Photo of Torres del Paine by John Spooner on Flickr.
If you’re thinking of coming to Chile, you’re likely aware that it reaches way to the north to the Atacama desert, and way to the south into Patagonia. Most people pick a region or two, in addition to Santiago, and that takes them at least a couple of weeks. But which areas should you pick? Below is a quick explanation of what draws people to each of six of the most touristed areas of Chile.
From north to south there are:
Norte Grande. (the far north). Beach cities such as Arica and Iquique, with surfing, long walks near the ocean and ocean breezes. Also, further inland, San Pedro de Atacama, a small town with excellent tourist facilities, access to dunes, geysers and the cordillera de la sal (salt mountains) as well as a volcano.
Norte Chico. (the nearby north). Here you’ll find La Serena, one of Chile’s favorite beach cities, and nearby Valle de Elqui, for stargazing, pisco tasting and good wine.
RM, Santiago. (the metropolitan region). The most common starting point in Chile for visitors from Europe and North America, with a 6.5 million-strong city filled with history, good food, excellent public transportation, and a view of the mountains.
Litoral Central. (central coast). This includes UNESCO-monument Valparaíso with its rainbow-hued houses strung across several hills, Viña del Mar, Valparaíso’s more modern neighbor, and many other smaller beach towns perfect for relaxing, and in some cases, surfing.
Northern Patagonia. By far the most visited cities here are Pucón, Chile’s adventure center with hotsprings, a volcano, skiing and cozy, European-style cafés, and Puerto Varas, a German-influenced city in the Lakes District.
Southern Patagonia. Most people heading down here will do so to visit mythic Torres del Paine, the large national park in the south of Chile with its looming granite spires and 5 to 10-day hikes (though daytrips are also possible from Punta Arenas).
Easter Island. This far-flung island with the giant stone heads has a long Polynesian history, but is definitely Chilean. Access is by plane from Tahiti, Santiago or Lima. There’s diving, swimming, bicycling, horsebackriding, hiking and moai (the stone heads) spying, all on an island in the middle of the ocean.
In between, there is birdwatching, stargazing, coastal communities, rocky outcroppings, visitable mines, skiing and a variety of different towns to visit with local artisans making everything from liquor to cheese, wine to woolens, and even cured ham. These are by no means the only spots to visit in Chile, but they make a great starting point for further exploration, for Chileans and foreigners alike.