Stretching down much of the coastline of South America, Chile boasts arid deserts, beautiful beaches, crowded cities, towering mountains, lush forests, raging rivers, frigid glaciers, and a whole host of other natural wonders to explore. Throw in some of the friendliest locals in the world and Chile is a can’t miss destination in South America.

Choosing what to do while traveling can be overwhelming, but I’ve compiled a list of seven things you can add to your Chile bucket list.

Witness Sunrise in the Mountains
Recommended location: Torres del Paine National Park

I had spent the past four days hiking the “W” through Torres del Paine National Park in beautiful sunshine, freezing rain, and powerful winds. The night before, we’d learned our rented tent wasn’t waterproof during a surprise downpour. By the time we arrived to Campo Torres late that day, we were exhausted. It was a test of willpower to set our alarms for 4 AM the next morning.

It was dark and cold at 4 AM, but the skies were clear, a promising sign. We hauled ourselves out of our sleeping bags and trudged uphill for the next hour, the anticipation of sunrise building with each step. The moment the sun hit the mountaintops and cast an orange-pink glow over everything, my five days of hard effort came to fruition.

Sunbathe in the Desert
Recommended location: the Oasis Pools of the Atacama Desert

After a few days of sweltering heat and undiluted sun in the Atacama desert, we were in serious need of a refreshing swim. We had heard about natural oasis pools in the desert and decided to search for them, and after an hour or so of navigating our rental car down dirt roads, we found what we were looking for.

Beautiful, crystal clear aqua-blue swimming holes in the middle of the desert. Floating in the pools was blissful. I felt like I was on another planet in these out-of-place pools  in the middle of the desert, but it felt so right at the same time.  

Visit a Glacier
Recommended location: Torres del Paine National Park

On day one of our “W” hike through Torres del Paine National Park, we arrived to our campsite at Glacier Grey Refugio with limited daylight to spare. Walking down toward Glacier Grey, I could hear the creaks and moans of the glacier moving before I could see it.

We soaked our sore feet in a pool of icy water while watching icebergs float by. We marveled for hours, mesmerized by the constant movement of the enormous ice in front of us.

Shower Under a Waterfall
Recommended location: Anywhere in Chilean Patagonia

I heard the roar of a waterfall before I could see it. Recent rain had caused the waterfalls to run particularly high, and I was looking forward to cooling off after our hot hike through a national park below Volcan Osorno.

I was stunned when I caught the first glimpse of this waterfall, as it was even bigger than I had imagined. After crossing the small river, I stood beneath the powerful falls, soaking in the crisp mountain water and feeling completely refreshed.

Kayak through Caves
Recommended location: Marble Caves, Puerto Rio Tranquillo

The sun bounced off the glassy water of the lake as we made our way to the shoreline, kayaks in tow. Gliding across the windless lake in the early morning was an all-encompassing, calming experience.

After 30 minutes of paddling, we reached the famed Marble Caves. The intricate and colorful designs of the cave walls were mind-boggling to look at. Paddling through the caves offered a chance to explore every nook and cranny of these beautiful creations.

See the Milky Way
Recommended location: Southern Patagonia on a Clear Night

Nothing reminds me more of our tiny place in the universe than staring into the center of the Milky Way on the darkest nights.

On this particular night, I found a campsite right next the river I had rafted on earlier that day and was completely content with my sleeping bag instead of a bed as I fell asleep staring at the stars.

Take the Back Roads
Recommended location: The Carretera Austral

Driving the Carretera Austral will completely alter your sense of time and distance. Still under construction, the Carretera Austral is 1,250 kilometers of dirt and semi-paved roads connecting the small towns and villages in one of the most remote areas of Patagonia. Driving this route offers incredible vistas, pristine wilderness, and a one-of-a-kind Patagonian experience.

Many of my favorite places in Chile were found off the beaten path along the back roads of the Carretera Austral — a good reminder that the best places can’t be found in a guidebook.