Stretched long and thin along the Pacific Ocean, Chile is one of the world’s longest countries and a wonderland of contrasts. Its north features one of the driest places on the planet, the Atacama Desert. Rimmed with dazzling glaciers and fjords, its south holds the Patagonian Ice Field, the world’s third largest, after Antarctica and Greenland. In between and around, Chile is the Andes, the Pacific, and also countless lakes, volcanoes, geysers, lagoons, and forests. There’s hardly a place in this South American marvel that wouldn’t excite an adventurer, yet some hikes manage to showcase the country’s splendor in one single go. Here is our curated selection of the five best hikes in Chile.
1. Epic Wildlands of Northern Patagonia
Venture into the epic wildlands of Northern Patagonia for a 12-day journey across remarkably diverse sceneries replete with jaw-dropping sights. In Patagonia National Park, home to a binational conservation project that covers 790,000 acres, trek past striking glaciers, serene lakes, golden-hue grasslands and wetlands, and wind over Jeinimeni River into Argentina.
Then admire the second highest peak in Patagonia, the San Lorenzo massif, on a 3-day trek around its base. You’ll have encounters with local gauchos, sightings of wildlife such as huemul deer and llama-like guanacos, and get fully immersed in the overwhelming beauty of this untouched corner of the world.
2. W-Route Trek in Chilean Patagonia
In the remote corners of the Chilean Patagonia, the glacial landscapes of Torres del Paine National Park stand out as some of the world’s most spectacular. On this 7-day journey with multiple demanding hikes, conquer the 40 miles of the famous W-route that showcases the region’s most iconic sites.
Feel small beneath the grey granite towers of the Paine massif, admiring them from the viewpoint at the towers’ base. Take in the astounding French Valley as you hike surrounded by the dramatic peaks of the Cuernos del Paine. Round off the experience deep in the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, taking a boat to the impressive Grey Glacier to witness icebergs calve into Lago Grey.
3. Chile’s Lake District
Nestled in Chile’s magnificent Lake District, La Araucania region is dotted with active volcanoes, lava fields, azure lakes, hot springs, lagoons, and forests of araucaria (monkey-puzzle) trees, some 2000 years old. This 9-day itinerary strings together a variety of reserves and national parks to highlight one of Chile’s most visually appealing regions. In the private nature reserve of El Cañi, hike through old-growth forests to the El Mirador viewpoint.
Over the Villarrica Traverse in the namesake national park, arrive at the most stunning views of the fabled volcano quartet: Llaima, Villarrica, Quetrupillan, and Lanin. In the Huerquehue National Park, hike on the scenic Los Lagos trail to the enchanting tunes of Patagonian woodpeckers. With 4-8 hour hikes every day and stays in MTS camps along the way, this challenging itinerary is an active traveler’s dream.
4. Valle de la Luna in the Atacama Desert
Stretched west of the Andes lies the Atacama, the world’s driest desert, with parts that have never seen rain. Exploring this vast area of over 41,000 square miles typically requires much more than good boots and goodwill, but the remarkable Valle de la Luna provides an excellent taster of this lunar landscape. Set close to the hub of San Pedro, a sweet little desert town, this easy hike (which takes 1-2 hours) reveals the region’s beauty in its full splendor.
Gape at the ethereal reflections of the Andes on the surface of the Salar de Atacama salt flats. Roll down orange-sand dunes. Revel in peculiar wind-formed rock shapes and play hide-and-seek in stone caves. Due to its large number of inconsistently marked trails, Valle de la Luna is best explored with a guide: look for one who will take you there early evening, for a desert sunset you will remember forever.
5. Dientes de Navarino on Isla Navarino
If you’re looking for a trail where not many have been, Dientes de Navarino on Chile’s Isla Navarino in Tierra del Fuego ought to be high on your list. Often dubbed as the world’s southernmost hike, this life-altering journey is a step back in time. Don’t expect souvenir shops, lemonade stalls, or plush accommodations along the way; the trail has none of that. The weather can showcase all seasons in a matter of hours, and winds are often memorable.
Beyond the lack of contemporary creature comforts you’ll find pristine nature, spread out across snow fields, mystic beech forests, and astonishing sights described by Darwin, such as the Beagle Channel. It will take the best of you to get the best out of nature, but you will love every step of the way.
Packed half-way? Check out more of our Chile itineraries here.