When it comes to outdoor adventures and natural landscapes, Chile is one of the most sought out travel destinations in South America and the world.
The country’s natural diversity and sustainable tourism infrastructure make it the perfect place to wander around for weeks. Given the current times though, movement should be kept at minimal and crowds better be avoided, so why not limit your exploration to one of these lesser-known trails and parks in Chile.
From north to south, the country’s geography is as varied as it can be, which is why a trail swap such as this will help you make a choice of which road less traveled to take.
Atacama Desert -> Lauca National Park, Arica & Parinacota Region
The Andean foothills and high plateau landscapes of northern Chile provide amazing natural and historical sights; while the Atacama Desert is the place most tourists race to when looking for them, it’s better to drive a less visited road into the Lauca National Park and its surrounding areas.
Ranging from 3,0000 to 6,000m above sea level, you’ll want to take your time when driving from Arica, the closest city which sits at just 2m above sea level.
Avoid the crowds in San Pedro to lodge at Putre, an adobe village dating back to the XVII century that overlooks the Tarapaca and Ancoma volcanoes. Here you can learn about the history and culture of the region’s native Aymaras, while taking the time to soak up infinite landscapes and plan your day trip itineraries.
Take a drive around the area for the best viewpoints and hot springs while marveling over the Chungará lake, various salt flats and keeping an eye out for local wildlife such as the ñandú (a wild species of Chilean ostrich), flamingos, and llamas. Once the sun goes down, the show isn’t over, this remote area of Chile boasts some of the clearest skies you’ll ever see.
Rapa Nui National Park -> Archipelago Juan Fernandez National Park
600 kilometers west of Valparaiso, the Archipelago Juan Fernandez National Park is one of Chile’s best-kept secrets. Recognized as a completely distinct ecoregion, the islands that comprise it are home to rare and endemic plants and animals, a unique combination of species origins, related to places as varied as tropical America, Asia, Australasia, and Antarctica.
In the early 1700s, the marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk, who is said to have inspired Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, called this place home. Today, one of the three islands in the Archipelago is named after him.
Explore a region not even most Chileans have ever had the privilege to visit and take a hike amongst any of its many nature trails of varying difficulty, where you can spot unique wildlife and a true South Pacific landscape.
Diving enthusiasts will find it worthy to bear the lower temperatures of the Humboldt current to spot the region’s many unique species, such as the Juan Fernández fur seal, which was thought to be extinct until being recently rediscovered. Remain aware of the frailness of the environment, and make sure not to leave any trace behind as you dive into this unique ecosystem.
Best part? This hidden paradise is accessible through direct weekly flights from Santiago
Villarrica National Park -> Hornopiren National Park
When first hearing about the south of Chile you probably pictured snowy volcano peaks and green luscious forests, which you can definitely find at Hornopiren National Park, a great alternative to overcrowded hotspots such as the Villarrica National Park.
Take a flight straight to the city of Puerto Montt and head toward the Carretera Austral, a highway winding through the Chilean Patagonia. After the scenic drive, including a ferry ride through the fiords of the Estuario de Reloncaví, you’ll reach the small village of Hornopirén – which means “Ice Furnace” in Mapudungun, the language of the native Mapuches.
Choose to spend the night here, or, if restrictions permit, dive deep into this almost virgin nature reservation sitting amongst millenary glaciers, volcanoes, and forests; the opening view to one of the most eco diverse and untouched areas of the southernmost part of the continent.
Torres del Paine National Park -> Cerro Castillo National Park
Crowned by the snowy peaks of the Cerro Castillo, this lesser-known national park trails along the southernmost half of the Carretera Austral and is truly a sight to behold.
While still a few hundred miles away from the famed peaks of Torres del Paine, visitors who decide to take the less-traveled route on this 4-day hike won’t regret anything in terms of adventure, scenery, and experience.
Be prepared to take on impressive treks, following forests of Calafate trees, along emerald colored lagoons formed by a Hanging Glacier. Pay close attention, and you might get a glimpse of a family of huemuls, a timid Chilean deer so rare to see that locals take it as a sign of good luck ahead.
Still eager to experience the once in a lifetime thrill of Torres del Paine? Check out this Solo Guide to Hiking the W Trail.
What to know about traveling in Chile during the pandemic
International flight access through the Arturo Benitez Airport in Santiago is currently open with restrictions, while smaller airports all over the country are receiving direct flights from the capital city, and interregional bus terminals remain active.
However, as a way to control the spread of Covid-19, national travel restrictions are constantly being updated, as regions go through different phases of confinement according to their particular situations.
Up to date PCR tests, a sanitary passport, and relevant travel permits may be needed to transit inside the country, so remember to stay updated on the changing situation by visiting official sites and trusted guides.