One month in Chile sounds like a long time, but when you’re talking about a country that is 4,300 kilometres in length, that’s a whole lot of ground to cover!
When we were first planning our trip to Chile I naively thought a month would be plenty of time to travel the full length of the country. I really wanted to make it all the way down to Patagonia (and beyond) and looking at a map it seemed doable; in reality, one month was barely enough time to cover half the length of the country.
Our travels primarily focused on Northern and Central Chile with a quick hop over to Easter Island, and while I may not have gotten to see the majestic mountain ranges further south, I feel like I got a pretty good taste of the country. For anyone planning a similar trip, here’s a breakdown of my month-long Chile travel itinerary:
// 2 days //
We crossed over to Arica from Bolivia by bus and used our 2 short days in the city to catch up on rest and enjoy the warm temperatures. After a few weeks braving the altitude with cups of coca tea and woollen alpaca sweaters, we were ready to enjoy the ocean breeze and bask in the sunshine. Since Arica sits right on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, this proved to be the perfect place to unwind.
As you can probably tell from the lack of photos from Arica, we weren’t feeling particularly ambitious in terms of sightseeing, but if you are up for some exploring, you can climb El Morro de Arica, a hill that looms 110 meters over the city; visit Iglesia San Marcos, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, the same one responsible for the Eiffel Tower); or stop by Museo de Sitio Colon 10, which is a small museum featuring 32 mummies that were excavated on site.
Another alternative is getting a taxi to drive you out to Museo Arqueologico San Miguel de Azapa, which is located 12 kilometres outside of Arica. This museum is home to some of the oldest mummies in the world!
We filled our brief visit to the city with lots of walks and foodie outings, and coincidentally ended up discovering one of the best restaurants we have ever eaten at! If you find yourself in Arica, you have to go to El Chalan. They specialize in Peruvian food, and after eating dinner here on my first night, I ended up coming back again and again. Their shrimp risotto is to die for – so rich and creamy – and I also loved their ceviche which was made to perfection and transported me right back to Lima.
San Pedro de Atacama
// 4 days //
From there it was onwards to the Atacama Desert. The town of San Pedro is quite sleepy and there isn’t a whole lot to do here aside from enjoying the cafes, people watching in the square, and visiting the adobe church. That being said, you don’t come to San Pedro to spend your time in the town! This place is meant to be used as a base while you enjoy some really cool day trips around the desert.
Some of our favourite day trips included a sunrise tour of El Tatio Geysers, complete with a soak in the hot springs and a delicious pancake breakfast; a sunset tour of The Valley of the Moon, featuring breathtaking landscapes set aglow by the setting sun; and Sam also did a full day tour of the Altiplanic Lagoons, where he got to see white and pink flamingoes.
If you luck out with clear skies you can also consider a Stargazing Tour, where you get to spot stars, planets, and constellations using fixed telescopes. Just keep in mind that these tours are weather dependant and they tend to fill up fast.
// 7 days //
We passed through Santiago a total of 3 times on our travels through Chile – mostly to catch buses and planes. Our time in the city amounted to about a week, but in retrospect, I’d argue you can cover most of Santiago in 3-4 solid days.
First up, let’s start with the views. Santiago boasts the Andes in the horizon (and while the air can be quite smoggy!) you can still get some pretty cool panoramic views of the mountain range from either Sky Costanera or by riding the funicular to the top of Cerro San Cristobal.
I would also recommend visiting Cerro Santa Lucia, an ancient volcano turned park in the heart of the city. The hill is home to Neptune’s Fountain, Hidalgo’s Castle, and plenty of spiralling staircases and winding trails. Another option for a green escape in the heart of the city is Parque Forestal, an urban park that runs along the Mapocho River.
For the art lovers, there’s no shortage of museums including the National Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art, which are back to back. Or if it’s history you crave, you can choose from the National History Museum, the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, or the Museum of Memory and Human Rights.
