I always knew that North and South Chile were wonderful places with a huge variety of natural beauty but I didn’t expect them to be so incredibly amazing! What pushed me to visit Chile was actually my desire to reach Easter Island – a destination I dreamt of visiting since I was a child.
The easiest way to reach Easter Island is to fly from Santiago. So I said to myself that I might as well take a nice trip to Chile before visiting Rapa Nui. That’s what I did. My expectations were greatly exceeded and I’m sure I’ll go back to Chile one day as I’d love to spend more time in certain areas.
15 Days in North and South Chile
I usually like to organise my trips around the world by myself and go backpacking. This time for my 30th birthday I decided to do something different. I wanted to do something special so I gave myself a gift: a trip with Quality Group who are an Italian tour operator for small group tours.
This tour included a total itinerary of 15 days during which I would explore both North and South Chile. At the end of the trip I would have spent a few days in Easter Island before flying back to Italy. I started by flying into Santiago and exploring some of the main highlights of the city.
Then I flew to the North: Calama. From Calama, we moved to San Pedro de Atacama which was the perfect base to explore the Atacama Desert. After visiting lagoons, mountain lakes, desert valleys and geysers – I flew back to Santiago. I spent a night there before flying with my group to Patagonia.
We landed at Punta Arenas and moved to Puerto Natales. This was our starting point for Patagonia. We started our tour sailing across Ultima Esperanza reaching epic glaciers. The next day we headed to Torres del Paine: one of the most beautiful national parks I have ever seen.
Favourites of North and South Chile
The diversity in landscapes between North and South Chile is astonishing. Each place is different from the other and has its own peculiarity. If I had to choose a favourite place for each region I would pick Miscanti & Miniques Lagoons for the North and Torres del Paine for the South.
Top Spots in North and South Chile
Chile has a lot to offer for those wanting to holiday there. This long South American country is home to many beautiful sights – some of which I didn’t get the chance to see on my trip. But regarding my experience, I can say that these are the five places in each region not to be missed:
Best Places to Visit in the North of Chile
- San Pedro de Atacama: a timeless town located on an arid plateau surrounded by adobe homes and scenic landscape. Your gateway to some of the most amazing desert landscapes anywhere in the world!
- Miscanti and Miniques Lagoons: two volcanic origin lagoons characterised by surprising turquoise water and surrounded by an idyllic landscape.
- Laguna Chaxa: located in the heart of the incredible Salar de Atacama salt flat where it’s possible to see pink flamingos. A dream destination for wildlife and landscape photography enthusiasts.
- Valle de la Luna: Moon Valley – an immense valley that transports you to a lunar landscape where you can discover impressive natural sculptures.
- El Tatio Geysers: a geothermal field located at 4300 meters above sea level with more than 60 incredible geysers to witness up close.
Best Places to Visit in the South of Chile
- Serrano Glacier: a breathtaking glacier that can be reached via a boat trip and a small hike in nature.
- Balmaceda Glacier: an ancient glacier that unfortunately is retreating due to global warming but one that is beautiful to see in person.
- Grey Lake in Torres del Paine National Park: a glacially fed lake in Torres del Paine National Park with icebergs floating in the lake.
- Lake Pehoe in Torres del Paine National Park: one of the most scenic spots to photograph in Torres del Paine National Park.
- Cordillera del Paine: the famous three granite peaks of Torres del Paine National Park that stand out dramatically in the sky. It’s also possible to reach the base after a five hour trek which I couldn’t do because of a lack of time – a good reason to come back in the future for sure!
Exploring the Capital of Santiago
Santiago is a large metropolis and there were several demonstrations that sometimes resulted in acts of violence during my visit. For this reason our guide tried to take us to quiet areas and avoid zones at risk. In any case, I managed to visit the main places of interests such as the historic center.
I also visited some other sites of important historical value such as the beautiful Palacio de la Moneda. Among the places I loved the most in Santiago were the top of Cerro San Cristobal – a hill from which you can admire the city – and Parque Bicentenario, a well kept botanical garden.
But the thing I loved most about the capital of Chile was reaching the top of Sky Costanera which is the highest skyscraper in South America! This city was a fantastic introduction to the country I was about to explore.
Flying from One Place to the Next
The distances are absolutely massive especially if you’re going from North to South Chile. Since I only had 15 days in Chile, the trips were organised by plane. I took a lot of internal flights during this trip which allowed me to optimise my time by quickly reaching very distant and far away places.
If I had more time and had chosen to organise the trip independently, I would have travelled by bus. I would have needed at least one month to see all the places. My suggestion would be to take flights if you’re short on time. However, if you’ve got the time then hire a car or travel via bus.
Cultures of North and South Chile
I found the people to be kind and welcoming in both North and South Chile. Both in the north and in the south, they are proud of their traditions. I noticed that Chileans love their territory and that they are extremely attached to the natural beauty of their land – especially in the south.
I learned a wonderful thing during my trip to Chile. Hunting has been strictly prohibited throughout the country for several years now. This has led to the wild animals not being afraid of humans as they no longer see them as a threat. For this reason, you can easily spot wild animals in Chile!
Amazing Accommodation in Chile
Unlike the other trips I have done – during which I usually stay in hostels, guesthouses or B&B’s – this time I stayed in beautiful 4-star hotels. My favourite one was Hotel Remota in Puerto Natales, Patagonia. It’s a modern building which is well integrated with the surrounding environment.
The furnishings are mainly made of wood, the spaces are very wide and the rooms are reminiscent of a Scandinavian-style. The spa was beautiful too. It had large windows overlooking the fjords that you can admire while relaxing in the heated infinity pool. Does life get any better than that?
Favourite Memory: Desierto Florido
I have wonderful memories of this trip and there is one in particular that I would like to share with you. I was heading from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama with my guide and group mates in a van. We were crossing part of the great Atacama Desert. The scenery was typical of a mountain desert.
Just picture wide expanses of arid and barren land with the peaks of ancient volcanoes standing out in the background. The ocher-colored arid expanse was suddenly tinged with a bright fuchsia: thousands of flowers were covering this vast area. This was the “Desierto Florido” phenomenon.
It’s estimated that every five years the Atacama is affected by increased rainfall. This is due to the climatic fluctuations caused by El Nino which heats the waters of the Pacific. This increase in rain causes the sandy expanses to be covered in flowers. I was lucky to witness this flowering!
Need to Know Before you Go
The best time to visit is from November to March when you’re more likely to find sunny days in both North and South Chile. I visited Chile in November which coincided with the spring season. Another important thing to take into consideration is the enormous distances to be covered.
If you have only a few days available it would be worth travelling by plane or taking part in organised tours to optimise your time. Alternatively, for those who don’t have time limits, the ideal thing to do would be renting a car.
Pay attention to the altitude wherever you go! The North is on average between 2000 and 4000 meters above sea level. So those with blood circulation problems or those not used to this may be affected. I don’t have circulation issues but I often had headaches caused by the altitude.
Bring proper clothes: it’s hot in the north so don’t forget sunscreen and light clothes. On the other hand the southern region can get cold and windy (Patagonia is so windy). It’s good to have warmer clothes such as woollen sweaters, gloves and windbreakers in your suitcase!
Thanks for spending the time to read about my journey to North and South Chile. I hope it has inspired you to visit some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes in the world. Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions or would like more information on Chile!