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Things to Do in Chile

In Chile, coastlines stretch along the Pacific Ocean; the rugged terrain of Patagonia seemingly reaches to the end of the earth; and the dry Atacama desert, Andes mountains, and Valdivian forests nestle against one another to comprise a country where the topography is as varied as its options for exploring. Santiago de Chile, the country’s capital, is a melting pot of Latin culture, bohemian neighborhoods, and colonial architecture. Don’t miss out on views from the top of San Cristobal Hill (Cerro San Cristobal), colorful street art, and thumping nightlife in trendy Bellavista, or a bike tour of top city sights. UNESCO World Heritage Site Valparaiso—renowned for its hillside funiculars (cable railways) and street art—and beachside gem Vina del Mar are just a 1.5-hour drive away, and easily doable on a day trip from Santiago. If you’re seeking outdoor adventure, Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park boasts surreal beauty, with its mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers making it an ideal location for horseback riding or hiking tours. For wine lovers, Chile is the promised land for New World varietals, with regions such as the Maipo Valley, San Antonio Valley, and the Matetic Vineyards best explored on wine-tasting tours. Plus, the otherworldly landscapes of the Atacama Desert—home to Moon Valley, the Atacama Salt Lake, and the Ojos del Salar—are a must-see from San Pedro de Atacama. Far-flung Rapa Nui Easter Island, home to nearly 900 oversized-head statues, is a modern mystery best explored on a multi-day trip, including round-trip plane rides.
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Santiago Central Market (Mercado Central de Santiago)
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70 Tours and Activities

The interior, wrought-iron construction of the Mercado Central looks like it could contain a greenhouse, but with the masonry outside, this building houses local eateries, a few fruit and vegetable stands, the occasional roaming musician, and just a sampling of souvenir stands, though in total there are more than 200 locales. The building dates back to 1872, and is consistently named as a must-see in Santiago. In fact, in 2012, National Geographic named it as the 5th best market in the world. Due to its central location, and the fact that it is often visited by tourists, it has also become a hub for pickup and drop off for a number of different tour services.

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Osorno Volcano
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33 Tours and Activities

Nicknamed the King of the South, snow-capped Osorno Volcano is one of Chile’s most visible landmarks. Towering over Lake Todos Los Santos and Lake Llanquihue, the conical volcano can be seen from as far off as Chiloé. The volcano’s near perfect shape is the result of some 40 craters scattered along its base. The volcano has erupted 11 times during the 18th and 19th centuries, but always in these craters; never at its peak. Today, a windy road leads visitors to the base of a ski resort, where chairlifts ferry passengers to a point near the volcano’s peak — a worthwhile excursion even for non-skiers simply for the stellar views of the alpine lake below. Experienced climbers can make the full-day trek to the summit of Osorno.

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Llanquihue Lake
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25 Tours and Activities

The town of Puerto Varas sits on the banks of Llanquihue Lake in Chile’s magnificent Lakes District. The lake itself, the second-largest lake in the country after General Carrera Lake, sits at the base of the near-perfect conically shaped Osorno Volcano, adding to its already picturesque qualities.

The shores of the 336-square-mile (870-square-kilometer) lake share a German heritage, yet each attracts visitors for a different reason. Puerto Varas is the lake’s adventure capital, while Frutillar on the western banks of the lake appeals to Chilean tourists on summer holiday. The charming Bavarian-style town of Puerto Octay offers remote accommodations on the north shores of the lake, and rustic Ensenada on the eastern banks sits at the entrance to Vicente Perez Rosales National Park.

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San Cristobal Hill (Cerro San Cristobal)
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75 Tours and Activities

The Santiago skyline is dominated by San Cristobal Hill - or Cerro San Cristobal, a forest-carpeted mountain rising from the city, protected as the Parque Metropolitano, or city park. It was once called Tapahue, after the indigenous headdress it resembles, and developed into a public greenspace at the beginning of the 20th century, after the astronomical observatory was constructed atop.

Today, the park serves as a scenic escape above the smog that can choke Santiago on winter days, and offers fantastic views across this city of 6.5 million to the Andes. Walking trails, picnic spots, and an amphitheater are all dwarfed by the 22-meter (72-foot) statue of the Virgin Mary, erected here in the 1930s.

The park extends into the cerro's skirts, and also encompasses the National Zoo and two pretty public pools, both excellent options for families.

