Sometimes it’s the most underestimated cities and towns that leave the biggest impression on us as a traveler.
While Chile is a top destination in South America for many, most people come to Chile for Patagonia, access to Easter Island, and to explore its vast landscapes.
People don’t often think of cities in Chile as being a place to stop and stay a while, but we’re here to change that perception.
When I flew to Santiago, I went with an open mind and without any set expectations. It was my starting point, but by no means my only stop. It inspired me to check out more Chilean cities and I learned they had so much more to offer.
After spending some time in the best cities in Chile, it quickly became one of my favorite South American countries. In this guide, I have listed all the cities in Chile that inspired me and why they make a great stop on any Chilean itinerary.
Cities in Chile to Visit!
Each city in Chile offers something unique and special. They are for any type of traveler, whether you’re a person who appreciates the arts just as much as they do a day surfing at the beach or a treking through the mountains.
So without further ado, here are the best cities I highly recommend visiting in Chile and why they’re ideal as a holiday destination.
Most of my Chile trip was spent living like a local in Santiago. There is so much to do in Santiago, I hardly know where to begin.
For one thing, the architecture alone will leave you fascinated for days. One of my favorite things to do was explore the different Santiago neighborhoods.
El Golf resembles Miami, while Brasil is as Bohemian as you can get. I lived in the Lastarria barrio which was perfect for my bohemian interests and big city living.
Both the Museo de Artes Visuales Museo Arqueológico de Santiago are located here and Museo de Bellas Artes and Parque Forestal are a short walk away.
My favorite view of Santiago is from the top of the Santa Lucia hill. Entry is free and it proved the perfect place for me to gather my thoughts and write.
Don’t even get me started on Valparaiso. I’m so in love with this city that I seriously contemplated moving here simply because I found it so inspiring.
During the winter, I was able to get a truly local experience. There are hardly any tourists around but there is a lot of street art, which is one of the highlights of Valparaiso.
After speaking with a local resident, I learned that this street art in considered a hobby of many young people in Valpo. The high quality of these artworks barely resembled a hobby; I was hooked.
I’ve personally never gone surfing although it was a childhood dream of mine to become a pro surfer. Regardless of skill, Reñaca and Viña del Mar are two beaches that are popular among surfers.
Viña del Mar tends to be a bit crowded during high season. Reñaca is mainly a residential neighborhood a short bus ride away from Viña del Mar.
Despite the cold waters, there was a surfing class going on and I was tempted to jump in and join myself. During the warm weather, locals and travelers enjoy the beach for tanning, swimming and outdoor sports.
While you are there, make sure to check out the local seafood cuisine. It was some of the best I had in all of Chile.
4. Santa Cruz
Part of my time in Chile was unfortunately spent being sick. I think it was a combination of things but mainly due to the fact that I was going from 90 degree weather to much colder temperatures.
Instead of spending a day skiing like my boyfriend and I planned, we opted for a more cultural experience – wine tasting.
A local friend who we met in Santiago offered to drive us about two hours south to Santa Cruz for lunch and wine tasting at Viu Manent Winery.
I used to horseback ride as a kid so I thoroughly enjoyed our horse carriage ride through the fields almost as much as the wine itself. Our lunch was held a few minutes drive away at the famous Hotel Santa Cruz.
You had me at wine
5. Cerro Providencia
If you are craving a little nature and these other cities haven’t quite done it for you, head straight to Cerro Providencia and trek through the mountains.
It’s located just east of Santiago, making it easily accessible for the city dweller. The climb is popular due to it not being terribly challenging but it does offer quite a spectacular view.
Although more of a town, Pucon has to be featured on this list as it offers so much to anyone visiting Chile. Located in the Araucanía Region, it’s a great destination for those seeking to experience nature and adventure.
With its beautiful snow-capped Andes mountains, glaciers, volcanoes, pristine glacial lakes and lush green forests, Pucón is the perfect place for outdoor activities.
From skiing and snowboarding on the Villarrica Volcano or kayaking on Lake Villarrica to hiking through Huerquehue National Park, there are plenty of adventure sports to take part in.
