Chile is a thin country, full of big surprises.
Chile has a total distance from North to South is about 4.300 kilometers (2.671 miles). It extends across the Pacific ocean and offers an incredibly diverse range of landscapes, with the driest desert on Earth in the north (the Atacama desert), the world’s third largest freshwater reservoir in the south (the southern Patagonian ice fields) and the great Andes mountain range in the East. Across these wild landscapes, you will see some beautiful towns no traveler should miss on a trip to Chile.
And while Santiago de Chile - Chile’s lively capital - is a must-see on a trip to Chile as a great starting point for some epic adventures, there are plenty of other towns that are known for their energy, history, scenery and unique beauty.
These are the most beautiful towns in Chile, from North to South.
Putré is a small town, with less than 1,500 inhabitants. However, this charming little town located 130 kilometers east of Arica - near Peru’s border - at an altitude of 3,500 meters (11,483 ft) has one of Chile’s most spectacular locations. It is backdropped by the Taapaca volcanic complex, on the edge of Lauca national park (one of the most beautiful national parks in northern Chile). The town is known for its charming colonial buildings, with a nice historical church. The tranquil “pueblo” is an Aymara settlement, indigenous people in the Andes and Altiplano regions of South America.
2. San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama is literally an oasis in the world’s driest desert. This northeastern heaven is the best starting point for exploring the highlights of Atacama, such as the moon valley, the Tatio geysers and the altiplano lagoons. It is backdropped by the Licancabur volcanoes and many other volcanoes you can visit on day trips (why not explore them on a multi day trek?). In the town, you’ll want to see the old church of San Pedro - a national monument built with adobe - and the R.P. Gustavo Le Paige Archeological Museum, that displays ceramics and pottery crafts from the first inhabitants of the area.
3. La Serena
La Serena was founded in 1544, which makes it the second oldest city in Chile after Santiago. It is the capital of the Coquimbo region, and it attracts plenty of visitors for its colonial and neo-colonial architecture. Its streets are full of pretty churches and lively squares. Also, you’ll find nice sandy beaches that make it a good spot to mix culture and relaxation. As for the location, La Serena is located near the Elqui valley, one of the best areas in the country for stargazing and wine (and Pisco!) tasting.
Credit of the picture above : Very Nice Travels (check out their guide of La Serena!)
Only an hour and a half away from Santiago, Valparaíso’s historic quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the most colorful town in Chile, with plenty of street paintings and charming houses overlooking the Pacific ocean. The bohemian culture here is very strong, with plenty of street artists and a lively nightlife. Walk around the hills by strolling the narrow streets to make the best of your visit!
Also, you shouldn’t miss the neighboring city of Viña del Mar, known as the “Garden City” (ciudad gardín).
Further south is the town of Pucón, known amongst locals as a hotspot for adventure sports thanks to its privileged location at the edge of the Villarica lake and near the snow capped volcano of the same name. The all-year-round epic outdoor activities include rafting, kayaking, fly-fishing, hiking and canyoning. In the town itself, you’ll find wooden cafes and hotels and lots of great restaurants. Pucón is located not far from beautiful national parks and reserves, such as Huerquehue, Villarica and Santuario El Cañi.
The capital of the Los Ríos region, Valdivia was founded by Pedro de Valdivia in 1552. During the colonial period, the town was considered a strategic southern port for its location between three rivers (Calle-Calle, Cau-Cau and the Cruces river). The city is famous for its German heritage (you want Chilean beer? Here you go!) and the nearby coastal national parks and reserves, namely Alerce Costero national park and the Oncol park.
7. Puerto Varas
The “city of the roses” (ciudad de las rosas) is famous for its German traditions and enjoys a spectacular location near Vicente Perez national park, Chile’s first national park. There are some stunning volcanoes nearby, namely the Osorno, the Calbuco and the Puntiagudo. Puerto Varas is located at the shore of LLanquihue lake, the second largest lake in Chile. To get there, you simply need to fly to Puerto Montt (20-km away from here). There are other beautiful towns nearby - also with German traditions - namely Frutillar, Llanquihue and Puerto Octay.
Castro is Chile’s third oldest city. It is the capital of the Chiloé archipelago, and it is famous for its palafitos, traditional wooden houses of the island. Some of the palafitos are preserved in the town district Gamboa in the west of the town in a bay called Castro’s fjord (Fiordo de Castro). In Castro’s beautiful square, you’ll see one of the old wooden churches that are so famous in the country. If you visit the island, you may want to visit the UNESCO World Heritage churches and some beautiful national parks and reserves like Chiloé national park and Tantauco.
9. Caleta Tortel
A highlight of the Carretera Austral - Patagonia’s most epic road trip - Caleta Tortel is also one of the most remote localities in Chile. This tiny coastal village (less than 550 inhabitants) is located between the mouth of the Baker river - Chile’s largest river - and the Baker channel. Also, it is surrounded by places of raw beauty, including islands, fjords and glaciers of the southern Patagonian ice fields.
Caleta Tortel has long been accessible only by boat and by air, as the road was constructed in 2003 only. The stilt houses and wooden walkways built with Guaitecas cypress give the village its unique look. You can’t enter Caleta Tortel by car, so you’d better get ready for a nice walk.
10. Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales is known as the “entrance door to Torres del Paine” for its location near Chile’s finest national park (a 2-hour drive). You may be familiar with Torres del Paine national park, as this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is the most incredible place for hiking and wildlife watching in Chile. However, Puerto Natales itself is well worth a visit, as the town offers great views of the Last Hope sound - the local fjord - and a nice downtown with lively restaurants, bars and cafes. There are also beautiful hiking trails nearby, such as Laguna Sofia and Cerro Dorotea, and you may want to see the Milodon cave, a national monument that comprises several caves.
11. Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas is the capital city of Chile’s southernmost region, Magallanes. It is actually the most populous southernmost city in the Americas. Located north of the Magellan strait, it is a great starting point for wildlife watching excursions. If you want to spot penguins in the Magellan strait or go for a whale watching excursion, Punta Arenas is a must-do. The city itself is beautiful, with a nice colonial architecture especially around the main square. There is an interesting cemetery where you’ll witness stories of the first settlers who made their way through the Magellan strait.
12. Puerto Williams
The last town on the list is the world’s southernmost city, Puerto Williams! This small (less than 3,000 inhabitants) and peaceful town was founded in 1953, and was first named Puerto Luisa. The port attracts travelers aiming to Cape Horn or Antarctica. But there’s a real treasure next to the city, known as “Los Dientes de Navarino '', the southernmost trek on Earth. This epic multi day hike offers stunning views of the Beagle channel and surrounding mountains and is the ultimate adventure in Patagonia if you want to hike far from civilization.