Ten top reasons to visit Chile

Ten top reasons to visit Chile

Ten top reasons to visit… Chile

KAREN COE

The west coast of South America is bordered by 4,300km of the glory that is Chile. Here you will find simply astonishingly beautiful and diverse landscapes, from arid desert and lush winelands to temperate rainforest and sparkling glaciers, an amazing diversity and richness of wildlife and a fascinating culture – plus some great food and excellent wine. What’s not to love?  We could spend many thousands of words enthusing about this unique country, but – not without difficulty – we’ve boiled it down to 10 key reasons. There are plenty more of course – just contact us and we would be delighted to expand further….

1: Atacama Desert

The unique lunar landscape of the Atacama Desert’s Moon Valley is something no visitor to Chile should miss. The Mars Rover was tested here because NASA says the landscape closely resembles that of the ‘Red Planet’. Atacama is also home to the El Tatio geysers, which regularly erupt in immense columns of steam, and to the crisp, white hexagons of the 300,000-hectare Salar de Atacama salt flat and the vast Surire Salt Lake, which sustains the ostrich-like suri birds, together with flamingos, llamas and vicunas. The Andes watch over Atacama like silent guards, while snow-topped volcanoes occasionally remind us that some are still active. In Atacama you can also visit charismatic villages and towns such as San Pedro de Atacama and swim in thermal pools fed by warm-water waterfalls.

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Atacama is also one of the world’s foremost stargazing centres, which brings us to….

2: Stargazing

Atacama sits at almost 2,500m above sea level and has very few clouds and even less light pollution, which explains why a number of super-observatories have been established here and astro-tourism has become a serious ‘thing’. Chile is the astronomy capital of the world and travellers here have the chance to visit observatories such as ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) which is the world’s biggest astronomical project, Cero Tololo Inter-American Observatory and Cerro Paranal observatory.  San Pedro de Atacama, Elqui valley, Iquique and Antofagasta are all fantastic locations for stargazing; Elqui was the first-ever International Dark Sky Sanctuary.

The Chilean night sky is almost beyond description. With your bare eyes you can perceive a vast wealth of lights above you; with a DSLR camera, a little know-how and some patience you can capture photographs to be proud of, and through the telescopes of the observatories you can witness planets and stars billions of light years away.

Tribes’ Paul Cook was lucky enough to go stargazing with his camera in the Atacama Desert in 2018 – read his blog post here.

3: Mountains, Glaciers and Icebergs

The Andes mountain range runs along Chile’s eastern border and some 80% of the landscape of this ribbon-like country is mountainous. In addition to the vast mountains of the Andes there are traverse chains that thread out to the coast, with lush valleys in between, and coastal mountain ranges such as the Cordillera de Nahuelbuta. Chile’s highest mountain –  Ojos del Salado – towers to 6893m and is the world’s highest active volcano. Mountainous regions are home to a number of the national parks, most notably Torres del Paine with its three iconic granite peaks.

The mountains of Chile form the ‘skeleton’ of so much of its beautiful landscapes, from their role as sentinels at Atacama to that of the frame of the stunning Lake District with its sparkling lakes and rich forest.

The glaciers and icebergs of Chile are another glorious reason to visit this country and the islands and inlets of Chilean Patagonia are places of astonishing beauty. A boat trip on Lago Grey in Torres del Paine will show you the Grey glacier, while the less-visited Pingo Valley has its own beautiful glaciers. San Rafael Lagoon National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in remote Aysen, houses the entire Northern Patagonian Ice Field and on a boat trip on the lagoon you may be lucky enough to witness ice blocks calving off the glacier.

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4: Wildlife

With such a fabulous diversity of geology and ecology it’s no surprise that the wildlife in Chile is equally diverse. Chilean mammals include armadillos, pumas, guanacos, vicunas, alpacas, huemel deers, skunks, the hare-like Mountain Vizcacha, Geoffroy’s cats and Andean foxes, while the waters along the country’s coastline are home to elephant seals, sea lions, sea otters, humpback whales, dolphins, sperm whales and blue whales. Chile is also where you will find the puda, the world’s smallest deer.