Visitors can also soak in the thermal hot springs at Huife or explore nearby Conguillio National Park where ancient Mapuche ruins can be found.
Pucón’s vibrant history dates back centuries when it was inhabited by the indigenous Mapuche people who held strong spiritual beliefs about the powerful forces found within nature.
This unique cultural heritage still resonates with visitors today who come to explore and appreciate this special part of the world.
Chile’s coastal town of Castro is a must-see destination for travelers looking to experience the country’s rich history and vibrant culture.
It’s located on Chiloé Island, and is a historic city home to some of Chile’s oldest World Heritage Sites including the Church of San Francisco and the Palafitos de Castro stilt houses.
The unique architecture reflects the area’s Spanish colonial influences, making it a great spot for history buffs to enjoy some sightseeing.
If you prefer the outdoors, you can find a range of activities such as kayaking, whale watching, and fly-fishing.
Aside from its diverse attractions and activities, Castro is also home to a lively cultural scene with festivals, such as “Castro’s Festival Costumbrista”, which celebrates the customs of the island of Chiloe, and features local music, art, food, and theater.
8. Puerto Varas
Puerto Varas is another city in Chile that’s great for travelers looking to experience both nature and history.
The city is located in the foothills of Osorno Volcano, which looms at an altitude of 2,652 meters above sea level, on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, one of the largest and most beautiful lakes in South America.
It’s nestled in Chile’s lake district, which covers for 344 square km and crosses between two provinces, Ninth and Tenth regions. There are 12 major lakes in the lake district, but Lake Llanquihue is the biggest.
Puerto Varas was founded by German settlers in the mid-19th century, giving it an interesting mix of Germanic colonial buildings and traditional Chilean culture.
Visitors can explore the area’s rich history through museums, hiking trails, and boat tours.
Nature lovers will delight in the stunning views that this region has to offer with its diverse landscape ranging from lush glacial forests to snow-capped peaks.
Adventuresome travelers can enjoy kayaking, hiking, climbing trails, skiing, fishing and sailing trips on Lake Llanquihue or explore its nearby rivers and active volcanoes.
With its wide variety of activities and breathtaking scenery, Puerto Varas is one of the best cities in Chile because of its diversity.
9. La Serena
La Serena is a beautiful city in Chile located right next to the Pacific Ocean.
It was founded in 1544, making it the second oldest city in Chile and boasts an impressive colonial heritage, with cobblestone streets and whitewashed houses in neo-colonial architecture that are sure to delight any visitor.
La Serena features many historical attractions such as the monuments San Francisco de Asis and El Faro, both of which overlook the city from their hilltop perches.
La Serena is also home to numerous beaches, beach resorts, and parks, making it a perfect destination for beachgoers and nature lovers.
At night, visitors can enjoy the thriving nightlife, with many casinos or live music events happening nightly throughout town.
La Serena is a laid-back city that has something for everyone, making it an ideal vacation spot for those looking for a bit of relaxation combined with fun and adventure.
La Serena is one of the best places for astronomers as it’s the gateway to the Elqui Valley, which is known to have clearest skies in the southern hemisphere.
Arica is a beautiful city that offers travellers the perfect combination of culture and nature.
With its long and fascinating history, there are plenty of historic sites to explore, such as the ruins of Azapa Valley, the old Fort with its ancient cannons, and San Marcos Cathedral.
For adventure seekers, Arica offers many different activities like snorkeling in the bay, surfing on the sandy beaches or taking a hike up El Morro on the peninsula for incredible views over the city.
It’s also known for its vibrant, cultural festivals throughout the year, such as the buzzing Arica Carnival.
It’s also the gateway to the Lauca National Park for those who want to see some of Chile’s breathtaking scenery.
Arica is known for its mild climate year-round so visitors can enjoy a beach day any day they choose.
Being located near Peru and Bolivia makes it easy to visit these other countries too while enjoying all that Arica has to offer during your stay.
Concepción is a large city in Chile known for its mysterious beauty and fascinating history.
Located on the banks of the Bíobío River, it offers a wealth of cultural experiences, outdoor adventures and natural attractions.
