As the longest, thinnest country in the world, Chile stretches all the way from the borders with Bolivia and Peru in the north, 4,500ks to Tierra del Fuego in the south, and yet at its widest point it, in the Atacama Desert, is only 400ks across. Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the towering Andes, this fascinating Latin American country is home to the world’s driest desert, arguably the continent’s most stunning national park, an impressive wine region and, on Chiloe Island, the home of the potato! An economically sound country that is fast become a first world nation, Chile has a huge amount to offer the modern traveller.
Unless coming in overland, most trips to Chile will start here in the nation’s capital, Santiago.
Although most guidebooks will tell you Santiago is not as exciting at Rio or as elegant and enchanting as Buenos Aires, and should be used only as a gateway to the rest of the country, I feel it is an interesting place to explore for a day or two. Like many large Latin American cities it suffers somewhat from schizophrenic urban design where the city’s impressive colonial past is often dwarfed and obscured by its more ugly modern present; tenement towers and, since its rise as a regional economic powerhouse – Chile has the highest GDP per capita in South America – glass fronted office blocks. But there are still some great sites to check out including the Plaza de Armas, the Palacio Modera, the city’s main museum, and the Mercado Central, where you can enjoy a delicious seafood lunch, beneath a roof that was actually made in Birmingham! Santiago also has some lovely hotels and is famous for its excellent dining.
But Santiago is unlikely to form the main reason for your visit to Chile, that is much more likely to lie either in the far north, in the Atacama region or in the far south in Patagonia.
From Santiago, and starting in the very south of the country in Chilean Patagonia, is Puerto Aranas, entry point for what is arguably the continents most impressive national park, Torres del Paine. Deriving its name from the bull-like horns of the park’s most impressive mountain, Torres del Paine covers a quarter of a million hectares, is home to some spectacular and varied accommodation, and is a great place to hike, horse ride or just enjoy the scenery.
ADD PLENTY OF SHOTS HERE
Moving north, we come to the beautiful Lake District around the towns of Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas. Here, up the Puelo River valley, you can do some wonderful horse riding as well as walking and kayaking. A short distance off the coast you also have Chiloe Island, which along with stunning coastal walks is also famous for being home of the potato. And further still off the coast, in fact more than 2,000 miles into the Pacific Ocean, is the extraordinary Easter Island… a land shrouded in mystery with its dramatic stone head carvings, Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands on the planet.
Heading further north other notable places are the beautiful coastal towns of La Serena and Valparaiso – just a stone’s throw from the capital Santiago – and the wine district of Coquimbo where some of the country’s leading wines are manufacture
And here in the far north of the country, lies the truly extraordinary Atacama Desert. Bordering Bolivia, Peru and Argentina, is a region that’s renowned as being the driest place on earth.
Sitting in the rain shadow of both the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range, the Atacama Desert is renowned as being the driest place on earth. It is also the region that has been driest for longest, with some suggesting a continuous arid area here dating back at least three million years. Some of the soil has no life at all, a situation NASA has exploited to test instruments for Mars missions. And, due to its otherworldly landscapes, it has been used as a location on numerous space films including Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets.
Forming the northern chain of Chile’s ‘Ring of Fire’ the region is framed by a spectacular girdle of volcanoes and plethora of fascinating geographical phenomenon.
A country fast emerging as a first world nation, Chile offers today’s traveller a safe location with some great accommodation, fine dining and world-class wines. But first and foremost she offers some of the most varied and impressive landscapes anywhere on earth.