Chile is only 175km wide but stretches for over 4000km along the west coast of South America, overlooking the South Pacific and bordered by Argentina, Bolivia and Peru.
It has a share of Southern Patagonia, and Rapa Nui is just one offshore legend. Beautiful beaches in the central region are within an hour or two of the capital Santiago. But it’s the wilds of Chile’s deserts, mountains and immense national parks you really want to experience on a family holiday and they work best for older kids and teenagers.
British Airways is the only UK carrier to fly direct to Santiago. Flights from London to Heathrow take 14 hours 35 minutes.
Punta Arenas in Patagonia has warm and sunny weather for beach holidays from November to March.
El Grand Norte is best in Chile’s summer months from December to April.
Santiago and the central coast are good all year round, best for skiing in the Andes is June and July.
Chile has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Sewell Mining Village and Valparaiso’s historic quarter.
Chile has 36 National Parks covering over 9 million hectares, the most famous is Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and the most accessible is La Campana, just an hour east of Valparaiso.
The country’s coastline is almost 6500km long with surf beaches in the north, balmy resort beaches in the central region and wildest shores in Southern Patagonia.
Where to go
El Grande Norte
Rapa Nui – Easter Island
Instantly recognisable by its spine of snow capped Andean peaks Santiago’s an energetic, modern city with good museums and galleries and some spectacular colonial architecture. It’s also an international food icon, with local restaurants placing high on the World’s Top 100 Best list over the past five years.
Santiago is one of the safest South American capitals, the atmosphere’s friendly and it scores well for family and kid centred activities and events.
If you’re just passing through, head to Barrio Lastarria for museums, pretty cafés, specialist shops, nice parks and the bohemian vibe.
Don’t miss: Artequin Museum; La Chascona; Mercado and La Vega Central; Museum of Memory & Human Rights; Quinta Normal.
Chile’s most interesting and idiosyncratic city, Valparaiso is dazzlingly colourful and jumbled, cluttered with history and quaint barrio, always busy and unmissable. If you want uncrowded beaches, choose to stay in one of the seaside resorts to the south.
The Port District looks down at heel but it’s one of the city’s most atmospheric and charming areas for traditional shops and restaurants.
Take the funicular up to Barrio Alegre in the hills, the houses and churches are stunning and the sea view will take your breath away.
El Grande Norte
Chile’s northern territories border Peru and cover almost 25% of the country’s immense length. The Atacama Desert’s here and it’s home to the city of Iquique, and Arica where the oldest mummified human remains have been excavated. Some of earth’s darkest skies are in this part of Chile and it’s the heartland of Astro-tourism and extreme outdoor adventuring.
The Atacama Desert is the driest place on the planet, try guided mountain biking or hiking tours as an easy introduction.
Ocean front Iquique is good as a base for exploring El Grand Norte: the urban beaches are fantastic.
Reserva Nacional las Vicuñas is in the north, home to 6000m high Volcán Guallatire: Chile’s famously active volcano.
Rapa Nui – Easter Island
Everyone’s seen images of the monolithic Moai on Easter Island, but the ancestral homeland of the Rapa Nui isn’t an archaeological curiosity. The living Polynesian culture here is among the richest and most fascinating in the South Pacific, the islanders involve visitors warmly in their customs, festivals and traditions. The island itself is unimaginably lovely and being here with older kids can truly be described as a once in a lifetime experience.
Easter Island’s a five hour flight from Santiago. Several independent small cruises companies also include it in their itinerary.
There’s a good choice of places to stay on the island ranging from luxury eco-lodges and beach inns to charming family-run hotels.
Visit in February for the annual Tapati Festival, it’s one of the biggest traditional spectacles on Easter Island and fantastic fun for kids.
What to do
The Museum of Memory & Human Rights, Santiago
Santiago’s 5000m² museum makes visible Chile’s human rights’ atrocities between 1973 and 1990 and stands alongside the likes of Berlin’s Topography of Terror in acknowledging the darkest of recent histories.
