Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile (Shutterstock.com. See main credit below)
Blog Words : Wanderlust team | 02 January

The Wanderlust Guide to the Best of Chile

Chile is adventure heaven, with deserts, vineyards, volcanoes, lakes and glaciers: great treks washed down with fine local wine. Here's how to get there now.

Skinny Chile, squashed between the Pacific and the Andes, is one giant playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Its landscape embraces glacial wilderness and moonscapes, lakes and volcanoes, beaches, salt flats and the burnt colours of the desert. In one day you can scale a snow-capped mountain, soak off the exhaustion in a thermal bath and rest beneath the desert stars.

Chile’s capital, Santiago, is a great place to see Chileans at play. The nearby port of Valparaíso shouldn’t be missed – a warren of narrow streets, brightly coloured houses perched perilously on steep hills and ageing bars frequented by sailors.

In the north of Chile, San Pedro de Atacama is an unlikely oasis set among the geysers, volcanoes and salt flats of the world's driest desert.

Heading south, forests, lakes and conical snow-capped volcanoes make up Chile's Lake District, with clear air perfect for hikes to small towns and villages topped by high-spired, clean-cut churches. The mysterious archipelago of Chiloé is the place to spot penguins and gorge on freshly dug oysters.

In the far south lies the awe-inspiring Torres del Paine National Park, a Unesco Biosphere Reserve and Mecca for trekkers and wildlife enthusiasts. Throughout the year, the park offers constantly changing views of the glaciers, peaks and the iconic granite towers which overlook vividly coloured lakes and quiet green valleys filled with carpets of wild flowers.

What are you waiting for?

Valley of Geysers, Atacam Desert (Shutterstock.com)

Valley of Geysers, Atacama Desert (Shutterstock)

Looking for inspiration?

Chile's nickname, the ‘thin country’ is deceptive – the country is stuffed with attractions. Thankfully the Wanderlust team have put together a meaty blueprint guide that will help you plan your menu of volcanoes, deserts, vineyards and glaciers. You might want to check out the equally extensive guide put together by the good folk at Turismo Chile, as well. It has the added bonus of listing tailored tours, created especially by Cox & Kings, to get the most out of this fascinating country.

Chances are, you'll be dropping by the Atacama Desert, the driest desert on the planet and one of the most astonishing places on earth. Christabelle Dilks says that the breathtaking quiet is essential to the experience, and explains how to see the desert at it's eerily, silent best. Paul Morrison, too, was won over by the desert's particularly charms, and has put together a handy guide to exploring all that it has to offer.

Chris Moss, on the other hand, headed to Tierra del Fuego and reckons the best way to see the shattered and exposed coast of this remote part of the world is from the deck of a ship.

Grant Hutchinson travelled from Lake Llanquihue to Torres del Paine, looking for Condors. Watching these huge birds soar above the Andes is one of life's magic moments, but increasing difficult to experience. Grant eventually got his chance near Lake Pehoé.

More information

Chile Travel Blueprint: 4 incredible itineraries – The Wanderlust Team

Discover Chile – Turismo Chile

Travel icon: The Atacama Desert – Christabelle Dilks

Exploring Chile's Atacama Desert – Paul Morrison

To the ends of the earth: Tierra del Fuego, Chile – Chris Moss

Condor moments in Chile – Grant Hutchison

Santiago, Chile (Shutterstock.com)

Santiago, Chile (Shutterstock)

Chile’s secrets revealed

They say that you can't really understand a country until you live there and Chile is no different. Sadly, packing up and moving to Santiago is not an option for most of us. Natasha Young, however, lived there for a year and shares her hard-won wisdom in '10 things I learned about Chile.' She also helped us compile a list of 10 things to do for free in the Chilean capital, from tangoing in a park to soaking up culture in the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, free on Sundays.

If it's a great American road trip you're after, Chris Moss suggests Chile’s Camino Austral – the 1,200 km Southern Highway from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. It’s not finished yet, but if you're looking a dramatic, meandering, secret road, it can't be beat.

Winter sports enthusiasts will appreciate Ed Foote's guide to snowboarding on volcanoes in Chile. A specialist field, to be sure, but an exciting one.

More information

10 things I learned in Chile – Natasha Young

7 things to do for free in Santiago, Chile – The Wanderlust Team

The road less travelled – Chris Moss

How to snowboard a volcano in Chile – Ed Shoote

Chilean food (Chris Caldecott)

Tantalise your tastebuds

Like most South Americans, Chileans love their meat. Rachael Lane scoured the country for it's tastiest BBQ recipes so you can try them at home.

For those of you who are carne-averse, fear not. Carolyn and Chris Caldicott uncovered 5 Chilean feasts for vegetarians – from tasty bean stews and vegetarian empanadas to a heart trekkers' breakfast.

More information

Cook up a South American feast – Rachael Lane

5 Chilean feasts for vegetarians – Carolyn and Chris Caldicott

Valle de la Muerte (Shutterstock.com)

Valle de la Muerte, Atacama Desert (Shutterstock)

Capturing it all on film

From jagged coastlines to scorching deserts – Chile's empty landscapes can be utterly atmospheric. But how do you capture all that nothing on camera? Steve Davey is here to help with tips on how to photographing empty spaces.

If it’s inspiration you’re after, then look no further than the photos taken by our readers on their travels in Chile. They are truly amazing.

More information

Photography tips: Shooting empty spaces – Steve Davey

Readers' Photos from Chile

Torres del Paine National Park (Shutterstock.com)

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile (Shutterstock)

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Chile Travel Guide is the place to start. Make sure you drop by the Chile Essential Info page as well, for more everyday (but equally vital) information. And we’ve rounded up the latest travel news from Chile too.

If you have a particular question about Chile, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about Chile. The answer to yours might already be there.

More information

Chile Travel Guide – The Wanderlust Team

Chile Essential Info – The Wanderlust Team

Latest travel news from Chile

Forum posts about Chile

Community content about Chile

Puma in Patagonia

Puma in Patagonia (Shutterstock)

Ready to go?

Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. From epic overland adventures from Santiago to Ushuaia to specialised puma-tracking tours in southern Chile, there’s something to suit every taste and budget.

More information

Our Trip Finder can help you find adventures in Chile


Main image: Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile (Shutterstock)