Birdlife is even more diverse; from the majestic Andean condors and charismatic Humboldt and King penguins to flamingos, black-chested buzzard eagles, red-legged cormorants and red-masked parakeets, there are nearly 500 different species in Chile. Lacuna National Park – on the border with Bolivia – is one of the best birding locations in Chile and is home to more than 140 species including Andean condors, puna ibis and Chilean flamingos.

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5: Easter Island

Enigmatic, centuries-old ‘moai’ – towering volcanic stone statues – are the first things that spring to mind when one thinks of Easter Island. 3500km off the west coast of Chile, the island is home to nearly 900 of these mysterious figures, created by the Polynesians who were the original inhabitants of this remote, bleakly beautiful place. They are a once-in-a-lifetime sight, a real ‘bucket-list’ item, and they are well worth the journey. And there is more to Easter Island – excellent snorkelling and scuba diving, a subtropical climate, fantastic eco-lodges, great horse riding, hiking and biking. It is a unique place.

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6: Colourful Chiloe!

Chiloe is the fifth largest island in South America and has a culture all of its own. It has lovely, hilly scenery, beautiful forests, fanastic birdlife and marine life – blue whales visit its northern coastline from January to April and Humboldt and Magellan penguins live here. . It’s particularly known for its musterious, fascinating myths and legends, brightly-painted stilted wooden houses and historic wooden churches. Don’t miss the craft markets – chileo is also renowned for the colourful woollen jumpers, blankets and ponchos produced here.

7: For activity lovers

If you’re not the active type you can still enjoy a magnificent holiday in Chile. And if you are up for activities, Chile won’t disappoint! Water and snow skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, white water rafting, fly fishing, sailing, ziplining, kayaking and hiking are all eminently possible here…

8: Food and wine

The Spanish conquistadors brought grapevines to Chile in the 16th century and Chilean wines have a long-established reputation for excellence. The Chilean winelands are beautiful; the lush, fertile landscapes of the Casablanca, Aconcagua, Maipo, Cachapoal and Colchagua valleys have innumerable rows of vines, handsome wine estates and rich avocado plantations and peach orchards. The vendimas – wine festivals – of March and April are great occasions, and there are wineries of all ages and sizes to visit. Some of the most historic are in the Maipo valley, famed for its Cabernet Sauvignon, while the Casablanca valley is renowned for its white wines. The Cachapoal valley is a great place for horse-loving wine fans to visit; fine horses are bred at its historic haciendas, and huasos – cowboys – work here and take part in rodeos

Chilean food is another great treat – from the freshest seafood such as octopus carpaccio and razor clams to juicy steaks and tasty street food such as empanadas. Pastel de Jaiba, Chilean crab casserole, is a creamy, cheesy crustacean delight, while the local speciality on Chiloe island is curanto – seafood cooked on hot stones placed on the ground and covered in large leaves.  You will also find curanto featuring fish, meat and/or sausage in markets across the south of Chile. If you have a sweet tooth and are in the north of the country, look out for chumbeque, a rich, sweetmeat traditionally flavoured with cinnamon and honey.

9: Culture

In addition to all that natural beauty and wildlife, Chile also has a rich pre-Colombian and colonial culture to explore. The Chinchorro people were practicing mummification two millennia before the Egyptians, and the world’s oldest mummy, dating back to 5050BC, was found in Arica in Northern Chile.

The capital city of Santiago has some excellent museums, art galleries and theatres. You’ll see superb pottery and textiles in the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, while much more recent Chilean history is documented in the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos which tells the story of the human rights violations experienced from 1973 to 1990.

The country’s main port – Valparaíso – a bohemian city overlooking a bay, is a great place to see present-day Chilean artists, poets and musicians and houses La Sebastiana. The modernist home of Pablo Neruda, the poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is now a museum to Neruda’s work and life.