As for food experiences, one of our favourite dishes we tried in Santiago was the chorrillana. To me, this is the Chilean version of a Canadian gourmet poutine. Just picture a heaping plate of french fries topped off with fried onions, sausage, shaved beef, olives, eggs and just about anything you can imagine.
// 4 days //
Visiting Valparaiso felt like floating through a rainbow. This has got to be one of the most colourful cities in the world!
Since Valparaiso is all about the street art, we started our visit by joining the Free Walking Tour to help us get familiar with the city. The tour mainly focused on Cerro Concepción and Cerro Alegre, where we spotted some really cool murals.
No visit to a port city would have been complete without a tour of the harbour, so we also managed to squeeze that into the schedule. We lucked out with a few unusually sunny days, so we decided to do the 30 minute tour that departs from Muelle Prat. The cost was 3,000 Chilean Pesos and we got to see giant container ships, tug boats, and navy vessels, while the guide talked about the port’s history.
Another cool place to check out in Valparaiso is La Sebastiana. This was the home of Pablo Neruda, Chile’s most famed poet and writer, and it has a pretty eclectic decor. La Sebastiana is 5 stories high and it’s quite artsy and eccentric inside. Upon admission you’ll get a headset, so make sure you turn it on to hear all about Neruda’s dress-up dinner parties where he would often go through several costume changes to stump his already inebriated guests.
Viña del Mar
// 1 day //
Since Viña del Mar is only 8 kilometres away from Valparaiso, we hopped on the metro and took the 15 minute ride out to the popular seaside resort.
We opted for a super relaxed day, so instead of ticking off attractions, we just walked along the Costanera with the sea breeze whipping in our hair, enjoyed the cool sand at the beach, and then grabbed seafood for lunch. Once again, you can probably tell we weren’t feeling particularly ambitious by the lack of photos here!
If you come with more time, you may also want to visit Wulff Castle, which is perched right by the sea; go for a walk through Parque Quinta Vergara, one of the many parks that gives Viña del Mar its status as a Garden City; or spend an afternoon at the Museum of Archaeology and History Francis Fonck, which boasts a moai and an extensive collection of artifacts from Easter Island.
But now let’s talk about music; every year during the third week of February, Viña del Mar hosts the largest and best known music festival in all of Latin America: Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar. They’ve had singers like Shakira, Ricky Martin, Chayanne, Marc Anthony, and Carlos Santana grace the stage, so if you’re into Latin music it might be worth planning your visit to coincide with this event (just keep in mind you’ll have to book things really far in advance!)
// 7 days //
And now for one of the absolute highlights, let’s talk about the magical place that is Easter Island. I’ve already written about how you can travel Easter Island on a budget and I’m working on another massive post that breaks down my one week itinerary, but in the meantime, here’s a look at what we got up to.
Aside from seeing moai, I wanted to climb volcanoes (duh!), so on our first day on the island we walked to the outskirts of town and found the trail that leads up to Rano Kau. This extinct volcano sits on the southern tip of the island and it’s one of the coolest things I have ever seen. While you can’t set foot inside the crater – that’s a protected area – you can get some amazing views of the wetlands. Rano Kau has its own microclimate and its own vegetation which differs from the rest of the island. From here, you can continue on to Orongo Village, a stone village and ceremonial centre which is just a bit further up the road.
One of the best decisions we made on Easter Island was renting a car for a few days. This gave us the mobility and flexibility to cruise around the island wherever and whenever we wanted. We drove out to Rano Roraku to see the moai quarry, we went to Ahu Tongariki to watch the sunrise over the 15 moai, we visited Ahu Akivi to see the only moai on the island that look out to sea, we dipped our toes in Anakena Beach, and so much more.
Add in a few travel days to get from place to place, and just like that one month was gone! We may not have made it all the way down to Patagonia like I initially wanted to, but I have to admit that our month was full of surprises. Also, this gives me an excuse to come back and explore Southern Chile another time – hopefully with more than a month to spare!
Have you travelled in Chile?
What are some destinations travellers shouldn’t miss?