Three weeks in Chile: the first-timer’s itinerary
A curated guide to planning your three weeks in northern Chile from this tried and tested itinerary, where to stay and what to do in the country of volcanoes and empanadas.
Name a natural phenomenon and you’ll probably be able to find it in Chile. Volcanoes, deserts, lagoons, natural hot springs and beautiful beaches all collected into a thin strip of land hugged by the Pacific ocean the whole way. What made us truly fall in love with this country must be its people, and not in a cliche’ way. Chileans are constantly warm, kind and welcoming. We’ve been greeted when passing by on the streets everyday and despite our broken Spanish we’ve been understood and helped in countless occasions. Our best memory of Chile will always be a honey-coloured afternoons, cycling downhill through the Elqui Valley with a group of people met at the most chilled hostel we’ve ever stayed in. The air smells like sun, vines and freedom.
Santiago: 3 days
At first look, it might seem like a concrete jungle but it will take you only one short day to uncover the true side of the city: vibrant with young energy, historic yet modern, with unexpected nooks of street style coolness.
Where to stay in Santiago
The city is rich with options, for any budget. We recommend Hotel Altiplanico Bellas Artes situated in the heart of Bellas Artes neighbourhood, walking distance to the National Fine Arts Museum or Airbnb GEN for amazing rooftop views.
What to do in Santiago
Santiago offers some incredible views, a vibrant nightlife and cultural scene. During the day hike or take the funicular up Cerro San Cristobal for the most incredible view over the city and spend an afternoon admiring Chilean modern art at the MAC, Museo de Arte Contemporánea. In the evening make your way to Barrio Bellavista for a cerveza and Latin American music. Read 3 days in Santiago Quick guide here.
Valparaiso: 3 days
There are no better words than the ones of the Nobel Prize Pablo Neruda to describe his beloved city; “Valparaíso, how absurd you are…you haven't combed your hair, you've never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you.' A city that is a real life painting, where every wall is a canvas for artistic expression, so unique and so hypnotizing to be assigned a spot on the list of World Heritage sites.
Where to stay in Valparaiso
For an upmarket hotel, we recommend Zero Hotel, located 200 meters from Valparaíso's Yuguslavo Promenade, this beautiful hotel fits perfectly with the surroundings in its light blue facade. For a budget option, we suggest La Joya Hostel. Their tagline reads “working to be the best hostel in South America” and they are not far off. Designed by Zuniga Studio & Co. La Joya is possibly the coolest hostel you’ll ever visit.
Valparaiso is best discovered by foot, walk its streets to immerse yourself in the mesmerizing street art that covers the walls of the entire city centre. Visit La Sebastiana, once the home of Pablo Neruda where he composed many of his best work while. Just outside Valparaiso there many other beautiful sites and landscapes to discover. Read the Valparaiso Quick guide here.
Vicuña: 4 nights
The Elqui Valley is a magical place. A place where the stars seem closer, where the sky is always blue and where wild flowers and fruits grow undisturbed under the bright southern sun. Vicuna has been all of our South America’s dreams coming true, a mix of adventure and cultural exploration, pisco tasting and star gazing.
Where to stay in Vicuña
Hostal Michel was the best hostel we’ve been to in Chile, and probably the best ever. This family-run hostel is an oasis of peace, with all comforts, offering both private rooms and dorms. If you are looking for a more upmarket accommodation we recommend Terral Hotel & Spa, a beautiful four-star hotel built in 2010 is structured as an old cité.
What to do in Vicuña
Bicycling is the best way to discover the Elqui Valley from Vicuna. There are several routes to follow, shorter and longer, which will take you through the whole valley, passing through small little villages, wine and pisco farms and famous Chilean poet Gabriella Mistral’s native home. The Elqui Valley is also famous for stargazing, being home to some of the best telescopes in the world. Be mesmerized observing the sky through the telescopes at the Mamalluca Observatory. Read more about Vicuna here.
Bahia Inglesa: 2 nights
Bahia Inglesa is an ideal stop during the summer months. A picture perfect little beach town, with restaurants and bars opening onto white sand beaches and crystal clear waters.