With its colonial architecture, spectacular coastal views and vibrant university scene, Concepción is an ideal destination for those seeking exciting activities and a unique travel experience.
The city was founded in 1550 by Spanish colonizers who named it after the Virgin Mary, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.
Its captivating culture is filled with fascinating stories about brave conquistadors and their battles against indigenous tribes.
You can explore historical sites such as the National Museum of Natural History or take a tour of one of the many 18th century monuments.
Concepción also provides plenty of opportunities for visitors to get active outdoors.
From mountain biking to trekking through nearby forests or sailing along the Bíobío River, there’s something for everyone to enjoy that showcases Chile’s stunning landscapes.
13. Rapa Nui
Rapa Nui is a destination like no other. With its fascinating ancient history and remarkable culture, if you have the means to go there, you simply should.
Rapa Nui, otherwise known as Easter Island, was once inhabited by a thriving Polynesian people who built hundreds of remarkable massive stone statues known as moai, which are now world famous.
The island’s traditional culture also remains strong today with vibrant festivals and ceremonies throughout the year.
In addition to its rich history and culture, visitors can explore stunning beaches fringed with palm trees and crystal blue waters filled with colorful fish.
With its fascinating history and exciting activities, Rapa Nui is a great place for vacationers who want to experience something truly unique.
14. San Pedro de Atacama
Although it’s a town, San Pedro de Atacama should not be missed off any Chile trip. It’s the gateway to the Atacama Desert, the world’s driest desert, as well as the Salar de Atacama salt flats.
Also in the desert is many geologic wonders, such as the Tatio Geysers, the largest geyser field in the world, which is about 1.5 hours drive from the town of San Pedro de Atacama.
Also nearby is the Los Flamencos National Reserve, which is home to the Valle de la Luna, a valley known for it’s moon-like landscape with rugged sand dunes and distinct rock formations that look like craters.
The town itself is small and quiet, but it’s so ideally located near to some of Chile’s top adventures, it simply cannot be skipped.
15. Puerto Natales
The last city in Chile on this list you must visit is Puerto Natales.
Located at the southern tip of Chile, on the edge of Torres del Paine National Park which extends into Argentina, it was founded in 1911 by the Chilean Navy and has remained an important port town ever since.
The stunning natural landscape surrounding the city offers a wealth of opportunities for exploration, including glaciers, mountains, and fjords to explore.
In addition, the city also boasts a number of interesting historical sites, including Punta Arenas, which is North America’s southernmost city.
Visitors can go kayaking or take boat tours through the Patagonian fjords to experience some of the most breathtaking views imaginable.
For those looking for something more cultural and interactive, there are a variety of museums and art galleries located throughout Puerto Natales including Museo del Mar y la Naturaleza de Magallanes.
Overall, Puerto Natales offers visitors an incredible range of experiences, from outdoor adventure to cultural exploration.
Best Time to Visit Chile
Chile is a country that can be visited all year round, but you will find fewer crowds and great weather in the shoulder seasons of spring (September – October) and autumn.
Autumn (March, April, May) still has snow in Patagonia, so you might want to opt for summer time (November to January) if you want to add some hiking on to your trip.
Winter (May – August) is not the ideal time to visit because of snow, but if you just stick to the cities, you’ll still have an enjoyable time.
Final Thoughts on Cities in Chile to Visit
Chile’s geography reminded me a lot of California, with everything from beaches, to mountains, to wineries, to deserts.
So if one city doesn’t quite do it for you, there are plenty of others that offer the chance to escape to the beaches, or head out on nature walks and outdoors hiking.
Chilean cities are not just a vibe in themselves, but a great base to explore some of Chile’s iconic landscapes and nature spots.
We hope this guide helped you decide which cities in Chile to add to your itinerary and helped you plan your trip.
Bio: Megan Eileen McDonough is the Founder of Bohemian Trails, an online travel magazine covering global art, culture and off the beaten path destinations for the avant-garde traveler. Her travels have taken her to Europe, South America, Mexico and Egypt and she currently lives in New York City. Follow Bohemian Trails on Facebook and Tweet Megan @BohemianTrails.
Have you been to Chile before? Can you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!