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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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Anakena Beach
25 Tours and Activities

With its stretch of white sand fringed with Tahitian coconut palms, a backdrop of grassy hills and ocean waters that rarely dip below 64 degrees F (18 degrees C) even in the winter months, few places come as close to paradise as Anakena Beach. One of only three beaches on Easter Island, Anakena also plays an important part in the history of the island. It was here that King Ariki Hotu Matu’a first landed on Easter Island and later, the beach became a spiritual center for the Miru tribe–the remnants of which can be seen in the seven beautifully restored moai of Ahu Nau Nau and the single moai of Ahu Ature Huki that overlook the beach.

Aside from its striking setting and dramatically situated moai, the main draw to Anakena Beach is, of course, the ocean and the warm, clear waters make the ideal spot for swimming, surfing and snorkeling.

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Ahu Tongariki
24 Tours and Activities

With 15 gigantic stone-carved moai lined up on a 200-foot-long platform and a remote location framed by the looming Rano Raraku volcano and the crashing ocean, Ahu Tongariki is nothing short of spectacular. For many visitors, this is the star attraction of Easter Island, and looking up at the towering figures, the largest of which stands 14 meters tall, it’s hard not to be in awe of the Rapa Nui people, who achieved the seemingly impossible feat of carving and moving the 30-ton stone boulders to their waterfront perch.

Ahu Tongariki is the largest ceremonial site ever made on the island, featuring the largest number of moai ever erected on a single site, and each statue is unique, with only one featuring the iconic red-rock “pukao,” or ceremonial headdress. Even more astounding, considering the size and weight of the statues, is that the site was almost completely destroyed by a tsunami in 1960, with the rocks flung more than 90 meters inland.

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Ahu Akivi
14 Tours and Activities

Restored by archaeologists William Mulley and Gonzalo Figueroa in 1960, the seven grand moai that make up Ahu Akivi are among the most visited attractions of Easter Island. Dating back to the 15th century, the moai are thought to have been built in three stages and are unique in their placement—not only is Ahu Akivi one of few moai sites located inland, but the moai are the only ones on the island that face toward the ocean.

Legend has it that the seven identical moai of Ahu Akivi were built in honor of the seven explorers sent to discover the island by founder Hotu Matu'a; thus the statues look out to sea toward their home land. Another theory on their placement is that the site was used as a celestial observatory—the moai face the sunset during the Spring Equinox and look away from the sunrise of the Autumn Equinox.

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La Moneda Palace (Palacio de la Moneda)
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115 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
107 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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Santa Lucia Hill (Cerro Santa Lucia)
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95 Tours and Activities

Cerro Santa Lucia is one of two hills that overlook Santiago, where in 1541 Pedro de Valdivia founded the city long before Chile existed as an independent country. At the time, the hill was called Huelén by the indigenous people; a nearby street (by metro Salvador) still bears that name.

The hill rises about 230 feet over the surrounding part of the city, and there are excellent views of downtown from several terraces up there. Cerro Santa Lucia has three main constructions: the main entrance on the Alameda, with its wide, curving staircase, fronted by a fountain and backed by a yellow mansion; the fort at the top from which the best views of downtown can be seen; and the Castillo Hidalgo, which often hosts large international events.

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San Cristobal Hill (Cerro San Cristobal)
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71 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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Bellavista
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66 Tours and Activities

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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More Things to Do in Chile

Barrio Lastarria

Barrio Lastarria

27 Tours and Activities

Lastarria is one of a few small, mostly cobblestoned neighborhoods in Santiago, and it is definitely one known for its indie fashion, antiques and popular restaurants. Lastarria heads north from the Alameda (Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins), near the Universidad Católica metro station and over a few blocks to the street Merced, an area with esoteric boutiques and stores such as Plop and Tienda Nacional that sell locally published books.

There is always something going on in between the Alameda and Merced, with antiques at the Plaza Mulato Gil and exhibits at the MAVI (Museum of Visual Arts) on the Merced side. The area is home to several shops that have taken space in an old mansion and sell trendy clothing from new designers as well as woven copper and crin (horesehair) jewelry, which is unique to Chile. Lastarria also encompasses some smaller streets, such as quiet Rosal, often the site of local photo shoots because of its old, colonial-style architecture.

