Karen Coe

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.

 

Karen Coe

Karen Coe

When she's not writing about things Tribes Travel-related Karen is writing about her other great love - historic motorsport. She's also exceptionally fond of dogs, including Tribes' resident canine Finn, though she doesn't usually write about them.