2020 was a bad year for international tourism, and 2021 slowly got better.
However, the reopening of Chile’s borders and the successful vaccination campaign were reasons good enough to celebrate, and we at Cascada Expediciones were pleased to reopen EcoCamp Patagonia, our geodesic hotel in Torres del Paine National Park.
With that in mind, we trust 2022 will definitely be a better year for travelers. All of us need some travel, and hiking in wild places has never felt so urgent. Do you also have such wanderlust? If you’re looking for beautiful natural scenery and the most stunning hiking trails in the world, Chile has it all! It is also a safe destination in times of COVID-19, with more than 90% of the population fully vaccinated against the virus.
These are the most epic places in Chile (from north to south), so you can put them on your 2022 Bucket List. ¡Hasta luego!
1. San Pedro de Atacama
1700 kilometers north of Santiago de Chile, you’ll find the most fascinating destination in the Atacama desert. San Pedro de Atacama has been growing over centuries around an oasis in the Puna de Atacama, an arid plateau. It overlooks the Licancabur volcano, and plenty of giant volcanoes are located nearby. It is a fantastic place for nature lovers, with the Tatio geysers, a geothermal field located at 4200m.a.s.l. You’ll also find some natural treasures, such as the Moon valley, the Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons, the Rainbow valley and the Flamencos national reserve (best place in the desert to observe flamingos). And to top it all, the area of San Pedro de Atacama also features archeological treasures, with native ruins that attract visitors interested in Pre-Columbian cultures. Ready to explore the driest desert on Earth?
2. Bahía Inglesa
No, this is not the Caribbean. You’ll definitely realize you’re not in the tropics while swimming through these fresh waters. But the otherworldly landscapes of the Atacama coastline are just as scenic as the Caribbean sea, with peaceful sandy beaches and wonderful blue waters. If you drive one hour from Copiapó in Chile’s Atacama desert, you’ll reach the small town of Bahía Inglesa. This is a popular beach destination amongst Chileans, and you’ll find plenty of incredible beaches nearby, such as La Virgen, Chorrillos and Zapatilla.
3. Valparaíso and Viña del Mar
The “Jewel of the Pacific” is located only about 120 kilometers from Chile’s capital Santiago de Chile, which makes it a great destination for a romantic getaway to one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Valparaíso was very popular amongst sailors during the golden age and was a real magnet for European immigrants. The colorful streets of Valparaíso are the reason why sailors used to call the city “Little San Francisco”. In 2003, the historic quarter of Valparaíso was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And if you come here, you’d be wrong not to travel to the neighbor Viña del Mar, the lively “Garden City”.
4. The Colchagua Wine Valley
You are probably familiar with the fact Chile has some of the best wine in the world. The quality of its wine has been improving considerably over the past years, with some exceptional weather conditions and great knowledge. The Colchagua valley is set at the heart of the Central Valley - a couple of hours south of Santiago de Chile - and is an icon of wine production in Chile. And it is not only a great place for wine lovers, it is also a cool place for active travelers with horseback riding and hiking opportunities.
5. Conguillío National Park
Conguillío National Park was declared a national park in 1950 and it is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular parks in southern Chile, with ancient forests of Araucaría pine trees, blue lakes and the snow capped Llaima volcano as a backdrop. Its landscapes attract thousands of hikers every year, but you’ll find some incredible spots all around the national park, with stunning lava flows and impressive evergreen forests. If you come in Winter (June to September) you can even ski at Corralco in the nearby Malalcahuello reserve, surrounded by volcanoes such as the Lonquimay and the Tolhuaca.
6. The Valdivian Coastline
Founded by Pedro de Valdivia in 1552, the city of Valdivia is located near the shore of the Pacific ocean, at the confluence of the Calle-Calle, Valdivia and Cau-Cau rivers. In the mid-19th century, Valdivia was the port of entry of German immigrants who settled in the region. Today, this German heritage can be seen in the local architecture and culture (prepare yourself for the best beer in Chile!).
But Valdivia is not only great for the city. Head to the coastal cities of Corral and Niebla and explore the nearby reserves, such as the Valdivian coastal reserve, Alerce Costero National Park and the Oncol Park, home of an incredible biodiversity hidden in the Valdivian jungle.
7. Chiloé Island
The Greater Island of Chiloé is much more than the entrance door to Chile’s Patagonia. It features mountains, swamps, forests and cultivated fields in the heart of the Chiloé archipelago. It is the second largest island in Chile (after Tierra del Fuego), with 8,394 square kilometers (3,241 sq mi) for you to explore. There are some beautiful reserves - such as the Tantauco park in the south - and the Chiloé National Park is a must-do for hikers. And if you’re a fish lover, you’ll eat plenty of fresh fish and seafood. Don’t miss the Castro stilt houses and don’t forget to talk to locals, so they tell you about their fascinating mythology!
8. The Marble Caves
The marble caves may just be the most picturesque caves in Chile, with their incredible location in Chile’s biggest lake, the General Carrera lake. The caves have formed over the last 6000/7000 years as the water melted from the nearby glaciers - most of them part of the Northern Patagonian ice field - washing up against the old marble. This hidden gem is only accessible by boat or by kayaking through the lake, which can be done from Puerto Río Tranquilo, a nice stopover while driving the Carretera Austral in the Aysén Region, Chile’s most stunning road.
9. Patagonia National Park
The Patagonia national park became a national park in 2018, when the Tompkins Conservation Foundation donated huge portions of land to Chile. Other private reserves - such as Jeinimeni and Tamango - were added to the previously called “Patagonia Park”. Nowadays, Patagonia National Park is undoubtedly one of the most stunning parks in Chile, with an area of 304,527 hectares to explore. There are dozens of epic hiking trails, and plenty of wildlife for nature lovers - such as the endangered South Andean Deers, pumas, ñandus and plenty of guanacos.
10. EcoCamp Patagonia
Impossible not to add the world’s first geodesic hotel to the list! EcoCamp Patagonia offers a spectacular way to experience the majesty of Torres del Paine National Park, with cozy, sustainable domes (almost) at the feet of the granite towers that gave their name to the park. This is a great starting point for Patagonia’s best hikes, namely the W Trek and the Torres del Paine Circuit “O Trek”. EcoCamp is a cool way to connect with nature and fellow travelers on a Digital Detox (there’s no WiFi here, but definitely a great connection). And if you’re not familiar with Torres del Paine National Park, this is simply Patagonia’s finest national park, with plenty of wildlife in some of the world’s most impressive landscapes.
11. Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas is not only the largest city in Chile’s Patagonia, it is also the “entrance door” to the Antarctic, as a strategic port at the shore of the Strait of Magellan. It is considered the city with the best quality of life in the region, with its peaceful streets that are full of history. And whereas the weather conditions in the region tend to be extreme - strong winds are usual - the area of Punta Arenas is well-known for its indigenous history, as the Selk’nam, Kawésqar and Tehuelches have been inhabiting the region for centuries.
12. Navarino Island
Here you are, in the southernmost city on Earth! Puerto Williams is a remote small town (only about 2,000 inhabitants), yet it is well-worth the visit. You can reach it by flying or sailing from Punta Arenas, or eventually by sailing from the neighbor Ushuaia in Argentina. The must-do here is the Dientes de Navarino circuit, one of Patagonia’s best hikes that is only recommended for experienced hikers. Due to the changing weather conditions and the simplicity and remoteness of the campsites (forget about WiFi!), consider hiking this epic circuit with an experienced guide (we will help you with that).