Almost half of Chileans call Santiago and its surrounding area home. It’s easily Chile’s most metropolitan city, highly developed and home to Latin America’s tallest skyscraper, Costanera Center. Santiago presents diverse tourism opportunities, thanks to its many hills and parks, artisan fairs, unique neighborhoods, emerging foodie scene and vibrant nightlife. It’s also conveniently located next to the Andes mountains, Chilean wine country, with the coast just an 90-minute drive away.
Often referred to as the cultural capital of Chile, Valparaíso is the Chilean city that makes it onto almost everybody’s travel list. Just two hours or less from Santiago, Valparaíso is easy to get to, thanks to many buses going to and from the city each day. This seaside city is second to Santiago in population, but it offers quite a different feel. It’s bohemian art scene, world-renowned street art and epic nightlife make it the perfect destination to wander around for a couple days. Atop its many hills, visitors can take in breathtaking views of the sea, surrounding hills and the brightly colored houses around the city. Also, by taking a quick local bus ride, tourists can travel to neighboring cities Viña del Mar and Reñaca in a matter of minutes, which both offer beautiful beaches and gorgeous ocean-side walks.
A nine-hour drive south from Santiago, Pucón is the ideal city for adventure tourism. Located on the Villarica Lake with the active Villarrica volcano nearby, Pucón has numerous trekking and watersports opportunities for tourists. Miles of hike and bike paths surround the hilly terrain around the lake, ripe for exploration. In the city, you can easily rent bikes, kayaks or other equipment, or arrange activities like zipline rides and skydiving. In the area, there are also waterfalls, hot springs and caves accessible through local buses or tourism companies.
The capital of Chile’s Chiloe Island, which is famous for its unique Chilote culture, Castro is a must-visit city in Chile. Its unique houses called palafitos are lifted up on stilts over the water, giving the city a distinct character. Meanwhile, the city’s many wooden churches, which exist throughout the island, boast a unique architectural heritage. Castro is one of the few places to find curanto, a special Chilote dish made with potatoes, shellfish and meat in a hole in the ground. Just make sure to bring a rain jacket and warm clothes, because even during the hottest part of summer, downpours are frequent, and the weather remains chilly.
San Pedro de Atacama is the most important city for tourism in northern Chile. Though there are places to see within San Pedro de Atacama, there are a number of Atacama Desert tours that begin and end in San Pedro. Inside the city, the adobe church of San Pedro and the local archaeological museum attract regular visitors. Meanwhile, tours to the nearby El Tatio Geyser, the Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons, Valle de la Luna and the Salar de Atacama can all be arranged in San Pedro de Atacama.
This up-and-coming Chilean surf destination attracts beach bums from all over the world. Check out the city’s extensive open-air fruit and vegetable market to grab a snack, before heading out for a day at the beach. This sleepy city really picks up the pace in the summertime, when international surf competitions are held and local musicians come to play open-air concerts. Stay in one of Pichilemu’s many hostels close to the beach, where you can meet people from all over the world, arrange some yoga on the beach and take a surf lesson.