Chile is the longest and narrowest country in the world. It extends 4,270 km (2,653 mi) from north to south. That is a lot of land, so how do you go about choosing where to live?
Let us help you find the best place for you!
If you are looking for a specific landscape, you can indeed find it in Chile. Coasts, deserts, mountains, green valleys, magical forests, lakes, fjords, and even glaciers.
But the differences are not only in the landscape.
Some towns in Chile are very modern; others look like the time stopped at least 100 years ago.
Some places are cosmopolitan, others have European heritage, and some are very agricultural. Some are primarily dedicated to mining, fishing, viticulture, or surfing.
Let’s look at the best places to live in Chile.
1. Santiago de Chile – the most cosmopolitan
Santiago, the capital of Chile, is usually the most obvious option where to settle in Chile.
The city has a population of approximately 6 million, and together with the metropolitan area, it totals 8 million. That means 45% of the country’s population lives here.
So, yes, it’s a bit crowded.
One of the advantages of settling here is that you can find everything and anything in Santiago: all the public offices, most of the big companies (even big companies operating elsewhere usually have an office in the capital), restaurants from all over the world, shops of all kinds, malls, many cultural outlets, interesting co-working places, you name it.
Most of the job opportunities are concentrated here. There are many companies: multinationals, big and small traditional Chilean companies, myriad SMEs, and startup companies.
Santiago has some options to offer if you are a nature lover, but it does not compare to other places.
There are a few ski centers to choose from for those who like to ski and a few national parks with hiking trails in the surrounding mountains. But, if you need greenery for living, you might want to head further south.
Santiago is divided into comunas (communes, geographical divisions of the city) with certain independence in governance.
There are significant differences between them. Some are safe and wealthy, others very busy and commercial, and quite a few are mainly residential. It’s good to know which ones are not safe and avoid them.
Santiago Centro is very busy. Most public offices and many companies are located there. It is more affordable but noisy and not as safe.
Providencia is safer and quieter. Many companies have their headquarters here, and there are many shopping, dining, and fun options.
Vitacura is a modern business hub mixed with residential areas.
Las Condes is a wealthy family-friendly neighborhood.
The main disadvantages of living in Santiago are the ever-rising prices, the heat, air pollution, and traffic. There are traffic jams even on Sundays.
It is crowded, and honestly, Chileans who live in Santiago are grumpier than those living in other areas.
2. Valparaiso and Viña del Mar – the most colorful
Valparaíso and Viña del Mar are two coastal cities some 120 kilometers northwest of Santiago.
Even though they each have unique characteristics, they are so close together that they blend and are frequently talked about as one.
They share a public transport system and are both important tourist attractions. They are even considered the most visited cities in Chile.
It is cheaper to live there than in Santiago but more expensive than in rural areas. There is a much better air quality than in the capital, and there are magnificent views everywhere.
Valparaíso is best known for its steep hills and colorful houses. It is a cultural and architectural treasure.
In 2003 the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, artists, poets, students, Chileans, and foreigners come together to create a bohemian art scene.
If you are into roaming through small streets that seem like a labyrinth, culture, and ocean breeze, this is your place.
Valparaíso is one of Chile’s biggest and busiest ports, so the city is a major trading center. Some big Chilean and international companies have their headquarters here.
It is a hub for tourism-related jobs as well. It is also known as a student city, as there are several universities.
Viña del Mar, also called the “Garden City,” is most known for its beaches. It is tidier and has a more residential look. It is one of the prime vacation spots.
It is considered safer, and it feels much more spacious. Living in Viña is a little bit more expensive than in Valparaíso.
The downsides of living in Valparaíso or Viña must be the crowds in the summer months. It can also get chilly even in the summer.
3. La Serena – the clearest sky in the southern hemisphere
Six hours drive to the north of Santiago, or a short flight away, there is the coastal city of La Serena.
It is the place that people visit for its beaches. It is also a gateway to sites like Valle del Elqui, which is known as the place with the clearest sky in the whole southern hemisphere.