Mountain Biking, Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the world’s driest and the country’s must-see destination now. Day and half-day guided mountain bike safaris are easy and amazing adventures with older kids and teenagers.
Artequin Museum, Santiago
Quite possibly one of the prettiest museum buildings in the world contains an interesting collection of South American and European reproductions. But it’s best known for kid’s events, performance art, festivals and family days.
Chinchorro Mummies, Arica
Unlike the ancient Egyptians, Chinchorro were egalitarian mummifiers and preserved everyone after death. The incredible Chinchooro Mummies are the world’s oldest exhibited at San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum in Arica on the Peruvian border with Chile.
La Campana National Park, Valparaiso
Just over an hour from Valparaiso on the coast, this is one of Chile’s most accessible national parks and famous for its well-marked hiking trails and wildlife.
Rapa Nui National Park, Easter Island
Almost equidistant between Tahiti and Chile, Easter Island is Chilean. Known as Rapa Nui after the indigenous Rapa Nui people who still call this their home, it’s an unforgettable experience with kids.
Summer Skiing, Santiago
June to September’s high season for skiing in the Andes – it’s winter in Chile. Valle Nevado is one of the country’s most popular family resorts, less than 60km from Santiago city centre.
White Water Rafting, Maipo Canyon
Just over 50km from Santiago, the magnificent Maipo Canyon is one of Chile’s top white water rafting spots.
Valley of the Moon, San Pedro de Atacama
The driest place on earth where not a single drop of rain has fallen for centuries, the Atacama Desert’s Valley of the Moon is an amazing wilderness adventure.
San Alfonso del Mar Lagoon, Central Chile
Less than an hour south of Valparaiso, San Alfonso del Mar is one of the loveliest resorts on Chile’s South Pacific coast. It’s also home to the world’s largest saltwater swimming lagoon – over one kilometre long.
Educational value for kids
Chile is a world leader in scientific astronomy. Not only does it have the darkest dark skies on the planet above Atacama Desert, it’s home to three leading international observatories: ALMA, Tololo and Paranal. Astro-tourism is now one of the country’s fastest growing travel sectors and almost all specialist operators offer stargazing experiences.
Valparaiso is Chile’s most famous seaside city. Take the funicular up into the Alegre and Concepcion Hills overlooking the coast to see why it has UNESCO World Heritage status.
Iquique is gateway to the Atacama Desert in the north. Another great Chilean seaside city, the historic quarter’s fascinating and built almost entirely on 19th century saltpetre industry wealth.
If you’re in Santiago with a few hours to spare, ignore the designer shops and take kids to Mercado Central. It’s one of the world’s top food markets, brilliantly boisterous, and the historic building’s a visitor attraction in its own right. La Vega Central, across the road, is the biggest market in Chile.
Humberstone and Santa Laura, 50km east of Iquique, is a World Heritage site and the most complete of Chile’s 19th century saltpetre mining settlements. It’s one of many eerie ghost towns still dotted around the Atacama Desert: interesting with older kids.
Remote Southern Patagonia is the land of vast glaciers, Cape Horn, the Magellan Strait and some of Chile’s most isolated communities. Visit Punta Arenas in summer (November to March) and it’s an idyllic, sunny beach holiday with kids.
The extravagant 19th century estancias or haciendas in Chile’s Central Valley are a great adventure for horse loving kids and would be ranch hands. The scenery’s breathtakingly beautiful and camping out under the stars is almost compulsory.
Getting around with kids in Chile
Take tours, drive or fly to get about a country that’s 4300km long, includes Easter Island and has Southern Patagonia for good measure. If you’re travelling with older kids, Chile is one of the world’s greatest road trips and it’s not unusual for families with older kids or teens to hire an RV to explore even one of the regions in depth. Self-drive is doable round beach resorts and many of the national parks. Just beware of the weather conditions at all times, keep the size of the country front of mind, plan everything in detail and book places to stay in advance.
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