Although Chile might be best known for the outstanding beauty of its natural landscapes, the towns and cities dotted across this nation deserve more attention from foreign visitors. Captivating museums, fine dining and some of South America’s best beaches await in the following major cities in Chile.
Major cities in Chile: Santiago
The Chilean capital, Santiago is most visitors’ initial introduction to Chile, as international flights touch down in Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in the northwest of the city.
It’s hard not to be astounded by this capital’s unique skyline; skyscrapers emerge out of the city, blending into the looming backdrop of the snow-capped Andes that border Santiago’s eastern side.
A vibrant range of restaurants serving excellent Chilean cuisine, such as ceviche and pastel de choclo, can be found in the districts of Bellavista and Lastarria, while the National History Museum and Cerro San Cristobal – the latter with its panoramic views of the entire city – merit an afternoon’s exploration.
Major cities in Chile: Valparaíso
An hour and a half’s drive northwest of the capital lies quirky, bohemian and liberal Valparaíso. Much of this city is a higgledy-piggledy warren of streets and brightly painted houses and visitors can delight in a morning spent wandering these cobbled roads and admiring the artistic scenes that have been daubed on the sides of buildings.
An afternoon is perfect for learning about Chile’s most famous poet, Pablo Neruda in his former residence that overlooks the whole city from its vantage point at the top of a hill. What’s more, Valparaíso has a huge selection of trendy watering holes serving up a growing range of craft beer, so your evenings here pass in comfort and style.
Major cities in Chile: Viña del Mar
A 15-minute drive along the seafront brings you to another of the most interesting major cities in Chile: Viña del Mar. Its name means “vineyard by the sea” and dates back to its origins as the location of a large hacienda.
Nowadays, it’s a relaxed, luxurious hangout with restaurants serving the freshest catch of the day spilling out onto the city’s sprawling public beaches.
Although the Pacific Ocean might be chilly for much of the year, the hot summer weather of Viña make this city ideal for a break from the heat of the capital and excellent day trips can be taken to the nearbby beach towns, Reñaca and Concón.
Major cities in Chile: La Serena
Further north in the Coquimbo región of Chile lies La Serena, another famed seaside town within easy reach of the Elqui Valley, the country’s top pisco producing region. Long, golden beaches grace the western edge of this city and it’s easy to lose a few days basking in the glorious sunshine for which this region is famed.
A handful of days are well spent exploring the vineyards and bodegas of nearby Vicuña and Pisco Elqui, where tours to some of the region’s boutique pisco producers give an introduction to Chile’s distinctive aguardiente.
It’s also possible to watch some of the clearest skies in South America from an observatory in the Elqui Valley, as well as to visit the former home of Nobel Prize-winning poet, Gabriela Mistral, which has since been transformed into a museum about her life.
Major cities in Chile: Punta Arenas
In the far south of Chile sits the capital of the Magallanes Region, Punta Arenas. Situated on the western shore of the Strait of Magellan, the city has easy access to the multiplicity of islands located in the waterway, including Isla Magdalena, the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in Chile, and the untouched fjords of the far south.
While the city’s museums present the region’s fascinating history, Punta Arenas is more often a stop off on a trip up to Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia’s undisputed prime attraction. Hikers can delight in the landscape of steppe and granite towers that pepper this dramatic and utterly unique region of Chile.