Chile is an unusual country, geographically speaking. 2,700 miles long and on average barely 100 miles wide, almost every Chilean lives both near the sea, at the foot of towering mountains and not far from one or other of their neighbours Argentina and Bolivia.
Due to its unusual shape a visit to Chile will often involve a little bit of plane hopping, as distances are long and travelling by road is not always practical or possible. There is much to see in this diverse country that stretches from arid desert in the north to glaciers and icy winters in the southern wilderness. Five highlights are listed below but many more could have been added while Chile’s remote outpost of Easter Island will be covered alone in a future post.
Visitors come to the Torres del Paine National Park to admire the famous granite towers and to hike on one of the many trails within the park. Other highlights include seeing the vivid blue icebergs floating across Lago Grey and even finding one on the shores of the lake. It is one of the most beautiful and remote places I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit and even missing the classic view of the towers (they were shrouded in mist for the full length of our stay) did not take away the wonder of our visit.
Puerto Natales is the gateway town for the park. It’s an unremarkable town with one saving grace – Patagonia Dulce, a chocolate shop that stays open till late even out of season. I can personally recommend several of their cakes, their hot chocolate and a large selection of their individually made chocolates.
2. Central Valley
There is a 400 year tradition of wine making in Chile and a trip to the vineyards is a highlight of the central region of the country. The Colchagua Valley is perhaps the most popular place to experience the delights of Chilean wine culture and a colloboration between wine producers has created a wine route that allows visitors to travel between vineyards and sample the best of the local produce.
For something a little different there is even a steam train that travels through the region. The Wine Train makes a great day trip from Santiago and includes visits to local wineries.
The Chilean capital is a modern city with a very European flavour. Its skyscrapers stand tall but are dwarfed by the mountains that form a stunning backdrop. Santiago has a population of over 5 million and is the powerhouse of a national that leads the prosperity tables for the whole of South America. It’s a good city to explore for a couple of days on arrival to South America, while for a pleasant day-trip or overnight stop make your way to the bohemian coastal city of Valaparaiso
4. Atacama Desert
This is one of the world’s driest places with no rainfall having ever been recorded in parts of the region. The resulting landscapes are harsh, dramatic and in their own way beautiful. Many visitors use the popular town of San Pedro as their base for a visit to the region. There are many places to explore in the Atacama and you can enjoy natural hot springs, see active geysers and visit the eerie Valley of the Moon.
5. Lake District
This is the place to come for unlimited outdoor adventure. Basing yourself in the town of Pucon (around an hour’s flight south of Santiago) you can hike, climb, raft and horse-ride in this natural playground. For those who prefer to sit back and enjoy the scenery Pucon enjoys a dramatic setting with a towering volcano that for now blows a gentle plume of smoke from its summit.
Visit our special pages featuring holidays in Chile for more details of this country’s remarkable attractions.
by Andy Jarosz