The Aldea Intercultural Trawupeyum Museo-Centro Cultural in Curarrehue is a living museum is based on a traditional Mapuche village, while the town of Castro on Chiloe Island has no less than 150 historic wooden churches, 16 of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the Colchagua Museum in Santa Cruz houses an important collection of pre-Hispanic art. 

10: Outstanding Accommodation

Finally, Chile has some simply wonderful accommodation in all price ranges, set in glorious locations.  There’s a fantastic number of high-end properties such as the elegant Palacio Astoreca in Santiago  and in  Looking for luxury in the wilderness? Try the Explora Rapa Nui, the supremely relaxing Alto Atacama, The Singular Patagonia  or Tierra Patagonia.

Heading to Chiloe Island? Tierra Chiloe is a gorgeous eco-lodge with great ocean views and a relaxing spa.

As well as luxury eco-lodges, Chile also boasts some comfortable eco-camps such as EcoCamp Patagonia, where guests sleep in geodesic domes in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park.

There’s also a great choice of ships for cruising the ice fields from the mid-range Skorpios vessels  to the deluxe Antarctica 21.

 

Serious ‘chillaxing’

Serious ‘chillaxing’

Serious ‘chillaxing’

 

With Mother’s Day this Sunday, March 31, a straw poll of the mums in the Tribes office revealed (not surprisingly!) that the chance to relax would be a most welcome gift. This then set us off onto a conversation about some particularly relaxing holidays or holiday experiences, with spa treatments topping the list  – we’re talking serious ‘chillaxing’!

‘In India they quite rightly take relaxation very seriously.’

Images © Ananda in the Himalayas

In India they quite rightly take relaxation very seriously, and just reading about the Ananda Wellbeing Holidays had us feeling tensions diminish.  Ananda in the Himalayas is a splendid palace set in 100 acres of grounds high above the Ganges River Valley. It’s a true sanctuary where you feel miles – and years – away from the stresses of 21st century life. There’s a range of programmes to choose from, including Yogic detox, stress management, Ayurvedic rejuvenation and even an active programme for those who want to combine spa therapies with circuit training, white water rafting etc.  Expert therapists, doctors and chefs collaborate to provide an immersive experience – all in a beautiful setting.

Another wonderfully relaxing location in India is SwaSwara, which overlooks Om Beach. This sanctuary is focused on refreshing you mind, body and soul, with three programmes that range from five to 21 nights in length.

A river cruise is, by its very nature, usually pretty relaxing, but an Irrawaddy River cruise in Burma on board the elegant Sanctuary Ananda is another thing entirely in the relaxation stakes. Seeing the sun rise over the temples of Bagan is a glorious way to start a day, and, while the trip has a fabulous range of activities to make the most of your being in this fascinating part of the world – including ox cart and rickshaw rides, pagoda and temple visits and demonstrations by local artisans – life on board the Sanctuary Ananda is designed to make everyday cares float away. Styled rather like a 1930s steamer, this luxurious craft has its own spa offering a range of theraputic and beauty treatments,  plus a plunge pool and a sundeck, which is a perfect spot for yoga.

‘Life on board the Sanctuary Ananda is designed to make everyday cares float away.’

Image ©Sanctuary Ananda

‘Spa treatments with organic, locally-grown Andean plants and herbs..’

Images © Sol y Luna

A number of the hotels in Peru’s Sacred Valley have spas, making them the perfect place to relax after exploring the stunning landscape and remarkable Inca archaeological sites. The charming Sol y Luna, for example, sits in a wonderfully relaxing location in the Sacred Valley, set in 25 acres of flower and bird-filled gardens. The Yacu Wasi spa of this Relais & Chateaux property offers daily yoga sessions as well as spa treatments with organic, locally-grown Andean plants and herbs. Tribes’ travel experts would be only too pleased to help you plan an itinerary that includes not only Sol y Luna but also the Belmond Andean Explorer – this luxury sleeper train has its own spa car!

