Chile is as diverse as it is long, astonishing as it is narrow and has more highlights than there are superlatives to describe them.
With an almost comical geographical shape and virtually every climate imaginable, this beautiful, memorable corner of the world is a place of extremes and contradictions. Few countries have quite such a split geographical personality. Here, you can often glimpse the snows of the high Andes from the Pacific Ocean, ski in the mountains in the morning and be drinking pisco sours on the beach come sundown.
The north is generally drier. Much of it is desert excepting the occasional oasis and the verdant altiplano, and there are often large distances between places of interest. Highlights include the peaceful Elqui valley, whose green vine-laden floor contrasts with the stark metallic colours of its mineral stained mountains and where the milky way traces a path through a night sky filled with a billion stars. Further north is the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama, surrounded by archaeological sites and awesome natural phenomena. At the northern tip of Chile the desert rises up to meet the lush green of the altiplano, home to a dozen volcanoes and a wide variety of wildlife.
The central valley is the heart of the country and is where most Chileans live. The capital, Santiago, is a good base for many of the country’s best ski resorts, while Valparaíso, the so called pearl of the pacific, is a unique multicoloured amphiteatre of a city with an artistic, bohemian atmosphere unlike anything else in Chile. Beach lovers can head to the nearby resort of Viña del mar or to any number of quiet fishing villages.
Southern Chile is dominated by lush green forests rising up from fractured fjords through fast-flowing rivers and waterfalls, past pristine lakes and smoking snow-capped volcanoes overlooked by the majestic mountain range to the east. In the Lake District adventure tourism is easy, with numerous agencies offering a dozen day-long activities in the nearby lakes, rivers, forests and mountains. For a taste of the real Patagonia head south to the Carretera Austral.
The Parque Pumalín is an incredible conservation project with a diverse ecosystem and excellent trails to explore. Towards the Argentinian border, Futaleufú has the best whitewater rafting in the Southern Hemisphere, while further south, the azure waters of Lago General Carrera turn an even more unreal blue as they flow into the broad Río Baker that winds westwards, splitting Patagonia’s two enormous ice-fields. South of the Icefields is Torres del Paine, whose glaciers and granite towers are the jewel in the crown of Chilean Patagonia.
Travel with Explore and discover the Atacama, the world’s driest desert or El Tatio, our planet’s highest geysers. Head down south where the splendour of the Chilean Lake District awaits or go walking in the spectacular beauty of Torres del Paine National Park – without doubt this region of stunning peaks and glacial lakes will take your breath away.
While in Chile it is also worth considering taking some extra days for a once-in-a-lifetime trip out to Easter Island. Probably one of the most easily recognisable symbols in the world, the Maoi stone heads of Easter Island have been a source of wonderment for generations of explorers.