Steaming geysers, endless deserts and intriguing ghost towns: a road trip through northern Chile guarantees surprising discoveries.
From Santiago to Iquique
Stretching more than 4200 km from north to south, Chile is in some places only 180 km wide, making it the narrowest country in the world. Because of Chile’s stretched out geography, a circular tour is not an option. Travellers must choose to either go north or south. We bring you some of the highlights of northern Chile; from the dynamic capital Santiago to the laidback beach resort of Iquique.
Santiago de Chile
A metropolis with character
Begin your trip with a visit to Santiago de Chili, the vibrant capital of Chile, nestled at the foot of the majestic Andes mountains. You can easily spend a few days exploring this metropolis that is as diverse as the country itself. The Plaza de Armas, the largest square, is the heart of the city. Here you will find the impressive Cathedral Metropolitana.
For trendy restaurants, hip coffee bars and street art, head to Bellavista, the city’s most fun neighbourhood. From here you can take the cable-car to the top of the Cerro San Cristobal. The 300-metre-high viewpoint offers incredible views of the city.
Chile’s most colourful city
Valparaíso is on everyone’s must-see list! Perched on a bay on the Pacific Ocean, this colourful port city is spread across 42 hills. The houses are painted every colour of the rainbow, creating a lively and vibrant explosion of colour. The many hills are interconnected by winding alleyways, impressive stairs and lifts that whisk you to the top of the hills.
The Atacama desert
The driest desert in the world
Dry, drier, driest: the Atacama is the driest desert on earth and in many places resembles a Martian landscape. One of the best spots to get the full experience is at Valle de La Luna, or Lunar Valley. The many bizarre rock and sand formations have been sculpted over time by wind erosion. The enormous salt flat in Los Flamencos reserve also evokes a surreal atmosphere. But the Atacama is not dry everywhere: on the Altiplano (the highland), you will find the magical blue lagoons of Miscanti and Miñiques.
El Tatio Geysers
Head in the clouds
Watching eighty geysers at the El Tatio geyser field blow their steam high into the air is an incredible experience. Located above 4000 metres, these geysers in the Atacama desert are also the highest in the world. It’s worth getting up at the crack of dawn because at sunrise the geysers’ steamy misty clouds create a magical and picture-perfect sight.
A deserted mining town
Are you a fan of ghost towns? Then make sure to add Oficina Humberstone to your itinerary. At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, this mining town was one of the largest nitrate mines in Chile. In its heyday, this town was home to 3500 people.
In the 1930s the mining industry collapsed and Humberstone gradually emptied out, becoming a ghost town. The homes of the former miners are still well preserved. In addition to an empty swimming pool, there are an old hotel and a local school, complete with desks. Today, Humberstone is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Laidback surfers’ paradise
Only an hour further up, you come to Iquique, a city surrounded by vast deserts, sand dunes and endless white beaches. Known for its casual laidback vibe, Iquique is a surfers’ paradise.
The towering sand dunes that frame the city are perfect for sandboarding and dune buggy safaris. Iquique is also a great spot to unwind before travelling on to Peru or Bolivia. Or you can hop on a plane back to Santiago.