Palacio de la Real Audiencia/Museo Histórico Nacional, Santiago (tel. 2/411-7010): The National History Museum holds a superb collection of more than 70,000 colonial-era pieces, from furniture to suits of armor to home appliances. This fascinating grab bag of artifacts is laid out in 16 display rooms within the lemon-colored, neoclassical Palacio de la Real, built in 1807 and the historic site of the first Chilean congressional session. The museum will give you insight into the history of the lives of Chileans, and it's conveniently located on the Plaza de las Armas.
Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Santiago (tel. 2/688-7348): More than 1,500 objects related to indigenous life and culture throughout the Americas make the Pre-Columbian Museum one of the best in Santiago. Artifacts include textiles, metals, paintings, figurines, and ceramics from Mexico to Chile. All objects are handsomely lit and mounted throughout seven exhibition rooms that are divided into the Mesoamerica, Intermedia, Andina, and Surandina regions of Latin America. The museum is housed in the old Royal Customs House built in 1807. If you need a break, there's a patio with a small cafe and a good bookstore to browse.
Iglesia, Convento y Museo de San Francisco, Santiago (tel. 2/638-3238): One step into this museum and you'll feel like you've been instantly beamed out of downtown Santiago. This is the oldest standing building in Santiago and home to a serene garden patio where the only sounds are a trickling fountain and the cooing of pigeons. The museum boasts 54 paintings depicting the life and death of San Francisco, one of the largest and best-conserved displays of 17th-century art in South America. On the altar of the church, you'll see the famous Vírgen del Socorro, the first Virgin Mary icon in Chile.
Casa Pablo Neruda, Isla Negra (tel. 35/461-2844; www.fundacionneruda.org): This was Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda's favorite home, and although his other residences in Valparaíso and Santiago are as eccentric and absorbing, this is the best preserved of the three. The home is stuffed with books by his favorite authors and the whimsical curios, trinkets, and toys he collected during his travels around the world, including African masks, ships in bottles, butterflies, and more. The museum can be found in Isla Negra, south of Valparaíso.
Museo de Colchagua, Santa Cruz (tel. 72/821050; www.museocolchagua.cl): In terms of historical range and scope, this is arguably Chile's best museum. You'll find a stunning collection of everything from pre-Hispanic objects throughout the Americas and local Indian artifacts to Spanish conquest-era helmets and artillery and huaso ponchos, and more. This museum is a not-to-be-missed stop while visiting the wine country. Unbelievably, the museum is really the private collection of a local man who earned his fortune in bomb manufacturing and arms dealing, and because he cannot leave the country (and risk arrest by the FBI), he has reinvested in projects such as this in his hometown.
Museo Arqueológico Padre le Paige, San Pedro de Atacama (tel. 55/851002): This little museum will come as an unexpected surprise for its wealth of indigenous artifacts, such as "Miss Chile," a leathered mummy whose skin, teeth, and hair are mostly intact, as well as a display of skulls that show the creepy ancient custom of cranial deformation practiced by the elite as a status symbol. The Atacama Desert is the driest in the world, and this climate has produced some of the best-preserved artifacts in Latin America, on view here.
Museo Arqueológico San Miguel de Azapa, Arica (tel. 58/205555; www.uta.cl/masma): For anyone with even a minimal interest in history and archaeology, this small museum belongs to the top attractions in the Western Hemisphere. Around 5,000 B.C. -- long before even the Egyptians began to mummify their dead -- the Chinchorro culture developed a technique of its own to preserve bodies for eternity. The displays outline the entire history of pre-Columbian cultures in the Arica area through Tihuanaco and the Inca periods. The museum also has a section devoted to recent and contemporary Aymara culture in the area.
Museo Regional de Magallanes, Punta Arenas (tel. 61/248840): The Museo Regional de Magallanes is the former home of one of Patagonia's wealthiest families. Tapestries, furniture from France, Italian marble fireplaces, hand-painted wallpaper -- this veritable palace is a testament to the Braun family's insatiable need to match European elite society. Several small salons are devoted to ranching and maritime history, but the grandeur of this museum is really the reason for a visit.
Museo Salesiano Maggiorino Borgatello, Punta Arenas (tel. 61/221001): There's so much on display here that you could spend more than an hour wandering and marveling at the hodgepodge collection of archaeological artifacts, photo exhibits, petroleum production interpretative exhibitions, ranch furniture, industrial gadgets, and, best of all, the macabre collection of stuffed and mounted regional wildlife gathered by a Salesian priest.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.