Chile is absolutely stunning and, for many of us, it’s not often at the top of our travel bucket list — but it should be! I traveled south to Chile for a week and was endlessly impressed by the natural beauty of this country. The majority of my trip was centered around Patagonia, though I did not do a multi-day hike, as many travelers seek out when in this region. While still in the planning stages, I quickly realized getting down to Patagonia was a hike in itself and would take up several full days of my singular week. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t make sense to add in the physical hike as well.
This trip took me through the country’s capital, Santiago, as well as down even further south to the region of Patagonia (the farthest south I’ve been!). There’s much to love and explore in Chile but I’ll try my best to narrow down my experiences to my top five reasons to visit. I’ll begin with what I’m calling a “pre-reason”: it’s not super packed with tourists and for many of us travelers, this is enough of a reason to visit. And now, here are my five reasons to add Chile to your travel bucket list.
1. Chile’s Capital, Santiago
Filled with culture and history, the capital of Chile has it all. For many travelers, Santiago is the city to fly in and out of, and I was no different. Knowing my time in this city was short, I jumped on a free walking tour to gain a quick and dirty overview of Santiago as well as made a reservation at a recommended restaurant-with-a-view for dinner. I would have liked to spend more time in the city but, as I mentioned earlier, my focus was Patagonia so a quick stop was about all I had time for. I add though, while touring around the city, there was a moment when the sun came out and the clouds parted to reveal a perfect view of the surrounding mountains. It’s a simple moment that took my breath away and is one I will never forget.
2. Torres Del Paine
Torres del Paine is one of the big draws of Patagonia. This national park is extensive with dramatic landscapes and wildly unpredictable weather. Puerto Natales is the closest town to the park and several tours run back and forth daily. Given the time crunch, I opted for a day tour and a full day tour is exactly what I got. Over the course of 12 hours, we visited lagoons, valleys, waterfalls, icebergs, and attempted to catch a glimpse of the famous Towers. The cloudy day kept us from a clear view of the peaks but there were plenty of impressive rewards to enjoy throughout the day. If you have the time, I’d recommend a longer visit to this park as there’s much to see and explore (this is probably my theme for the entire trip).
3. Glaciar Perito Moreno
The region of Patagonia actually stretches across two countries: Chile and Argentina with one long and winding road connecting the two, or an epic hike across a mountain ridge, if you’re feeling so inclined. My friend and I made the mistake of opting for a day trip to make the journey across the border into Argentina to visit the Perito Moreno Glaciar. Do not do this! We didn’t realize how long it would take to drive there and back and ended up spending 7 hours total on a bus for an hour at the glacier. The glacier is definitely worth it but spare yourself the headache and frustration of all the traveling so that you can truly enjoy the majesty of Perito Moreno.
4. El Yeso Reservoir
Where does the city of Santiago get its drinking water? Great question! From this reservoir, of course! Located 2,500 meters above sea level, El Yeso is a site for the senses. The sparkling turquoise waters and cascading Andes mountains in the background made it a photogenic destination. Choosing another day tour, we drove up the mountain side to spend time along the water’s edge. Our tour guides gifted us with Chilean wine of the Carménère variety and appetizers, and granted us an hour to explore the landscape. Given how high up we were though, it was freezing and we jumped back in the van after about 10 minutes of exploration. On the way back down we stopped at a small, mountain-side cafe where I enjoyed the largest empanada of my life (see below for evidence). It was another memorable day in Chile.
5. Plus Several Other Reasons…
I realize I’m cheating here with #5 being “several other reasons” but, I must. There’s so much more to enjoy about Chile than just five things! For starters, all the street dogs. In Chile, as in many other South American countries, dog owners allow their pups to roam the streets freely. In Chile, this equates to the healthiest and friendliest street dogs everywhere! I’ve never seen so many dogs out cruising around than I did in Chile.
One local explained that people take in dogs as puppies and then realize they can’t keep up with them as they grow larger so they release them out onto the streets. Another local said many of the dogs actually have homes that they will go back to at night and they just spend their days outside as they wish. Whether both rationales are correct or not, it certainly made for entertaining dog-watching. One evening I watched a dog use the crosswalk to cross the street, waiting for cars to finish passing before crossing. Another night, while at a cafe for dinner, I watched a group of dogs form a pack and run another dog off their street. For the most part, the dogs were healthy and happy, barely noticing the people around them or starting any dog fights. They were just doing their thing whether that was accepting handouts from the locals (this is why they’re so healthy looking!) or basking in the sun, the dogs rarely bothered people and this was true for both the small towns and the larger cities. Dogs everywhere!
Secondly in my extended list of reasons, I cannot continue without mentioning the Pisco Sours! Chile and Peru will both claim this drink as their own even though they each vary slightly in how to correctly prepare one. In Chile, a Pisco Sour consists of lime, sugar and Pisco while the Peruvians to the north will also add egg whites, and sometimes bitters. Regardless of who made it first or which version is correct, it’s sweet and delicious and must be consumed! ¡Salud!
Next up are the massive empanadas of Chile. Several South American countries have their own unique variation to this savory pastry but Chile’s is by far the largest I’ve seen. Eating one is a meal! The classic Chilean empanada is filled with ground beef, onions, black olives, and a hard boiled egg. Super filling and super tasty!
At this point I’ve extended well beyond my five reasons so I’ll be brief with these last few. I did not have the pleasure of experiencing these reasons on my own but would gladly return to explore this as well. Chile is an incredibly long country, spanning the the length of more than the continent of South America. This unique size allows the country to have a wide variety of landscapes ranging from costal towns, to deserts, wine regions, and a close proximity to Antartica! Chile truly is a unique country with much to experience. It’s a destination I hope to return to one day and, even more importantly, hope I’ve convinced you to plan a trip yourself!
Have you been to Chile? What reasons did I miss? Add in your comments below!