This long sliver of a country, the “hub” of South America is so diverse. The most important highlights of Chile are based on its varied landscape and stunning scenery. The Patagonia region (sharing borders with Argentina) is a starkly beautiful and wild territory with prominent glaciers, soaring mountains, fjords and rivers. The area is a delight for adventure seeking souls and photographers alike! For a more soft adventure, try cruising where you will be up close and personal but with the comforts of a small ship cruise. One of our favourite destinations is the Atacama Desert, the driest in the world – where one can mix some soft adventure, hiking and walks, with sightseeing of the salt lake pans and ancient canyons. Most likely on your travels to South America you will travel via Santiago, the capital city is among South America’s most important financial centres and offers numerous cultural attractions as well as fantastic shopping.
• Atacama Desert
• Lakes District
• Chilean Patagonia
• Wine valley of Colchagua
• Easter Island
Northern and central Chile have a temperate climate, with the north (including Atacama) enjoying virtually sunny days every day of the year. The southern region including the Lakes area encompassing Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas right down to the Chilean Patagonia has a humid and cool climate. Travel to Patagonia is best between October-April but is not impossible during the winter low season, just much colder.
Flying over the Andes to Santiago de Chile is magical – more so when the weather is clear, the sky a washed out blue, and splashes of snow catch the sunlight. I have always liked Santiago, the metro is clean, cheap and easy to navigate, there are small squares to explore, plenty of shady trees under which to rest weary feet and the locals have been so charming on every visit.
This time I stayed in the Ritz Carlton; its modern exterior hiding an oasis of quiet calm not unlike a gentlemen’s club. Deep comfortable sofas adorn the lobby and rich shades of red and brown make this seem more like a luxury home than a hotel. Staff acknowledge you by name and everyone smiles – all the time. Just a step away is Akarana, a superb bar and restaurant owned and run by ex-Aucklander Dell – her Kiwi inspired menu a delight and her passion-fruit pisco sours just a little too easy to drink.
From Santiago I flew on to Easter Island and the 5-star hotel Explora en Rapa Nui – Posada de Mike Rapu. The smooth flowing lines of the hotel combine the almost ‘Hunterwasser’ quality of its architecture with a comfortable rustic feel of bare wood, roughly cobbled pathways and artistically battered lampshades in earthy tones. All of the enormous windows look out over the National Park that encircles virtually the entire island, protecting this wild and pristine coastline from any kind of development. Crisp white cotton sheets and a duvet to die for guarantee a great nights sleep, while the shower over the huge spa bath pummels your shoulders in what feels like a deep tissue massage!
Each evening you sit with the Explora guides making a plan for the following day – will it be a gentle stroll along the coast, a swim at Anakena Beach, or a clamber up to the island’s highest point for a stunning 360 degree view of the entire island and indeed the curvature of the earth. These huge stone statues are the living faces or ‘aringa ora’ of ancestors who mostly sit with their backs to the sea looking across their tribal lands. A walk through the quarry at Rano Raraku shows how the moai were carved out of the rock before being transported to different parts of the island. The Explora guides are all descendants of the Rapa Nui people; tall, proud and beautiful with long black hair and a true passion for their history and culture. Their local insight and family stories brought the past alive as we walked, a cool sea breeze taking a little of the heat out of the sun. The small township of Hanga Roa has a bright market, a noisy nightclub and even the local prison has a workshop where you can buy wood and stone carvings if you dare. I left sooner than I had wished and just can’t wait to go back. Kate
Currency Chilean Peso
Language Officially Spanish
Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Aymara (indigenous language)
Why we love it Chile is just so diverse from north to south and is jam-packed with scenic wonders. The capital city of Santiago is distinctly European and is a great place to start off your journey if it’s your first time to South America. Inland from Santiago (not far otherwise you’d be in Argentina) is the scenic wine valleys of Colchagua, where you can visit many vineyards and wineries from a base at the charming town Santa Cruz. A favourite area in Chile is the north – the Atacama Desert. There is a little town called San Pedro de Atacama which is an oasis in this, the driest desert in the world from which you can explore the other-worldly scenery of salt mountains, desert canyons, lagoons, geysers and flamingo inhabited salt lakes. Venture during the day and in the evenings wander the town where you will find a local market, lovely people and a wide range of bohemian cafes and restaurants. Chile and Argentina have a couple of great cross border crossings, one where you travel from Santiago across the Andes Mountains past the highest peak of South America to Mendoza and the other from Puerto Varas across Andes lakes and mountains to San Carlos de Bariloche. Both very scenic journeys. Lastly the Chilean Patagonia goes hand in hand with the Argentinian Patagonia and for those into walking, hiking, adventure seekers or just sightseers there are glaciers, giant granite peaks, snow-covered mountains and more.
Weather Northern and central Chile have a temperate climate, with the north (including Atacama) enjoying virtually sunny days every day of the year. The southern region including the Lakes area encompassing Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas right down to the Chilean Patagonia has a humid and cool climate. Travel to Patagonia is recommended between October – April.
Social customs & quirks Chileans have perfected the art of outdoor eating with the local barbeque “asado”. Sit around a fire and just cut off chunks of meat as you talk and drink the local wines – fantastic! The tradition comes from the Chilean cowboys the “huasos” and you can experience it for yourself within some of our journeys. The country’s national drink is also not to be missed. Called the “pisco sour” you will no doubt come across this popular beverage throughout your travels!
Festivals & events Chile has many national and regional holidays including the Mapuche New Year on June 24th and the National Independence Day on September 18th.
Every day was a highlight simply because every day was a new adventure!
Breathtaking and Inspiring
My time at the Alto Atacama was absolutely great!! Arrangements for pick ups and transfers were faultless. The hotel staff are amazing - it is a fabulous place to stay. The excursions are as advertised and hotel staff are really helpful in advising (particularly in regard to altitude sickness) and accommodating excursion preferences. Their guides are seriously good. Accommodation, restaurant, etc is very good and any problems are attended to. As a single female traveller, I felt quite OK all of the time.
I absolutely loved my time there - I think the 4 night/5 day option is just about perfect.