- One must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves. Machiavelli Niccolo
The tourist attractions in Chile will surprise many and take the breath away of everyone else. The tourist industry in the country isn’t as popular as the rest of South America because it simply isn’t as exposed as Machu Pichu for example.
You can find a great combination of history, natural splendors, and even something for the artsy crowd. The Atacama Desert is one of the most unique places in the world and the Chilean Patagonia is something not to miss. There is significant work by Eiffel (Eiffel Tower) so make sure to look out for the architecture.
Things to see in Chile
1. Easter Island
First visited by Europeans in 1722, the magnificent yet remote Easter Island - so named by a Dutch Explorer who first set eyes on it on Easter Sunday - has been inhabited for thousands of years by Polynesians. Despite being more than 3,500 kilometers away from mainland Chile, this fascinating island with its remarkable stone sculptures remains the country's most recognizable attraction. All told, 887 of these statues, known as Moai, created by the island's early Rapa Nui population, have been identified, most of them now protected by Rapa Nui National Park (the island itself has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The most impressive collection is at Ahu Tongariki where 15 of them have been re-erected on the island's largest Moai platform, or "ahu." Also of interest are the many "hare paenga" ruins near ahu sites consisting of stones that once formed the foundation of boat-shaped houses. Other highlights include the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum in Hanga Roa, the island's main community, notable for its exhibits relating to the history of the Polynesian islanders and their traditions. Hot Tip: Visiting Easter Island is best done as part of a Chilean vacation, with regular flights available from Santiago or Tahiti (flight times are approximately five hours, so expect to stay at least a couple of days).
2. Santiago: Chile's Cultural Capital
Santiago is not only the financial and business capital of Chile, it also serves as the country's cultural and entertainment center and is home to its best museums and galleries, along with excellent shopping, dining, and hotel options. Centrally located and the country's main transportation hub, Santiago is where most visitors begin their Chilean travels before heading to the Andes or other areas of outstanding natural beauty. The smartest travelers, though, will allow time to get to know Santiago. Founded in 1541 and relatively crowd-free, the city features highlights such as the Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda, a state-of-the-art cultural center occupying part of the impressive Palacio de la Moneda, and the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts, established in the 1880s with a focus on Chilean artists and boasting a large permanent collection of paintings, sculptures, and photos.
3. Chile's Lake District
Stretching for more than 330 kilometers from Temuco to Puerto Montt and resembling the alpine regions of Europe, Chile's Lake District is well worth exploring. Like its alpine cousin, this beautiful region of Andean foothills boasts rich farmland at the base of its many snowcapped volcanoes, ringed by thick forests and the kind of deep lakes that water sports enthusiasts drool over. And the connection to Europe doesn't end there. After the forced resettlement of the region's indigenous people, the Mapuche, farmers from Switzerland, Austria, and Germany arrived, bringing with them aspects of their own culture that can still be seen in the architecture of towns like Osorno and Valdivia, as well as in the region's customs and festivals. For adventure seekers, the area offers endless hiking and biking potential, along with other fun activities such as volcano climbing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, and, come winter, skiing.
4. Los Pingüinos Natural Monument
In addition to its national parks, more of Chile's important conservation efforts can be seen in its many natural monuments. One of the most popular is Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, just 35 kilometers northeast of the city of Punta Arenas at the southern tip of the island and incorporating the beautiful Magdalena and Marta Islands. As its name suggests (pingüinos is Spanish for penguins), the monument is home to one of Chile's largest penguin colonies, consisting of some 60,000 breeding pairs of Magellanic penguins. Accessible only by guided boat tours, the islands are also home to large colonies of seals and sea lions. Another of Chile's important natural monuments is El Morado, an easy drive from Santiago and site of the San Francisco Glacier and the 4,674-meter-tall Cerro El Morado mountain.
Chile's third largest city, Valparaíso, is nestled between the sea and the coastal mountain range about 112 kilometers northwest of Santiago and makes for an excellent day trip. As popular for its many old cobbled streets and unique architecture as it is for its lovely harbor and beaches, the city offers a great deal to see and do. Many tourist attractions focus on the country's rich maritime heritage, including Lord Cochrane's Museum, in a lovely colonial home built in 1842, and the superb Naval and Maritime Museum with its displays dealing with the War of the Pacific of 1879 between Chile and allied Peru and Bolivia, with particular emphasis on the contributions of Chile's war heroes. A related attraction is the Ironclad Huáscar in the Port of Talcahuano some 600 kilometers south of Santiago. Talcahuano's beautiful harbor - home to Chile's navy - is the base for this immaculately restored historic vessel built in 1865 in Britain and one of the only surviving such battleships of her kind.