I love Chile.
I actually loved it alot more than I thought I would. Not that I didn't think I would, It just overdelivered! I was thinking about how to narrow this down to just a few things and let me tell you...it's hard. This is, by no means, a comprehensive list!
When you arrive in Chile (I went via Santiago), it's nice to be able to rent a car if you staying regional, but if you plan on going much further, fly. Chile is a BIG country! But it's nice having a car if you are venturing anywhere outside Santiago. Either way, from Santiago down to the Cape, there are SO MANY THINGS TO DO and see!
So here are just 10 to get you started!
1. Explore/backpack Patagonia
This is a given. People travel from all over the world to come to this other-wordly place. The water IS as blue as it looks in photos. The mountains are even MORE spectacular than the photos, and the wind is ferocious! It's really fun to hike up to the waterfalls along the way while juanacos (a relative of the llama) and condors and herds of sheep pass by. It's incredible that there seems to bee so much space here and everywhere you, it looks like fake scenery because it's THAT picturesque.
Insider tip: Go all the way to the North side of the park by the lodge. There is a beautiful restaurant raised off the ground that serves some of the best food and pisco sours I've ever had. You can basically look out on the whole mountain range as you eat while wildlife cruises by. I gave up trying to eat civilly as much struggle with a lamb leg and dove right in.
2. Drive through the Andes
This is a really neat drive. It's really fun to stop into little towns and villages for lunch or go wine tasting (a must-do if you're in Chile). There are vineyards everywhere, it's easy to drive, and it's a blast to see the landscapes change from beachy to mountains to jungle-y....very cool
Insider Tip: Don't have a super strict agenda. Be willing to drive out of the way to go see the Largest Pool in the world or other highlights along the highway.
3. See the largest pool in the world
This pool is so big it literally looks more like a lagoon or beach. Located in San Alfonso del Mar, this pool is beautiful and right on the beach, so you drive through the mountains to drive back to the beach to swim in a big pool on the beach. It's pretty neat and the road to get there feels like you're going the wrong way for a long time, so don't worry..unless you are actually going the wrong way.
Insider Tip: You cannot just "get in" and swim. It is protected by fences and guards and is restricted to residents or guests of the resort only. You must be staying at the resort to gain access (unless you can somehow convince the guards to let you in, but they are pretty strict and even ask if you have an appointment or room...and check.
4. Vina del Mar
This beach town is the "Monaco" of Chile. It has gorgeous beaches, nice weather, a fun promenade, a couple nightclubs (MOSTLY young teens! So beware!), a few castle-like buildings, an archaeology museum, and super fun little outdoor markets to shop among street artists and street food vendors. It's super fun, people are super friendly, no one bugs you, and I felt safe walking around everywhere here alone as a petite blonde female. There are so many places to get AMAZING pisco sours and wine and food and gorgeous scenery.
Insider Tip: If you can, stay on a hotel on the water where you overlook the ocean at sunrise. Worth it! Then go for a run or walk on the beach, then at night do what we call "the midnight marathon" (since I was with another marathon runner), we started at one bar/restaurant for dinner and walked to the next one which was "aid station #1," then you walk to the next bar after a drink and that's "aid station #2" until you get as far down the beach as you want to go. Great way to sample the local fare! And EVERY place will claim they have the BEST pisco sour in the world and they're all different, so it's your call!
5. Go to Antarctica and/or Tierra del Fuego
Do not miss this. Seriously, if you are going this far, go to Ushuaia or Punta Arenas (See my article on 10 amazing things to do in Punta Arenas) and see why it's called the "Land of Fire." It will take your breath away. From these places, you can get to Antarctica if you choose. It is always expensive and weather-permitting, but come one...you're going to Antarctica (See my article about 10 unusual things to do on Antarctica). The weather is incredible here, and by that I mean it literally changes within minutes. You know ll those stories about ships wrecking or sinking around the horn? Yeah, see why first hand.
Insider Tip: If can't afford to go or just can't go to Antarctica, at least go to Magdalena Island to see the penguin colony. You will MELT from the cuteness. I could have stayed with the penguins for weeks and been happy, they're just incredible!
6. Explore Punta Arenas
There is so much to see an do here in this town. You can get up top some of the local mountains and have lunch and beer and overlook the entire Chilean/Argentinean cape. You can visit the incredible haunting and picturesque cemetary, and shop from the street artsits in the town center. And don't forget to go touch the foot of the giant statue (Monumento de Hernando de Magallanes) for good luck on your return journey! (See my article here on 10 awesome things to see in Punta Arenas). On a clear night you can even see the beautiful and rare Southern Cross.
Insider Tip: This town is incredibly linked to it's historic past with Magellan. Do not overlook their past here. Go check out the Magellan museum and the statues and monuments that pack the streets and the relics and plaques ALL over town. It's like a scavenger hunt and so fun to find these incredible nuggets of history all over town.
7. Explore Santiago
Santiago it'self is really awesome. It's fun to walk around and see centuries-old churches and buildings mixed in with the modern. You can also see cracks int he buildings from horrific earthquakes, which is a reminder to how vulnerable this city can be (and is still standing). There are very fun markets and indoor "malls" to walk through. Stuff is pretty cheap, too! It's easy to find things to do if you just walk around the main thoroughfare of the city by the government buildings, but it's big enough to take taxis to the other ends of town.
Insider Tip: People are ridiculously friendly (In Chile in general. Go Chileans!) but the taxi rides can be...dare I say it...scary. I mean, in the U.S. our taxis/Ubers don't usually drive between lanes to squeeze between cars or drive on the sidewalks, though this is definitely not exclusive to Chile. So just be ready for a little "excitement" if your cab driver is trying to gt you somewhere and you aren't exactly following the lines.
One final Note: Did I mention how AMAZING Chileans are? They will do anything for you. No one honks, they would stop freeway traffic if you were crossing, and if you need help, they stop or leave whatever they are doing and guide you personally to where you need to go. I went to a bank one time when every ATM in Santiago seemed to be "broken" and I was panicking. The banker closed the bank and walked me five blocks away to "a guy" he knew would help me. Nicest people ever!
Like I said, I could go on forever, but here are 7 to get you going. Honestly, all of these things could take you weeks, so take your time. There's no rush in Chile, but you will find all adventure you ever desired.