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Plaza Muñoz Gamero
19 Tours and Activities

This historic town square is among the most popular destinations in the Magallanes Region because of its unmistakable energy and close proximity to some of Punta Arenas’ major attractions. Travelers can easily walk from Plaza Munoz Gamero to Casa Braun-Menendez, the Sociedad Menendez Behety and the local cathedral, and many visitors agree that the best handmade crafts in town can be found here.

Walking the plaza takes only a few minutes, but most visitors gather at park benches or relax in the shade of trees to take in the sights and sounds of local life. Local folklore states kissing the statue of Magellan’s feet is good luck, so visitors looking to change their fortune should be sure to do so before leaving the plaza. A central information center also offers travelers maps and recommendations, making this a perfect first stop on a trip to Punta Arenas.

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Nao Victoria Museum (Museo Nao Victoria)
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Visitors to the Nao Victoria Museum can travel back in time and experience the real-life thrill of a 16th-century sailing experience. Opened in 2011, this destination is celebrated by locals for promoting national identity and preserving much of what makes this area so unique. Visitors can wander through four real-life replicas of famous ships: the Nao Victoria, James Caird, HMS Beagle and Schooner Ancud—boats that played an important role in the discovery of Magallanes. Guides are included in the cost of admission, which makes for rich storytelling while travelers explore the ships.

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Fort Bulnes (Fuerte Bulnes)
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Visitors to Fort Bulnes, located atop an unforgiving hillside, will surely take note of the unprecedented lengths colonizers went to in order to stake their claim on such inhospitable land.

Ancient shipwrecks that line the coastal route between this popular destination and Punta Arenas serve as a reminder of just how treacherous travel could be. While the fort’s museum, which explores the colonization history in Southern Chile and replicas of a historic church, jail, post office and stables are definitely worth the trip, visitors agree that it’s the epic views from scenic trails and the ancient watchtower that prove to be most memorable.

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La Moneda Palace (Palacio de la Moneda)
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105 Tours and Activities

La Moneda is easy to spot – its white, neoclassical walls make up the presidential palace that takes up an entire city block in downtown Santiago. Construction began in 1781 and was completed in 1805, when it was used as a mint, which is what the term moneda translates to in English.

The gigantic Chilean flag that waves in front of La Moneda, from a grassy traffic circle in the middle of the Alameda (Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins), can be seen from blocks away. There are two nearby plazas that serve as popular meeting and lunchtime spots, each with lawns, fountains and benches. History buffs will remember that this building was bombed in 1973 as part of the coup d’etat that ended Salvador Allende’s presidency and preceded Augusto Pinochet’s rise to power. There are still, a few areas where the damage has been left for visitors to see.

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Plaza de Armas
94 Tours and Activities

At the heart of Santiago de Chile's historic district is the city's social hub, the palm-shaded Plaza de Armas. Surrounded by the neoclassical facades of Santiago's most important buildings, including the Metropolitan Cathedral; the Municipalidad, or federal building; and perhaps most striking, the magnificent Correo Central, or old post office. Two pedestrian malls, lined with handicrafts vendors, independent musicians, and plenty of cafes and shops, stretch out from the festive city center. Most of Santiago's museums and important sites are within a few blocks.

Since 1540, the venerable expanse of stone, cement, and sculpture has been a social hub, and it still serves as a gathering place for folks from across the cultural spectrum. Whether you're here to learn some history, feed a few pigeons, or just enjoy a glass of wine, the Plaza de Armas probably offers the finest people-watching in Chile.

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More Things to Do in Chile

Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana)

Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana)

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54 Tours and Activities

Santiago's Cathedral - or Catedral Metropolitana - is considered one of the finest pieces of religious architecture in South America. This is the Catedral Metropolitana's fourth incarnation (as well as numerous touchups) since a church was first dedicated on this spot in 1561, and must be one of its loveliest.

It was most recently rebuilt in the 1750s, with the help of Italian architect Joaquín Toesca, who designed the baroque-fringed neoclassical facade that set the standard for subsequent structures around the Plaza de Armas. Yet, as impressive as the stone exterior is, it is the resplendent vault and richly adorned altar, inside, that really inspires. A small museum of religious artifacts adjoins the main church.

