Straddling the Andes Mountains from its northern border with Peru to Tierra del Fuego in the far south, Chile would stretch from Finland to Tunisia if superimposed on a map of Europe. Chile offers an amazing variety of environments - the arid Atacama Desert, the Mediterranean central valley, the mountainous but temperate lake district and the spectacular glaciers and fjords to be found in Patagonia, containing some of South America’s finest national parks. Here, trekking and fishing are among the world’s best. A unique dimension to any holiday to Chile is the possibility of an add-on visit to Easter Island, with its intriguing maoi statues.
Central Valley - the Heart of Chile
The capital, Santiago is located in an idyllic setting, sheltered between the Pacific coastal range and the Andes Mountains which cast an almost intimidating shadow over the city. The Presidential Palace, La Moneda has a commanding presence in the downtown area, but the best panoramic views are to be seen from San Cristobal Hill. The town of La Serena and the Elqui Valley, where Pisco liquer is produced lie to the north, while Chile’s agricultural and wine producing heartland, the Maipo Valley, dominates the area to the south. Viña del Mar is the premier coastal resort and can be combined with a visit to ski resorts such as Portillo or Valle Nevado, all within easy driving distance from Santiago. View Chile in a larger map
The Desert North
Near Arica, at the northern tip of the Atacama Desert, the Lauca National Park is punctuated by snow-capped volcanoes as well as varied endemic wildlife. Numerous oases illuminate the harsh landscape, the highlight being the thermal springs at Tatio geyser, reached after overnighting at San Pedro de Atacama. Travelling through the salt flats vicuña, guanacos, llamas and flamingoes may be seen. Time appears to have stood still in this part of Chile, at Lasana with its pre-Inca ruins, or at Chiu Chiu, one of the earliest centres of Spanish settlement - the church of San Francisco, complete with cactus wood roof, dates back to 1611.
Tucked away just south of the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern Pacific, Easter Island is so remote that it is actually nearer to the French Polynesian Islands than it is to mainland Chile. Otherwise known as Isla de Pascua, or Rapa Nui, it is linked by twice weekly flights from Santiago that continue on to Tahiti. Easter Island is, in effect, an open-air Archaeological Museum dotted with more than 600 giant statues, known as maoi, that have intrigued the world for centuries - among the best preserved are to be found on the northern shore next to Anakena beach. Tours can be arranged on arrival and for those seeking the ultimate solitude, the best way to see the island is on horseback.
The Lake Crossing and Patagonia
A number of picturesque towns pepper the shoreline of Lake Llanquihue, among them Frutillar. Another, Puerto Varas, marks the start of the epic Lake Crossing into Argentina. A short distance away and linked by ferry from the mainland is Chiloe Island, something of a backwater seemingly ‘frozen in time’. Chiloe’s unique feature are palafitos, wooden houses built on stilts, now mainly found in Castro, the capital. The Torres del Paine National Park is Chile’s most outstanding treasure and a haven for walkers and riders alike. Further south Punta Arenas is the starting point for cruises through the fjords to Ushuaia in Argentina.