Chile is a land of diverse extremes from the surreal and stunning scenery of the northern Atacama Desert, through to the epic mountains, glaciers and lakes of southern Patagonia. It is home to some of South America’s hippest cities and most extraordinary landscapes, including our biggest highlight of all ... Torres del Paine National Park.
We loved Chile so much, that it was no surprise to us when it was named the Lonely Planet’s top country to visit for 2018! Here’s a wrap up of our Top Travel Experiences for Chile …
1. Hike to the base towers, Torres del Paine
No prizes for guessing that our #1 Top Travel Experience for Chile is hiking in Torres del Paine National Park!
The hike to the base of the towers of Torres del Paine is on every seasoned hikers wishlist and makes up the last day of the challenging 4 day W-Circuit through the park. The 17.7km hike ascends 3,000 ft and passes through a variety of terrain from grasslands to dense forests, rivers, mountains, wind passes and the final challenge, a scramble over a glacial moraine rock field (yes seriously)!
The ultimate reward for your efforts is one of the most amazing sights you’ll ever behold (if the weather is still on your side, that is) … breathtaking views of Laguna Azul and the three iconic granite towers, which are the very heart of the National Park.
2. Fall in love with Patagonian landscapes
We totally fell in love with the Patagonian landscape … where soaring snowcapped mountains reach up to huge open skies and brilliant blue glacial lakes contrast against golden pampas grasslands. It's wild beauty is simply breathtaking and the images make us wistful to return someday …
3. Walk on the Moon, Atacama Desert
The harsh and unforgiving Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna) is situated in the Atacama Desert of far northern Chile. The landscape is surreal and filled with weird & wonderful rock sculptures, which have been carved out of the mountains by wind and water over millions of years and views of imposing volcanos off in the distance. The whole surface is dusted in a fine layer of white calcium sulphate, which makes it easy to imagine you have been teleported to the Moon!
4. Discover the street art of Valparaiso
Valparaíso (or Valpo to locals) is an absolute mecca for street art in Chile and all of South America! The port city’s suburbs are spread out on over 40 of the surrounding hills (cerros) in an amphitheatre overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The hillsides are interlaced with neighbourhoods of colourful homes, steep interconnecting steps and a labyrinth of cobblestone streets filled with street art.
Valpo's ramshackle suburbs, seedy port district and graffiti filled streets have given it a distinctive gritty urban edge and throughout the years its anything-goes attitude has been a magnet for bohemians and free-spirited creatives.
In Valpo there are no regulations that prohibit street art, instead the local government actively support and promote the local street art culture. Many businesses pay artists from all over the world to turn their plain walls into works of art and as a result, the city is covered in world-class street art.
Wandering the streets of Valparaíso is like going on an urban treasure hunt, street art is literally everywhere you look … up, down, behind, around and under … from the unmissable masterpieces that cover entire apartment blocks to vivid wall sized murals, painted steps, mosaic madness and obscure pavement drawings! It is a visual feast for any art lover!
5. Take a walking tour of downtown Santiago
We are huge fans of taking the free walking tours in the cities of South America ... not because we’re cheap (actually we tipped our tour guide extravagantly after having a brain snap when converting the currency, oops!). Not only are walking tours a great way to safely explore the city streets, there's the added bonus of getting the lowdown from a local with first hand knowledge of the people, places, culture, art and history.
Our walking tour of downtown Santiago took us from the Plaza de Armas to the Central Markets and everywhere in-between. Our guide gave us an in depth understanding of Chile's tragic political history and life living under the dictatorship. La Vega Central Market was filled with the most incredible selection of fresh fruits and vegetables we’d ever seen. The air smelled of sweet strawberries as we wandered past piles of fresh berries and neat stacks of stone fruits, filling our day packs with as much fruit as we could possibly carry!
6. Watch sunrise light up Torres del Paine
At the very heart and soul of Torres del Paine National Park are the iconic three granite towers from which the park takes its name, and the horn-shaped peaks of Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine). Watching sunrise light up Cuernos del Paine from our cabin definitely rates up there as one of our Top Travel Experiences in Chile.
Sometimes the places you have always longed to see, fail to live up to your expectations ... but Torres del Paine was definitely not one of those! The landscapes and hiking were nothing short of spectacular and is somewhere we would happily return to again and again, if only in our dreams.
7. Explore the Chilean Lakes District
The spectacular Los Lagos Region of southern Chile has it all ... volcanoes, lakes, forests and waterfalls. The region’s National Parks include multiple active volcano’s, interconnecting lakes, waterfalls and offer a myriad of outdoor activities to choose from (volcano climbing, hiking, mountain biking, water sports, etc).
The whole area is spectacular, but nothing more so than the amazing views of Osorno Volcano, sitting on the far shores of Lake Llanquihue. Osorno is the perfect conical ‘volcano shape’ and its upper slopes are covered in glaciers, despite having a relatively modest height of 2,652m tall. It’s one of the most active volcanos in the Andes, with 11 eruptions in the past 450 years. We’ve never been so close to such an impressive and formidable sight and could hardly tear our eyes away from it!
8. sunset over the Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on the planet ... a place where desert, lake and salt flat collide under the omnipresent watch of Volcano Lincancabur.
Laguna Tebinquinche is a lake that lies in the heart of this desert and is undergoing the quiet transformation into a salt flat. When standing on the edge of the lake you can see the various stages of its metamorphosis and one day soon there will be no water left at all.
Until then it makes a stunning spot to watch the sunset over the Atacama Desert and see cotton candy colours light up the sky and reflect in the lake below.
Hope you enjoyed our Top Travel Experiences for Chile! Do you have a favourite travel destination in Chile? Let me know in the comments below.
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