Gay Chile, the best places of the longest country in the world

Tapering down the entire southwest side of the continent, along 5,000 kilometres of shoreline meeting desert plains in the north and snow-capped Patagonian mountains in the south, Chile knows just how to make an entrance. Whether its nature, nightlife or fine wine you’re looking for while in South America, Chile has it by the barrelful with a mighty tourism industry to boot. The nation is a long-standing favourite among backpackers for its sheer diversity of terrain and culture, and today there is all the more reason to make Chile your next travel destination. Seek out high-end luxury lodgings in the stable and vibrant capital of Santiago, or go bareback on horse-riding adventures through the Atacama desert, whichever path you choose, prepare to be bowled over by warm, welcoming locals and much epic scenery along the way. Learn more about our top 10 favourite places in gay Chile.

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Atacama Desert | Photo: Diego Jimenez

LGBT Chile

As with many countries in South America, conservative views held by a Catholic majority continue to hinder the progress of LGBT rights. Within the region, however, Chile comes out top for its tolerant attitudes, most evident in the flourishing gay scene within Santiago. Civil same-sex unions have been legal since 2015 with previous president Michelle Bachelet pushing gay marriage onto the national agenda. For current president Sebastián Piñera however, legalisation of gay marriage – along with the right for same-sex couples to adopt – seems not to be a priority. On the plus side, anti-discrimination laws ensure LGBTQ citizens and travellers are protected, while LGBTQ nationals are allowed to openly serve in the army and give blood, which is more than can be said for neighbouring nations.

Although conservative attitudes remain in more rural areas, most of Chile is certifiably gay friendly, particularly in the bigger cities. Gay Santiago, of course, leads the way with openly queer culture on the streets and a strong community centred on Barrio Bellavista. Join in on wild nightlife and countless LGBTQ+ events all year round, with Santiago Gay Pride in June.

Santiago Gay friends Diego Duarte Cereceda

Photo: Diego Duarte Cereceda

Photo: Guilherme de Alvarenga

1. Santiago de Chile 

The sprawling capital of Santiago is home to some 40% of the national population, luring locals and travellers alike with cosmopolitan vitality at large among romantic plazas, leafy green spaces and grand colonial institutions. Split between a number of distinct barrios, the city holds countless surprises with each neighbourhood serving up a completely different version of Santiago. Everything spills out from the Centro area, the main tourist hub boasting impressive architecture, malls, museums and more. From there, move outwards to any of Santiago’s hillside parks for late afternoon sun before dining upmarket in the posh hotel district of Providencia and Las Condes. For the best nightlife, shoot off from Centro into the barrios of Brasil, Lastarria and Bellavista, finding cosy restaurants, cafes and beer halls with all kinds of tempting vibes.

Gay Santiago Chile is best found within Bellavista, the prime nightlife area nestled between the Mapocho River and San Cristóbal Hill. The one-time home of the city’s red-light district, Bellavista holds much gritty heritage, once the preferred locale of literary and political legend Pablo Neruda. Fans of Neruda can visit his house at La Chascona which now serves as a popular museum. To find the gay community in Bellavista, head direct to Bombero Nuñez, the main gay street at the centre of Santiago’s most bohemian neighbourhood. Daytime trips to Bombero will grant you street art and modern galleries interspersed with a number of hip brunch spots, while nighttime sees buzzing gay bars and clubs come alive and the streets flow with liberal minds looking for fun. Get the intimate details on Santiago with our full Santiago de Chile travel guide.

Santiago | Photo: Caio Silva

2. Valle de la Luna & the Atacama Desert

When you can no longer keep up with the party schedule of the capital, it’s time to get lost in Chile’s natural world. In the north lies the Atacama Desert, spreading over an area of 100,000 square kilometres incorporating a great many natural wonders and Martian rock formations. Despite being one of the driest places on Earth, the region is in fact home to a number of native communities and countless species of flora and fauna all at home on the dry salt lakes here. One of the most popular sites is the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) next to the Bolivian border, just over 10 kilometres from the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama, a popular place for overnight stays. Access the Valley of the Moon by bike, tour bus or car, winding through the remote Moon-like landscapes of Atacama to get there. If in doubt, start in Atacama’s biggest town and book yourself on the best sounding San Pedro de Atacama tours.