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Bellavista

Bellavista

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Bellavista, a walkable neighborhood not far from downtown Santiago, is routinely referred to as the city’s bohemian neighborhood. There’s street art and both sedate and raucous nightlife, art galleries, theater performances, dance clubs, loads of restaurants (both formal and informal) and one of Chile’s most-visited museums, La Chascona. Even this museum has a colorful history; it is one of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s homes-turned-museums. And the whole neighborhood is just a few blocks south of Cerro San Cristobal, the large hill that overlooks the city and has both a sanctuary and a large marble statue of the Virgin Mary on top, in addition to the hiking trails, swimming pools and Japanese garden. On weekends, the hill attracts families, couples, runners, cyclists and participants in group activities, from yoga to zumba. And all week long, the Chileans of all ages and income brackets come to hang out.

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Forestal Park (Parque Forestal)

Forestal Park (Parque Forestal)

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Those looking to play and picnic in downtown Santiago always head to Parque Forestal. The park runs from an area near the Central Market up to Plaza Italia as a strip of greenery with walking paths, leafy trees, old-fashioned lamp posts, playgrounds and two of the city’s most important museums.

These are the Bellas Artes and the Museum of Contemporary Art, which stand back to back in the park near the metro Bellas Artes. The latter’s chunky Botero horse statue out front makes it easy to spot, while Bellas Artes faces the street José Miguel de La Barra.

Parque Forestal is popular among runners, walkers and families. On Sunday afternoons, street performers get together in the park to practice acrobatics and juggling, and once a month, there is an open-air flea market where anyone can register to sell household goods such as books and clothing. In the summer, the spots under the leafy platano oriental trees are the most coveted.

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La Chascona

La Chascona

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Beloved Chilean poet and politician Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto – otherwise known as Pablo Neruda (1904–1973) – helped design this quirky, nautical-themed home for himself and his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, for whom La Chascona (“tangle-haired woman”) is named.

Bursting with Neruda´s odd collections and romantic personality, the house serves as unique insight into one of the most important figures in the country´s recent history. Music boxes, exotic artifacts, original chinaware, toys, antiques, and an overwhelming library with thousands of books are only part of the appeal; also on display are a replica of his Nobel Prize (presented in 1971 for literature) and a portrait of Urrutia by the famous artist Diego Rivera, which holds a secret of its own.

Though later vandalized by dictator Pinochet´s men, La Chascona has been restored and is now open to the public via tours.

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La Vega Central Market

La Vega Central Market

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While the salmon-colored Mercado Central building is a self-contained, orderly area with impressive wrought-iron architecture and orderly seating areas, La Vega is anything but. This is Santiago’s main market for the purchase of fruit, vegetables, and meat, and also disposable containers and bags, items made of wicker, and even some terra cotta dishes from the nearby town of Pomaire. But most visitors come here for the controlled chaos, the bustle, and of course, to spy some foods you might not find at home.

Different areas are home to different kinds of foods, with a wholesale berry section, an area of Peruvian goods (where you’ll find sweet potatoes and purple corn), and even an area just for hot peppers, including merquén, a spicy smoky mix of hot pepper with cilantro seeds and salt.

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Sculpture Park Museum (Parque de Las Esculturas)

Sculpture Park Museum (Parque de Las Esculturas)

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This peaceful park along the Mapocho River features several different types of sculpture, from representational to geometric and abstract, in natural materials such as stones, and also some of more distinctive pieces, such as a yellow cage-like structure, and a large metal cube made of parallel bars. The sculpture park is easily found by exiting the metro at Pedro de Valdivia and heading north, and you will recognize immediately that you are headed in the right direction as you cross over the Mapocho river on a bridge that is also dotted with sculptures. Alternatively, on your way out of Cerro San Cristobal, take a taxi or walk down to the Pedro de Valdivia side and walk a few peaceful blocks through the tony Pedro de Valdivia Norte neighborhood before entering the park.

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Vitacura

Vitacura

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The name of this street, and the neighborhood that surrounds it, is synonymous with fairly close-in luxury in Santiago. It’s just to the north of sprawling (but also pricey) Las Condes, and contains some of the highest-valued real estate in the city, including world class hotels, restaurants, shopping, and one of the nicest urban parks you’re likely to visit in South America.

Shopping takes place on Vitacura itself, and then on two main tree-lined boulevards called Nueva Costanera and Alonso de Córdoba, where there is loads of shopping for clothing and home design, including international boutiques, and a couple of local stores. For restaurants, choose from several reservations-only, dress up restaurants on Nueva Costanera, many of which have won awards, including recently, Boragó, which was named one of the top 50 restaurants in South America.

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Plaza Sotomayor

Plaza Sotomayor

82 Tours and Activities

This one-stop Valparaiso destination is home to plenty of Chilean history, art and culture. As a result, travelers will find lots to explore on a visit to Plaza Sotomayor. Named after Rafael Sotomayor, this popular city square lies in the middle of the city’s historic district. Visitors can get up close to the Chilean Navy headquarters, and pay homage to fallen sailors at the plaza’s central monument dedicated to the Battle of Iquique. Afterwards travelers can make a stop at the National Council of Culture and the Arts before wandering to the nearby Customs House or Estacion Puerto, where commuter trains arrive and depart from other Chilean cities.

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Cerro Concepcion

Cerro Concepcion

57 Tours and Activities

Perhaps the most scenic of Valparaiso’s popular cerros, Cerro Concepcion is home to quaint shops, unique art galleries and picturesque views of the stunning Chilean countryside—as well as a whole lot of rolling hills. On clear days visitors can gaze out over the dunes of Concon and even see as far as far off Vina.

The climb to Cerro Concepcion may be steep, but quiet cafes perfect for people watching offer up the ideal place for travelers to catch their breath. Afterwards, the hidden side streets, colorful murals decorating old building walls and spectacular views offer up enough reason to wander slowly from the heights of Valparaiso Heaven back to the reality down below.

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Ascensor El Peral

Ascensor El Peral

39 Tours and Activities

Ascensor El Peral may not be Valparaiso’s oldest elevator, but visitors say this classic ascensor offers a quick trip to Cerro Alegre and the city’s Museu de Bellas Artes. The rickety ride saves travelers the trouble of climbing steep—if scenic—slopes. While the trip itself isn’t necessarily picturesque, quiet overlooks offer up a chance to take in the view. Visitors can take another ascensor, the nearby Concepcion—the city’s oldest elevator, down the hills for a slightly different look at the landscapes.

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Paseo Gervasoni

Paseo Gervasoni

33 Tours and Activities

Travelers who want a taste of culture and local life will find what they seek on a stroll through the Paseo Gervasoni. This popular walking street winds through massive murals of colorful art depicting images of daily life, portraits of famous Chileans and abstract drawings as well. Visitors say it is an outdoor Mecca where travelers can soak up brilliant local artwork while they also soak up the sun.

Incredible views of the crystal blue bay provide the perfect opportunity to watch ships sail in and out of the bustling harbor and a variety of restaurants, cafes and bars offer outdoor seating that’s ideal for people-watching.

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Valparaíso Historic Quarter

Valparaíso Historic Quarter

23 Tours and Activities

UNESCO declared the historic part of Valparaíso a world heritage site in 2003, and when you get here, you won’t wonder why. It’s been called the Jewel of the Pacific, or Chile’s version of San Francisco, but there’s really no comparing it to anyplace you’ve ever been, and you’ll just have to come see it yourself.

The city is split into two main parts, the first of these being the “plan” or flat section, where you’ll find the port, the bus station, the market, and pleasant Muelle Barón (a pier) where you can sit and enjoy the view of the water. The second part, the more eye-catching bit, is the series of hills on which most of Porteños live. There are lively (and connected) Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción, where there are cafés and restaurants and places to stay, and the Paseo Gervasoni where some of the best views are had.

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Baburizza Palace (Palacio Baburizza)

Baburizza Palace (Palacio Baburizza)

19 Tours and Activities

The art nouveau Baburizza Palace was built in 1916 and got its name after Pascual Baburizza, a Croatian businessman living in Chile, took it as his private home in 1925. Baburizza collected paintings from his travels through Europe, and upon his death, his collection and estate were given to the city of Valparaiso.

Today the Baburizza Palace houses the Museo de Bellas Artes, Valparaiso’s fine arts museum. Besides Baburizza’s collection of nineteenth and twentieth century European paintings, the museum also showcases a collection of fine art by prominent Chilean artists. The building itself is worth seeing, even for those otherwise not interested in fine art. A nice little onsite cafe is a great place to relax over a cup of coffee and enjoy the view.

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Ascensor Concepcion

Ascensor Concepcion

17 Tours and Activities

Built in 1883, Ascensor Concepcion is the city’s oldest elevator. Once powered by steam, today this electric ride sends travelers up to the Concepcion Cerro, where they are met with charming cobble streets, colorful homes and a handful of cafes, restaurants and bars that serve lunch, dinner and coffee el fresco.

While travelers warn the ancient carriages can feel a little risky, the view from the top (and energy saved by not making the climb on foot) is worth the jarring ride. The elevator makes regular trips, which means cars are rarely crowded and visitors will likely find one departing almost as soon as they arrive.

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