Chile is an adventurer’s paradise. Its national parks are open year-round and the diversity of climate along its 4,270km north to south length means there is always somewhere to visit, regardless of when you choose to travel.

From barren deserts and salt plains in the north to icy mountain peaks and glaciers in the south, Chile’s landscapes offer some of the most pristine wilderness in South America. Twenty per cent of the country is preserved in its more than 100 national parks, reserves and monuments, attracting more than two million visitors each year.

With such an impressive range of landscapes and well developed travel infrastructure, it's no surprise that Chile has become one of South America's adventure capitals. From trekking & hiking, to biking, skiing, and watersports, this is a thrill-seeker's must-visit country.

Here's our essential guide to the best adventure travel activities in Chile.

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Chile's national parks are a hiking paradise

Adventure travel in Chile

Whatever your preferred flavour of adrenaline, the following are guaranteed to get your heart pumping. Dive in!

Hiking and trekking

With virtually all the world's landscapes packed into one slender stretch of land, Chile is a world-leading destination for hiking, backpacking and trekking.

Desert in the northern region, volcanic lakes towards the centre and southern regions, and wild Patagonia at the very end—Chile has a hiking trail for everyone’s skill level, timeframe and budget.

Particularly well-known locations include the Atacama and Torres del Paine, but there are plenty of lesser-known destinations to be found, most with excellent outfitters and services.

Active Chile

Exploring Chile’s great outdoors

Remarkably thin and incredibly long, skinny Chile stretches out along South America, from the water-starved Atacama desert in the north to the glacial ice fields on its southern tip. This is nature on its grandest scale, with valleys, islands, volcanoes, mountains and everything in between.

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The Carretera Austral, Chile's best-known long distance biking route

Cycling

Chile is the most popular destination in South America for cycling trips. With quality outfitters, decent roads, varied landscapes (and vineyards!), and the famous Carretera Austral, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better place for bike holidays and cycle touring.

You'll find cycle day trips in most of the major cities, but the real excitement is with longer-distance and multi-day biking trips. In addition to the Carretera Austral you'll find a number of word class cycling locations.

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Surfing

Chile may have 4,270km of coastline, but it’s not usually high on people's list of surf and beach destinations.

While the beaches of the central regions in Chile have plenty of space for those who are looking to relax and catch up with a good book, most Chilean beaches are filled with wildlife and adventure.

Chile’s rocky coastline is a perfect destination for those who are chasing world-class waves and hidden beaches.

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Diving

Chile is a spectacular scuba diving destination. With so much coastline, it offers many diverse dives and wildlife watching, from penguins around Punta Arenas to the deep blues of Easter Island.

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Skiing

Skiing is Chile’s favourite winter sport, with the Andean mountains running down the country’s spine offering excellent routes and powder.

For the adventurous, try heli-skiing, where you’re dropped at the top of a mountain by helicopter before the adrenaline rush of skiing down.

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Watersports

Rafting, kayaking and caving — if you want to get wet and wild, then Chile has plenty of places to try out watersports.

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Wildlife

Chile’s long, stretched out geography means it offers a wide variety of ecosystems catering to many different environments and animals.

Conservation in Chile is growing, with the formation of new national parks and nine separate UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves throughout the country.

This is an excellent destination for nature-lovers, whether exploring the heat of the Atacama Desert or the icy glaciers of Patagonia.

National parks

Chile’s national parks make up just part of its wildlife conservation efforts. Chile’s protected areas are divided into three categories: national parks, which are large areas offering hiking and the most tourist heavy routes; national reserves, which are areas of ecological importance but allow some commercial exploitation; and natural monuments, which are smaller areas of exhibits of ecological or archaeological significance.

Alongside these public places, Chile also has more than 133 privately owned parks. The most famous of these was Parque Pumalin, purchased in 1991 by Douglas Tompkins, founder of the clothing chain North Face. With his wife Kris, Tompkins went on to purchase more than 700,000 acres of land in Chile with the aim of turning them into wildlife sanctuaries. Parque Pumalin became a bona fide nature reserve in 2005 after the Tompkins donated it to a Chilean foundation. The Tompkins Foundation continues to invest in Chile, recently creating the 1,700 mile Patagonian Route of Parks trail.

Chile’s national parks are administered by CONAF (Corporacion Nacional Forestal), the National Forestry Corporation. Its headquarters are in Santiago, where you can pick up maps, brochures and walking trails. The parks themselves are staffed by wardens who live in ranger stations. Many parks are chronically underfunded and are poorly protected, making issues like wildfires a serious concern.

No permits are required to visit any national park in Chile, although you will need to pay an entrance fee at bigger parks. These range in price from CH$1,000-4,000 (£1-5). Alternatively, buy CONAF’s annual pass (CH$10,000), which allows unlimited entry to all national parks — except Torres del Paine and Easter Island — for a year.

Adventure Travel In Chile

Andrea Mujica

Born and raised in Florida, Andrea is currently living a nomadic lifestyle in Chile. She loves writing, people-watching, eating avocados, and finding new and interesting places to visit throughout South America.

Adventure Travel In Chile

Matt Maynard

Matt has been based in Chile since he began a bicycle adventure from Patagonia in 2011. Since then, he has run ultramarathons across steaming volcanoes, hiked solo on the remotest stretches of the Greater Patagonian Trail and ridden his tandem with his Chilean wife across the breathless expanses of the Atacama desert.

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