Take your time as you move across the landscape, admiring the valley’s weird sand formations and the famed turquoise waters at the Laguna Cejar sinkhole, letting off some steam at the El Tatio geyser field. Asides from enjoying the landscape, visitors can see evidence of the region’s early cavemen alongside some of the world’s oldest preserved humans, the Chinchorro mummies, at the San Miguel de Azapa archaeological museum. Alternatively, follow the land’s daintiest birds to the Los Flamencos National Reserve, where the resident flamingos paint the landscape pink.

For nightlife in the region, San Pedro is your best bet and while the San Pedro de Atacama gay scene is not huge, you’ll likely find a gay-friendly atmosphere at any of the bars dotted about town.

Atacama Desert | Photo: Grebmot

3. Valparaíso

Chile’s third-largest city and wholly charming heritage site is the coastal city of Valparaíso, an easy day trip from Santiago at 100 kilometres northwest. If the speed of the capital was overwhelming, Valparaíso deigns to take the pace down a notch, with uneven cobblestones paving the streets that run from colonial centre to harbourside. Take a walking tour or go solo to discover the town’s best street murals and rundown tin house networks, besides all too many tempting restaurants and boutique hotels, all leant on the steep painted hills that Valparaíso is most famous for. A much-loved home to artists and intellectuals of days gone by, the city is now seeing a renaissance with young Chileans moving here to live the slow live, bringing a youthful energy to this old port city. Wind your way through town soaking up the old-meets-new vibe, or opt to take in some history at maritime attractions such as the Lord Cochrane’s Museum and the larger-than-life Naval and Maritime Museum. Nearby at the Port of Talcahuano, the Ironclad Huáscar is another reminder of Chile’s valiant war efforts.

If you’re looking for more action, stop by Valparaíso Cultural Park for regular community events and art exhibitions before ending the day with a short hike up to the Paseo Yugoslavo lookout where views over the port and surrounding coastline will take your breath away. The Valparaiso gay scene is small yet easy to find among the buzzing bars around the port area and beyond. Most places are mixed and inclusive, but for LGBT-centred fun, check out pagan-themed bar Morgana and Brit Pop-playing Máscara before finishing the night at Pagano or Club Delirio, Valpo’s top two gay clubs.

Valparaíso | Photo: Loic Mermilliod

4. Viña del Mar

Very unlike Valparaíso but equally as charming is the beach resort city of Viña del Mar. Orderly and linear where Valparaíso is not, Viña del Mar grants the perfect place to calm your mind, with preened boulevards and stately gardens in proximity to glorious beaches. Enjoy a leisurely day on the coast before moving downtown to walk the local museum and gallery trail. Travel with ease by subway or taxi to explore Viña del Mar’s lesser-known gems, sniffing out each neighbourhood’s best pastry stores and pausing to appreciate the myriad palaces, castles and colonial haciendas along the way. After an intense day of walking, hunt down the best spa Viña del Mar has to offer or check in to a spa hotel for inclusive treatments and in-house relaxation.

At night, Viña del Mar takes off its prim and proper façade to become one of the nation’s best party destinations. If you’re lucky enough to visit in February, the Festival de la Cancion should plan your night for you, showcasing a variety of international musicians all across town. At any other time, join the high rollers a Viña’s impressive art deco casino, making a night of it on the dancefloor of Club Divino, the famous Viña del mar gay club; one of the largest gay clubs in Latin America with multiple rooms and a fun-loving crowd.

