It’s no secret I love Chile. Maybe I’m biased (being of Chilean heritage), but for me, there’s nothing quite like the lush forests, brimming rivers, waterfalls and lakes. The spine of Chile, the Andes, makes for a dramatic backdrop, snow-capped volcanos and a wealth of hot springs.
The bio-diversity is staggering. In the north, you encounter the driest non-polar desert in the world, at the south there’s fjords, glaciers and the purest water in the world.
There’s 41 national parks in Chile, 44 national reserves and 4 marine parks, which creates the question. Where do I begin?
North, middle, south, or Patagonia (south-south)?
Here are my favourites. I hope to visit every single one eventually (I’ve visited a few more than once), but for now here’s the list.
1. Parque Nacional Torres del Paine
At no surprise, Torres del Paine snags first, located in the Magallanes Region (Patagonia). Though it was neck-and-neck with Conguillío. Torres del Paine, measured at 181,414 hectares, is one of the largest parks in Chile. Glaciers, waterfalls, lakes and mountains…the expansive beauty never gets old. The famous granite spires, the Cuernos and Paine, are the impressive backdrop. You can see pumas, guanacos, condors and horses. Experience it on foot or by car, either way it’ll blow you away. For more info on this click here. The nearest town is Puerto Natales, Chile that runs buses, tours or drive there yourself. Price for foreigners: $35 USD, for >3 days $49 USD.
2. Parque Nacional Conguillío
What a jewel of Chile, located in the Araucanía Region (south). Conguillío is centred around the powerful (and very active) Llaima Volcano. Lakes, Araucaria forests, and lava flow are some of the many attractions. The Sierra Nevada trail is one of the best. The nearest small town is Melipeuco, the nearest large town is Temuco. You can get a bus to Melipeuco and then hitchhike, get a tour or drive there in a private vehicle. For foreigners entry is $12 USD.
3. Parque Nacional Huerquehue
Huerquehue isn’t as famous as Torres del Paine, but it’s worth seeing, also located in the Araucanía Region near Pucón. Lots of great trails, with Quinchol trail giving a view of four volcanos (Volcanos Villarrica, Quetrupillán, Quinquilil & Lanín). This park has grand lakes, ancient forests of araucaria trees and waterfalls. Getting there is easy, get a local bus from Pucón to the park entrance or drive in your own vehicle. I’d recommend camping at least one night to do more than one hike. It’s worth it. Price for foreigners $9 USD.
4. Reserva Nacional Altos de Lircay
Hidden gem in Chile, located in the Maule Region. This reserve has a mysterious plateau that’s called “the paved”, almost perfectly flat, it’s rumoured to be a UFO landing site. Whether a natural phenomenon or not, the views of a chain of volcanos is almost a spiritual experience. You’ll see Descabezado Grande, el Cerro Azul y el Quizapú. The nearest town is Talca, get there by public bus or privat car. The bus takes you right to the start of the entrance. Warning, the park paid entrance is actually an uphill hike, Enladrillado is a big day hike too (~24km return) so I’d recommend camping one night to break it up. Entry price for foreigners $8 USD, camping costs more.
5. Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos
The north is a stark contrast to the south, with a landscape like Mars or the moon. Located in the Antofagasta Region, with the nearest town San Pedro de Atacama. This region has geysers, flamingos, vicuñas, guanacos, Valley of the Moon, salt flats and altiplano lakes. Get to the town via Calama, from there rent a car, drive your own or get a tour (there’s many packages available to purchase in San Pedro, no need to plan ahead). So each area of interest costs an entry free around San Pedro (it is highly touristic), so choosing packages actually comes out cheaper and more convenient for you sometimes. The package includes a tour guide, transport and entry fees.
Fees for foreigners:
Entry to salt flats: $3 USD, to altiplano lakes Miscanti & Miñiques $3 USD, to Valley of the Moon $2.50 USD, Tulor Village $3.78 USD.
The other places outside the park, like salt lakes that you can swim in, hot springs and geysers also cost individually.
6. Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar
One of our favourites, this park in the north is easily accessible and breathtaking. Arid, dramatic cliff drops, more than 27 species of cactus, ocean expanse, vicuñas, big sky country. You can rent boat trips to the Island Pan de Azúcar to look at the colony of sea lions, sea otters, pelicans and Humboldt penguins. Worth a trip. It’s located in the Region Antofagasta, north of Copiapó. Price for foreigner entry: $15 USD.
7. Parque Nacional Queulat
This is a park we are dying to get back to. Queulat is tucked away off the Carretera Austral, located in the Region Aysén, near the little town Puyuhuapi. The draw of this park is the shy Ventisquero Colgante, hanging glacier. This glacier perches on the mountain peak of Nevado Queulat, with the melt water creating one of the top five tallest waterfalls in South America. You’ll need luck with the weather to get those famous views of it, but even in the clouds, you can hear the impressive thunderous calving of the glacier. Sit and enjoy as chunks of ice fall from the mountain to the lake below. We’ll be back!
Price for foreigner entry: $11.34 USD
8. Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales
This park is very accessible, located in the Region Los Lagos, near the town of Puerto Varas. Getting there by a local bus, private vehicle or tours. The road goes straight into the heart of the park, where you can walk to take in the minty green waterfall and rivers, the grand Todos los Santos Lake and the perfectly conical Volcano Osorno. Entry for foreigners: $8.80 USD.
9. Parque Nacional Puyehue
This is a lesser known park, but the free natural hot springs are worth a visit. Conaf runs a paid Conaf Aguas Calientes, but if you walk along the Chanleufu River edge, you will find the true treasure. Chanelufu is ice cold, but amidst the rocks you will find little pools of hot water, warmed by geothermal energy at the base of Volcano Casa Blanca. The more you dig, the warmer the water gets. So settle in with a shovel, stick or your hands and make a little private hot spring for yourself. This is as natural as it gets (and it’s free!). Located in the region Los Lagos, Osorno is the nearest large town.
Entry to park: free.
10. Reserva Nacional Futaleufú
Futaleufú is a beautiful town famous for white water rafting and situated in this national reserve. Its mint green rivers cross through it, and the isolated location add to its charm. At the edge of the Region Los Lagos, getting here is intentional. You can come through the border, traversing the Andes from Argentina, or take boats through fjords and drive the Carretera Austral. Take in the valleys, lakes, big rivers and cosy town.
11. Parque Nacional Villarrica
Surrounding active Volcano Villarrica, this park has lakes, forests of ancient araucarias, and you can even summit to view the crater of this active volcano. I experienced the park differently, through a dogsledding experience on the very feet of the volcano and through the forest of araucarias in mid-winter. I highly recommend. This park is in the beautiful Araucanía Region, near Villarrica, Pucón, Licanray and Coñaripe. Price of entry for foreigners: $10 USD.
12. Parque Nacional Nahuelbuta
This park is one of the last forests of araucarias in the coastal mountain range, with some of the trees dating back 2000 years. It’s a spiritual place, with a view of the Pacific Ocean, the Andes & a chain of volcanos and the ancient araucarias. At sunset, you can see the pink sky with large araucarias standing strong in the distance. The nearest town large town is Los Angeles, in the Region Araucanía. Entry for foreigners: $9 USD. Getting here is tricky, best get there by private vehicle or hitchhiking, the road is unpaved.
13. Parque Nacional Chiloé
Chiloé is a magical place. You can arrive planning to stay a day, but end up passing weeks here enchanted. The people of Chiloé, the Chilotes, are proud of their distinct traditions and island. This national park is quiet and peaceful. Though it doesn’t bring the wow-factor landscapes of the other parks on this list, it’s nice to stroll through the boardwalks and take in the natural fauna of Chiloé. The beach is wild and windy with horses and cows grazing. You feel on the edge of the world. This park is in the Los Lagos region and the nearest town is Cucao. Get there by public bus from Castro, private vehicle, or tours.
Entry for foreigners: $7.56 USD.
Hope this helps! Planning to explore more parks this September and maybe the list will change!