Chile has been one of those countries that has surprised me. We hear the stories about how beautiful and diverse it is but I really was not expecting this. From the driest desert in the world up north, to Patagonian ice fields down south, Chile has it all.
San Pedro de Atacama (3 days)
San Pedro de Atacama is the natural gateway to Chile if you’re coming from Bolivia. I entered the country through a border crossing that can best be described as a remote outpost in the desert. This border crossing was easily the best place to observe the stark contrast between rich Chile and its poorer counterpart, Bolivia.
I never wrote a full blog on San Pedro de Atacama but the town is tiny and is known to be a base to explore the Atacama desert and the incredible landscapes that it contains. The Atacama desert is meant to be the driest place on earth and it’s easy to see why when you’re there. I spent most of my time on a rented bicycle, cycling through Valle de la Luna (‘Valley of the Moon’ – due to its similar appearance) and taking in the extreme setting. The town of San Pedro de Atacama is quaint too – dusty streets, small bars and restaurants everywhere and quite a chilled feeling all round. If you’re into star-gazing, this is the place to be but make sure your trip doesn’t coincide with a full moon (as mine did) as tours don’t operate 3 days before and after the full moon due to the moonlight inhibiting great star-gazing.
Easter Island (4 days (plus 1 day transit from San Pedro))
Easter Island (or Isla de Pascua as it’s also referred to) is a tiny island located in the middle of the South Pacific ocean, a 5 hour flight from Santiago. It’s famous for its association with the Rapa Nui civilisation that inhabited the island and constructed the famous Moai (the Easter Island ‘heads’). The island is mysterious and one of the most rugged and interesting places I’ve seen.
LATAM has a direct flight here once a day from Santiago. I came from San Pedro de Atacama so spent a night in Santiago before the flight as a result of my flights not synchronising with each other.
You can read more about Easter Island and check out some of my photos here.
Santiago (6 days)
I’m the first to admit that 6 days in Santiago is too much but I really loved the city and was in need of a break from the constant moving around. Upon returning from Easter Island, I found a great hostel that felt like a home and made myself very comfortable between there, the local coffee shop and a great restaurant just up the road.
You’ll definitely find yourself being struck by how European Santiago feels – parks, boulevards, coffee shops everywhere. It’s easy to like it. Be sure to visit the Fish Market and try the shrimp and cheese pastries. If you need to stock up on trekking and camping gear, there is a gigantic shopping mall in the Costanera Centre (the tallest building in South America) that has many outdoor shops. It’s easy to get to on the really efficient metro system. The Museum of Memory and Human Rights is also a must-see for an education in Chile’s history.
Pucon (4 days)
Leaving Santiago, I made my way down south to the Chilean lakes district. The first stop was Pucon, a town famous for the semi-active volcano (Villarrica) looming overhead. The town is beautiful, tiny and loaded with an excellent variety of restaurants and coffee shops.
I loved Pucon and spent a great deal of time enjoying the outdoors, be it kayaking on Lake Villarrica or hiking in the Huehurque National Park. You can read more about my time in Pucon here.
Puerto Varas (4 days)
Another small town in the lakes district, this one with a history of German colonisation. You can see the German influence to this day in the architectural style of the town. Puerto Varas has a setting that’s hard to beat – pretty much on a lake with volcanoes surrounding it.
Here is my blog post on Puerto Varas and some of its smaller neighbours.
Punta Arenas (3 days)
For me, Punta Arenas was the entry point for southern Patagonia. I flew in from the lakes district and planned to spend 2 nights there. My goal was to see the penguins which required a full day to get out to Tierra del Fuego. It’s well worth the effort and you’ll be rewarded with incredible sightings of a colony of King Penguins. Depending on the season, Magdelena island is well worth a visit, but the season only opens in October as the penguins will still be migrating there before then.
You can read about my time in Tierra del Fuego here.
Puerto Natales (3 days in total)
Puerto Natales is a few hours away from Punta Arenas and is the base town for those wanting to conquer Torres del Paine. It’s your typical tourist town full of backpackers, trekking shops and expensive restaurants. It’s nice enough but it’s real purpose is to get you ready and see you off to Torres del Paine and beyond.
Torres Del Paine (5 days)
It’s Torres Del Paine, what more does one need to say. I think it will be difficult to find a trek that offers such a concentrated amount of diverse sites as this one has to offer in 5 days.
You can check out my guide and photo blog here.
That’s it folks. Once I’d finished the W circuit, I made my way into Argentina. Chile is a spectacular country and easily one of my favourites so far. If you’re looking for a unique travel destination, you need to consider it!