Viña del Mar | Photo: Caio Silva

Viña del Mar | Photo: Luis Villasmil

5. Chiloé Island

For a taste of island living, we move next to Chiloé, a not-so-little beach paradise offering isolation, scenic natural landscapes and Mapuche culture. Lovingly referred to as Chilotes, Chilóe Island is the fifth-largest island in Chile where a rich culture of native pride and German influence combine to create something remarkable. Castro is the capital and it’s here you’ll find brightly coloured stilt houses (called ‘palafitos’), alongside UNESCO-listed Jesuit churches and down-to-earth lodgings. While slow-paced city life is certainly appealing, most come to Chiloé Island for its fairy-tale nature. Chiloé National Park is where you’ll find some of the country’s most diverse marine life, including whales, dolphins and penguins. Spanning some 41 islands, Chiloé has even more to offer; its unkempt beaches and dense forests ripe for hiking, horseback riding, kayaking and whale-watching excursions.

Although all too easy to get lost in nature during your stay on Chiloé, be sure to tour the towns and smaller villages to learn of an alternative Chilean culture, one that prides itself on its seafaring and farming customs, with faith in both Catholicism and ancient Mapuche folklore. Outside of the famous minga celebration, one such place to see culture in action all year round is at the Mercado Yumbel, a place packed with lively locals plying fresh produce, seafood and handwoven crafts. After a morning good-natured haggling, fill up on a hearty lunch of seafood stew before unwinding with a spa treatment or two back at your lodge.

Chiloé | Photo: Jaume Galofre

6. Torres del Paine National Park

The crown jewel of Chilean Patagonia is the Torres del Paine National Park based way down south in the Magallanes region. Home of the Andes as well as countless lakes and glaciers, it’s easy to see why Torres del Paine tops our list for gay travel Chile. Although you could easily stay here for weeks uncovering something new every day, if time is limited, stick to the Cordillera del Paine region of the park, the point at which Patagonian grassland meets subpolar forest to spectacular effect. The most eye-catching attraction here would be the three granite peaks of Paine Massif, which reach up to 2,850 metres and dominate the entire skyline.

100 kilometres north of Puerto Natales, Torres del Paine has endless natural wonders to behold. Take your pick from popular spots such as Lago Grey, Lago Nordenskjöld, Lago Pehoe or Lago Sarmiento, with the epic Grey Glacier standing as the icy king of them all. Hiking trails wind through each of these places, allowing for multi-day trekking and wilderness camping adventures. The option of pitching up at a campground also means amenities and new friends are never far away. Plan your Torres del Paine trek in advance or hire one of the many professional guides to lead you. For some of the most challenging trails, a guide is mandatory, most notable is the Torres del Paine W trek which sees you trekking 71 kilometres over five days across many of the top sights in Patagonia, including Grey Glacier and the Paine Grande mountain range.

Photo: Philippe Siguret

Torres del Paine | Photo: Peter Winckler

7. Easter Island & Rapa Nui National Park

“Discovered” by Dutch explorers on Easter Sunday of 1722, Easter Island has since become known as one of the most mysterious islands within the Oceanic Polynesian Triangle. 3,500 kilometres away from Chile’s mainland, Easter Island should warrant at least a few days on your itinerary as the flight from Santiago or Tahiti takes around five hours each way. Travellers who venture here will be rewarded with a fascinating few days getting to know about the island’s early Rapa Nui population and seeing their famed rock carvings first hand. The majority of the 887 famous rock head statues are now protected within Rapa Nui National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site also home to many of the island’s best beaches.

Spend some days trekking through the park, resting on the white coral beaches surrounding. Other cultural artefacts to discover include the ‘Hare Paenga” ruins once home to ancient Polynesian island communities, all of which can be pieced together at the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum in Hanga Roa. Hanga Roa is also where you’ll find the most populated part of the island, hosting hotels restaurants and stores around the slow-moving yet picturesque harbourside. Once you’ve exhausted the historic sites of Easter Island, head below the surface of the island’s crystal-clear waters to enjoy some of the world’s finest diving and snorkelling opportunities.

