Top 5 Free Things to Do in Chile

by Joanne Ruddell

The “longest country in the world,” Chile has a unique geography that offers breathtaking sights over a wide variety of landscapes. Chile stretches north to south for over 2,672 miles along the western coast of South America, with its widest point only 217 miles east to west. Chile has no shortage of must-see tourist destinations with the Andes Mountains on its eastern border and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Take in the beauty of Santiago without spending a dime or Chilean peso.
Take in the beauty of Santiago without spending a dime or Chilean peso. Photo By Joanne Ruddell

Want to see volcanoes, glaciers, deserts, forests, lakes, islands, and fjords in one trip? Chile has it all so it's no wonder tourism has taken off in the last couple of years. Below are the top five FREE things to do in Chile. Sorry, transportation, food, and lodging are not included.  

1. Sightseeing in Lauca National Park

Located in Chile's far northern region and situated in the Andes mountain range, Lauca National Park is one of the top tourist destinations in Chile. Lauca is home to several spectacular volcanoes, such as Parinacota, Pomerape, the Kimsa Chata group of volcanoes, which includes Acotango, Umurata and Capurata, and one of the most active volcanoes in northern Chile: Guallatiri. These volcanic areas include spectacular hikes, active volcanic fields, and volcanic calderas to experience. 

Chile's plethora of volcanoes comes from its location in the Pacific Rim of Fire, a global belt that contains over 75 percent of the world's active volcanoes. If you want to see an active volcano up close and personal, this is the place. 

Another popular attraction is the lacustrine plain that is formed by the high-altitude Cotacotani and Chungará lakes. This area provides an amazing view of the Parinacota Volcano, as well as a rich array of wildlife, such as llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and over 140 species of birds. 

2. Exploring Valparaíso 

This vibrant Chilean city is located in central Chile on the Pacific coast. Valparaíso is best known for its colorful buildings built on the steep hills overlooking the ocean. This city boasts beautiful views and plenty to do. Ride one of the city's several historic hillside trams, such as the Ascensor Artillera, which takes visitors to the top of a hill that offers incredible panoramic views of the city and the ocean. Take the Ascensor Concepción to the top of Cerro Concepción (Conception Hill) to partake in the area's many shops, cafés, and views. 

The city is also home to several excellent museums, as well as many walkable neighborhoods that present great photo opportunities, such as the Historic Quarter and Paseo Gervasoni. 

3. Sample Chilean Culture in Santiago 

Santiago is Chile's sprawling metropolis, and a prime destination spot for its sheer diversity of activity and city fun. It is easy to get around the city thanks to its robust public transportation. The city has tons of great museums, restaurants, bars, shops, and much more. Check out Santiago's Bellas Arte and Bellavista neighborhoods for some exciting food, bars, and clubs, or just get a taste of Chilean city life if you don't want to spend much. There's plenty of things to do in the city that don't require you to open your wallet! 

Climb or take a tram up the Cerro San Christóbal for an amazing view of the city. Take a walk around La Vega or Mercado Central, both busy markets where you can see plenty of activity and talk to the people. To get a taste of the culture, check out Pueblito Los Dominicos for opportunities to talk to local artists and craftsmen. 

If you're in the city during the week of September 18, you can experience the city's week-long festival celebrating the country's national holiday Fiestas Patrias. Amidst the celebrations you can enjoy great entertainment, sample delicious food and drinks, and talk to all of the happy people celebrating. The city also happens to be a great departure point for the country's glaciers, islands, deserts, and volcanoes.

4. Hiking in Torres del Paine

This national park in the far southern region of Chile is another prime destination for nature-lovers and sightseers. It was rated as the 5th most beautiful place in the world by National Geographic Magazine. The many hiking trails in the park offer some of the most incredible views on the planet. Towering above the park are the spectacular Towers of Paine, huge granite peaks shaped by glacial flows. The tallest peak, Paine Grande has a measured height of 9,462 feet.

Other sights to see in the park include huge cliff faces, gorgeous surrounding mountains, pristine lakes, and glaciers. If you are looking for a wonderful hike with views that you won't forget, Torres del Paine is an excellent destination. 

5. Trekking in the Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert has been called the driest place on Earth and is a highly traveled region in northern Chile that includes many popular tourist attractions, the most famous of which is the Valle de la Luna, or the Valley of the Moon. Aptly named, the Valle de la Luna features a nearly-alien landscape of large dunes and unique stone formations which resemble the surface of the Moon. Valle de la Luna is a beautiful and haunting place to behold. 

The Atacama Desert is a prime region for sand boarding, thanks to its rolling dunes. If you are a fan of stargazing – and who isn't – this is one of the best regions in the world to get a clear view of the stars in Atacama's brilliant night sky. 

Chile Awaits!

This is just a limited (but very much worthwhile) selection of the dazzling array of attractions to experience in Chile. This underrated gem beckons your visit; don't miss out!