Chile Travel Guide: My Tips After Studying Abroad
Alright, I know I’m posting this along with my local travel guides and I’m not *technically* a Chilean local. However, I did study abroad there for a semester and will be sharing with you my Chile travel guide, which includes everything my Chilean host family and friends showed me during my semester abroad. This place is very near and dear to my heart, and I’m super excited to share it with you!
From the beach to the Atacama desert to the Andes Mountains to (basically Antarctica) Patagonia in the south, Chile offers a little bit of everything in terms of landscape. If you’re an outdoor person then you will absolutely LOVE Chile.
For this guide, I’m going to break the country down city-by-city, starting with the place I know best: Valparaiso, Chile.
*Disclaimer* This may be a bit of information overload because I just couldn’t narrow down my suggestions about Chile. But I wanted to make sure you got the quintessential Chile travel guide, with nearly all the information you need in one place, so bare with me!
To me, this is the city of colorful rolling hills, street art, and music. And any Chile travel guide will include it. Valparaiso is truly unlike any other city I’ve been to and it’s hard to describe; you’ll just have to go and see for yourself! If you do end up there, here are my top recommendations:
1) Explore Cerro Alegre
This is an extremely gentrified area of the city and, since local Chileans are being pushed out of the area, it’s not necessarily super authentic to the rest of Chile. That being said, it’s a cute area with lots of little artisanal shops and street art everywhere (check out this post to see some of it up close).
2) Take a boat tour from the port
The port in Valparaiso is arguably the most important seaport in all of Chile and is largely what allowed Chile, and of course its capital city Santiago, to develop. The history of the port is interesting and worth learning more about in a boat or city tour. The view from the boat of Valparaiso’s coastline is well worth the small amount you’ll pay for the boat ride. You may even get to see a few sea lions up close!
3) Visit Pablo Neruda’s house (one of three in Chile)
Pablo Neruda is probably the most famous writer from Chile. He wasn’t just a talented author though, he was also a diplomat and politician with a super interesting life story that you can learn more about at his houses. He has three in Chile–one in Valparaiso, one in Santiago, and one in Isla Negra. They have all been maintained and turned into museums. I actually went to all three while in Chile and would recommend trying to get to at least one of them!
4) Have a picnic at former prison turned cultural park
This park used to be the city’s public prison, but now it’s a museum with regular movies and cultural events going on. Here’s a link to their website:
My favorite thing to do there was to bring a blanket, some good Chilean wine and snacks, and to watch the sunset while having a picnic with friends. Here’s the view you can expect, though this picture definitely doesn’t do it justice!
5) Listen to live music on Calle Cumming
Yes, that is really the name of the street. It’s a fun hipster area in downtown Valparaiso where you can bar-hop and listen to live music all over the place. The bars are smaller and quieter in this area than the rest of downtown, which makes it a good place to start your night.
6) Find the steps that say “We are not hippies, we are happies”
If you venture up into the cerros (hills) of Valparaiso, you’ll find these popular steps. It’s definitely a big tourist destination, but is fun to see once! Even if you Google the location, you might end up doing some searching to find it because it’s tucked between buildings and is at the top of a somewhat steep climb. The good thing about it is that you’ll run into lots of other incredible street art along the way!
7) Go dancing at Woo Club
I’m just going to tell you now that you’ll either love me or hate me for this recommendation, but I just had to include it in my Chile travel guide. I had many an interesting night at Woo Club and think it’s worth checking out if you’re up for some wild dancing in a packed club.
**Couple of tips about going to clubs in Valparaiso:
Don’t go before 1 or 2 a.m. When I went out for the first time in Chile with a few new American friends, we didn’t realize how serious people were when they said Chileans like to “carrete” (party) LATE. We got to Woo Club at 1 a.m. and were the first ones there. The staff actually set up around us as we waited for other people to start showing up.
People will then generally stay out until around 6 a.m. and from there they may even go to an after party. But, I was always told those after-party clubs are “flaite” (dangerous). So be careful!
Viña del Mar
1) Go to the beach
The beaches in Viña del Mar, Concon, and Reñaca (cities neighboring Valparaiso) are all pretty nice and you can’t really go wrong. Just be prepared for lots of tourists in the summer. I lived in Viña del Mar and since it was nearby, I normally went to Playa Acapulco.