Nyara Springs in Costa Rica (pictured above and in the image at the top of this page) is in a fabulous setting in the Arenal Volcano National Park. The mere fact that each room has its own private plunge pool fed by natural mineral hot springs is sufficient to initiate the relaxation process. Add a beautiful spa perched above the rainforest, with open-air treatment pavilions and a stunning yoga pavilion, and you’re likely to find it very hard to leave!

Having a spa treatment while on safari is a great treat, and there are some excellent spas to be found amongst the safari lodges of South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, including The Elephant Camp (Zimbabwe) , Saruni Samburu (Kenya), Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve (South Africa), and Lemala Kuria Hills in Tanzania. This overlooks the plains of the Northern Serengeti. The Melengali Spa at Lemala Kuria Hills is a very relaxing place for a muscle-soothing massage – and the views from the bathrooms of the tented suites are fabulous too!

Or how about a classic Indian Ocean getaway? The White Sands Villa and Spa boutique hotel on the east coast of Zanzibar offers barefoot luxury and a beautifully-located spa in lush, colourful gardens a stone’s throw from the beach

Want to get even further away in search of peace and quiet? There’s no spa or massage service at Fanjove Private Island (pictured above) but, with just six guest bandas and requiring a flight in a small plane then a boat trip to get to it, this 1km x 300m piece of castaway seclusion in the Indian Ocean is hugely relaxing.

Or, if you want to get away from – pretty much – it all but still have a spa to hand, may we suggest Easter Island? A five hour flight from the Chilean mainland, Rapa Nui is an intriguing place to visit, and the Hangaroa Eco Village and Spa is a fantastic place to stay on the island. Spa Manavi overlooks the Pacific Ocean – fabulous!

‘Chillaxing’ at Lemala Kuria Hills in Tanzania…

Water for Life, Zambia – we did it!

Water for Life, Zambia – we did it!

We did it!

Last Friday, March 22, was UN World Water Day. Most of us are lucky enough to be able to take fresh water for granted, not even thinking about it when we turn on a tap. However, while every human being should have access to fresh, safe water, for billions of people across the world sadly that’s simply not an option. Last year, through The Tribes Foundation, the charity that we support with funds and admin, we started a campaign to raise the £5,500 needed to provide a borehole well for a community in a remote part of eastern Zambia so that some 250 people could have access to fresh water.

And we are thrilled to announce that, thanks to Tribes travellers and other generous supporters, we have reached our target!

“Every human being should have access to fresh, safe water.”

In 2010, the UN recognized the right to safe and clean drinking water as “a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” Yet at present, like so many people across the globe, the villagers our borehole project will help have to rely on streams and stagnant ponds for their water.  They share this with livestock and, consequently, water-borne diseases are common.

The new borehole will, like the one pictured above, directly improve many lives by providing access to fresh, safe, drinkable water.

We’d like to thank everyone who donated to this really important cause – this will make an incredible difference to these villagers, and it’s one that will have an enduring impact.

The Tribes Foundation

Simply by booking with Tribes, you are already making a difference, as every booking helps The Tribes Foundation. Most clients make additional donations which are put to very good use with one of the environmental, social or wildlife, environmental or social projects we work on.

In Praise of Forests

In Praise of Forests

In Praise of Forests

Visiting a forest is a life-enhancing thing to do. Who can forget that moment when Lucy steps out of the coat-filled wardrobe and into the snow-covered forest of Narnia? Happily you don’t have to travel to Narnia to experience the exotic or the unknown of the forest world. From the dense, luxuriant, hot and humid rainforests of the Amazon, the ebony groves of Zambia and the bamboo, oak and magnolia forest of India’s Singalila National Park to the misty cloud forests of Costa Rica, there is an incredible wealth and diversity of forest to explore. It’s an arboreal adventure just waiting to be taken, and we would love to take you there!

“Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land.” (United Nations)

This Thursday, March 21, is the UN International Day of Forests. A forest is a beautiful thing, of course, but it’s so much more than that. Forests cover one third of the world’s land mass and, according to the UN, “Some 1.6 billion people – including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures – depend on forests for their livelihoods, medicines, fuel, food and shelter. Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80% of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects.” 

What most of us would think of as ‘classic’ rainforest can be found in the Amazon in Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Costa Rica. On a trip such as our Costa Rica Wildlife holiday you’d experience everything from lowland wetland rainforest, highland rainforest and cloud forest to the dense rainforests of the Osa Peninsular.

Madidi National Park in Bolivia boasts an incredibly variety of flora and fauna, its rainforest home to over 340 species of tropical birds, and 4,000 species of plants as well as to jaguars, tapirs, capybaras, ocelots, spider monkeys, howler monkeys and caimans.

The rainforest of Peru’s untouched Tambopata National Reserve, with its macaw and parrot-crammed clay licks and its giant trees and fabulous birdlife is the perfect place for a photo tour, while in a lodge such as Mashpi in Ecuador you can get an incredible bird’s-eye view of the cloud forest, both from the luxurious lodge itself and from the dragonfly cable car and the skybike.

An Amazon river cruise on board a lovely riverboat such as the Tucano is a wonderful way to get into the heart of Brazil’s rainforest, spending a week exploring some 200 miles of the Negro River, heading out in small motor launches and exploring the forest on foot. Alternatively a floating lodge such as Uakari is the ultimate get-away-from-it-all-in-the-Amazon! Here you would see the endemic red-faced Uakari monkey and in the wet season, paddle through the flooded rainforest in canoes, seeing the plantlife and wildlife at very close quarters.

Madagascar has a remarkable variety and abundance of forests.  The dry deciduous Kirindy Forest is home to the fosa, Madagascar’s largest carnivore and predator, and is not far from the world-famous Avenue of Baobabs at Morondava.  The unique spiny forest of Ifaty has amazing baobab trees, one of which is believed to be 1,500 years old, and the indigenous forest in Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park is home to 12 species of lemur, including the critically endangered golden bamboo lemur, which was discovered there in the 1980s.

“In Costa Rica you can experience everything from lowland wetland and highland rainforest to cloud forest.”

The 25,000-year-old Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda is glorious, not least because it’s home to about half the world’s population of mountain gorillas. It is actually penetrable(!) and, in addition to the magical experience of seeing gorillas in their natural habitat, visitors can see an incredible wealth of birdlife and butterflies, while the national park in which the forest is located is home to 120 species of mammals, including 11 primate species.

The ebony groves of South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, are something very special. The park is one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries in Africa, so game viewing is amazing, and the ebony trees are quite beautiful. Visit in the dry season and they are glorious, visit in what’s called ‘the Emerald Season’ – the rainy season – and you can experience the flooded ebony groves, the tree trunks emerging from several feet of water. It’s an almost primeval experience to make your way amongst them in a canoe.

While not strictly forming a forest, the baobabs in Ruaha in Tanzania are unforgettably impressive trees, as Tribes’ director Amanda Marks felt moved to pay tribute to last year. The acacia-covered savannah lands of Serengeti – again not forest, but gloriously tree-filled – are also stunning, and a trip that combines these with Ruaha is a great option.

The forests of Singalila National Park in India are home to the endangered red panda, as well as the black panther, Himalayan black bear and clouded leopard. And, for the ultimate forest getaway, there’s the Tree House Hideaway in an area of private jungle on the edge of Bandhavgarh National Park, which is home of a healthy population of tigers. The deluxe rooms are set in large trees, so you couldn’t get any closer to the heart of the forest!

Future forests

For each booking made with us we plant trees via our Travel Forest, which is part of the Tribes Foundation, the charity we back with admin and funds. We are proud to say that, as of 2018, we have planted over 50,000 saplings in Africa and Peru.

