140 km (1330 miles) from Santiago, facing the Magellan Strait, in the Brunswick Peninsula. The city is accessible by a four hour flight from Santiago. In the city, there are many sights to see, such as the Plaza Muñoz Gamero, the Museo de Historia Regional Braun Menéndez, the Instituto de la Patagonia and the Maria Behety Park. The city used to be a wealthy port (until the inauguration of the Panama Canal), and so some of its buildings are testimony of the old riches. The city is still attractive though. From Punta Arenas, it’s possible to visit quite a few natural destinations such as the Reserva Forestal Magallanes, which protects a vast array of flora and fauna.
The Pingüinera Seno Otway is a Magellan penguin colony, which can be seen from November to March. Pali-Aike National Park is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Patagonia. This site is under volcanic influence and so there are lava formations and multicolored rocks. The Monumento Natural de los Pingüinos, located in Magdalena Island is a nesting site for Magellan Penguins, from November to January. It is estimated that over 50 000 pairs of penguins come here to breed, so it is a spectacular site.
Puerto Natales is the gateway to two spectacular national parks: Torres Del Paine and Balmaceda. The town is located 247 km (153 miles) north of Punta Arenas, and it is a two and a half drive in a paved road. It is also possible to access the Argentinean “Los Glaciares” National Park, equally spectacular.
In the city, some of the attractions include the Historical Museum, the Plaza Arturo Prat, the “Iglesia Parroquial” and the “Muelle Pescadores Artesanales”.
Around Puerto Natales there are a few recommended sights to see, such as the Milodon Cave, a natural monument formed by three caves and a rocky conglomerate named the Devil’s Chair. Inside, a Milodon fossil was found, and now a replica of what this animal is thought to have looked like is in exhibit in the cave.
From here, it is possible to visit the Balmaceda Glacier, in the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. Although the glacier is retreating, the ice chunks slipping from the glacier is quite a spectacle. Many species of animals can be seen here, such as dolphins, sea lions (in season) and several aquatic birds.
The Park is located at the north end of the “Seno de Ultima Esperanza”, and it can be visited on boat trips. The Pio XI, South America’s largest glacier is located in this national park too. Other glaciers that can be visited in the area include the Serrano and Grey glaciers.
Valparaíso and Viña del Mar
Valparaíso and Viña del Mar are two small cities located close to Santiago, about an hour away. These cities enjoy a Mediterranean climate, with more moderate temperatures than cities inland. These destinations can be visited year round.
Valparaíso is the country’s main port, and its architecture is eclectic and its buildings colorful. Attractions to see in the city include Barrio del Puerto, starting at Muelle Prat, passing through the Sotomayor Plaza, the Matriz church, and the “Paseo 21 Mayo”. Do not miss the “Miradores” or viewpoints. The city center (Cerros Concepción, Alegre and El Puerto) has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bohemian feel of the narrow streets and colorful buildings make it a beautiful destination.
Nearby Viña Del Mar is the site of the famous annual song festival, and it is known as the “Garden City”. The city has many gardens, and beaches where it’s possible to swim. This is the ultimate beach destination for locals, especially visitors from Santiago.
Some of the attractions in the area include La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house, now turned into a museum; various coastal towns and resorts, such as Reñaca, Concón, Maitencillo, Papudo, Zapallar and Horcón, to name a few.
Santiago is Chile’s capital and biggest and oldest city…and quite a beautiful one. The city’s international airport is called Arturo Merino Benítez, located 26 km (16 miles) northwest of the city.
There are many sights to see in the city center, such as the Plaza de Armas, which is surrounded by the Post Office on the north, The Cathedral on the western and shops in the east and south.
A few blocks away, the Mercado Central, the Biblioteca Nacional, and some museums such as Museo de Santiago, and of Pre-Columbian Art. On the east side of the city, the Cerro Santa Lucía is worth it for the views of the city from the top. The bohemian Bellavista neighborhood is interesting for its many cafes and cultural activities.
Close to Santiago, you can visit several vineyards, such as Cousiño-Macul, Concha y Toro, Undurrraga and Viña Santa Rita. Additionally, there are several ski resorts nearby, around the mountain village of Farellones. These include the modern Valle Nevado, La Parva and El Colorado.
The weather in the city is mild. In the dry summer, from November to March, temperatures can reach 35°C (95°F), but they are usually cooler. The winter, from June to August, is more humid, and the temperatures average a bit above freezing point.
Chiloé is a very unique island located located in the south of Chile. The two main cities are Ancud and Castro, the capital. To get there, fly to Puerto Montt, and then drive 55 km southwest to Pargua, where you can take the ferry to Chacao.
Ancud is located 30 km (19 miles) west from Chacao. Castro lies 88 km (55 miles) south of Ancud.
The island is known for its handicrafts, especially woolen and baskets. The island was inhabited by the Chonos originally, and then also by the Mapuches. The island has over 150 churches, mostly wooden, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ancud was originally established to guard the shipping route around Cape Horn. In the port, the Fuerte de San Antonio is a historically important site, as this was the site of a Spanish surrender to Chile. Other interesting sites around include Arena Gruesa Beach, the Faro Corona, which offers amazing views; Chepu, with its drowned forest and bird wildlife. The “Avenida Costanera” is an interesting to cover. You can get amazing views of the Gulf of Quetalmahue and the Lacuy Peninsula.
Castro is the island’s capital, and it lies in a fjord on the east coast. This city was the center of indigenous Christianization, both by the Jesuits and by the Franciscans. The Cathedral, located on the Plaza de Armas, stands out for its style and coloration. Nearby, the Mercado Municipal de Artesanía is an excellent spot for buying local and imported goods.
Quellon is a charming city from where it’s possible to view the Corcovado volcano (located in the mainland).
The Parque Nacional Chiloé, in the northwestern part of the island, is mostly covered by evergreen forest. The park has no access by road, and the main activity to do here is hiking. Its main importance is being a reserve for the native forest species.
The weather on this island is humid and temperate, with annual average temperatures of 10°C (50°F).
The Lake District: Temuco, Pucón and Puerto Montt
The Lake District is located south of Santiago, and it covers the Ninth and Tenth Regions: La Araucaní and Los Lagos, respectively. The northern edge of the Lake District is the town of Temuco, and the southern is Puerto Montt.
As the name accurately suggests, the area is covered with lakes: twelve main ones, and many smaller ones. Additionally, the Andes Mountains, volcanoes (six), rivers, forests and waterfalls make part of the region’s beautiful landscape.
This area is a year round destination, with humid weather during all seasons though slightly drier during the spring and summer.
Some of the activities in this area include water sports such as sailing, fishing, rafting, skiing, horseback riding and hiking. Also, there are many national parks and natural areas that can be visited from the towns along the Lake District.
Temuco, in the northern part of the Lake Region, has a huge Mapuche heritage, and it is a lively and fast growing university city; additionally it is the capital of the IX region. There are several sites to see in the city, such as the “Feria” or market. Nearby, there are several national parks that can be visited, such as Tolhuaca, Conguillio and Reserva Nacional Nalcas Malalcahuello. Al feature incredible wildlife and scenery.
Pucón is located along the southeastern shore of Lake Villarica, and it is one of the most important tourist spots in the region.
In the summer, its black sand beach is popular for swimming and other water sports, and it is quite crowded, though it can be visited out of season too. Nearby, there are hot springs, white water rafting and skiing (during the winter).
Valdivia is an attractive city located between two rivers. There are interesting sights in the city, such as the Plaza de la República, a botanical garden, museums and Lago de los Lotos. Nearby, there are several coastal resorts.
Puerto Varas is a lovely town located in the southwestern shore of Lake Llanquihue
. On clear days, you can see volcanoes Osorno and Calbuco in the horizon. Around, there are quite a few great interesting attractions, such as the Osorno Volcano, with its perfect cone shape and Petrohué waterfalls.
Puerto Montt is the capital of “Los Lagos” and gateway to many destinations in the area, such as Chiloé Island, as well as the starting point for cruises to the Chilean fjords and glaciers, to Laguna San Rafael and to the lake crossing journey to Bariloche in Argentina. The city has a strong German influence.
The San Rafael Lagoon (part of the San Rafael National Park) is surely one of the biggest attractions in the area, and it is accessible for a one day boat excursion from Puerto Chacabuco. This tour is recommended during the “warmer” months, from September to April.