La Serena is the international capital of professional and amateur astronomers. Many expats that live in La Serena work or study in astronomy-related fields.
Valle del Elqui is also interesting for displaying the culture of the Diaguitas (indigenous people) and unique agricultural practices.
Another spot easy to visit from La Serena is the Pingüino de Humboldt National Reserve, where you can see penguins, whales, and dolphins.
La Serena is currently one of the fastest-growing areas of Chile, developing at a high rate. Many Santiaginos buy their second real estate property there for vacation or investment purposes.
The leading industry is tourism, and the city population doubles in the summer.
La Serena is more affordable than Santiago or Viña and Valparaíso. It is spacious and not crowded; it is walkable and bike-friendly.
If you are looking to escape stressful life, you might enjoy the slower life pace. The weather is mild all year round, without any extremes. The general quality of life is good.
The cons of living in La Serena are probably a lower level of English knowledge within the population, so you do need to speak at least some Spanish.
4. Valdivia – the best beer
About 850 kilometers south of Santiago lies the beautiful “River City” of Valdivia on the confluence of three rivers. It is the capital of the region called Los Ríos, “The Rivers.”
Valdivia has a population of almost 170.000 inhabitants.
Despite the relatively small size, Valdivia has a good infrastructure, reliable public transportation, tons of cafes and restaurants, book stores, museums (one of them is located in an actual submarine), universities, supermarkets, and specialized stores.
Valdivia has a temperate rainy climate mixed with the Mediterranean and oceanic influences. It is not as hot and dry as the central valley or the north.
The city is walkable, attractive, and green. There are several parks and recreational areas.
River tours are the most favorite attractions here. One of the nearby must-sees is the Valdivian rain forest. Valdivia and the surroundings will not let down any nature lover.
The primary industries are tourism, wood pulp manufacturing, forestry, metallurgy, and, yes, you read right, beer production.
Kunstmann beer is the most famous local brand. Beer brewing is part of the German heritage of the city and area.
You can experience this influence further through food and architecture. There are also German schools and clinics in the city.
Living in Valdivia is affordable, slow-paced, and community-centered.
Valdivians are known as welcoming, but they might lack English skills, so it is best you learn some basic Spanish.
The city has plans to become a prime spot for retirees, adapting to their needs as much as possible.
5. Pichilemu – the best surfing
Pichilemu is a coastal city 200 kilometers southwest of Santiago. It has around 13.000 inhabitants and a bustling expat community.
It is also one of the prime destinations for surfing. Therefore, tourism is the main driver for the local economy, followed by forestry and crafts.
There are several wide dark sand beaches around.
Punta de Lobos (six kilometers south of Pichilemu) is the most renowned place for surfing. Several surf championships take place there each year.
Pichilemu has a relaxed summer holiday vibe the whole year. There are many services catered to tourists, making it a good place for people who want to work or start a business in tourism.
Be prepared for cold ocean weather except in the summer. The wind can make it feel cool, even in the summer months.
Living close to Punta de Lobos might be the best choice. It is safer, family-friendly, and has better options for private schools, playgroups, and after-school activities.
There are many coffee shops for remote workers and a co-working space downtown.
There is a public hospital with limited specialties as far as health goes.
People living in the area say that Pichilemu has a great chill vibe and is excellent for families with kids. There are many activities for them.
The main disadvantage of living in Pichilemu must be the summer crowds. To avoid traffic jams, do your errands in the early morning, or bike or walk wherever you need to go.
6. Pucón – the best white water rafting
Almost 800 kilometers south of Santiago, in the Araucania region, Pucón lies on the shore of the lake Villarica.
In Mapudungun, the Mapuche language, “Pucón” means the entryway to the mountains. It is a bit more rural and looks like an alpine mountain village with its tiny wooden houses.
It has a slower pace (especially out of the touristy season) and excellent quality of life. Be prepared for a lot of rain during the whole year.
This small city of 22.000 inhabitants is known as the capital city of adventure tourism.
