With so many places to visit in South America, Chile doesn’t always make the list. Occupying a narrow strip of land between Argentina and the Pacific Ocean, it doesn’t look like much on a map.
What makes Chile such an incredible destination is the length of the country. At over 2600 miles, it’s almost as long as the width of the United States from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans.
Those that venture to Chile can enjoy the hot sun in the bustling downtown of Santiago, or the snow covering the famed peaks of Patagonia.
Grab a gelato from a street vendor in the north, or enjoy exotic native guanaco cooked to perfection in the south. Make sure to enjoy a Pisco Sour, the local drink.
Chile has something for everyone and you’ll need months to explore it all. While most of us don’t have that opportunity, you can spend two weeks and get a taste of Chile. For the rest, well you’ll just have to keep coming back.
- Things You Should Know About Chile Before You Go
- Places to Visit in Chile – Santiago
- Places to Visit in Chile – Vina del Mar and Valparaiso
- Places to Visit in Chile – Punta Arenas
- Places to Visit in Chile – Puerto Natales
- Torres del Paine National Park
- Leaving Patagonia
- 2 Week Chile Itinerary – Putting it Together
- More Ideas for Travel in South America
- Articles You May Like
Things You Should Know About Chile Before You Go
When is the Best Time to Visit Chile
The best time to visit Chile depends on what you like to do. For most travelers, the warmer months from October through March are the best.
Keep in mind Chile’s summer is December to February. Travelers wanting to visit Patagonia will find most areas closed or requiring guides outside October through March. This can increase costs quite a bit.
Costs and How to Get Money
Prices in Chile are on par with US pricing. Even if the Chilean Peso isn’t strong, you can expect to pay prices similar to the US for accommodations, transportation, and meals. When shopping, you’ll find clothing is also similar to US pricing.
Smaller towns in Patagonia can be particularly expensive when it comes to food. It’s difficult for them to get supplies and they have a small tourist season.
Most places accept Chilean cash or credit cards. Unlike other places in South America, they do not take US Dollars.
ATMs charge crazy exchange rates beyond what your bank will cost, so try to limit your visits. You’ll need to balance walking around with cash versus going to the ATM 3 to 4 times during your visit.
How to Manage your Internet Access and Phone
WiFi is fairly easy to access, even in Patagonia. Almost every hotel, Airbnb and café has access.
I highly recommend signing up for a VPN service and installing it on any device used to access the internet. This includes your phone, tablet, and computer.
VPN networks protect your devices from unsecure sites which are common in Chile. Even large businesses and hotel chains have unsecure websites.
While I usually put my phone in airplane mode and use Wifi when it’s available, this is one of the few places where I get a SIM card.
Local maps are difficult to read and often don’t cover the entire area, so you’ll find yourself frequently needing to use an app. Also, you’ll want to be able to reach Uber for rides.
How to Be Safe as a Tourist
Taxis are generally not considered safe in larger cities like Santiago. They’re fine in smaller towns like Puerto Natales, but have the hotel call one for you.
Learn some basic Spanish. While many Chileans speak English well, you will find areas where even limited Spanish will come in handy.
I found that Chileans tend to guess or provide vague answers when they’re unsure of an answer. During my visit, there were almost nightly protests in Santiago’s main square. Locals would tell me to avoid the main square or advise I only visit just during the day, or maybe not before 10 am, etc. Finally, some tourists that had visited the square provided me with the information needed.
Chilean Time – Know When Things Open and Close
Chile works on its own time and you’ll need to plan your day according to their schedule.
Restaurants close mid-afternoon, usually from 2 pm to 6 pm. Most museums close on Mondays. Stores and attractions tend to open around 10 am.
Always check where you’re going a day before and pay attention to opening and closing times.
Places to Visit in Chile – Santiago
When I tell you Santiago Chile is one of the largest cities in the Americas (that’s both continents), you’re going to say “whatever”.
You’re thinking it’s like Chicago, Los Angeles, or maybe even Atlanta with its sprawling neighborhoods.
Prepare yourself. Santiago is HUGE.
From above, it’s a dizzying array of street grids filled with tall buildings.
If not for the Andes Mountains in the east and the Chilean Coastal Range to the west, Santiago would sprawl forever.
Covering an area of 247 square miles and inhabited by around 6 million people, Santiago is almost half the size of Los Angeles but with two thirds more people. A city this size has a lot to offer.
