Essential stops on a journey of a lifetime through

Chile

1. Santiago

Fly into Santagio and spend a day in Chile’s colourful capital to get your journey off to a memorable start. From soaking up the skyline from the top of San Cristobal Hill to strolling through the art-soaked streets, there’s plenty to do. Here are just five highlights…

1. Go back in time

With its medieval cathedral, neoclassical presidential offices, the cobbled streets of the Barrio París-Londres and the historic Plaza de Armas, a walk through Santiago can be like going back in time. Don’t miss the Cementerio General, a cemetery where you can find the graves of ousted president Salvador Allende and folk hero Victor Jara. 

Finish up in the National History Museum to learn more about Colombia’s storied past, and see exhibitions and artefacts from pre-Columbian culture, its colonial past, the industrial revolution and the military coup in 1973. 

2. Explore the museums 

The National History Museum is just the beginning of the city’s eclectic and plentiful range of cultural spaces. The Mirador Interactive Museum has to be the most fun. As its name suggest, this museum is all about getting hands on, and includes innovative ways to understand science and astronomy through all of the senses. 

Fashionistas will be left impressed by the Museo de la Moda which houses more than 17,000 pieces of century-spanning fashion. 

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights makes for a harrowing yet important visit, and is dedicated to the victims of the civic-military regime of 1973 and 1990. 

3. Meander the markets

Where better to soak up local life than at one of the city’s markets? Mercado Central is certainly one of the best, a busy and bustling fish market filled with the shouts of vendors and corridors lined with fresh fish from huge tuna to bright crabs. Over at La Vega Central market, meanwhile, pallets filled with a rainbow spectrum of fruit and vegetables take centre stage.

4. Admire the art

Chile’s capital has more art galleries than you could count on all your fingers and toes. The bohemian Lastarria district is one of the finest places to soak up the local art scene, and a walk here reveals boutiques with chic window designs, antique shops, trendy wine bars and cafes, bookstores, theatres, cultural centres and local art galleries. Similarly, the Italia district is a maze of antique shops, live music, interior design stores and artsy cafes. 

For more formal art viewings, head to the National Museum of Fine Arts to admire the sculptures, paintings, drawings and photographs of many Chilean artists. The Museo Ralli also celebrates local talent, with its lower floor dedicated to 20th Century Chilean art. The  Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende showcases work from some 1,400 international and national artists. 

5. Soak up the view

Climb up the San Cristóbal Hill for a panoramic view over the city’s glittering skyscrapers, surrounded by greenery and back by the Andes. Another good view of the entire city can be had from the top of the Sky Costanera tower, the highest viewpoint in Santiago. 

2. Puerto Varas

From Santiago, take a flight to Puerto Montt and take a scenic drive to the picturesque town of Puerto Varas. With its mirror-like lakes, rushing waterfalls, forest trails and dominating volcanoes, this place was custom made for adventure…

1. Go for a hike 

Where better to immerse yourself in nature than in the almost 40,000 hectares of the Alerce Andino National Park? This mountainous natural playground is covered in larch forest which is a home to a large variety of wildlife including ray fox, skunks, monito del monte (a small opossum) and even puma. Birdwatchers should keep an eye out for kingfishers as well as the mighty condor. Many hiking trails weave through the forest and following them will lead to magnificent sights such as some of the 50 lakes and natural ponds in the park, including views over the Chapo Lake and the Choices and Lenca rivers. Following the walking paths of Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park also throws up extraordinary watery views, including Lake Todos los Santos and the frothing Petrohué waterfalls.

2. Get out on the water 

Getting on the water in the Chilean Lake District is a must and there are many adventurous ways to do it. From the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park, join a boat tour to sail over the waters of the Todos Los Santos Lake, admiring the view of the snow-capped volcanoes and thick forests that surround it. At Lake Llanquihue, push off from the black sand shore and jump in a kayak to explore some of this 860 square kilometre expanse of water, gazing out at the views of the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. For a more relaxing aquatic adventure, soothe your aching bones in the thermal baths of Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. 

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3. Soak up the culture

Situated on the banks of the Llanquihue Lake, Puerto Octcay is a quaint town with a fascinating heritage. The architecture is influenced by Germany, who colonised the town in 1852, and a stroll around the town will reveal the wooden houses. The food here has also been heavily influenced by the Germans and you can try unique dishes that fuse German and Chilean flavours. 

Trailfinders says…
“From Puerto Varas, visit the magical Chiloé Island. Take the ferry from the mainland and explore the Island’s striking landscapes and unique traditions.”
See more on Trailfinders’ Classic Chile tour

3. Punta Arenas 

From Puerto Varas, make your way back to Puerto Montt to fly to the southernmost city in Chile, Punta Arenas…

Facing the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas is a city of contrasts, its colourful buildings with corrugated iron roofs set among elegant European architecture. Explore it by foot to see the churches and temples of the main square. Don’t miss the Punta Arenas Cemetery where you can see the tombs of some of the significant figures from the city’s past, and admire the architecture within the graveyard. 

Sail through the Strait of Magellan to visit the wildlife-filled Magdalena and Marta islands. At Magdalena island, you’ll be joined by some 60,000 penguins which you can observe waddling and swimming in their natural habitat. Nearby Isla Marta is famous for its sea lions as well as birds including condors. 

While on the water, keep an eye out for the humpback whales that frequent the Strait of Magellan.

4. Torres del Paine National Park

Punta Arenas is a gateway to adventure, and just up the road is the iconic Torres del Paine National Park. Here are just some of the many unforgettable travel experiences that await…

1. Go hiking 

The iconic W trek traced out the shape of a W over a 73km trail and its most famous site can be soaked up at Base Torres lookout, where the three jagged peaks that give the park its name glow purple and pink at sunrise. The trail continues to Francés Valley  where you can see and hear giant glaciers calving and crashing in the icy waters. 

Another incredible hike to be had here is the slightly longer and more challenging O circuit. At 93km, this trek stretches further north than the W Trek, affording hikers with a bird’s eye view of the spectacular Grey Glacier from the top of the 1,200m John Garner Mountain Pass. 

2. Get out on the lakes 

Torres del Paine’s awe-inspiring glaciers and giant icebergs are best seen up close, so why not jump in a kayak and paddle up to them? Kayaking across the 500m deep Lake Grey will have you craning your neck at the glistening bergs, while following the wall of the six metre wide and 30 metre high Grey Glacier is a sight that will likely be locked in your mind forever. 

Pehoe Lake also offers unforgettable views and a boat trip along its glass-like waters reveal eyefuls of the Curenos del Paine Mountains reflected in the lake’s surface. 

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