Where to stay in Bahia Inglesa
Hotel Cabanas Ecologicas offers lovely individual beach huts, with all comforts and an unbeatable location. Another great choice is the K Hotel Boutique , also right on the beach, with spacious perfectly decorated rooms with amazing views from the balcony.
What to do in Bahia Inglesa
Bahia Inglesa is the perfect place to relax on the white sand beaches and enjoy the clear blue waters. It’s warm winds and nice temperatures make it an ideal spot for water sports such as kitesurfing. On the main road by the beach you will find a great selection of restaurants and bars to choose from.
Antofogasta: 1 day - Mano del Desierto
If you are up for an adventure, we recommend a visit to the Mano del Desierto. This 11-meter high statue is a vision coming straight out of the Atacama desert. A sculpture created by Chilean artist Mario Irarrazabal and isolated 75 km from the city of Antofagasta. You don’t need to sleep there but you can make it a day trip either by renting a car or using an organized trip. Read more about Mano del Desierto and how to reach it here.
Iquique: 3 days
Iquique is the textbook surf town. Consistently perfect waves bless the surfers, it never rains and good, healthy food is spread all over the city. It’s also the perfect place to stop when travelling north to reach Arica or Peru. We spent few lazy, perfect days to recharge and relax.
Where to sleep in Iquique
For an upmarket option, we recommend Pampa Hotel. Modern and stylish, with ten comfortable rooms and welcoming commons areas. The Pampa Hotel is your dream design house. If you are looking for a cheaper option your best choice is El Faro Hostal. This family-run B&B has four rooms and an inside courtyard, where breakfast is beautifully served in the morning. The hosts are the kindest and most accommodating we’ve encountered during our trip and made our stay extra comfortable.
What to do in Iquique
Iquique is ideal for water sports and has the best weather conditions for surfing. You can rent a surfboard and wetsuit at the surf shop next to Mahalo Good Food cafe for 15,000 CLP. For daily activities, take a day trip to Humberstone and Santa Laura saltpetre works. Or visit Pica, where you can taste the famous Pica lime or spend a lazy afternoon at a fresh-water oasis! Read more about Iquique here.
San Pedro: 5 days
The Atacama Desert is one of those places in the world that you have to go see for yourself to appreciate its sheer beauty. San Pedro de Atacama is the perfect base camp to discover and explore the beauty of this region. A cute little desert town with a holiday vibe and all types of accommodations, restaurants and shops for every type of traveller.
Where to sleep in San Pedro
If you want to splash out we suggest Tierra Atacama , one of the best boutique hotels, where exquisite design meets incredible views and top-notch service. For a more budget, but equally comfortable stay the Domos los Abuelos is a great option. These little round houses look like igloos made of cement lined up neatly in the desert sun. They come with private bathrooms or without, but all come with their own hammocks and little table outside to enjoy the sunny afternoons in San Pedro.
What to do in San Pedro
There is so much to do and see around San Pedro that you could literally spend two weeks exploring. To make it all happen in a short amount of time our recommendation is to rent a car and do it yourself (instead of using the organized tours). You will save money and be flexible on timing. There are a lot of activities but as a must, we definitely recommend sunset viewing in Valle de La Luna; visiting the Lagunas and experience floating in Laguna Cejar; watch the explosions at the Geyser el Tatio at sunrise and finally relax in the bliss of the natural hot springs of Termas de Puritana. Read everything about San Pedro here, including where to eat!
Thank you Chile!
After San Pedro, we crossed into Bolivia and reached Uyuni with an international bus. If you are continuing your journey to Bolivia we would recommend starting the Salar de Uyuni tour from San Pedro. It will be slightly more expensive, but it will avoid you having to take an international bus for no reason.
Chile, you’ve been an incredible discovery. We hope to have bumped Chile up to the top of your bucket list, trust us you will not regret it!
If you have any question, request or doubts please reach out, we will be very happy to help you plan your trip to Chile.