Discover Chile’s Must-see Adventure Tourism
For the third consecutive year, Chile has been named the World’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination by the World Travel Awards and so this is the perfect moment to review the unique adventure tourism opportunities that Chile offers from north to south.
Chile offers a huge range of options for those who love nature tourism and extreme sports and this is why it has been crowned World Travel Awards’ “World’s Leading Adventure Tourism Destination” for the third consecutive year. Chile received the award last weekend, having been chosen by worldwide popular vote ahead of adventure tourism powerhouses like the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Fiji and Ras Al Khaimah.
To enable visitors to discover the unique opportunities that visitors can enjoy from Arica y Parinacota in the far north to Magallanes in the deep south, the National Tourism Service (Sernatur) has compiled a list of unmissable adventure tourism spots, with everything you need to know to enjoy skiing, rafting, kayaking, scuba diving, sandboarding, kitesurfing, paragliding and much, much more.
For more information, see chile.travel.
ARICA Y PARINACOTA
Arica y Parinacota is a favorite of both local and international visitors who are looking to explore nature and adventure in a unique heritage setting. With its privileged location and proximity to well-established tourism destinations in the macro Andean region on the curve of South America, Arica y Parinacota has a year-round outdoor lifestyle and is home to the ancient Chinchorro culture and unique attractions. Its 22 kilometers (14 miles) of beaches seem to stretch into the horizon and its waves are perfect for all levels of surfers.
The region also boasts pristine landscapes with surprising biodiversity, including the wetlands nature sanctuary, which has 147 resident and migratory species and is perfect for coastal hiking, family trips and bird-watching. If you’re interested in catching a glimpse of Galapagos green turtles and other species, try taking out a kayak or paddleboard. Arica is the perfect winter sports destination because temperatures never dip below 20˚C (68˚F). This also makes it a popular option for hosting important international surfing competitions. The Las Misiones and Qhapaq Ñan heritage routes connect the sea with the high Andean plateau known as the Altiplano and there are now new services available in the Andean foothills and valleys. Finally, the Lauca Biosphere Reserve is one of the most attractive destinations for mountain climbing because of its volcanoes, natural conditions and beauty.
Paragliding lovers will find optimal weather conditions year-round in Iquique and Alto Hospicio. The cities are connected, enabling people to take-off from a height of 530 meters (1739 feet). Another option is in the Palo Buque area, where you can take off from a height of 80 meters
(262 feet) and soar up to 1,000 meters (3281 feet) above sea level. This is a great option for those who want to learn this sport and enjoy the view, including the plant life that receives its water from the coastal fog known locally as the camanchaca.
Visitors can also experience Cerro Dragón, the largest urban dune in the world. The site was named a nature sanctuary in 2005 and has since become home to a sandboarding circuit on virgin dunes just 20 minutes from Alto Hospicio. This option has become popular with both Chilean and international visitors alike.
Antofagasta is emerging as a great destination for adventure tourism. Its coast offers a surprising number of options from free diving, snorkeling and swimming off its magnificent beaches to hiring a registered supplier to take a submarine tour.
Visitors can take the submarine tour to visit Santa María Island, which is located 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Juan López and features clear water beaches and diverse marine wildlife, or the incredible Mejillones Peninsula, a quiet area with excellent accessibility and beautiful beaches.
If you’re interested in hiking, check out the Los Changos pre-historic art and culture circuit. Visitors can easily spot the rock paintings at el Médano, prehistoric remains at San Ramón and the Pictographs in Loreto near Taltal. Of course, San Pedro de Atacama always awaits tourists with numerous activities and attractions like Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte, which can be explored on foot, bicycle or horseback. Don’t miss the off-road circuits, which give you another view of San Pedro. The local tourism office has a listing of registered companies that have met the safety standards.
Atacama also has a wide range of adventure tourism options. On Chañaral de Aceituno Island, which is located 270 kilometers (168 miles) south of the city of Copiapó, visitors can practice recreational scuba diving and explore the biodiversity that inhabits the ocean floor. Boat tours of the island provide an opportunity to view Humboldt penguin colonies and colossal mammals including blue whales, humpback whales, fin whales, bottlenose dolphins and Risso’s dolphins, as well as otters, sea lions and seals.
Tourism options in Atacama also include mountain hiking – several tour operators lead groups of international tourists to Ojos del Salado -, sandboarding in its enormous expanse of dunes and trekking in the Llanos de Challe and Pan de Azúcar national parks.
The Coquimbo Region has fishing and scuba diving at its southern entrance and this area is all about ocean adventure. Pichidangui’s turquoise waters and white sand beaches are a magnet for those who enjoy recreational saltwater fly fishing, especially for sole and sea bass. Scuba diving allows visitors to experience a vast array of species in impressive underwater landscapes.
