Why Lonely Planet chose Chile as the number 1 destination for 2018

In this blog post we share our favorite stops in between Santiago de Chile and San Pedro de Atacama. Places that make Chile a country worth to discover.

Due to its massive length, the landscape of Chile is diverse. Probably that is one of the reasons Chile has been chosen as the top travel destination of 2018 by Lonely Planet. Unfortunately, a lot of tourists head only to Patagonia (the extreme south of Chile) or straight to San Pedro de Atacama, without looking back what is in between. Rather unfortunate, as there is a lot to see on the way to the north of Chile. In this blog post, we share our favorite stops in between Santiago de Chile and San Pedro de Atacama.

atacama desert chile flower desert

Valparaiso Chile

About 120 kilometers northwest of Santiago, there is a town called Valparaiso. Situated on steep hillsides next to the Pacific Ocean, Valparaiso is an atmospheric labyrinth of small streets and colorful houses. Every hill is a new neighborhood with its own characteristics and they are connected with each other via the ascencores (funiculars). When wandering through this town, expect to see a lot of street art: It’s almost impossible to find a wall that is not touched by the hands of a street artist. A very cool town, with an intense nightlife and lots of restaurants.

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One of the many hills in Valparaiso, Chile
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Graffiti art is everywhere in Valparaiso

How to get there?

You can easily reach Valparaiso from Santiago with a local public bus. More information can be found in our blogpost on how to travel from Santiago to Valparaiso.

Valle del Encanto (enchanted valley)

Just a couple of kilometers before Ovalle, there is an important archeological zone that is called Valle del Encanto. About 1900 years ago, this valley was inhabited by the El Molle culture. Evidence for this are the many human petroglyphs (including a strange Martian), rock paintings (pictografias) and morteros (in which food, paint and hallucinogenic drugs were grinded). And even if you’re not interested in history, the valley is worth a detour. The landscape is dotted with huge cacti and offers a good impression of the landscape of Northern Chile.

martian valle de encanti
One of the many drawings in the Enchanted Valley

Extra: Not far from Valley Del Encanto you can find a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. The Fray Jorge National Park is a forest in the middle of the desert. Due to the fog that emerges from the ocean, the trees receive just enough water to survive in this harsh climate.

cacti valle de encanti chile
The landscape in the Enchanted valley

How to get there?

To get here, you can take any bus out of Ovalle that is heading west. Disembark at the highway marker. From here, it is still a 5km (but easy) walk on a gravel road to Valle del Encanto.

Elqui valley

The most famous drink in Chile is Pisco Sour. This popular drink is produced in the Elqui valley. The landscapes in this valley are extraordinary and there is a lot to do. From visiting Pisco distilleries to stargazing, it’s all possible here. In this blog post, we summed up the top things to do in this enchanting valley.

sunset elqui valley chile
Sunset in the Elqui valley

How to get there?

There are plenty buses that leave from Santiago de Chile to La Serena. This trip will take about 8 hours. From La Serena, you can take a bus (there a several buses each hour) that go to Valle de Elqui. This trip takes about 2 hours.

Pan de Azucar National Park

Pan de Azucar (sugarloaf) national park is situated next to the coastline of Chile, about 30 kilometers north of Chañaral. In the park, you have Isla Pan de Azucar, an island where the Humboldt Penguins breed. You can take a boat trip to see the penguins, but you are not allowed to set foot on the island. When you visit the park, be sure to walk the Mirador track. It’s an easy walk in the desert with impressive cacti along the way. At the end of the walk, you have an amazing view over the park and the ocean.

mirador pan de azucar
View from the Mirador in Pan de Azucar National Park

How to get there?

Pan de Azucar is not easy to reach. Renting a car in Antofagasta or Copiapó is probably the most convenient way to reach this national park. Hitchhiking is also possible, knowing that Chile is probably South America’s safest country. Another option is to take a bus to Chañaral and then take a minibus or collectivo to the park.

landscape pan de azucar national park chile
A typical landscape in Pan de Azucar National Park

Visit a ghost town

The Chacabuco nitrate town is an abandoned village in the Atacama desert. It was abandoned in 1945 with the decline of the nitrate industry. Nothing happened with the buildings until 1973 when the Pinochet regime decided to make here a concentration camp of intellectuals. There are still a lot of buildings standing, like the old factory and the impressive theater.

chacabuco chile abandoned houses
Abandoned houses in Chacabuco ghost town
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The old theater in the ghost town

How to get there?

Chacabuco is situated beside Route 5, about 95 km north of Antofagasta. Best way to get there is with your own car. As buses travel along that road too, it is not altogether impossible to get here by public transport, but it’s hardly ideal.

The floral desert

When you head to San Pedro de Atacama, you drive through the driest (and oldest) desert of the world: the Atacama desert. A huge place full of sand and stones. But sometimes, dust transforms into flowers and the desert becomes a colorful carpet. A true wonder to experience! When there is exceptional rainfall, a desert bloom between September and November occurs. The phenomenon is visible between Copiapo and Vallenar. If you are in the area during these months, don’t forget to stop along the way to witness the purple, yellow, blue and white flowers of the Atacama desert.

floral desert atacama chile
A carpet of flowers in the Atacama desert

Have you other places in the North of Chile that you really like? Share it with us in the comment box below!

Thanks for reading,