5 Experiences We Love Near Santiago

With notes from Do Good Ambassador, Kyle Stepp, who joined Cotopaxi in Chile

With winter on its way, we put our newest gear to the test in Chile—and we didn’t go to Patagonia. Instead, we opted for a more central region in search of outdoor and urban adventures. Since Chile is so narrow, with a massive 2,653-mile north-to-south expanse north-to-south, you can explore one of the world’s driest deserts in the morning, and sip Pisco sours over a seafood lunch on the coast by afternoon. This is part of the beauty of a trip to Chile.

“One of the best parts about Chile is you can go from an urban adventure in cities like Santiago and Valparaíso, where modern architecture meets historic neighborhoods, to the mountains, the coast, or the desert, all in a day's drive.” —Kyle Stepp, Do Good Ambassador 

Santiago is a great home base for a variety of excursions just a few hours outside the city. Here are our five favorite things to do near Santiago: 


1. Camp In The Atacama Dunes 

Of the Atacama Desert’s sweeping 40,441 square miles of land, most travelers visit the “Valle de la Luna” near Antofagasta. But to escape the crowds and make our way off the beaten path, we visited the “Mar de Dunas” closer to Santiago. We spent a full day and night camping and exploring in the sand dunes, where we romped around through the expansive, meandering drifts and gazed at the wide-open night skies. While most people are used to camping in the woods or the mountains, camping in the dunes offers a completely different experience—and a beautifully meditative one. 

“I was in awe of the vast, mystical sand dunes.” —Kyle 

2. Stargaze With A Guide 

The Atacama Desert clocks over 300 clear nights per year, making it one of the best places in the world for stargazing. Stars also play an important role in Chilean culture. Our guide, Carlos Araya, gave us some insight into the meaning of the night sky:

“We look to the sky to understand the seasons and to see our relatives, to see our ancestors. When our ancestors die, they have a favorite star in the sky and when they pass away, they go to that star—the indigenous peoples celebrate ancestors in the sky, not in the ground. Every grandfather and great-grandfather has a star in the sky for us in the Atacama.” 

While stargazing, Carlos pointed out the moon, the Milky Way, Venus, and a star that he told us was the “eye of the llama,” and the closest to Earth. Our best stargazing tip? Go on a night with a new moon, when skies are darkest. 


3. Stay In A Refugio At 15,000ft

In Chile and the greater Andes region, a “refugio” is a mountain hut, and a common form of shelter for hikers in the area. At Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces–a national park known for its vibrant highland lagoons and unique topography–we were lucky enough to stay at Refugio Maricunga. This eclectic property along side a lake at the base of snow-capped mountains, and it was built by one of our guides, Erico. The refugio offers three different accommodation options–camping in one of their seven available campsites, bunking in one of three communal rooms, or cozying up in one of their three private apartments. 

Kyle, center, hanging with his friends at Refugio Maricunga

4. Hike Just Beyond Santiago’s City Limits 

During one of our days in Santiago, we ventured to a local spot called Parque Yerba Loca, with amazing views of Santiago and the Andes. We hiked the Refugio Alemán Trail, a 6-mile trail with moderate elevation gain and 360-degree views. Beyond trekking, the park also offers opportunities for camping, winter mountaineering, and horseback riding. 

“I’ve always found the mountains to be my happy place, and I was shocked to discover that the mountain access is only a breath away from Santiago's bustling streets. I quickly learned that the region is home to some of Chile's best skiing, and suddenly found myself wishing for ski season.” –Kyle

5. Explore The Streets Of “Valpo”

Valparaíso, or “Valpo” is a hilly and colorful port town an hour and a half outside of Santiago. It’s a boisterous town rich with street art, live music, and good eats. Meandering through the town, you can hear the sounds of local guitarists playing at open-air bars and restaurants. A funicular leads to the top of the city for views of the coast. Grab a Completo (Chile’s mayonnaise-y take on the hot dog) from a street vendor and explore the vibrant Concepción neighborhood.

“Valparaíso's streets are an open canvas adorned with colorful murals and graffiti that embody the city's artistic spirit. I fell in love with the city's vibrant culture, unique architecture, and stunning coastal views.” –Kyle 

When it comes to exploring Chile, Kyle says it best: “Chile should be on everyone's bucket list because there are very few places where you experience the vast diversity of landscape with the perfect combination of urban and outdoor adventures.”