Top Ten Things To Do in Chile

by Katie Sanderson

Whether you study abroad in Canada, Haiti, or Fiji, it is important (and fun!) to experience everything the country and culture has to offer. Studying abroad gives you a much different experience than just vacationing; you can immerse yourself in the culture. Every country has unique memories to be made and Chile is no exception. The long and skinny country on the west shore of South America has a diverse environment ranging from deserts in the North to Patagonia in the south filled with mountains and glaciers. But that is not all this country has to offer! This list outlines what every study abroad student should try to experience whilst in Chile:

Chorrillana
Chorrillana. Photo by Osmar Valdebenito

1. Trek Through the Torres del Paine National Park

The Torres del Paine is often featured in travel articles as one of the best places to visit in the world, and for a good reason it is! This national park of Chile features the end of the Andes mountain range along with an assortment of caves, lakes, hills, and glaciers. While some adventurers prefer to spend a week camping and hiking the “W” loop which encircles and ascends the mountains, others prefer an easier route of sightseeing in a car. Maybe you will remember falling in mud when you descend the mountain or the hurricane force winds that tried to whisk you away! One thing is for sure: the views of the multi-colored Torres del Paine are bound to stay with you long after you leave the magnificent park.

2. Stargaze in the Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert is home to many observatories, with creative names such as Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) and Overwhelmingly Large (OWL) Telescope, and when you see the night sky you see why. During the night all you can see are billions of stars, uninhibited by light and air pollution. Where is the Southern Cross? If you’re in the Atacama Desert, you are sure to see the five stars that make up this orientation constellation! 

3. Visit Pablo Neruda’s Houses

Pablo Neruda was a very important and beloved Chilean for many reasons. Wikipedia can tell you about his works of poetry and how he served as a senator for the Chilean Communist Party, but to really get a sense of the man you should take a visit to any one (or all three!) of his houses in Chile. Throughout his life, Pablo had many loves whether it was a woman, poetry, figureheads from ships, or interesting collectables. His houses are works of art, most notably his house called “La Chascona” meaning messy hair in Spanish. Each house is unique and offers a part of not only Pablo’s but also Chile’s history. Pablo was very dedicated to his work and a trip to his houses located in Santiago, Valparaiso, and Isla Negra are well-warranted.

4. Take a Seat and View Santiago From “Cerro San Cristobal”

Whether you visit to Cerro San Cristobal for the panoramic views of Santiago or for an up-close view of the hill’s Virgin Mary and church, you are sure to have a memorable time. Few major cities in the world are surrounded almost entirely by mountains.  Santiago is even dotted with hills, called “cerros” in Spanish. While on Cerro San Cristobal you can see the mountains and the hills, but you also can realize just how massive Santiago really is. Santiago stretches further than the eye can see!

5. Scale Santa Lucia in Santiago

Another remarkable hill in Santiago is the remains of a once-active volcano called Santa Lucia. This hill is full of history; in the 1500s it was used as a fort and look out. Now visitors come to the hill for a view only surpassed by Cerro San Cristobal along with the other features of this small yet intriguing hill. At the base there is a magnificent fountain featuring a statue of the God Neptune and the stairs wind up the hill through flowers and plants which are unique to South America. Every visit to this hill can be a surprise; on the second visit you might find a trail you didn’t see before that leads you to a hidden area! Many people think this hill is inferior to San Cristobal, but there is a difference and once you visit you will see the beauty of this small hill.

6. Ski the Andes Mountains

The east border of Chile is lined by the Andes Mountains, which stretch from the Atacama Desert all the way to Patagonia.  During the winter months (which are summer in the Northern Hemisphere) snow covers the mountains near Santiago, making it a prime location for winter activities. You may ski or you may snowboard, either way ripping down the mountain with a view of Santiago in your sights is an exhilarating way to spend an afternoon!

7. Take a Boat to See the Glaciers and Landscape of Patagonia

Some say Patagonia, the southern part of South America, is like another country. And it really is! Although there are many different ways to travel the land, boating a glacial lake should definitely be included. Your view of the surrounding landscape can be far different from a road, especially when you get close to the glaciers. Glaciers are huge sheets of dense ice forming on land and moving under its own weight. Maybe if you’re lucky you will even see one calve, when part of the ice breaks off to form a small iceberg in the glacial water. Watch out though, that can be dangerous! 

8. Tour a Distillery of Pisco in the Valle de Elqui

The Valle de Elqui is known for grape growing because the wine is sweet enough to make pisco, a Chilean drink. The mountains and fields of Elqui are full of grape vines, all waiting to be made into pisco. On the bus ride towards the Elqui Valley you will most likely lose count of the fields and unthinkable amount of grapes being grown. Fortunately many pisco distilleries-some hundreds of years old-allow visitors during non-production season.  The process from vine to bottle is long, but many Chileans would assert it is completely worth it once the final product is consumable!

9. Eat a Chilean hotdog, “Completo” or Chilean fries, “Chorrillana”

It is very easy to enjoy Chilean food; it is much like American food with twists. Americans like to put ketchup, mustard, and relish on their hot dogs, sometimes even saurkaut if they’re feeling adventurous. In Chile, the standard hot dog, called a “completo,” is topped with avocado, tomato, and mayonnaise! You may turn up your nose, but like many things in life, don’t knock it until you try it! Also, a word of caution: there is a 99% chance of the completo toppings falling off! Chorrillana is much the same; it’s loaded French fries! Imagine your fries topped with shredded meat, eggs, and onion. Just try not to think about the calorie count and you will love it!

10. Model a Necklace or Bracelet of Lapislazuli

While in Santiago, don’t forget to try on and buy a souvenir of fashionable lapislazuli. Lapislazuli is mostly mined in Afghanistan, Chile, and Russia, making this deep blue stone unique to only a few places in the world. Santiago is no stranger to lapislazuli; in Bellavista, a lively neighborhood of Santiago, shops sell quality lapislazuli. 

As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Chile, whether you are a beach bum wanting to surf the coast or a history buff who desires the museums and cultural immersion. Northern Chile, covered in desert, is far different from the South where Patagonia offers wondrous sights and the middle of course offers nearly everything in between! Wherever you go, whatever food you eat, Chile is definitely a country worth visiting and learning about!