With over 4275km from north to south, Chile is one of the most impressive and diverse countries you could ever go to. From super impressive ice landscapes in Patagonia to the capital Santiago de Chile in the middle, to the Atacama Desert in the north, Chile will definitely blow your mind. Because of the sheer size of the country, it is advisable to split up your trip and focus on one half of the country (since I’m assuming you won’t have unlimited amounts of time and/or money :D).
To make things as easy as possible for you, I have put together this super handy travel guide for the northern part of Chile. So stop thinking about going there, book a flight right now and dooo it.
Santiago de Chile (2 days)
Santiago de Chile is pretty much where everybody starts their Chile adventure (assuming you’re coming from Europe). The city is super nice and will leave you super impressed by the sight of the Andes in the background and going for a walk here to explore the city is super safe and super awesome. Go check out Plaza de Armas and Palacio de la Real Audiencia which are both super cool to look at before you head to Mercado Central for lunch. In the afternoon, go check out Cerro San Christobal which is a viewpoint that will give you amazing views of the whole city. It’s located in the Bellavista neighborhood in which you will find many bars. So after your “hike” to the top, go wander around here and enjoy a well deserved Pisco Sour.
Valparaiso (2 days)
Valparaiso is a small harbor town with super steep hills, amazing street art, and some truly amazing views. It’s really easy to spend a day just wandering the streets and exploring ridiculously cool architecture, paintings and restaurants/bars that offer super nice views. Make sure to ride of the many cable cars, because although they look somewhat old and creepy, they’re actually super safe and nice to get on.
DON’T MISS: Valparaiso harbors the world’s largest swimming pool so if you just want a lazy day while at the same time checking something really awesome out, head there and make a day of it.
La Serena (2 days)
La Serena and the area around it has a lot to offer! Not only will you find a super beautiful beach with some really cool bars here but the city itself will surprise you with some super cool looking colonial architecture that will make you feel like you’re being sent back in time. Go for a stroll and make sure to check out Plaza de Armas de La Serena, Lighthouse of La Serena.
ABSOLUTE MUST-DO: Rent a car in La Serena for a couple of days because the following stops are some of the coolest places you will get to see on your trip and not having a car will pretty much just suck ( As long as you’re a decent driver at home, you have absolutely nothing to worry about here). Prices should range between 10-15€ a day.
Valle de Elqui/ Pisco Elqui (1 or 2 days)
Valle de Elqui is about 2 hours away from La Serena and is a super impressive valley with winding roads that are surrounded by desert looking like mountains that randomly turn into super green hills that are completely covered in grapes. The whole drive through this area just seems absolutely unreal and there at least 15 photo stops along the way that will get you super excited (or at least that’s what happened to me). The road through Valle de Elqui leads you through numerous small and quiet villages. If you have some time on your hands and you want to try out yoga, there are a handful of guesthouses and yoga studios to try out and you will love the tranquility and simplicity of the villages and the everyday life here. If you do stay overnight, prepare yourself to see an absolutely mind-blowing amount of stars. If you’re just here for the day, head to Pisco Elqui which is a small village that’s perfect to do some exploring and try the famous Pisco Sour that is being produced here.
Humboldt Penguin National Reserve (1 day)
If you love penguins, dolphins and sea lions (or wildlife in general :D) as well as amazing deserts and beaches, Humboldt Penguin National Reserve is THE place for you to go. The Reserve is located about 100km north of La Serena and the drive there is absolutely amazing and leads through an amazing rock desert with thousands of cactuses and countless wild donkeys (some of them are sooo curious that they will just walk up to your car and won’t leave). Once you get to the coast, your mind will be blown away because the beaches here are not only perfect but also almost empty.
The actual reserve is made out of three islands that you will reach by boat. On the way there, be prepared to see ridiculous amounts of dolphins and sea lions. Part of the trip also includes getting on land on one of the islands which is absolutely beautiful because they’re covered with flowers, amazing viewpoints, and more wildlife.
