Here are some impressive facts you didn’t know about Chile. Chile is home to the world’s largest swimming pool, an artificial paradise on a colossal scale covering 20 acres. At the other end of the spectrum, the driest place on earth, The Atacama Desert, parts of which not even a drop of rain has touched, can be found in Chile. The oldest mummy in the world is Chilean, not Egyptian as you might guess. Chile stretches vertically for a whopping 4,270 km, but only has an average width of 177 km, making it a uniquely skinny shape that covers a vast variation of landscapes. If these facts aren’t sparking your interest to take a trip and explore Chile, then read on because in this thin slither of country some of the world’s greatest wonders are waiting to be explored.
Having said that, Chile in itself is often deemed a world wonder. A Chilean tale recounts that when God created the world, he had a small piece of everything left over. So the story goes, God threw together all these deserts, lakes, mountains, glaciers and oozing volcanoes that were leftover to create Chile. This slice of land is fantastically diverse, and the Chilean tale captures the essence of what makes it so special. When visiting Chile, this varied landscape will prove even more sacred when you see how pristine and well-protected nature is. Nature here is as it should be, not stained by the backdrop of human development, but in a virgin state of wilderness that inspires a deep appreciation for planet earth.
With a backdrop of this dazzling nature, set in a wide plain near the foot of the Andes, the capital of Santiago is the perfect starting place. Santiago has an air of sophistication running through it and a lively cosmopolitan energy that’s unbeatable. The city is made up of 32 neighbourhoods, or comunas, each with its own unique character and rhythm.
Santiago’s cultural scene is spectacular, and its attractions are easy to find. Certainly take time to wander its historic centre and its main square, the Plaza de Armas, as well as the museums nearby. From north of downtown, a simple ride up the Cerro San Cristobal funicular will allow you some remarkable sweeping views of the city below. Chile is affectionately known as pais de poetas, (country of poets), and at the foot of the funicular in the Barrio Bellavista area there’s an enchanting museum in the home of the former poet Pablo Neruda who proudly won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971. Pablo Nerua built a secret hideaway to spend time with his mistress Matilde Urrutia and he built La Chascona (messy hair) named after her wild curls. The dining room is modeled on a ships cabin and the living room on a lighthouse, making for a quirky tour.
As for food and drink, the answer is always to dine your way around anywhere. Santiago is no exception and its food scene and nightlife are outstanding. Picnic in one of the many appealing green spaces in the city in the Santa Lucia Park, or grab a snack from a sidewalk eatery in Barrios Brasil or Lastarria. These areas boast the best nightlife with bustling cafes and beer halls. For fine-dining, wander through the eastern neighbourhoods of Providencia and Las Condes and sample some mouth-watering delicacies cooked by world-class chefs.
Stepping out of the city and into nature, a real intimacy can be found with natural phenomenon at the Torres del Paine National Park. Its star feature, and name inspiration, are certainly the granite pillars of Torres del Paine that stretch up for more than 2000m. Situated in the extreme south region of Patagonian Chile, in the southern tiers of the Andes, the Torres del Paine captivates its visitors who come seeking gaze upon the famous pillars, but end up staying and exploring the rest of the Park’s untouched nature.
A trip to the Torres del Paine is an endless overflow of nature on the eyes and ears. There’s azure lakes, crashing rivers, fairy-tale trails through forests and an astonishing sparkling glacier. Wildlife thrives here too as the park is part of Unesco’s Biosphere Reserve system. The guanaco can be spotted grazing, the puma’s can be stealthily traced and Andean condor, the flamingo and other stunning birds are dotted throughout the landscape. To visit the park a few overnight stays are advisable to enjoy the full experience of hiking and nature watching. The Park offers a range of hotels or refugio shelters depending on how luxury you like to style out your trip.
At the other end of the scale is the vast and wild Atacama Desert in the north of Chile. It is the driest place on earth, an unbeatable experience of extreme weather and it offers plenty to explore if you’re brave enough. San Pedro de Atacama sits in the heart of the desert and makes a good base for exploring. One of the best things about the Atacama area is that its still off the beaten track for tourists so the adventurer spirit you’ll feel will be powerful.
Atacama’s rust-coloured gorges and dramatic volcanos, create an out of this world appearance. An astronomic feel is not only in the landscape but also in the opportunities for star gazing. With an absence of light pollution, the desert makes one of the best places in the world for stargazing and if you take a tour an astronomer will point out to you the planets and galaxies and allow you to get lost in the night sky. Through the naked eye, it’s even possible to catch sight of the Milky Way.
After being absorbed by space, head to the Valle de la Luna for another fix of astronomy. Translated as the Valley of the Moon because of its craggy rocks and lunar-like landscape the valley is the perfect spot to enjoy a drink and relax under the night sky. Following a night of peace, you’ll be ready to launch yourself down the 100 meter-high sand dunes in Death Valley. Sandboarding has soared in popularity and is essential for those travellers who love a boost of adrenaline.
Chile has one of the longest coastlines in the world and a relaxing way to enjoy the gleaming white sands is by heading to La Serena, the oldest city in the country. The city is full to the brim of Colonial Revival architecture and makes for a calm and interesting wander. The many churches, museums and authentic cafes are enough to fill the days but La Serena is set in an area surrounded by beaches. El Faro, La Barca, El Pescador or are just some of the beaches nearby, all with that coastal chilled atmosphere. Other top beaches in Chile include: the upmarket Zapallar; the picturesque Bahia Inglesa; the surf haven, Pichilemu; the hip Reñaca… the list is endless.
Another coastal city worth visiting is the commonly known as ‘anything goes’ Valparaiso. Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2004, Valparaiso’s unusual makeup has been the inspiration for painters and poets for years. Valparaiso is built to accommodate the hilly terrain it rests on, the unique aesthetic of the city comes from its stacked houses, an architectural anomaly. Wandering the streets at admiring the quirky houses is made better by the extraordinary presence of street art across city. Up-market restaurants are cropping up everywhere and the nightlife is renowned. Arsty cafes, tangos bars, wonderful beer, just what you’d dream a chilled out night in South America would be.
For outdoor adventures with aesthetics you often fantasize about, the Lauca National Park is set in more than 340,000 acres and offers outdoor activities in abundance. Snow-capped volcanoes and rippling lakes provided unrivaled scenery and the area has a number of different tour excursions you can join. A unique opportunity comes in exploring the park’s volcanic calderas and lava fields.
For another fix of adrenaline, head to Portillo, Chile’s most popular ski resort in season from June to October. There are 23 trails and a peak elevation of nearly 11,000 feet, plus fantastic views of the region. Food and drink thrives here and the accommodation on offer is varied from the budget lodgings to the luxury lodges complete with outdoor hot tubs.
If your trip allows time, then a short flight out of Santiago to Easter Island should be on your agenda. Known for the mysterious, but recognisable Moai statues, the remote volcanic island has one of the most mysterious an magnetic vibes in the world. Seeing these iconic statues is high on anyone’s bucket lists, but Easter island offers so many other opportunities to make the extra flights worth while. Horseriding, diving, snorkeling and surfing are just a few ways to enjoy the remote wilderness as well as exploring the rock formations and museums. An added bonus of Easter Island is the presence of pristine beaches waiting to be relaxed and revitalised on.
Eating in Chile is a delight, and with a coastline that runs for more than 2,600 miles, its no surprise that seafood is popular. But sure to dine at a parrillada, grill restaurant, and devour some delicious meat cooked gently over hot coals. Another must-try are the traditional baked empanadas de pino, filled with ground beef and onion for a taste of authentic Chile. Exotic fruits in Chile are unique, try a pepino dulce, or a tuna (not the fish), and definitely a sweet chirimoya. Finally, you wouldn’t have been to Chile without sipping on some fine wine and the best place to do so is in the Rapel Valley, home to the country’s finest grapes and winemakers.
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