My name is Berni. I’m a psychopedagogue who works in the education sector in schools. I love photography, traveling and hiking. I was born and live in Santiago, Chile. Everything was quiet in my life until I took a solo trip for the first time to Torres del Paine National Park. It was just me, my camera and my backpack. Since that unforgettable experience, I have been traveling the country searching for the best hidden gems of Chile.
My travels in Chile have taken me to the extreme north and to the deep south. I have seen the vast desert landscapes of Atacama and the lush rainforests of Patagonia. I have visited the Chilean highlands and seen the great glaciers of the southern regions – and still I have many destinations to tick off my list. Some of my favorite places are San Pedro de Atacama, Araucania Andina, Carretera Austral and Torres del Paine National Park.
On my list are the islands of Juan Fernandez and Rapa Nui. I would also like to see the end of the world: Puerto Williams with its southernmost hike and why not Antarctica too. Chile has such a variety of landscapes, each one different from the other. You can be in the world’s driest desert and in a few hours by plane you are in the Valdivian forest. Chile is a land of contrast. Wherever you go, you will be accompanied by the Andes and the Pacific.
My Favorite Place in Chile: Conguillio National Park
Out of all the places I have explored in Chile, there is one that stands out: Conguillio National Park. I first visited the park in 2019 and since then I have returned many times, during different seasons. I must say that it gets more beautiful each time. The setting is like something from Jurassic Park – with ancient trees contrasting with the remains of lava left by the eruptions of Llaima Volcano. In addition, I have met wonderful people here.
10 Hidden Gems of Chile
You could describe the entire country of Chile as a “hidden gem”. However, there are a few stunning areas which, for whatever reason, seem to get overlooked. Most head to Santiago, Atacama and Torres del Paine – and while those regions are great – there is so much more to discover in this long and beautiful country. So, without further ado, here are 10 hidden gems in Chile that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.
1. Desierto Florido, Atacama Desert
Who would have thought that in the world’s driest desert there was the chance to witness a sea of colorful flowers rising up from the earth? I think it’s something that every traveler to South America should see. Yet, this experience can be notoriously difficult to plan as it happens sporadically once every several years, usually after intense rains. With enough rain, the flower seeds buried underground germinate and begin to bloom.
2. Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert
Valle de la Luna is an absolutely mystical destination! It’s a huge valley of dunes and hills made up of various types of sand, rock and salt. Being there feels like you are on a lunar surface, especially at sunset when the sun dresses the valley in warm orange tones. Valle de la Luna is located near the town of San Pedro de Atacama, so you can easily book a tour or organize your own transport from there if you are staying in this ancient village.
3. Archipielago Juan Fernandez
Archipielago Juan Fernandez is situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 600 kms west of Valparaiso. The three islands here (Robinson Crusoe, Santa Clara and Alejandro Selkirk) are characterized by wild landscapes, unique vegetation and abundant wildlife. Although, arriving at Juan Fernandez is no easy task. Once you have found a way to get here, you can discover lush forests, a small desert (believe it or not) and see large groups of fur seals.
4. Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Another island situated off the Pacific is Rapa Nui, otherwise known as Easter Island. This geographically and culturally remarkable island is home to Moai statues, tropical beaches, splendid reefs and jaw-dropping volcanoes. In 1995, Rapa Nui was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its “legacy of the Rapa Nui culture”. This Polynesian culture spawned here cerca A.D. 300 and left behind remnants of a thriving society.
5. Cerros de Valparaiso
The Historic Quarter of Valparaiso is also recognized by UNESCO. Walking through the labyrinth of stairs, sidewalks and passages in the hills of Valparaiso is such a fun way to spend the day. You will uncover street art, colorful murals and sweeping views of the sea at every turn. This city is a great place to hangout in for a couple of days to experience a bohemian and party culture, making it one of the best hidden gems of Chile.
6. Conguillio National Park
Conguillio National Park is my favorite place in all of Chile and there are so many reasons why this is the case. The park is surrounded by ancient Araucaria forests (a native tree), lakes, lagoons and the formidable Llaima Volcano that looks over the entire region. Conguillio is a jewel that must be visited several times, during each different season, to see its varying qualities and to connect with nature on the deepest level possible.
7. Carretera Austral
The ultimate road trip in Chile consists of driving over 1,200 kilometers along the Carretera Austral. For those who can’t travel the route by car or motorbike, there is also the option to go via bus or hitchhiking. It begins in Puerto Montt and ends in Villa O’Higgins. Along the way, travelers can expect to pass through several notable towns and the Aysen region which is home to waterfalls, glaciers, fjords, mountains and Marble Caves.
8. San Rafael Lagoon & Glacier
A dream came true for me when I saw the San Rafael Glacier. Traveling by catamaran, I witnessed icebergs and pieces of ice floating in the water until we encountered a massive wall of ancient ice that rose in front of our eyes. The glacier here is one of the major outlets of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. A classic custom is to toast a glass of whiskey while gazing at the natural gem. It’s necessary just to recover from the awe of it all!
9. Torres del Paine National Park
Despite being well known, and not technically one of the hidden gems of Chile, it would be remiss of me to not mention Torres del Paine National Park on this list because it’s too magnificent to leave out. It’s a favorite for those who love wild nature, trekking and photography. Wherever you go hiking and exploring, the “horns” of Torres del Paine will be there in the background to inspire you. If you are lucky, you might even spot cougars!
My first solo trip was at Torres del Paine and for this reason it will forever remain close to my heart. I will never forget the moment when I saw the sunrise at the foot of Torres del Paine. That second, in which the sun appeared with its golden light and started to illuminate the massive rock formations bit by bit into an intense orange color, was one of the best travel experiences I have ever had and it inspired me to continue exploring Chile.
Not only was it my first solo trip but it was also my first major trek, my first experience up a mountain and the first stop on the itinerary. It made me realize that I am capable of achieving everything I set my mind to. Also, thanks to that moment, I decided I wanted to hike to discover more places in my own backyard. I was inspired to visit remote places that you can only reach by taking long treks, big adventures and effortful excursions.
10. Reserva Natural Pinguino Rey
Reserva Natural Pinguino Rey is unique because it’s home to one of the largest penguins in the world, the king penguin. Only the emperor penguin beats it for size. The nature reserve of Pinquino Rey is a treasure trove of biodiversity and archaeological remains, spanning a massive territory with hardly any signs of human civilization. And it’s situated right at the bottom of Chile, at the end of the world. Does it get any better than that?!
Immerse Yourself in the Real Chile
When you travel to Chile, you will realize that the main characteristic of the locals is their hard work ethic. Chilean people are very hardworking. We are a country that has been hit by natural disasters and that has forged us into people who never give up in the face of adversity. Chileans are united and we are always looking out for our loved ones. Everything is about solidarity – for our family, friends, community and even travelers who visit us.
The culture of Chile is just as diverse as the landscapes. The best way for visitors to immerse themselves in the local life of each destination is to listen to the stories of the local people. Try to brush up on your Spanish, so you can at least hold a basic conversation. You will get plenty of chances to converse with people as you travel the country top to bottom – from tour guides and hostel workers, to local craftsmen and taxi drivers.
A big part of this diverse culture is the gastronomy. It’s varied, mainly due to the different cultures that have formed in the north and south, but something that is always present is a food called empanadas! We eat these everywhere. I have tried empanadas in small and large sizes, both fried and baked, in the north and the south, on the beach and in the mountains. It’s a staple food that you can rely on while exploring my country.
Empanadas are filled with different kinds of meat, seafood, vegetables, cheese and there are even sweet ones. I believe that the best place to sample Chilean gastronomy are the “picadas”. Each city and region has their own picadas that offer traditional dishes, homemade food or fast food. Another thing not to miss is the wine. We export our labels all around the world and if you have never tried Chilean wine, well now is your chance!
Tips for Experiencing the Hidden Gems of Chile
In Chile, there is accommodation for all tastes. Visitors can find hotels like Montana Magica Lodge in Huilo-Huilo that seems to be set in a fairytale, completely blended with the surrounding forests. Another lodging that I know of is Posada Los Arriesgados in Araucania – a cozy guesthouse in the middle of the countryside attended by its owners with an absolutely welcoming atmosphere. It’s on the way to Conguillio National Park.
Or you could stay in hostels which is the cheaper option. At these places you only pay for the bed and share your room with other travelers from around the world. I have done that in Punta Arenas and San Pedro de Atacama but I think by far the best experiences are found in nature where you can sleep in a hotel or camp in a tent under the stars. That is my favorite type and the one I recommend to everyone coming to see Chile.
My country is varied in its geography and climate – therefore, it’s necessary to define what type of trip you want. Do you want to be guided around on tours or do you want to backpack? Do you want to visit cities or would you prefer to go hiking? A useful tool is Instagram. You can find other travelers who have posted reels detailing step by step how to get to each place. I would say that all the hidden gems of Chile are already on reels!