IMPORTANT: Try to get here as early as possible because the boats to the actual reserve leave whenever they’re full and sometimes there are not enough people to fill an extra boat which results in you not going (yup, that’s exactly what happened to us which is why we had to come back :D)
Copiapo/ Parce Nacional Nevada Tres Cruces (2 days)
To get to this absolutely insane place on earth, you will have to do a fair amount of driving through some of the most impressive landscapes ever (around 5 to 6 hours). There are so many mountains covered in rocks here that you sometimes feel like you’re literally landed on Mars. After getting done visiting the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve, start heading to Copiapo as soon as possible. Make sure to stop at a store to get snacks, food, and drinks and enjoy a proper road trip. You will most likely get to enjoy a super nice sunset that will bathe the mountains in a super nice red shortly before arriving in Copiapo.
Copiapo is an old mining town and you won’t really find anything interesting here other than accommodation for the night and food for the next day. Start driving early because the Parce Nacional Nevada Tres Cruces is another 3-hour drive but If you enjoyed the landscape the day before, your mind will officially be blown on this trip because you have officially arrived on Mars 😀 Enjoy the scenery on your way to Laguna Verde
Another absolutely amazing thing about this parc (apart from the ridiculous blue lakes, flamingos and just a general unreal scenery it that not a lot of people come here (because you do need your own car) so you legitimately have the whole place almost to yourself. We ended up just randomly driving around and following the roads (there really aren’t too many different ones so getting lost is not an option).
3 IMPORTANT TIPPS:
1. Bring warm clothes because the wind might be super cold here.
2. Some parts of the parc are around 3500m high so pay attention to how you feel. You might find yourself getting super tired out of nowhere (which totally happened to us because we had no idea at what altitude we were). If that happens, make sure to turn around and find a way to get lower (#howlowcanyougo :D).
3. Start heading back at least 2 hours before it gets dark because the roads can be a bit bumpy/sometimes (yes, I did almost kill my cousin and me on them so please drive slow, even slower than the road signs :D)
Bahia Inglesa/Caldera (1/2 days)
After experience so many cold and dry places, heading to Bahia Iglesa and the beaches there feels like the absolute best thing in the world. The water is ridiculously blue here and the sand is as white as it gets. Depending on the time of the year, you might also be super lucky and enjoy this little gem without almost anybody but a couple of super cuddly dogs (it does get pretty busy here during the summer though). No matter what time of the year it is, it is one of the best beaches in Chile.
If you did listen to me and come here by car, drive around a bit an hour before sunset because there are some really perfect sunset spots right by the water and next to the road.
TIP: We rented our car for a week and returned it in La Serena which means we had to drive all the way back there (which was about 7 hours). We then took a night bus directly to San Pedro de Atacama. The reason we did it this way was that it’s a lot more expensive to return the car in Copiapo. If you’re not tight on money, however, look into returning it in Copiapo (it’s probably going to be 150€ more expensive).
San Pedro de Atacama (3 days, excluding the Uyuni Tour)
San Pedro de Atacama is a small town in the north of Chile and the middle of the Atacama desert (which, by the way, is the driest desert on the planet and looks like the freaking moon!). I know I say this a lot but this place will HONESTLY teleport you into a different world and it might actually be one of the coolest things you will see in the world and your life 😀 Start your day by wandering the roads in the village and explore the million different amazing restaurants and coffee places as well as countless cool craft shops. This way you can also talk to a couple of tour operators and check out all the amazing possible destinations that range from deserts, volcanos, and geysers to hot springs and lakes that will make you float and act like a 2-year old.
- Whatever you decide on doing here, please make sure to book one of the full-day trips to Valle de la Luna and another one to the
Cejar Lagoon with a sunset session at the Salt Mountain Range! You will legitimately feel like you’re walking on the moon which is one of the best feelings ever. The tour also takes you to a bunch of other stops and all of them are ridiculously cool (I forgot the name of the others but they usually all do a similar route :D)
- Stargazing! San Pedro de Atacama is one of the best places in the world to do stargazing and it is absolutely ridiculous how many stars you actually do see here. It’s like the whole universe is right there in front of your eyes which is something you won’t ever forget.
3. Salar de Uyuni
Although this place is in Bolivia, all Salt flat tours to Uyuni leave from here and are an absolute highlight and must-do. No matter how much time you have, if it’s 3 days or just one (although I definitely recommend the 3 days) you pretty much have to go and do this one.
Soooo, this is it! If you have about 3 weeks for your Chile adventure, this might be the perfect travel itinerary for you and will be the perfect mix between cities, deserts, beaches, mountains, and adventures.