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Milodon Cave (Cueva del Milodon)

Milodon Cave (Cueva del Milodon)

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25 Tours and Activities

In 1896, German explorer Eberhard Hermann entered a cave and found strange remains inside, the fur and bones of the extinct Mylodon sloth. Named after the giant ground sloth found within, Milodon Cave (Cueva del Milodon) is the largest of several caves within Cueva del Milodon National Monument. But the sloth wasn’t the only inhabitant of the caves. Remains of other extinct species, including a saber-toothed cat and a dwarf horse, as well as evidence of human habitation from as early as 6,000 BC have been found within the caves.

As visitors enter the monument, they’re greeted by a full-size replica of the mylodon sloth, standing 13 feet (4 meters) tall. The mylodon was said to resemble a giant bear, though the mammal was in fact a very large herbivore that went extinct over 10,000 years ago. A viewing point atop the cathedral-sized cave affords visitors views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers and the Eberhard fjord.

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Grey Glacier

Grey Glacier

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Located in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, Chile’s Grey Glacier flows south into Grey Lake, though warmer temperatures in recent summers have seen the glacier retreat somewhat. A boat trip to see the Grey Glacier up close is one of the most spectacular excursions on offer inside Torres del Paine National Park. Seeing this ancient ice up close brings out its spectrum of colors and unusual shapes, and the sounds of the ice breaking apart are unlike anything else on earth.

Another way to experience Grey Glacier is to take the strenuous day hike from Paine Grande which leads to a lookout point where huge icebergs can be seen floating on the surface of Grey Lake in front of the glacier. The Grey Glacier is one of a few within the national park that visitors can trek across the surface of. Unlike the other glaciers in the park, this glacier has an island of land dividing it in two.

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Plaza Sotomayor

Plaza Sotomayor

87 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

51 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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La Sebastiana

La Sebastiana

48 Tours and Activities

La Sebastiana, up on Cerro Bellavista in Valparaíso, one of famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s houses-turned-museums is well worth the trip for a number of reasons. One, it will get you off the main tourist hills of Cerro Concepción and Cerro Alegre, into a quieter part of Valaparaíso where grandmas come out and sweep the front stoop every morning. The second of course, is the museum itself. It’s set inside a grassy yard, with a café at the entrance. There are descriptive texts available at the front door, and museum docents in every room, as well as an audio guide available in several languages. Of all of the three houses turned museums that famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda left behind, this is perhaps that one that most encourages you to look out the windows, with multicolored houses perched on the hills all around, and an expansive view of the ocean.

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Paseo 21 de Mayo

Paseo 21 de Mayo

41 Tours and Activities

So many of Central and South America’s major cities have winding promenades where locals gather for evening strolls and afternoon festivals. But few are as scenic as Paseo 21 de Mayo in Valparaiso.

This epic walkway climbs through the hills and provides impressive views of city skylines, as well as the colorful homes that make up Cerro Playa Ancha. Visitors can wander through tree-lined neighborhoods and well-kept gardens, relax in a cool covered gazebo or simply spend the day exploring one of the area’s most delightful (and inexpensive) highlights. Paseo 21 de Mayo is the perfect place to capture photos of the epic landscapes and enjoy an afternoon taste of local life.

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Ascensor El Peral

Ascensor El Peral

37 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

32 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

22 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)

16 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

16 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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El Tatio Geysers

El Tatio Geysers

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66 Tours and Activities

Rising toward the fading stars high atop the Andes, El Tatio Geysers erupt from more than 80 vents into wraith-like plumes, which dance in the first crisp golden rays of dawn. It's not quite the largest geyser field in the world (it's the third), or the highest (it's close), but combined with those snowcapped volcanoes that encircle its steaming expanse, it is perhaps the most magnificent.

In addition to the searing-hot fumeroles and geysers, the field has a few more inviting geological features. A large 35°C (95°F) hot spring lets you soak away the Andes' stubborn chill, while bubbling mud pots offer the perfect masque for cleansing away weeks of grime from the road. Relax.

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Santiago Central Market (Mercado Central de Santiago)

Santiago Central Market (Mercado Central de Santiago)

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68 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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