 

Avian pride – feathered national ambassadors

Avian pride – feathered national ambassadors

Feathered Ambassadors

Tribes’ travellers journey to destinations that are home to hundreds of bird species and, even if you don’t start your trip as a birder, you may find you’ve become one by the end!  The concept of a national bird is an interesting one. In some cases it’s an official title, either awarded after a national vote or by a government department. In others it’s unofficial, something assumed by tradition and or long association with that country. And in some cases what one might think is the national bird isn’t!

“The peacock features strongly in Indian folklore and mythology.”

The magnificent African Fish eagle (above left) is the national bird of no less than three countries – Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and is widespread across the lakes, rivers and coastal areas of Southern Africa. Its white chest and head, bright yellow beak, black wings and reddish-brown body are very distinctive, and it’s often seen perched high in a tall tree, scanning a vast range of terrain. The call of the African Fish eagle is known as ‘the voice of Africa’. Living up to its name, it largely feeds on fish, but has been known to eat water birds, even flamingos.

The national birds of India and Nepal are both part of the pheasant family, though you may be surprised to learn that the Indian peacock is a pheasant at heart. India’s national bird is, perhaps above all others,  most synonymous with the identity of its country, the extravagant pattern and colours of the plumage of the male peacock being replicated in Mughal architecture and in art and textiles, and the bird featuring strongly in Indian folklore and mythology. 

With its metallic purple, green and blue plumage, the male Himalayan Monal – also known as the Impeyan Pheasant – is another wonderfully colourful creature. The national bird of Nepal (pictured above) prefers to live at high altitude in the summer and is a prodigious digger.

Visitors to Costa Rica could be forgiven for believing that the Resplendent quetzal (pictured below) is the national bird. It is truly stunning, especially during the mating season when the males grow tail feathers that can be up to a meter long. However, in a country that’s not short of colourful feathered inhabitants, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that the modestly-plumed Yigüirro – the Clay-coloured thrush – actually carries that title. It was chosen by the Costa Ricans in 1977 because of its strong, sweet song.

 

The national bird of Kenya, the Lilac-breasted roller, is a hugely charismatic bird that draws the eye and the camera lens. This beautifully-coloured creature is widely found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where it’s mostly spotted in wooded areas or savanna. Unlike many bird species, the female is as gorgeously vibrant as the male. They’re not overly shy, so you are likely to have the chance of getting quite close to one, and they seem rather fond of adopting photogenic solitary poses on trees – often handily against a bright blue sky!

Many people think that the Lilac-breasted roller is also the national bird of Botswana but, in 2015, the world’s heaviest flying bird – the Kori bustard – was awarded that title. Kori bustards can weigh up to 19kg and, while they are strong fliers, it’s not something they do if they can avoid it, so are ground dwellers by preference. Males can reach up to 150cm in height and can have wingspans up to 275cm.

 

 

“The national bird of Peru is a very distinctive creature.”

The Andean Condor  is the feathered ambassador for Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. This is a massive bird, with a wingspan of up to 320cm. It’s also very heavy – up to 15kg – so makes use of that huge wingspan and the air currents of mountainous or coastal regions to glide. Watching condors rising on the morning thermals is a ‘must-do’ part of any holiday to this part of the world.

With its vivid scarlet plumage and fan-shaped crest, the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, the national bird of Peru, is a very distinctive creature. It is found in the cloud forests of the Andes mountains, where the males gather on leks to perform elaborate mating dance displays to attract females.

While not an official ‘national bird’, the Blue-footed booby is without a doubt the bird most people associate with the Galapagos Islands. Their feet are a stunning shade of blue and the males put them to good use when it comes to attracting a mate, lifting and proudly displaying their feet in their rather cumbersome mating ritual. Although clumsy on land, in the air these large seabirds are powerful, and they are superb divers.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the national bird of Britain, in 2015 a nationwide ballot of more than 200,000 people saw the robin elected to the role, beating the barn owl and blackbird to the job. 

WHERE TO SEE THEM

Our consultants would be delighted to help you plan a trip to see some of these amazing birds. Here are just a few suggestions: