Chile map & itineraries

Stretching the distance from Norway to Nigeria creates a diverse array of contrasting places to visit in Chile. The only option here is north or south – east-west just doesn’t really happen in Chile. To reach its fjords and glaciers, fertile valleys and lakes, lush forests or spectacular desert, you’re likely to have to factor in a flight or two – though this will offer spectacular aerial views of snow-blanketed volcanoes and craggy, splintered coastline. Roads are in great condition in Chile though, and the scenery will make any long drives whizz by as you enjoy the panorama of gradients rising from surf-washed Pacific beaches to jagged 6,000m Andean peaks. And at the northern tip, a vast, dramatic plateau – the Altiplano – is a breathtaking step up to the clouds.
Atacama Desert

1. Atacama Desert

The world's highest active volcano – the 6,893m Volcan Ojos del Salado – is just one towering hot-top around the geothermal wonderland of the Nevado de Tres Cruces National Park in the Atacama Desert. Minerals create lakes with otherworldly hues, while hot springs bubble amid rugged plains and salt flats. The coastal town Caldera provides a charming getaway, with a little pier and good fish restaurants.

2. Aysén

Chile’s most sparsely populated region blends islands, fjords, glaciers and ice fields with South America’s second largest lake – famous for the phenomenal “Marble Cathedral” caves that beckon kayakers. Queulat National Park protects the “Enchanted Forest” – a myth-ridden cold climate “rainforest” with glacial waterfalls and – some claim – fairies! What is definitely real are its brilliant rafting and hiking.
Central Valley

3. Central Valley

The charms of Chile's fertile heartland extend far beyond its famous gaucho cowboys. The waterfalls of the Radal Siete Tazas National Park vie with the thundering Salto del Laja cascades for drama, while the Nevados de Chillán are idyllic hot springs in prime hiking and skiing country. Relax on wine routes through areas like Colchaqua or hit the surf beaches around Pichilemu.
Chiloé Island

4. Chiloé Island

Chiloé's inhabitants still tell stories of mysterious ghost ships and seductive mermaids that seem totally appropriate to a jaw-dropping isle with otherworldly fauna, old wooden churches and fairytale cottages wreathed in wood smoke. Life depends on the sea here, providing a gourmet bounty – the most famous dish is the classic Chilean meat-and-fish stew curanto, traditionally cooked in an earth oven.
Easter Island

5. Easter Island

The haunting moai monoliths fashioned by the island's ancient Rapa Nui culture are true global icons, carved from an atmospheric quarry at Rano Raraku. Peer into the crater of the extinct Rano Kau volcano then visit the tribal village of Orongo. If you come late January or early February, the Tapati Rapa Nui festival brings a carnival vibe to the main settlement of Hanga Roa.
Juan Fernandez Archipelago

6. Juan Fernandez Archipelago

Isla Robinson Crusoe is the star of the Juan Fernandez archipelago, an otherwise uninhabited group of islands 675km out in the Pacific west of Valparaiso. Check out its castaway – and pirate – links, hike mountains draped with lush forests, and recharge in fishing hamlets majoring in lobster. There's brilliant diving too – plus a fascinating traditional cult of 'The Birdman'.
Lake District

7. Lake District

Chile's answer to the Swiss Alps is chocolate-box beautiful, with slivers of lake between snow-tipped volcanoes and verdant valleys. German settlers brought beer and bakeries, but this is also the heartland of the Mapuche, adding a potent weave of native culture to an idyllic landscape where visitors can enjoy kayaking, white water rafting, volcano hikes and hot springs.
Lauca National Park

8. Lauca National Park

Chile's highest national park drapes across northern highlands, 4,000m-6,000m up – a landscape of lonely altiplano lakes and jetting geysers, roamed by herds of wild vicuña, llama and alpaca. The interconnected Cotacotani lakes glitter in a dark lava field, while Lago Chungara washes the foot of a 6,330m volcano. The tiny village of Parinacota is the park's evocative HQ, huddled around a gorgeous church.

9. Santiago

Chile's 500-year-old colonial capital sits on a wide plane with a magnificent Andean backdrop. Not as famous as Rio or Buenos Aires but with its own proud identity among its 7 million citizens, Santiago's highlights include the bohemian quarter Bellavista, the bustling central colonial square Plaza de Armas, two fantastic food markets and a superb Pre-Columbian museum.
Tierra del Fuego

10. Tierra del Fuego

Divided from mainland Patagonia by the Magellan Strait, the 'Land of Fire' is named after the native Yamana fires first spotted by the eponymous explorer. Explore the forested peaks of the Cordillera Darwin, the lakes of Isla Grande, or tackle the tough 70km mountain hiking trail on Isla Navarino – where Puerto Toro bags the title of world's most southerly town – albeit one consisting of 36 inhabitants.
Torres del Paine

11. Torres del Paine

Patagonia’s most iconic backdrop is the jewel in its crown, dominated by immense, granite towers. The classic “W” circuit takes you up to the base of the towers, past the bright turquoise Nordenskjöld Lake and into the gorgeous French Valley, with well-equipped refugios along the way – or campsites for the truly rugged.

12. Valparaiso

One of South America's most enchanting cities, Valparaiso remains something of a secret – a tangle of gaudily-coloured tumbledown houses draped across steep hills offering stunning viewpoints over a wide Pacific bay. Characterful vintage funicular lifts (ascensores) get people up and down. As well as surface beauty, the city enjoys a reputation as a bohemian idyll, with small cafes, quirky art shops and hidden bars.
Travel Team
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Chile sample itineraries

Chile adventure holiday (15 days):
Santiago > Valparaiso > (flight) Atacama Desert > San Pedro de Atacama > Salar de Atacama > El Tatio geysers > (flight) Lake District > (flight) Punta Arenas > Torres del Paine National Park > Puerto Natales > Punta Arenas > (flight) Santiago
Atacama & Patagonia, 16 days:
Santiago > (flight) Atacama Desert > Andes > El Tatio geysers > (flight) Santiago > (flight) Punta Arenas > Puerto Natales > Torres del Paine National Park > Punta Arenas > (flight) Santiago

Chile travel times

The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Chile.

Santiago – Valparaiso: 1½ hrs by bus or train The 'W' circuit in Torres del Paine: 4 days on foot Santiago – Calama (for San Pedro de Atacama): 2 hrs by air, then 1 hr by car Santiago – Punta Arenas (Patagonia): 2½ hrs by air Punta Arenas – Puerto Natales (for Torres del Paine): 3½ by car
Written by Norman Miller
Photo credits: [Page banner: Christopher Michel] [Atacama Desert: Alexandre Micheloud] [Aysén: Javier Vieras] [Central Valley: Alessandro Caproni] [Chiloé Island: Miguel Vieira] [Easter Island: Thomas Griggs] [Juan Fernandez Archipelago: Serpentus] [Lake District: felixpixa] [Lauca National Park: Alastair Rae] [Santiago: Deensel] [Tierra del Fuego: Petr Meissner] [Valparaiso: Mariamichelle] [Sample Itineraries: Kurt Cotoaga]