The Elqui, Limarí and Choapa Valleys are great for hiking, cycling and horseback riding, or you can ride in one of the unique buggies. All of these experiences are focused on sustainable tourism that is closely linked to local communities, culture and cuisine.
The Poets’ Coastline covers the municipalities of Casablanca, San Antonio, Algarrobo, El Quisco, Santo Domingo, Cartagena and El Tabo. The area is located approximately 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Valparaíso and 114 kilometers (71 miles) from Santiago.
Some of the biggest attractions in this area are the pleasant climate and the opportunity to engage in nautical activities. Perfect surfing waves stand in contrast to calm waters, where the wind plays a leading role and sets the scene for international championships in various disciplines. The fishing, boating, kayaking, bodyboarding, windsurfing, scuba diving and water skiing that can be found in this area are guaranteed to thrill anyone who loves the ocean.
The Valparaíso Region is packed with unique experiences and varied geography that includes beaches, forests, hills, rocky outcrops and lookouts, along with great paths and routes for walks, excursions, hikes and mountain biking. You can also go horseback riding in the Casablanca and Leyda wine valleys or along the coast.
The Aconcagua Valley, which sits 105 kilometers (65 miles) from Valparaíso and 90 km (56 miles) from Santiago, is an Andean basin through which the Aconcagua River flows. Its main tourist attractions include the Andes Mountains and the country’s first ski center to have earned a “Q” quality tourism seal. Visitors can experience all sorts of recreational activities related to the snow during the winter months. During the rest of the year, the region is perfect for trips, hiking and kayaking on the famous Laguna del Inca.
SANTIAGO METROPOLITAN REGION
One of the most interesting spots in this area is Cajón del Maipo, which is located one hour from Santiago, the Chilean capital. Visitors can enjoy adventure sports, ecotourism, mountain tourism, hiking and hot springs visits.
Agencies lead rafting trips down the Maipo River that last one to three hours and include a talk on safety, transportation, rafting and safety equipment (helmet, life vest, oars) and wetsuits and shoes. Winter brings many opportunities for snow-related sports, such as skiing and snowboarding at Farellones, La Parva, El Colorado, Valle Nevado, etc.
The O’Higgins Region has a wide range of tourist attractions, including nautical sports and visits to wineries. You can also take part in traditional rural activities and experience its rich cultural heritage.
Pichilemu, the world capital of surfing, is an important tourist destination in the region and is the perfect place to go surfing, windsurfing or kitesurfing.
The valley and Andean foothills are ideal for supporting adventure tourism companies, specifically those that offer hiking, rafting, horseback riding and mountain climbing services.
The Maule Region is an excellent place to engage in adventure tourism activities. Its terrain makes it a winter vacation favorite, though it is great to visit any time of year.
The area has many rivers and is a great option for fishing. You can enjoy fly fishing from the river banks or a boat on the powerful Mataquito River. In addition to varied and rich vegetation, there are tourism services for visitors nearby. The crystalline, pleasant waters of Colbún Lake also offer a great place for fly fishing during the summer and winter months, as well as kayaking and sailing.
Trekking is also popular here. The Los Cóndores Circuit is a five-day hike from Vilches to Laguna del Alto, descending 700 meters (2297 feet) and stopping at natural hot springs and rivers. The route offers a view of the imposing Descabezado Volcano. Other highlights include hiking, horseback riding or walking through the Radal Siete Tazas National Park and the Cajón del Río Achibueno and Rocas de Constitución nature sanctuaries.
Nature lovers will take delight in the mountains, rivers, lagoons and forests in Ñuble. San Fabián de Alico has qualified guides and companies that offer excursions for all types of tourism, from adventure tourism for thrill-seekers through to calmer options for families.
Those who are seeking more extreme experiences can admire condors flying in the upper Andes of Ñuble. Don’t miss out on the rafting and kayaking on the Ñuble River, experiences that have found fans among Chilean rafting and kayaking experts.
You can also ride through the mountains on horseback, crossing into extraordinarily beautiful landscapes and enjoying recreational fishing, mountain climbing and, of course, local cuisine, such as spit-roast goat and products prepared according to the local traditions.
Las Trancas Valley offers a chance to observe the local wildlife or hike to the Shangri-La area. Four or five-hour hikes will take you into ancient coihue forests, where you can find a cliff formed out of volcanic rock and minerals or climb up to the densely vegetated Purgatorio, where there are abundant waterfalls.
The Andes are an excellent place to engage in adventure activities such as horseback riding in the mountains, ziplining and climbing, with descents over rocky areas that end in waterfalls. One of the most famous waterfalls is Rucapiren, which is nearly 50 meters (164 feet) high and can be explored with expert guides.
Biobío is the ideal place for those looking for unique experiences. Visitors can go fly fishing and enjoy beautiful hiking paths surrounded by centuries’ old monkey puzzle trees in Alto Biobío and El Barco Lagoon, and the Lleu and Lanalhue Lakes in Arauco province are perfect for kayaking, waterbiking, boating and other activities.