Easter Island | Photo: Thomas Griggs

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Covering 1,300 square kilometres of land, Lauca boasts elevated plains and rolling mountain landscapes with a little volcanic excitement thrown in for good measure

8. Lauca National Park

Another of Chile’s most stunning natural attractions comes in the form of Lauca National Park, a site 140 kilometres from the city of Arica in the far north of the country. Covering 1,300 square kilometres of land, Lauca boasts elevated plains and rolling mountain landscapes with a little volcanic excitement thrown in for good measure. Come to Lauca for reflective retreats beside grand mountain lakes, such as Cotacotani and Chungara, or tighten those bootlaces for vigorous treks towards the snow-topped volcanic peaks of Pomerape and Parinacota, each measuring upwards of 6,000 meters.

A prime birdwatching destination home to as many as 140 different species, Lauca National Park is a top place to spot Andean geese, crested ducks, condor and more, while down on the ground, the grasslands are commonly grazed by wildlife such as llamas, rheas, alpacas and flamingos. While Lauca’s diverse flora and fauna certainly takes the limelight, the park also boasts myriad archaeological sites in addition to long-standing European settlements hosting colonial churches and buildings of a bygone era.

Lauca National Park | Photo: Alain Bonnardeaux

9. The Chilean Lake District

Despite sharing its name with a hilly retreat in the English countryside, the Chilean Lake District is in a league of its own for intense natural beauty. The site of countless glacial lakes surrounded by rumbling volcanoes and thick forests, ‘Los Lagos’ is out of this world. Based in the northern Puerto Montt region, the Chilean Lake District marks the beginning of the scenic country-wide trail that stretches down the Carretera Austral Highway and ends in Cape Horn National Park. While just the start of what is surely the road trip of a lifetime, the Lake District sets expectations gloriously high. Begin in Puerto Varas, the central tourist hub of the region providing amenities and the perfect jumping-off point to enjoy the best regional attractions.

Whittle down your itinerary from an endless list of things to do; choosing between rock climbing and horseback riding in Río Cochamó Valley; camping and trekking around the region’s national parks (such as Huerquehue); or touring the lakeside hamlets beside Lagos Llanquihue, Puyehue and Todos Los Santos, Frutillar in particular. In summer, white-water rafting and kayaking are popular side interests, but, in winter, skiing takes over. Whatever makes the cut, the Chilean Lake District is 330 kilometres of untouched natural beauty, with rural towns such as Osorno and Valdivia offering insight into German-influenced Latin culture.

Lejía Lake | Photo: Vinicius Henrique Photography

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Based in the northern Puerto Montt region, the Chilean Lake District marks the beginning of the scenic country-wide trail that stretches down the Carretera Austral Highway and ends in Cape Horn National Park

10. Cerro Castillo National Park 

Not far from Aysen city, the capital of the Patagonian Coyhaique region, lies the last destination on our Chile gay tour. This is Cerro Castillo National, a vast nature reserve covering 1,430 square kilometres of frigid Patagonian grassland and Andean mountain range, decorated with placid lagoons, glaciers, forests and more. Hire a guide or go without, taking advantage of the park’s solid infrastructure either way. The camping sites around Cerro Castillo and Cerro Las Cuatro Cumbres are particularly comfortable, with alternative advanced trails beginning in Horquetas and circling the entire massif before reaching the magnificent Laguna Cerro Castillo. While some visitors stay for challenging four- to five-day hikes, others can be equally satisfied with a day-long hike to the famed Laguna Castillo viewpoint. Rock climbing and horseback riding in gaucho style are two more options for the adventurous at heart!

The reserve’s most important natural wonder is known as the Hanging Glacier, a site which feeds all the lakes and lagoons beneath it with emerald water. The nearby forests provide the perfect habitat for Chilean deer known as huemul which, although shy, regularly come close to the Portezuelo Ibañez at the border to Carretera Austral. Other wildlife native to the park includes puma, guanaco, red fox and the Patagonian skunk. For the best chance at sightings in unbeatable surroundings, brave a multi-day hike through glades, forests and rushing rivers to reach secret glacial lagoons carved into the mountainside.

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Easter Island | Photo: Luis Valiente

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