Chile's rugged landscapes lure active travelers from all over the world. Thrill-seekers go whitewater rafting in the Lakes Region, sandboarding in the Atacama Desert, and paragliding high above Iquique. Down-to-earth alternatives include horseback riding on the beach and cycling in Pan De Azúcar National Park.

Active Chile

With 2,653 miles of coastline, the snow-capped Andes, and the driest desert in the world, Chile is an outdoor playground for active pursuits of all kinds. Whether you're interested in trying the W trek in Torres del Paine or enjoying a horseback ride on the beach, it's fairly easy to plan adventures in Chile: tourism numbers are up, and the country is well-prepared to receive international visitors. Some activities can be done in Santiago, but if you want to join up with other active travelers or have a more local experience, you'll be better off in adventure hubs like Puerto Natales or San Pedro de Atacama.

When planning ahead, remember that in the southern hemisphere, summer (peak season for many outdoor activities, especially in Patagonia) runs December through March, while ski season runs from June through September.

Find out more practical facts in our Chile FAQ.

Whitewater Rafting on the Rio Manso

Whitewater rapids in Chile's Lakes Region
Whitewater rapids in Chile's Lakes Region

Rafting in Chile is a great adventure, especially in spring (September through November in the southern hemisphere) when ice and snow in the mountains start melting, sending a rush of clear, cold water into surrounding rivers. Rio Manso, a river running through Nahuel Huapi National Park in the Lakes Region, is a particularly appealing destination for thrill-seekers.

A popular three-day guided excursion starts on a relatively quiet section of the river, moving on to Class II rapids as the Manso feeds into Rio Villegas. The journey features bird-watching opportunities, swimming (in summer, or when the weather is warm enough), camping on the riverbanks, a traditional Chilean asado (barbecue), and views of Andean peaks and glaciers, including the famed Ventisquiero Colgante ("hanging glacier"). One-day and week-long itineraries are also available.

Looking for a rafting experience that's closer to the city? You can day-trip to Rio Maipo: the excursion is easy to arrange from Santiago.

Cycling in Pan De Azúcar National Park

Wildlife signs along the road near Pan de Azúcar National Park
Wildlife signs along the road near Pan de Azúcar National Park

If you want to see Chile on two wheels but can't decide between desert and ocean, head to Pan De Azúcar National Park, a sprawling seaside nature reserve in the country's north. You'll pedal past otherworldly cacti, colorful rock formations, and postcard-like views of the Pacific, enjoying the luxury of a trail network specifically designed for cyclists. Flat sections of terrain are suited to beginners, while the park's hills and valleys offer more of a challenge to serious mountain bikers.

Other cyclist-friendly features include lookout points, campsites, beaches suitable for a quick dip, and an abundance of wildlife. A visit to Pan De Azúcar gives cyclists the chance to see foxes and vicunas in their natural habitats, not to mention colonies of Humboldt penguins that are worth planning your whole adventure around.

Skiing & Snowboarding in the Andes

On the mountainous road to Portillo ski resort
On the mountainous road to Portillo ski resort

Geographically speaking, Santiago residents have a great advantage: they're within easy distance of both the ocean and the mountains. Day-tripping to an Andean ski resort from the capital city is standard practice for locals and international visitors alike. Convenient ski areas include Valle Nevado (offering ski-in, ski-out accommodations if you have more than a day to spare), smaller La Parva and Lagunillas (ideal for families and beginners), and Portillo (slightly further from Santiago, near the border of Argentina, and a perennial favorite of expert skiers and snowboarders).

Bring your own equipment or plan to rent it on site. Depending on traffic, weather, and the specific destination, you'll spend an hour or two getting to the slopes from Santiago. 

Hiking the W in Torres del Paine

Hiking the W in Torres del Paine National Park
Hiking the W in Torres del Paine National Park

Count it among Chile's most classic outdoor adventures. There are lots of trails to explore in Torres del Paine National Park, but seasoned hikers consider the W the gold standard. So named for the shape that the circuit cuts through the park (take a look at the map and you'll understand), the trek usually takes five days to complete, but the W can also be adapted to last a day shorter or longer. The hike can be challenging — you'll be covering as many as 15 miles each day — and the weather unpredictable. But it's worth it for the dazzling views of pristine lakes and glaciers you'll enjoy along the way. If you're planning on sleeping in refugios (shelters) along the trek, it's important to reserve ahead of time, especially in the peak summer season (December through mid-March). 

You'll access Torres del Paine through the nearest town, Puerto Natales, a place that doubles as a useful hub of information for travelers. Even if you're in town for just a night, it's a snap to meet other hikers who've just returned from an adventure in the park — or to find other hikers to join up with before heading into the park.  You can also buy or rent equipment or gear in Puerto Natales. 

Read this article to learn more details about the 5-day W Trek.

Beach & Desert Horseback Riding

A spontaneous ride on the beach is easy to arrange in Chile
A spontaneous ride on the beach is easy to arrange in Chile

Galloping along the beach, waves crashing, the sea breeze on your face? It's a fantasy that's pretty easy to make into a reality in Chile, even if you haven't planned ahead for it. In low-key beach towns like Pichilemu, you can easily arrange for a ride with local guides who'll lead you through quiet forest and deserted stretches of the sandy coast. 

If you'd rather ride in the desert, horseback riding is a fantastic option in the Atacama, too. Rides can be arranged from the small town of San Pedro de Atacama, often including a breakfast (or a pisco sour toast, if it's evening) during the journey. Another option closer to Santiago is the region of Cajón del Maipo, within easy reach of the capital, where travelers can join trail rides with a backdrop of the Andes.

Windsurfing & Paragliding in Iquique

Tandem paragliding over Iquique
Tandem paragliding over Iquique

Windsurfing originated in California. Thousands of miles down the Pacific coast, Chile's windswept landscapes are also ideal for the sport. Windsurfing is popular throughout the country, but Iquique, in the north, is the unofficial national capital for this adventure sport. Whether you're a beginner or an expert, there's an opportunity for you here: after six lessons, first-timers are usually prepared to go out on their own. If you're already trained, you can rent equipment and join the locals. Most of the action centers around Cavancha and Blanca beaches, just outside of the city center.

Another popular adventure sport in Iquique is paragliding. On any given day, you'll spot dozens of colorful parachutes high over the city. You can sign up for lessons, or take a tandem ride with a pro: it's the quickest way to experience this adrenaline-charged sport. 

Sandboarding in Death Valley

Sandboarding on the dunes of Death Valley
Sandboarding on the dunes of Death Valley

Think you've crossed all of Chile's outdoor adventures off your to-do list? Not so fast. Sandboarding in Death Valley, in the Atacama Desert — known as the driest and highest-altitude desert in the world — isn't for the faint of heart. Take a look at the size of the towering sand dunes (and feel the heat of the sun overhead) and you'll understand why. 

Sandboarding in the desert is an activity you'll approach with a trained instructor on a guided excursion from the town of San Pedro de Atacama. You'll need a helmet and a special board and boots (similar to a snowboard), usually included with the price of the class. Unlike in snowboarding, however, there are no chairlifts to transport you back to the summit after you've reached the base of the dunes: for every downhill thrill, there's a tough hike back up to the top. Make sure you're well-hydrated and in good physical shape before attempting this activity. And don't forget your camera: the Atacama's landscapes are truly breathtaking.

Looking for more travel inspiration? Read this article about the best things to do in Chile.