Andes on one side, Pacific on the other – that’s Chile in a nutshell. The world’s thinnest country is continuously underrated by South America travellers, but that seems to suit Chileans just fine. Chat to the Pisco farmers in the Valle de Elqui, or fishermen on the misty little isle of Chiloé and you get the feeling that they’d be quite happy for the rest of the world to forget about them all-together. But don’t make the mistake of thinking Chileans are unfriendly (hit up any bar in Santiago on a Friday night and you’ll find it’s quite the opposite) the country just flows along to a very different rhythm. Whether it’s an adventure town like Pucon or the quiet stillness of the Atacama up north, that old Patagonian saying always seems to ring true: those who hurry, waste time.
You could spend a happy couple of months traipsing up and down Chile, soaking up everything the country has to offer, but for us, these are the seven things you simply can’t miss.
1. Stargaze from the dunes of San Pedro de Atacama
Sure, sand boarding is great daytime fun, but what do you do in the world’s driest desert at night? High altitude and no clouds make this one of the planet’s premier stargazing spots. It’s why it gets to boast the world’s most powerful observatory: the Atacama Large Military Array. But you don’t have to get behind the wheels of 66 separate satellite dishes to enjoy Chile’s beautiful night sky. You’ll still get some starcover in the town of San Pedro Atacama, but for a real treat, sign up to a stargazing tour that heads out further into the desert, where the light pollution is net to nil. The moon, planets, nebulae, distant galaxies: they’re all observable through telescopes out in the hills.
2. Plenty of Pisco Tasting in Valle de Elqui
It’s like someone picked up Napa in the 70s, added a few UFO sightings and celebrated poet Gabriella Mistra, and dropped it in central Chile. That’s a pretty good summary of Valle de Elqui, Chile’s Pisco-growing heartland. Pisco, the national liquor of Chile (and Peru) is the flavor lovechild of Tequila and Cognac. It’s worthy of a tasting tour, and there are any number of family-ownder Pisco cellars in the Elqui Valley that are happy to open their cellar doors to thirsty travellers. Our favourites are Gabriela Mistral and Capel, but you can’t go too far wrong in arguably the continent’s Pisco capital. Pro tip: after your busy day Pisco-tasting, make your way to the top of the Elqui Valley for one of the best sunsets you’ll ever see.
3. Pisco Party on Reñaca Beach
Sure everyone knows about the beautiful beaches of Viña del Mar, but if you want to experience a true carrete (Chilean fiesta), check out Reñaca. These beaches offer the perfect foreign refreshment, a concoction of dancing pisco models with an infusion of beach party.
4. Dive into the world’s largest pool…ever
Got time and money to spend? This place can’t be missed, even if you just need to see that something like this actually exists! You can even scuba dive in its subterranean rooms.
5. Wade in seven secret waterfalls
Siete Tazas, or Seven Coffee Cups, is the name of this local watery oasis. Heading south from Santiago to the colds of Patagonia? Make a pit stop at the Siete Taza National Park to cool off.
6. Dr. Seuss would have loved Lonquimay
Love the outdoors and hiking areas not many people know about? So do we. Lonquimay is next to Reserva National Lago Gualletue, haven for volcanoes and the Araucaria tree – the national tree which could’ve easily inspired the Dr. Seuss stories. This is the secret sister of the ever-popular Villarrica in northern Patagonia.
7. No list is complete without a foreign foodie destination
If you, with that adventurous spirit of yours, make it down to southern Patagonia’s Punta Arenas, be sure to eat their culinary curiosity: Chorpian y leche con platano (a sausage sandwich with banana milk). You can ONLY eat it at the original location: a family run, hole-in-the-wall named Kiosko Roca…is the foodie fiend within you awake yet? It should be.
Want to experience Chile for yourself? We’ve got a range of holidays to suit all types of traveller.