2) See the flower clock
There’s a giant clock made entirely of flowers on a lawn in the center of town. It’s worth stopping by for a photo and then moving on because at the end of the day, it is just a clock. I’d never seen one like it though so it was fun to make a stop there and check it out. Here’s the address: Alamos 590, Viña del Mar
3) Check out the casino
There’s nothing all that special about it; it’s just a casino. But, I thought I’d note that it’s here and is a big attraction in town if you’re into that sort of thing. They do sometimes have fun themed parties; when I was there they did a Great Gatsby-themed event.
4) Go sand-boarding and watch the sunset from the dunes
This is technically in the neighboring town Concon, but it’s a short bus-ride away from Viña del Mar (Buses 601, 602, and 605 will get you there). Once you arrive, you absolutely have to rent a sand board and try your hand at sand-boarding! But be prepared, it is a WORKOUT to the top of the dunes.
This is also a great place to watch the sunset, but don’t forget a blanket! Even in the summer it gets very cold up there. And, bring whatever drinks and snacks you’ll need because there are no convenience stores nearby (and if there are, it’s a strenuous walk down and back up the dunes).
San Pedro de Atacama
1) Go to Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)
There are lots of day-tours offered from the town of San Pedro de Atacama to explore the desert. This is one that you just can’t miss! So be sure to add it to your Chile travel guide.
One of our Valle de la Luna tour guides told us that Neil Armstrong once visited Valle de la Luna and even he said it resembles the moon. I’m not sure whether or not that story is true, but either way, this is a stop that should definitely be on your list!
2) See the Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks)
I’ve never seen a mix of terrain like the one there. You stand on red porous rocks that border clear blue water with tan and white mountains in the distance. Here’s how it looked when I went.
3) Watch the sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche
The water is like a mirror here and you’ll get to see the beautiful colors both in the sky and on the water. It’s even gorgeous before the sun starts to set, like you can see in the photo below.
4) Try cow bladder (jk please don’t)
I celebrated my 21st birthday in San Pedro de Atacama and, being a small town, there wasn’t much going on in the way of bars and such. So, my friends and I decided to go to a nice restaurant, La Casona, instead. There we got a shared plate with all different kinds of meat. Our Spanish wasn’t perfect at the time and we honestly had no idea what we were actually eating.
Later we found out we’d eaten both llama and cow bladder. The llama was great! Cow bladder (vejiga de vaca), however, had a terrible texture and an awful flavor. Learn from me and try to avoid it!
1) Go to another one of Pablo Neruda’s houses
As I mentioned before, there are three of Neruda’s houses in Chile that are now museums, and one of them is in Santiago. This one dives into his involvement with politics and I found the informational side of this museum to be the most interesting of all his houses.
2) Go up Cerro San Cristobal for amazing views and a public pool
Chile gets REALLY hot during the summer, and what better way to cool off than at the top of a big hill surrounded by views of the city and mountains? The photo above was taken from Cerro San Cristobal. And the name of the pool is Piscina Antilen which is a public pool with a small entrance fee.
3) Check out the Museum of Memory and Human Rights
Chile was under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990, and this museum commemorates the victims of human rights violations during that time. If you want to understand Chile’s recent and somewhat brutal history, you need to go here.
4) Eat at Bocanariz Wine Bar & Restaurant
For really good food paired with delicious Chilean wine, check out Bocanariz. The service is great and the food definitely lives up to the hype.
1) Go to one of the many waterfalls
The waterfall in the photo above is Los Tres Saltos, and it’s one of many in the area. You’ll have to take a bit of a hike to get there, but you won’t regret it!
2) Climb to the top of an active volcano
This is one activity I didn’t do myself, but two friends of mine did and they absolutely loved it! The volcano is Volcan Villarrica, and you may even see some activity at the top. But be prepared, it is not an easy hike! My friends used ice picks to make it all the way up, and then they got to slide back down. It;s definitely an experience you won’t be able to find everywhere!
