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Santiago is one of those metropolitan joys where the more you look, the more you find. Funky cafes and dance clubs dot Bellavista, Forest Park art collections range from pre-Columbian to contemporary, and architecture runs the gamut from the 16th-century San Francisco Church to mirrored office towers. Shop with the locals at Mall Panora¡mico and give your palate meals to remember with hearty Chilean fare.
Located in the South Pacific more than 2,000 miles off the Chilean coast, Easter Island’s not the easiest place to reach. (If you’re interested, the easiest access is by air from Santiago or Tahiti.) But isolation has helped preserve the 1,500-year-old mysterious congregation of volcanic rock sculptures (maoi) that’s the island’s biggest claim to fame. After exploring the unique landscape, relax on an uncrowded beach and ponder one of the most mysterious places on Earth.
Looking for an unusual and beautiful landscape? Sandstone canyons, flamingo-dotted salt flats, steaming geysers, hot springs, volcanic peaks and alien-looking rock formations are on offer all around San Pedro de Atacama. Hiking, biking and horseback riding are the preferred means of exploration. Death Valley here is surprisingly great for picnics.
Proximity to the stunning Torres del Paine National Park makes Puerto Natales a gateway to adventure. It’s the best place to stock up on supplies and get your gear in order before you hop a two-hour bus ride to the park. This is an area for nature lovers, with plenty of opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, sailing and exploring.
Explore lovely, compact Puerto Varas on foot, the best way to take in views of Osorno Volcano and the wooden colonial homes built by German immigrants in the early 1900s. Several are designated as national monuments. Located on the shores of Lago Llanquihue, Chile's second-largest lake, the village is the low-key antidote to the Lake District metropolis of Puerto Montt and serves as a jumping off point for fly-fishing, whitewater rafting, horseback riding and sea kayaking excursions.
Deep in the Patagonian Andes, Pucon is a picture perfect town accessed by plane in summer or by a nine-hour drive or train ride from Santiago. A great base for adventure vacations, Pucon is crammed with visitors during summer months December, January and February. Watch molten magma ooze down Mount Villarrica, hop between hot and cold thermal pools at Termas Geometricas or take the reigns of Criollo horses to explore the Andes on horseback. For other expeditions, rent a car or mountain bike.
Although it's only a 30-minute ferry crossing away from mainland Chile across the Chacao Channel, verdant Isla Chiloe – the largest in the Chiloe archipelago – is another world. Sixteen wooden churches clustered around Castro on the island's east coast have UNESCO World Heritage status, and traditional palafitos (houses on stilts) dot its shores. To the west, Chiloe National Park shelters foxes, sea lions and otters and provides unspoiled terrain for horseback riding, sea kayaking and fishing.
Only 70 miles northwest of capital Santiago, Valparaiso is Chile's main port and known for its bohemian, artistic vibe and lovely vistas. Its UNESCO-designated historic downtown offers charming colonial architecture, great seafood restaurants, markets and stores. Take 100-year-old funicular Ascensor Artilleria or climb Cerro Concepcion for stunning ocean and city views. Back at street level, visit writer Pablo Neruda's house.
Overlooking the Strait of Magellan, this isolated city in southern Patagonia bustles with windswept trekkers en route to glacier-filled Torres del Paine National Park or an Antarctic cruise. Before transiting, take note of the mansion-lined main square, Plaza Muñoz Gamero; the City Cemetery, with its elaborate tombs; and the Sara Braun Palace and Braun Menendez Residence, a preserved slice of the city's wealthy pioneer past. Daily flights connect the city with Santiago and Ushuaia.