Where to Stay in Santiago
Hotel Versus Airbnb
Airbnb does well in Santiago. Many individuals rent out apartments in those tall buildings with security and front door staff. These are reasonably priced and usually quite clean and modern.
Hotels are often pricier and outdated but may include breakfast with the rate.
With many international flights leaving late at night, you may find yourself wanting to store luggage as you take advantage of the daylight hours on your final day. If the Airbnb has front door staff, they may allow you to store luggage but, be sure to check before you book.
Hotels, of course, have luggage storage which can make things easier. Most bus terminals have storage and there is even an app to locate and book various storage lockers around the city.
Which Neighborhood to Choose
Given the size of Santiago, it can be confusing and difficult to figure out the best neighborhood for your base.
If you’re looking for a safe area where you can walk around in the evenings and enjoy the buildings, parks, and people, head to Las Condes and Vitacura.
There are plenty of restaurants, shops and things to do in Las Condes. It’s also near Providencia which is a little grittier but also safe.
Another popular area is Bellavista, a bustling neighborhood where you’ll find an active nightlife. It is fairly close to the main square where the protestors gather and you’ll want to exercise caution in the evenings.
Parque Bustamante is another nice area that’s centrally located. You could walk to historic downtown and Bellavista. Here again, you’re close to the areas where protestors gather in the evenings.
Getting Around in Santiago
There is no need to rent a car in Santiago. While Uber isn’t legal in the country, it’s widely used and considered quite safe. Taxis are a different story and there have been reports of drivers refusing to let passengers out of the vehicle without extorting more money from them.
Santiago also has great transportation with its subway system. It’s inexpensive and will take you just about anywhere you want to go. Like most subways, it’s easy to navigate.
What to Do in Santiago
With 2 weeks to spend in Chile, four days would be the most time you would spend in Santiago.
You’ll want to visit the famous Plaza d’Arma in Historic Downtown. Current government offices continue to run through the original buildings. Crowds of people walk down streets filled with shops and restaurants.
The historic Cathedral of Santiago, Presidential Palace, and main courthouse are all in this area.
While here, spend some time and head to the famous Mercado market, home to many shops, restaurants, and the seafood market.
Santiago is also home to numerous museums including a Railroad Museum and the Museum of Human Rights.
Before you leave there’s one more stop. No trip to Santiago is complete without an aerial view from the top of San Cristobal Hill.
Easily identified throughout the city by the statue of Saint Mary, it’s a popular local place to visit. Take the funicular or cable cars to the top and spend time enjoying this area.
If you have time, wander around downtown and admire the street art.
There are also wineries, places to hike, and Sky Costanera, the tallest building in South America.
Places to Visit in Chile – Vina del Mar and Valparaiso
Due to political unrest and riots, Valparaiso, a World Heritage UNESCO site, is sometimes barricaded. If you do have the opportunity, World Heritage sites are always worth the trip. Grab a guide for safety and visit this colorful town.
Don’t worry if you can’t visit Valparaiso though, you can still get a feel for the beaches of Chile by heading about 15 minutes further north to Vina del Mar. This vibrant area is filled with locals getting away from the city for a little rest and relaxation at the beach.
As you enter Vina del Mar, you’ll find yourself humming the theme to Miami Vice.
White, circular, mid-rise buildings, people walking around in bright sunglasses and even brighter shorts and T-shirts, and bars everywhere scream 1980s Miami.
Getting to Vina del Mar
You can take the bus from Santiago to Vina del Mar, but it involves a transfer and can be tricky. This is where knowing some basic Spanish can come in handy. You’ll need to navigate the transfer which requires understanding the signs and asking other passengers for help.
An Uber may take you there, but it could cost a lot since it’s over an hour’s drive.
There are shuttle companies that will take you, but they can be $80 each way.
If you’re spending the night and taking luggage, you may want to consider Uber or the shuttle.
Where to Stay and Getting Around Vina del Mar
If you plan to stay the night in Vina del Mar, look for a hotel or Airbnb on the north side of the waterway.
Uber works well in Vina del Mar and there is also a good bus system.
Things to do in Vina del Mar
While a walk along the beach is tempting, you’ll want to head to the Museum of Archeology and History which is the one place outside of Easter Island, where you can see a Moai statue.
There’s also a clock made of flowers, a castle, and the largest casino in Chile. If nightlife is what you’re looking for, upscale clubs can be found here in sleepy Vina del Mar.