3) Take a dip at the Termas Geomatricas hot springs
There’s a big mix of hot and cold pools here and it is a gorgeous location. It has lots of bright red bridges surrounded by waterfalls, plants, and steam that make you feel like you’re in a dream. Here’s how it looks:
Casablanca Valley is one of the fastest-growing wine regions in Chile. There are tons of gorgeous vineyards to visit, but my favorite is Indomita. It’s situated at the top of a hill and has some amazing views. It makes for a good location to do a photo shoot with your friends! And, of course, the wine and food there were amazing. Here’s a link to their site:
Iquique & Arica
Iquique and Arica are two northern cities in Chile, Arica being the northernmost one before reaching Peru. To be honest, neither city is very exciting, but the beaches are nice enough and they make good stopping points along the way to Peru (if you’re traveling by bus and want to break up the trip). I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see either one though.
Unfortunately, I have no breathtaking photos to share here because this is the one part of Chile I didn’t make it to, and I definitely regret not having gone! Although it does give me a good reason to go back one day because from everything I’ve heard and seen, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Many of my classmates did go to Patagonia and I heard all about both the incredible, unforgettable views, and also the issues that they ran into. Here’s some advice based on what they said.
Be mindful about the time of year when planning your trip to Patagonia. It’s best to go during Chile’s summer months unless you’re super experienced when it comes to hiking and camping. The extreme cold and weather conditions can be extremely dangerous for hiking.
If you do plan on going outside of the summer months, be prepared for flight changes and cancellations. Many of my friends got stuck in Patagonia for several extra days either because weather conditions kept them from flying, or just because the airline workers went on strike.
(Fun fact I learned from living in Chile: Chileans go on strike all the time. The students at my university actually went on strike at the end of my semester abroad, and I ended up having to make impromptu arrangements for finals with my professors to finish classes before leaving).
Chile travel guide: General Tips
1) Eat manjar
No matter where you are in Chile, this is an absolute must. Manjar is the Chilean version of dulce de leche. It’s a little less thick than dulce de leche and is easier to spread. Chileans put it on just about every dessert and it is definitely the reason for my gaining 15 pounds in Chile. It’s worth it though! I’d go back and do the same thing (maybe I’d throw in a bit more exercise this time though).
There are bakeries with fresh bread and pastries all over the Chile, so you won’t have any trouble finding a place to sample manjar. Try it on a pastry or just buy a jar of it and spread it on some freshly-baked fluffy white bread. I used to live off of it!
2) Eat empanadas, and lots of ’em
Chile’s empanadas are super delicious and they make for such a quick and easy meal. Don’t be afraid to try street empanadas–they’re some of the best ones!
3) Drink pisco sour
You may have heard of pisco sours before and if so, probably associate them with Peru. There’s a bit of a rivalry between Chile and Peru when it comes to pisco sour as to who invented it and who makes it better. Most Chileans I met would admit that Peruvians thought of pisco sour first, but they’ll all tell you that the Chilean version is better. In my opinion, the Chilean pisco sour really is better, but I’m definitely biased!
If you’ve tried them both, comment below on your thoughts: Chilean or Peruvian pisco sour?
4) Be careful with your belongings when in Valparaiso and Santiago
I actually traveled alone in Santiago and felt perfectly safe, but lots of people warned of pick-pockets. In Valparaiso, it’s definitely more of a problem. Don’t let that stop you, though! I never feared for my physical safety, just for my belongings.
I would guess that about half of the students I studied abroad with had their phones stolen. So make sure if you have your phone on you that you hide it and do not take it out while walking around the main streets. This is something even my host family warned me about and that I ended up witnessing first-hand.
Again, don’t let that keep you from going to Valparaiso, because it’s an amazing and unique city! Just be mindful of your belongings.
5) Be prepared for Chilean Spanish, and the fact that you may understand nothing at first
Chilean Spanish is like a whole language of its own and I had trouble understanding simple conversations when I first got there. You get used the way they speak and all their made-up words, but just be prepared that it’s different! If you want some help and want to learn the Chilean slang they use so often, check out my guide to Chilean Spanish here.
I could go on and on with suggestions, but I’m going to stop here for now! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below. Chile is one of the few countries I’ve traveled all over, and I love giving advice about it.
So don’t be afraid to comment below with questions or suggestions for things to add. And, as always, share this if you liked it!