Long and narrow, the climate and environment of Chile differ throughout the country. From deserts to lakes, coasts to mountains and the famous fjords of Patagonia, Chile is a country of contrasts. Visiting Chile with kids is not only possible, but a great adventure for all!
What to Know about Visiting Chile with Kids
Chile is the longest and narrowest country in the world, bordering Peru in the north and stretching down to the southern-most point of the continent.
The length of the country means that travel time between places is one of the biggest challenges when planning your trip.
Buses are comfortable and run fairly frequently up and down the country, but keep in mind the distances are long and most will be long bus rides.
Flights are a quicker option and fairly inexpensive, within Chile.
Knowing we wouldn’t be able to see everything (and the boys are too young to be able to fully do some of the hikes in Patagonia), we decided to focus our time on Santiago, the coast and the Atacama Desert in the north.
We spent 2.5 weeks in Chile, but this could easily be made into a 2 week itinerary. If you only have 1 week, choose only to visit the Atacama Desert or start in Santiago and choose one other place close by to visit.
This article contains affiliate links. If you click on these links to purchase something,
we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Day 1-3: Santiago
Chances are you’re arriving in Santiago if you’re coming by air. The airport is only a short drive from town. Transfers are available or you can get a taxi from the kiosk INSIDE the airport.
Spend the first few days exploring Santiago. Visit the Plaza de Armas, admire the oldest buildings in the city and wander around the downtown area. Paseo Ahumada and Huerfanos pedestrian streets lined with small shops, cafes and restaurants.
On another day, take the funicular to the top of Cerro San Cristobal for some fantastic views of the city. After, explore the Bellavista neighbourhood, admiring the street art and then stop for a bite to eat and drink at any of the cafes lining the streets. This is a great area to explore the nightlife of Santiago as well.
The third day, take a break from the city and explore Cerro Santa Lucia.
Set in the middle of the city, this hill (“cerro”) is actually the remnant of a volcano 15 million years ago. Now it’s a park, filled with beautiful fountains, winding paths, steep staircases and even a castle!
The paths wind through the park and end up at the highest point, Torre Mirador, providing some more incredible views of the city and the Andes mountains.
After exploring the hill, head to the Lastarria neighbourhood at the bottom of the hill for lots of great restaurants and cafes.
If you’re travelling with kids, check out our recommendations for Santiago with kids. We spent 5 days in Santiago and explored some great parks!
We stayed at a great little hotel a few blocks from Cerro Santa Lucia and within walking distance from the Plaza de Armas. All of the accommodation information can be found at the end of this itinerary.
Day 4-6: Valparaíso
Head to the coast for a few days and see a different side of Chile. If you’re travelling by car, stop in the Casablanca valley for a wine tour (we loved Emiliana Winery) before continuing on to Valparaiso.
Valparaíso is known for street art and ceviche. There are numerous walking tours that will introduce you to the city, including the street art, but you can also just walk and experience it for yourself!
Read more | 7 Things to Do in Valparaiso
**It’s important to know that Valparaíso is situated on 42 hills!
There are some steep streets, lots of stairs but you can also ride the funiculars to the top of the hills. They’re pretty old and a little rickety, but still work well and at only 100 pesos, they’re really cheap!
If you head down to the port, you can also take a boat tour of the harbour for some great views of the hills and the city. Tours are about 30 mins and cost $4000CLP. They run whenever the boat is full, but try to go late afternoon or early evening for the best view of the hills.
You could easily spend three days exploring Valparaíso, but if you want to take a day trip, Vina del Mar has some great beaches and is only 8km from Valparaíso. Trains run frequently and there are also buses every 20-30 minutes.
Concon is another few kilometres up the coast and its’ huge sand dunes make for a good half day trip. (Although the weather didn’t cooperate for us, sunset is the best time to hike the dunes).
About an hour further north is the small town of Chachagua. (You will need a car for this day trip).
At the northern end of the beach, you can see the Isle of Cachagua which is only 100 metres from shore.
Officially a Sanctuary of Nature, people are not allowed on the island but you view it from a path along the shore.
The island is home to Humbolt and Magellanicus penguins, as well as pelicans, ducks and gulls. A good zoom lens would be beneficial, but you can see them with a naked eye if you look closely.
We spent a total of six nights (4 in Valparaíso and two in Concon) but you could easily shorten that to 3 or 4.
If you’re looking for more a bit more detail, here’s 7 Things to do in Valparaíso that are all kid-friendly, although they would quite fun even without kids.
Day 7 – 11: San Pedro de Atacama
Return to Santiago and take a short flight north to the Atacama Desert. Flights are frequent and cheap, as they are to most places within Chile. The flight arrives in Calama, where you can rent a car or arrange a transfer to the town of San Pedro de Atacama.
*We rented a car, mainly because one of the places that I wanted to see was only accessible by car. But it also allowed us a bit more freedom to see some of the sights around San Pedro de Atacama, especially as many of the tours wouldn’t allow young kids under 6. If you’re travelling with young children, even though you’ll need to bring car seats, it might be worth it to rent a car! (If your children are over 40lbs, these mi-fold booster seats are amazing!)
Start by exploring the town of San Pedro de Atacama. With dry, dusty dirt streets and adobe housing, it feels like a typical desert town. Wander the pedestrian-only streets in the centre of town, shop for locally-made crafts and souvenirs and stop for a rest in the large, shady main square. Visit the Church of San Pedro de Atacama (yes, that’s its’ name), which is made from indigenous adobe material and is the second oldest church in Chile.
Hike or sandboard in the Valle de Marte, named for its resemblance to Mars. It’s hot, so be sure to bring water, but the hike up to the lookout is definitely do-able for kids. The Valle de la Luna, is another great place to hike, with giant sand dunes that kids will love. The sunsets here are amazing!
