Skinny Chile unfurls toward Cape Horn, cartwheeling from the stargazing center of the Atacama, the world's driest desert, to patchwork vineyards and farms, the deep green of temperate rainforest and the cool blue of glacial fields. Throughout, there's the constant blue of the roiling Pacific to the west and the ragged bulwark of the Andes to the east. With the country's population cinched in the middle, Santiago keeps humming unto the wee hours. Yet Valparaíso is a close challenger for urban cool, with its narrow, graffiti-cloaked passages. Roam in any direction for vibrant country life, visiting villages where time seems to tick a little slower and reaching out to wilderness that begs to be explored.
From the early independence to Salvador Allende’s deposition in 1973 and the years of military government, Chile’s fascinating past is laid bare in the museums of Santiago.
Path of Beauty
Santiago has the best of old and new. Pre-Columbian objects and Chilean masterpieces abound at traditional museums, while up-and-coming artists, photographers and filmmakers show at contemporary centers and galleries.
Chile’s lively capital pulls all-nighters. Find carrete (nightlife) in the down-to-earth bars of Bellavista and Barrio Brasil, the posh cocktail lounges of Vitacura and rocking live-music venues about town.
Tinto o blanco? These welcoming wineries literally overflow with both reds and whites. The Colchagua Valley specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, while the Casablanca Valley produces delectable Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
There are waves to be pioneered up and down this coast. Grab a board in Pichilemu or Buchupureo, or head to lower-key Maitencillo to learn how to catch a wave.
Dare to brave South America’s longest ski slope, a 14km run. In summer travelers bolt for Chile’s star outdoor attractions – Torres del Paine and the Atacama – leaving Central Chile’s national parks crowd-free.
Take in the diversity and drama of Norte Grande’s landscapes – from the heights of the altiplano to the desert sunsets and the star-studded night skies.
Norte Grande offers up a healthy dose of adrenaline, from hitting Arica’s waves and paragliding off Iquique’s cliff to sand-boarding near San Pedro de Atacama and horseback riding through the world’s driest desert.
Ghosts of the Past
Wander around the nitrate-era ghost towns of Humberstone and Santa Laura, tour the storied Esmeralda ship in Iquique’s harbor and take in creepy Chinchorro mummies in situ at an Arica museum.
A string of pretty beaches lines the coast of Norte Chico, including activity hubs like buzzy La Serena and virtually virgin strips of sand and hip beach hideaways like the tiny Bahía Inglesa.
Volcanoes to Sea
You can climb the world’s highest active volcano, Ojos del Salado, sail the coast around Bahía Inglesa, hop on a boat to see Humboldt penguins and windsurf off the coast of La Serena.
From the colonial charms of leafy La Serena to Caldera’s neoclassical mansions from the early mining era, Norte Chico showcases a hodgepodge of eye candy for architecture buffs.
Sur Chico parks offer a wealth of landscapes. Explore the verdant nature around Pucón. Parks showcase alpine lakes, araucaria forests and ski slopes.
While trekkers relish the laundry list of trails, other great options here include rafting, kayaking, mountain biking and volcano climbing. Pucón is Chile’s high-adrenaline epicenter, while Puerto Varas is a close cousin.
Deep-blue and jade-green lakes pepper the region, but there are also hot springs, none more enticing than Termas Geométricas. Rivers are rich with trout and waterfalls.
These Unesco-registered churches will have you worshipping architecture. Each village centerpiece was built at the call of Jesuit missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Chiloé’s distinctive flavor, notable in mythology and folklore, lives in the architecture of churches and palafitos (stilt houses). Cuisine dates to pre-Hispanic cultures and features seafood and potatoes, famously in curanto (meat, potato and seafood stew).
Parque Nacional Chiloé and Parque Tantauco protect rainforest with native wildlife. To meet Magellanic and Humboldt penguins, visit Monumento Natural Islotes de Puñihuil.
Long the most isolated part of Chile, Patagonia’s northern region is a cowboy stronghold. Visit rural settlers off the grid who live in harmony with a wicked and whimsical Mother Nature.
Land the big one fly-fishing, raft wild rivers or mosey into the backcountry on a fleece-mounted saddle. Scenery and real adventure abound on the Carretera Austral, Chile’s unpaved southern road.
Patagonia can get pretty wild. The best wildlife-watching is in the Valle Chacabuco, home to guanacos and flamingos. Near Raul Marín Balmaceda, observe dolphins and sea lions at play from your kayak.
Isles & Inlets
Sailors of yore mythologized these channels rife with craggy isles, whales and dolphins. Today ferry trips go to Puerto Montt and Puerto Williams. Kayakers can paddle still sounds and glacier-strewn bays.
Between Torres del Paine and Argentina’s Fitz Roy range, the trekking doesn’t get any better. Snug refugios (rustic shelters) make the day’s work a little easier. Or go off the beaten path to Parque Nacional Pali Aike or historic Cabo Froward.
Glaciers, rock spires and rolling steppe. Patagonia is a feast for the eye, and Torres del Paine and the new Parque Nacional Patagonia rate among the finest parks on the continent.
Tierra del Fuego
Whether you are backpacking the rugged Dientes de Navarino circuit, observing penguins or boating among glaciers and sea lions, this special spot on the planet connects you to your wild side.
The past is ever present on this far-flung isle. Coastal shell middens remain from native inhabitants. Trace its history in Puerto Williams’ Museo Martín Gusinde and Ushuaia’s former jail Museo del Presidio.
From steep snowbound peaks and tawny plains to labyrinthine channels scattered with rugged isles, the scenery of the Land of Fire is breathtaking. Take it in on a trek, coastal stroll or long boat ride.
Rapa Nui Heritage
Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is an open-air museum, with archaeological remains dating from pre-European times. Think moai (large anthropomorphic statues), large ahu (ceremonial platforms) and burial cairns.
Ready your wide-angle lens for some shutter-blowing landscapes. For the most dramatic, stand on the edge of Rano Kau, a lake-filled crater, or walk across the beautiful Península Poike.
Immersion in Nature
Outdoorsy types will be in seventh heaven. Hike up Maunga Terevaka for extraordinary views. Learn to surf, then snorkel or dive in crystal-clear waters. Clip clop around Península Poike and bike your way around the island.