Chile is more versatile than you might think. With the arid, desert of the north and the mountains, glaciers and rainforests of the south, and multiple islands, there's a lot of variety in the country. Whatever you're looking for from your next adventure, whether it's hiking, epic landscapes or wildlife, we've put together recommendations for the top vacation spots in Chile.
For mountains: Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park is nature at its wild best. Reached through Punta Arenas in Chile's Patagonia region, well known for its dramatic mountains, glaciers with huge icebergs, bright blue lakes and pampas (grasslands). It's a hiker's dream – or indeed anyone who loves a good view. The most iconic site is the three horn-shaped granite towers the park is named for, the Cuernos del Paine, but there are plenty of other phenomenal areas, like Grey Glacier, Lake Pehoe and Cordillera Paine. Although we'll be touching on some of the best vacation spots in Chile for wildlife watching later on, Torres del Paine National Park (and Patagonia in general) is great for animal lovers, with a wide variety of species calling the park home.
Sunrise at Torres del Paine National Park © emperorcosar/Shutterstock
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For wine buffs: Colchagua Valley
Within driving distance of Santiago (160 km away) the Colchagua valley is a must-visit for wine buffs (and enthusiastic beginners). Thanks to its warm, dry weather and climate similar to California's Napa Valley, the region is famous for its red wine, and you especially can't go wrong with a Carmenere, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon. Wineries are dotted across a huge area so you're in no danger of getting bored or running out of places to visit. Our pick of the vineyards to visit include Montes and Clos Apalta vineyards.
The Colchagua Valley is one of the most renowned wine regions in Chile © chloegunning/Shutterstock
For lively city vibes: Santiago and Valparaiso
Only a one-and-a-half-hour drive apart, if you're a fan of your city exploration and soaking up urban culture, heading to Santiago or Valparaiso (or ideally, both) is easy and a must. The Chilean capital of Santiago isn't to be underestimated, with plenty of culture, an amazing view of the Andes and fun neighbourhoods to explore. Climb up San Cristobal and Saint Lucia hills, walk through the European-style streets of Lastarria and the courtyards of Bellavista (and stop in one of their breweries).
Valparaiso is Chile's historic port city is also incredibly colourful, renowned for its street art and brightly painted clifftop homes. The steep funiculars are part of the charm of getting around the city, as well as its artsy, bohemian vibe which has inspired many poets and writers. It also has a buzzing nightlife and great seafood, so it's worth visiting for more than one day.
Colourful clifftop homes in Valparaiso © f11photo/Shutterstock
For wildlife: Atacama Desert or Isla Magdalena
We've picked two places here for their contrasting but equally wonderful bird life. In the Atacama Desert, which makes up a huge section of northern Chile, you can spot flamingos, which make quite a sight with their pink feathers against the arid desert environment (trust us, it's not a mirage). They gather close to bodies of water, so the Salar de Atacama is your best bet, and they can also be found along the Chilean coast.
Alternatively, if small, flightless birds that prefer to use their wings for swimming are more your thing, head to Isla Magdalena for Magellanic penguins. The island is uninhabited by humans but is instead home to a colony of an estimated 60,000 penguins. Although you can't stay on the island (they most likely enjoy the peace), you can take boat trips to see them from Punta Arenas - the best time to visit is between October and March, when you're most likely to see them nesting on the coastline.
Flamingos can be found in the Atacama desert © Jess Kraft/Shutterstock
For an other-worldly landscape: Valle de la Luna
If you were presented with two images, one of the surface of Mars, and one of Chile's Valle de la Luna, you wouldn't be blamed for not being able to tell them apart. The Valley of the Moon, located within Chile's Atacama Desert, has an eerie lunar landscape, eroded by the wind. It's truly unique and one of the most special vacation spots in Chile. You can drive or bike through the dunes, rugged mountains and distinctive rock formations - the view is particularly spectacular at dawn or dusk with a view of the moon and the landscape bathed in a red glow.
If you're looking for more alien-looking landscapes, (and Chile is teeming with them) check out the Marble Caves in Patagonia.
Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley © sunsinger / Shutterstock
For the beach: Playa Anakena
Chile isn't really famous for its beaches – other parts of South America offer better places to make sandcastles – but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy some R&R while you're exploring the country. You could go to the surfing beaches of Arica on the mainland, but we think Playa Anakena, way out on Easter Island, ticks the boxes as one of the top vacation spots in Chile. While most of Easter Island's coastline is rocky, Playa Anakena has white sands fringed by palm trees and gloriously calm waters perfect for swimming. When you get the itch to do some exploring, you're already surrounded by the island's iconic moai statues carved by the Rapa Nui people over 1,400 years ago.
Easter Island's iconic Moai seen behind holidaymakets on Anakena Beach © Karol Kozlowski / Shutterstock