After hiking, take a dip in the salt water pools of Laguna Cejar or Lagunas Escondidas de Baltinache. Kids are allowed in, and under five were free, but be careful that the salt water doesn’t get in their eyes (my boys wore sunglasses). Lake Tebinquinche is another salt water flat where you can walk along the edge of the lagoon, but swimming is not permitted, as it is now a nature sanctuary. Sunsets here are also spectacular!
A visit to Laguna Chaxa is THE place to see Chilean and Andean flamingos in their natural habitat, but unfortunately it was closed when we there. Another place to see them is at the Salar de Atacama, the largest salt flat in Chile.
Set your alarm early and head to the El Tatio Geysers, which is best seen in the early morning as the sun rises. We didn’t manage a visit here, as the altitude is pretty high and not recommended for children.
Take a drive to Machuca to see flamingos and vicunas along the side of the road, and of course, some more spectacular scenery. Stop in the village for some fresh empanadas or grilled llama meat skewers. Then spend a relaxing afternoon at the Puritama Hot Springs, where waterfalls connect a series of geothermal spring water pools.
South of San Pedro lies the town of Socaire, which makes for a nice stop on the way to the altiplanic lakesof Laguna Miscanti and Laguna Miňiques. High in altitude at 4,200m, these two lakes are separated by a lava stream and surrounded by volcanoes and mountains. (Again, with the high altitude, this isn’t a great stop if you’re travelling with children.)
Being in the Atacama Desert with the clearest skies in the world also allows for some of the best stargazing opportunities. Take an organized tour from San Pedro or if you have a rental car, head out on your own and find a spot just outside of town to watch the stars. You can also visit the ALMA Observatory, which is open to the public on the weekends.
We stayed in San Pedro de Atacama for four nights but could have easily stayed another night or two. For more details and information, check out 16 Things to do in the Atacama Desert.
Day 12-13: Antofagasta
A stop in Antofagasta is a long detour, but well worth it if you have a rental car. (This was the main reason we rented a car for this part of our trip).
Still part of the Atacama Desert, Antofagasta is a few hours west of Calama, right on the Pacific coast. Spend some time at the beach or stay the night and enjoy the phenomenal sunsets. The next day, take a drive to see the Hand of the Desert before heading back to the airport in Calama.
Day 14: Santiago
Catch a flight back to Santiago, where you can continue your Chilean adventure, head onwards or return home.
Things to Know When Visiting Chile with Kids
Spanish is spoken everywhere, but beware – it’s one of the fastest-spoken Spanish dialects, which makes it tricky for foreigners to understand!
Chile uses the Chilean Peso. It’s possible to buy Chilean pesos at home before you arrive and easy to get money from ATM’s in the major cities. If you’re heading to smaller towns or the Atacama Desert, make sure to use the ATM in a larger city first. Many places accept credit cards, although smaller restaurants and some tour companies only accept cash.
Chile’s time zone is GMT-4, which is the same as Toronto or New York. However daylight savings time changes on different dates, so depending when you visit, there may be an hour difference. Which is nice for anyone coming from North America!
Where to Stay in Chile
We stayed at Hotel Sommelier which was close to Santa Lucia and also within walking distance from the Plaza de Armas. It’s not a high end hotel but was great for us. Rooms were very clean, with a kitchenette and a separate sitting area (although the television was in the bedroom), it gave the boys extra room to play and mom a place to work while they slept. Breakfast was also included. Click here to check other hotels in Santiago.
We opted to stay in a hotel rather than any of the numerous airbnbs in the hills, mostly because I had been told to be wary about the safety in different neighbourhoods. We also had a car for this part of our trip, so I wanted something with parking, preferably underground. Hotel Diego de Almagro was our choice and we loved it (we actually stayed here twice)! We felt safe there, even when there were some protests in the city. They also have an indoor pool, underground parking, an excellent breakfast and a restaurant which is open for lunch and dinner. Check other options here.
Vina del Mar
We stayed at an apartment in Vina del Mar, but I honestly can’t recommend it. I wish we had stayed at one of the hotels in the center of town, such as Hotel Diego de Almagro (which we stayed at in Valparaiso) or the Pullman Vina Del Mar San Martin, which is right beside the beach. Check for other available hotels or apartments here.
Concon has quite a few hotels, resorts and apartments to choose from. The Radisson Blu Acqua Concon is located right on the beachfront in Concon and is within easy walking distance from everything in Concon. Breakfast is included and there’s an onsite restaurant as well.
San Pedro de Atacama
Accommodation is more expensive here, as it’s a very tourist-focused town. We stayed in a basic, but lovely place here. The rooms were small and very minimal, but they were clean and the owners were friendly. It was a bit of a walk from town though, so although places will be a bit pricier, I would recommend looking for something in the central area. Check for other available accommodations here.
Antofagsta: We stayed in THE most amazing place here but unfortunately, we had a flight to catch so could only stay one night. Geotel Antofagasta was right on the ocean, with great views from the balcony and a beach directly behind the hotel. Every room has a kitchenette, separate living and bedroom areas and a large balcony overlooking the water. A fabulous breakfast is included and a buffet dinner is also offered nightly. Oh, and you get a free welcome drink on arrival – kids as well!- I’d highly recommend it, but if you want to check out other accommodations, click here.
Calama: We had an early flight to catch the next morning, so we booked a night in Calama at Geotel Calama. Similar to Geotel Antofagasta, each room had a kitchenette, a sitting area separate from the bedroom, breakfast was included and there was a free welcome drink on arrival. Check available accommodations here.
For more ideas and inspiration on travelling in Chile with kids, be sure to check out these posts: