Chile is a country of startling contrasts and extreme beauty. From the forbidding and beautiful desert landscapes of the Atacama to the lush central wine valleys, and from the volcanic Lake District and primeval forests to the ice shelves of Chilean Patagonia, Chile is varied to say the least. Most remarkable about such contrasts is the fact that they exist in a country no more than 150 miles wide at any point with the Pacific Ocean forming a border to the West and the imposing Andes Mountains to the East. At roughly 2,700 miles in length, however, the country stretches an impressive distance nearly equal to that between New York and San Francisco.

Chile is a perfect destination for the active traveler who is looking for a place brimming with natural beauty and different ways to explore it. Trekking, biking, and horseback riding are common activities along the entire country but there are also cruises through the fjords, wonderful roads for self-driving along the Pan-American Highway, 4x4 drives in search of wildlife, and stargazing at the desert sky. The mysterious moai of Easter Island and ruins of pre-Columbian cultures in the desert offer a glimpse into ancient anthropology.

It’s important to remember that Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere, so the seasons are opposite of those in North America and the temperature can drop significantly as you travel south. The desert towns in the north are situated on a high plateau (just over 8,000 feet above sea level) but the rest of the country is nearly at sea level.

Santiago is a significant hub within South America and extensions to Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, and others are quite simple. Additionally, there are countless border crossing points along the length of the country for easy access into Argentina, and many ships depart from Chilean Patagonia for cruises to Antarctica. The main areas you’ll want to visit are well connected by flights and you may even consider an overnight bus on a stretch of your trip (far more luxurious than you think!).

Secrets and Tips

Visit during South America's Fall and Spring for the best weather. Pack extra layers if you plan to visit Patagonia. 

If you're feeling adventurous, hop on an overnight bus; economical and comfortable!

You'll find fresh catch selections on menus around the country, including king crab off the icy waters of Patagonia. 

A cruise down the southern coast is a great way to experience the full impact of Chile's glaciers and fjords.

Good To Know

Home to the driest desert on Earth, the Atacama – Cruise the glaciers and fjords of Patagonia - Explore the ancient culture of Easter Island

Frequently Asked Questions

The Atacama Desert is the driest (non-polar) desert on Earth which makes for other-worldly landscapes and star-filled desert skies rivaling even Namibia. The quaint port town of Valparaiso is an interesting stop for its unique and colorful buildings, fresh seafood, steep hills accessible by funicular, and was the home of the eccentric and legendary Pablo Neruda. The lush Colchagua Valley is renowned for its red and white wines and old Spanish ambiance. The charming Lake District is an attraction for anyone looking for activity in an idyllic setting. Finally, the glaciers of Chilean Patagonia and soaring peaks of Torres del Paine National Park offer breathtaking scenery. Exploring the land of Easter Island make a perfect extension to any visit to mainland Chile or is a destination unto itself for a shorter trip.

Chile is a country of great and extreme natural beauty so it’s best suited for travelers who enjoy spectacular landscapes and the option of being active. While trekking, biking, and horseback riding are on offer as part of the experience, you can just as easily drive around for a more passive but equally beautiful trip. Chile is very much a food and wine destination. The long coastline offers the freshest seafood and delicacies like King Crab from the cold Antarctic waters, local cattle ranches keep beef in supply, and the German immigrants to the Lake District offer a little Bavarian flair mid-way down the country. The wine is sensational and Pisco Sours, the national drink, are a perfect way to toast the setting sun.

Travelers looking for a classic historical sightseeing trip to view monuments, palaces, and cathedrals will be disappointed with Chile. While there is certainly a rich history here, Chile is best for those who want to experience current local culture and explore in the spirits of Darwin and Magellan. 

North of Santiago (including the desert) and Easter Island are temperate and can be visited year round. The areas south have seasons that are opposite of ours and the best time to visit varies a bit by region. The Lake District is pleasant in Chile’s spring and fall and although warm and wonderful during the summer (December-February), the area will be quite crowded.

Fall and spring are best in Patagonia. Between March-May, there is little wind, and forests and grasslands become tinted with color. Springtime begins in September; trees are blossoming, grass and shrubs are blooming, newborns are expected, and sheep get sheared; after which the animals move to summer grazing land. The cruises between Cape Horn and Ushuaia run between September and April and penguins can be seen from October onward.

Avoid the winter months (May-August) when your activities are most limited. Patagonia is cold and dry year around, made very unpredictable by the wind, particularly in summer (December-February) and can go from rain to sun to overcast all in one day. 

Chile has a range of accommodation options from budget to luxurious properties and you can combine stays in city hotels, boutique bed & breakfasts in the wine country, and fully inclusive lodges to suit your particular limits.

We recommend you look at staying in the fully inclusive properties outside of the cities if you can afford it to take advantage of all the area has to offer. As on safari, the property guides know the area and local communities quite well and will be able to give you a unique perspective and keep you away from the crowds. 

Budget and more mass market tours can start as low as $200 per person per night - but this is the bottom of the range that we neither recommend nor sell. The upmarket, exclusive properties can range between $500-$1000 per person per night. For the best experience we do not advocate going below $500 per person per night. Keep in mind these figures account for internal airfare and transportation, not solely lodging and activity costs. Each trip will be different though, and we will certainly help you decide where is best to splurge and smart to save depending on your interests and travel style.

Chile offers so many ways to experience the country, from a desert lodge to a glacier cruise and from a game-vehicle to horseback or by foot. Fly or take a luxury bus down the Pan-American Highway, or cruise your way from one destination to the next. Fish and white water raft in the Lake District, star gaze in the desert, walk among the moai of Easter Island, and sip wine in the shadow of the Andes. We can't emphasize the variety of experiences in Chile enough – it’s the perfect destination if you want to get out and explore.

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John Moody