For a quieter evening, head to the pier for the evening street fair. With the sun setting, the sky appears purple and pink with the glow of the street lamps. Vendors pitch their white tents and sell mata, local crafts, candy, and fried foods.
Mix with local families out enjoying the evening. Stay as the sun continues to go down and enjoy the twinkle of lights across the water from Valparaiso. If you’re lucky, there may be large ships anchored offshore for a picture-perfect setting.
Walk along the boardwalk and explore the fair, but head down to the sand. You’re at the beach!
If you plan to stay for the evening boardwalk fair, it’s best to stay overnight in Vina del Mar. Travel is safer during the day.
Places to Visit in Chile – Punta Arenas
Most adventurers heading to Torres del Paine or many of the other areas in Chilean Patagonia fly into Punta Arenas. While it could be just a stopover, consider spending some time here as it’s a good destination on its own.
Getting to Punta Arenas
From Santiago, you’ll head to the airport for the 3 hours flight. There are two main airlines that fly into Punta Arenas, Sky Airlines, and Latam Airlines. Both are fine, but you’ll find Sky is often less expensive.
Book early as flight fees can increase exponentially. We looked at a Latam flight priced at $127, 2 weeks later it had increased to $450.
A few notes about Sky Airlines. Their seats are a bit odd with a straight pitch and they don’t have a recline function. Also, if you’re booking with Sky online, you’ll need to select a country from a dropdown when entering your credit card. Even with the page translated, if you’re from the US, look for “Estados Unidos”.
It took us forever to figure this out when booking.
Where to Stay and How to Get Around in Punta Arenas
Shuttles and taxis can take you from the airport to downtown Punta Arenas about 20 minutes away. There are booking desks at the airport that will ensure you have a legitimate taxi. I would highly recommend this if you’re traveling alone.
Groups can feel relatively safe dealing with one of the drivers who will be in the terminal with a sign highlighting their price.
Punta Arenas has several hotels and even more hostels to support the many tourists heading to the various attractions in Patagonia.
Don’t rule out a hostel. Many have individual rooms along with the standard bunks. You can often get a private room with your own bath and a good breakfast for a decent price.
Downtown is somewhat large but walkable. Be careful at night and consider calling an Uber if it gets dark.
Things to Do in Punta Arenas
While Punta Arenas is fairly small, there’s a lot to do in this city. It’s the Chilean capitol of Magallanes and Antartica Chilena.
As you walk around, you’ll notice a modern glass hotel among the old buildings. This is the casino. While it may seem out of place, it’s an important part of the city.
The main square, Plaza Munoz Gamero, is lined with historic buildings and, in the center stands the statue of the indigenous Ona man. It’s said you should rub or kiss his toe for good luck on your trip.
Also near the main plaza is the Sara Braun house. A large mansion, it now serves as a museum, hotel, and restaurant. As one of the first women to successfully run a company, Sara Braun has an interesting story.
Photo above by Lora Gene Young @gypsynomadhunting
There is also the Punta Arenas Cemetery. I know, I know, a cemetery. But this one is ranked by CNN as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world.
The main doors of the cemetery remain closed due to a requirement by Sara Braun in her will. Since she donated the land and the main entrance, her wishes are honored to this day. You’ll need to enter through a nearby side door.
The cemetery is well kept with bright white graves and mausoleums in a park-like atmosphere. The one exception is the Menendez mausoleum, which is defaced with red paint, representing the bloodshed of the native people at the hands of the family.
Before heading to Puerto Natales, purchase any food you may need. The one grocery store in Puerto Natales is crowded and you can be in line for an hour.
Places to Visit in Chile – Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales is the jumping-off point for Torres del Paine National Park. Built to accommodate tourists from all over the world, its streets are lined with hostels, hotels, restaurants, and small shops.
How to Get to Puerto Natales
While there is an airport in Puerto Natales, flights are limited. It’s usually easier to fly to Punta Arenas and then take a 2-hour bus ride.
The buses are large and comfortable with space for luggage underneath. They leave throughout the day. It’s about $10 per person each way and you can purchase tickets on-site the day of your trip.
Where to Stay and How to Get Around in Puerto Natales
You’ll want to stay right in the heart of downtown Puerto Natales near the restaurants. While the city is easy to walk and very safe, it’s nice to have everything at your fingertips.
Similar to Punta Arenas, there are several hotels and hostels. Hostels are more common and some do have private rooms. We noticed that many of the local places only advertise on hostelworld.com. Be sure to check their website and not just the main booking sites you may be used to.
