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, it was never on my “must see” list. When the opportunity to travel there this past summer arose, I flew to Santiago with an open mind, but without any set expectations.
As it turned out, Chile quickly became one of my favorite South American countries and even though I visited during their cold winter, I managed to make the most of my trip.
What most surprised me about Chile is how ideal this country is for what I like to call the “Multi-Interest Traveler”.
This is a person who appreciates the arts just as much as they do a day surfing at the beach or a trek through the mountains.
Here are five cities I highly recommend visiting in Chile.
1. Santiago for Big City Living
Most of my Chile trip was spent living like a local in Santiago. There is so much to do here, 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 in Santiago was explore the different 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.
2. Valparaiso for Street Art
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.
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.
3. Reñaca for Surfing
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 for Wine Tasting
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 for Nature
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.
Chile’s geography reminded me a lot of California, so if this mountain doesn’t quite do it for you, there are plenty of other nature walks and outdoors hiking you can do in other Chilean cities.
Have you been to Chile before? Can you add to this list?
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.