This region is also home to eight parks and natural reserves with striking hiking trails that offer a chance to learn more about Chilean forests.
The Andean area of Araucanía offers highlights such as the Conguillío Park, Malalcahuello National Reserve and Tolhuaca National Park, unique experiences that will enable you to discover the beauty and majesty of this region. One highlight is the tour that begins in the city of Curacautín, where a support vehicle transports you, along with bikes, to the former train station in Malalcahuello, the point of departure for a bike tour where you can enjoy native forests, creeks, the snow-capped mountains, the Mocho Volcano and the tunnels through which the trains used to pass.
Rafting is one of the most popular activities thanks to the forceful rivers in the Andino-Lacustre area. Trancura and Liucura are great options for those seeking a high dose of adrenaline or simply a new experience, offering class I, II, III and IV rapids and options for beginners and experts alike. Local operators are staffed by qualified adventure tourism guides.
There are many cycling routes with varying degrees of difficulty, and all of them take you through magnificent landscapes. The paths cut through lava valleys, follow the edges of rivers and wind through native forests. Mountain biking fans will love Pucón and its surroundings, as well as the paths in Conguillío National Park, which are exceptional locations. Cerro Ñielol, a hill in Temuco, is frequented by hundreds of fans of this activity. Rupestre Explorer is an excellent option if you are looking for a tour operator that specializes in mountain biking.
In this region, visitors can kayak along the rivers of Valdivia and explore the rivers and wetlands in the Los Ríos Region in small or large boats. Half-day and full-day trips are available on the Angachilla, Valdivia, Calle, Cruces and Cau Rivers.
Local options also include kayaking on the rivers of the Ranco Basin and hiking along paths and in parks like Alerce Costero in the municipality of La Unión. Alerce Costero National Park has a medium difficulty path that winds through the Valdivian forest, surrounded by native trees such as alerce, coihue and Canelo. The well-equipped park is managed by the government agency Conaf and can be explored independently or with a guide.
Coñaripe, a town in Panguipulli near Sietelagos, is known for its hot springs, making it the perfect place to relax. There are also adventure tourism activities available in Villarrica National Park, such as hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking.
The Los Lagos Region invites visitors to experience destinations that are full of magic and charm, like the famous Chiloé archipelago, the land of myths and legends.
The area also abounds with adventure tourism options, including hiking and climbing in the Cochamó Valley, which has become a must-see for climbers from around the world thanks to the gigantic granite walls that rise above the crystalline waters of the River Cochamó. For over a century, this path was used by muleteers to move livestock from the border with Argentina.
You can also go rafting on the Espolón and Petrohué Rivers and hike in Parque Ahuenco, Rancho Grande Chiloé, Lahuen Ñadi National Monument, Termas El Callao and Lago Todos Los Santos. Anglers can fish for rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, chinook salmon and other species on the Futaleufú, Puelo and Yelcho Rivers and in Lake Yelcho.
Enjoy aquatic activities near Puerto Bertrand and its greatest attraction, the Baker River, Chile’s fastest flowing river. Take a one-day rafting or float trip on the Baker and kayak in Lake Plomo, which has its origins in the glaciers, and Lake Bertrand.
More adventurous travelers can book a five-day trip and follow the Baker River from its origin to its end in the Tortel wharf area. Enjoy the four different colors of the river during its course, as well as its varied wildlife, waterfalls, mountain ranges and local culture and customs.
MAGALLANES AND CHILEAN ANTARCTICA
The southernmost hiking route in the world, Dientes de Navarino, is found in this region. Visitors walk around the “teeth,” sharp peaks reaching 1,000 meters (3281 feet) high. Dientes de Navarino is a set of mountains located on Isla Navarino, which is south of Puerto Williams in the Antarctic Province.
The route takes you past imposing mountainous landscapes dominated by frozen lagoons, snowy peaks, rocky slopes and summits with impressive views of the Beagle Channel and the southern part of the island. The area also boasts phenomena linked to snow fusion, such as the sources of streams and underground rivers.
The Grande River is another adventure tourism destination. It is the largest river on Tierra del Fuego and one of the most famous in the world because of the quality of the fishing and its stunning landscapes. Its long, sinuous course covers 190 kilometers (118 miles) of Andean foothills and pampa. Crossing the great island of Tierra del Fuego from west to east offers a chance to fish for brown trout, rainbow trout, chinook salmon and other species.
Other local spots favored by fans of world-class fly fishing include the Blanco, Lynch, Fagnano, Deseado and Despreciado Lakes and the Cóndor, Azopardo, Paralelo, Marazzi, Catalina, Rusfin, Zapata, Blanco, Riveros, García, Alonso, Rasmussen, Chico, Moneta, Side, O’Higgins, Oro and Oscar Rivers.