You really can’t go wrong in Puerto Natales. With so many tourists from all over the world just getting back from or getting ready to head out to Torres del Paine, the city is designed for tourism.
If you do need help getting to the bus station with luggage, taxis here are common and safe. It’s no more than a 5-minute ride to anywhere in town.
What to Do in Puerto Natales
There are tons of great restaurants and little shops to enjoy.
If you have time, head down to the waterfront. You’ll find the luxurious Hotel Costaustralis and, across the street, a little track built into the sidewalk lined with blue balls.
There’s also the Muelle Historica, a sunken dock along the scenic boardwalk. The old poles stand in the water as if the pier were never finished. Cormorants flock to the area and stand proudly on the poles.
In the same area is Monumento de la Mano which looks like the fingers of a giant hand coming out of the earth.
Look up for the Monumento al Viento (Monument to the wind) with its statues of dancers high in the air hanging from beautifully arched poles.
Like most other cities in Chile, there’s a Plaza de Armas, or main square, but it’s much smaller.
As you continue walking along the water you’ll reach the city entrance with its large sign and a huge monument to Milodon (a large prehistoric sloth) statue. Keep in mind, it’s the middle of a traffic circle, so you have to dodge cars and wait for a good shot. This just adds to the excitement.
There are many small shops with local crafts, wonderful restaurants at all price points, and cute squares to visit.
Torres del Paine National Park
This famed national park is home to that quintessential photo of Patagonia you see everywhere. The one with the green lake and 3 towers in the distance. Those are the Torres.
Things You should Know about Torres Del Paine Before You Go
If you’re going to backpack the W or O circuits, you’ll need to have reservations at the refugios in the park or you won’t be allowed to stay overnight. They’re very strict about this. If you’re caught camping outside a refugio, you will be expelled from the park and fined. This is the one rule you don’t want to break.
The entrance fee to the park is around $32 USD and the pass is good for 3 days. If you’re staying inside the park, it’s good for the length of your visit.
How to Get to Torres del Paine
You can drive to Torres del Pain, but it’s easier to take the bus. They’re about $5 USD one way. You can purchase most tickets right before the bus boards. Four companies manage the buses and run on similar schedules.
When leaving the park, you can pay for the bus before you board. There is almost always room on the 2:30 pm and 6:30 pm buses. Check the schedules and ask before heading out.
For a luxury experience, you could stay inside the park at Hotel Lago Grey or Las Torres Hotel. Both are expensive luxury hotels but the views and experience is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
What to do In Torres del Paine
If you’re not interested in spending the night hiking one of the circuits, there are plenty of day experiences in the park.
You can hike many of the trails, book a catamaran ride to see Grey Glacier or explore on horseback with a guide.
If you want to visit the Torres, you can do it in a day. It takes 8-10 hours so arrive early and be prepared. It’s the steepest climb in the park and you will need to be in decent shape to be successful.
The rangers close the last section of the trail (about an hour from the top) at 3:00 pm. A ranger often stays there for a while and will turn you back. If you’re already past the ranger by the time he closes the trail, you can continue.
If you have time, while in Patagonia you can head to El Calafate in Argentina and hike along the Petite Moreno Glacier. You can also take a bus or another flight to Ushuaia Argentina and enjoy Tierra del Fuego.
You won’t want to head back home. The Chilean hospitality, views that defy description and feeling that this is a special place will pull you back. It’s a place you can come back to and continue to explore.
2 Week Chile Itinerary – Putting it Together
Day 1: Arrive in Santiago in the morning You’ll have time to explore the city in the afternoon Days 2-3: Continue exploring Santiago Day 4: Head to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso Spend the night in Vina del Mar Day 5: Leave Vina del Mar and go to the airport Afternoon flight to Punta Arenas Day 6: Explore Punta Arenas Day 7: Explore Punta Arenas Afternoon or evening bus to Puerto Natales Day 8: Explore Puerto Natales Get any gear you need Day 9-12: Explore Patagonia Day 13: Take the bus to the Punta Arenas airport for an afternoon flight back to Santiago Day 14: Explore Santiago until flight leaves
Pro tip: When you leave Santiago, arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before your flight if you’re checking luggage. Once you get your ticket at a kiosk, just dropping off your bags can take over an hour. Security screening is fairly quick, but the walk to some international gates can be another 15-20 minutes.