You can practice many sports here: aquatic sports on the lake, hiking in the national parks surrounding the area, skiing (on the volcano), white water rafting and kayaking, horseback riding, or skydiving.
And after all that adrenaline adventure, you can relax in one of the many hot water springs and spas.
Pucón is a great place to find a job in tourism if that is your area of expertise.
I hear that the expat community in Pucón is robust, active, and welcoming. After you make your first acquaintance, they will introduce you to the rest, and you will be able to join the meetups and get-togethers.
7. Punta Arenas – the longest day and night
If you can handle cold and wind, Punta Arenas will astonish you!
It is the southernmost city in Chile and in South America. The climate here is subpolar oceanic, with an average low of -1 °C in July and an average high of 14 °C in January.
The winds get pretty strong, up to up to 130 km/h.
Punta Arenas has around 127.000 inhabitants. The most populous ethnic group here (apart from Spaniards) are the Croatians who colonized the city in the mid-nineteenth century.
It is a coastal city some 1400 kilometers from Antarctica; it is an essential point for the supply of the Antarctic bases and a gateway to get there.
The port is a stop for many cruise ships, and the city gets full of tourists (mostly North Americans) for the day.
The town starts at sea and ends on a hill where you can find a ski center, so it is probably one of a few places in the world where you can ski and look at the ocean at the same time.
The city has a lovely plaza and beautiful colonial European-style buildings, resembling palaces. There are plenty of restaurants and coffee shops.
The economy is based on tourism, agriculture, and raw material extraction (coal and oil).
The whole region is known for raising sheep and cattle.
The barrier to entry for new businesses is low, as is the competition. This can be a great place to start a novelty business.
Punta Arenas is one of the two tax-free zones, which means you can import goods without paying tax. This is either a business opportunity or an opportunity to buy cheap goods you might need (from electronics, cars, etc.).
8. Puerto Varas – lakeside living at its best
Puerto Varas is a prime spot for expats in Chile.
It is located in breathtaking surroundings on the waterfront of Lake Llanquihue and is very developed by Chilean countryside standards. The cherry on the top is that there already is a fairly extensive expat community. There are even English-speaking book clubs available for the bookworms.
The first thing you might notice in the city is the fascinating blend of Chilean and German culture. You can see it in the wonderful architecture, cuisine, names of the places, and there are German schools and even clinics in the area.
The economy is based on tourism. Many tourists seek the great outdoors: lakeside views with volcanoes in the distance and stunning surrounding mountains with the possibility of many outdoor activities.
Again, this is the place to work or start a business in tourism. If you have an attractive offer, you should be able to succeed.
Another lucrative and developed industry is real estate development.
The city is quieter off-season and a little crowded in the summer. Definitely, be prepared for lots of rain and green! If you enjoy culture, Teatro del Lago in Frutillar is beautiful and offers a lot.
There also are many concerts happening in the local casino.
9. Santa Cruz – the best wineries and wines
Santa Cruz is the wine capital of Chile. It is a city and comune with 33.000 inhabitants of which almost half live in the countryside.
In the city’s surroundings, many vineyards shape the looks of the country. Most vineyards offer tasting tours; some have a hotel or boutique hotel and restaurant on the premises.
Others might even provide hosting events such as weddings or family celebrations.
If you want to learn about wine, or you are a wine connoisseur and want to use your knowledge, you must at least visit this area.
The city of Santa Cruz is quiet and displays well-preserved colonial architecture. The Museum of Colchagua is one of the best in Chile.
The weather is mild and pleasant.
Apart from agriculture (vineyards and other fruit plantations), rural tourism plays an increasingly important role. Some vineyards and boutique hotels are owned and managed by expats. Still, if you are after a significant expat community, you should look further.
The best places to live in Chile – summary
As you can see, if you are planning on living in Chile, this country has a lot to offer. Pick the place right for you and be ready to fall in love!
Side note: You might have noticed we are not recommending any places from northern Chile, and that is because at the moment of writing, unfortunately, there is an immigration crisis that affects the quality of life and safety of their inhabitants.