Lay Chile out across the United States and it would reach nearly from coast to coast. That 2,700-mile length means Chile contains a huge variety of climates and geographies. Which in turn means that visitors have an amazing number of great experiences awaiting them. With the Andes on one side and the Pacific on the other, Chile offers a world-class list of things to see and do. And its blend of indigenous culture and Spanish and other European heritages combine for a welcoming embrace. Here are seven reasons to start planning a trip to Chile.
1. Adventure Tourism
What country has won the World Travel Awards Leading Adventure Tourism Destination for two consecutive years (2016 and 2017)? Yes, Chile. It’s also up for Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2018.” Here are a few of Chile’s dazzling array of adventure opportunities: Sandboard down a variety of dunes in terrains from dry desert to Pacific beach. Raft on the gorgeous and thrilling rivers of central and southern Chile—start with a gentle stretch, and then, if you dare, take on one of the heart-pounding runs of class 4 and 5 rapids. Get your adrenaline working on a mountain bike in the beautiful deserts, foothills, or valleys. The list goes on and on—surfing on nearly 2,000 miles of coastline, skiing in the austral winter at more than 6,000 feet elevation, heliskiing pristine mountains, and more.
2. Hiking and Trekking
This adventure deserves break-out mention. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes and a love of outdoor scenery. Picture yourself in the rarified atmosphere of the Atacama Desert’s Moon and Mars Valleys, or on the vista-filled trails of La Campana National Park, a World Biosphere Reserve, or in the dozens of stunning national parks and reserves in Patagonia, with its color-saturated mountains, lakes, and extreme landscapes. Need more direction? Head to the glaciers, turquoise waters, and soaring granite horns of Torres del Paine National Park.
3. Walking on Glaciers
Strap on a set of crampons, pick up your walking sticks, and you’re ready to tackle the ice fields of Chile. You’ll discover crevasses, glacial rivers, and ice tunnels, while the sweeping backdrops might take in white deserts, iridescent lagoons, or craggy peaks. Toast your trek with a chunk of glacial ice in your favorite drink from the heights of Patagonia’s Exploradores glacier or from the ice-filled volcano of Sollipulli in southern Chile. This could be the adventure that’s been in your dreams for years.
Boasting the clearest night skies in the Southern Hemisphere, northern Chile is the place for gazing upward. Fans of celestial wonders will not want to miss the chance to see the heavens jammed with stars. Astronomical observatories take advantage of Chile’s low light pollution and more than 300 annual days of clear weather. Several are open for tours, including ALMA, the largest astronomical project on Earth, with its array of 66 radio telescopes situated at 16,597 feet in the Atacama Desert. Also in the Atacama, Paranal Observatory has an array of four 27-foot-diameter telescopes. If you’re in the Coquimbo region of northern Chile, stop by the Cerro Tololo Observatory for a more intimate experience. These and other Chilean sky labs continue to make important discoveries.
5. Wine Routes
What country won World's Leading Adventure Tourism Destination 2017 and has been nominated for the 2018 title? Yes, Chile. If you know wine, you know that Chile has become a leader in the industry. Touring wine country not only gives you a chance to taste some fine reds, whites, and sparkling wines, it also offers splendid scenery to go with that glass. Meander through the fertile valleys between the mountains and the sea and discover the terroir that brings forth Chile’s unique flavors, colors, and bouquets. The terraced vineyards of the northern and central valleys feature refreshing sauvignon blancs and chardonnays—the Limari Valley is famous for its whites, cabernets, and pisco brandy. In central Chile, Casablanca Valley offers opportunities for elegant food and wine pairings at magnificent vineyards, and try the pinot noir in the Leyda Valley or the cabernets in the Maipo Valley. Also, check out the inviting cellars and manors of the Colchagua, Maule, and Curico valleys.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
6. World Heritage
Visit some of Chile’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Atacama Desert preserves the ghost towns of Humberstone and Santa Laura, important saltpeter mining communities at the turn of the 20th century. In central Chile, take the stairways and funiculars up to Valparaiso’s Historic Quarter for long views of the port city and its fascinating past; colorful Victorian architecture adds a distinctive accent to the multi-layered story of Chile. On an archipelago in southern Chile, you’ll find some of the world’s oldest wooden structures. The Churches of Chiloé date to the 17th century and attest to the country’s missionary and architectural history.
7. Hot Springs
Bliss out and revitalize in one of Chile’s 270-some hot springs. Found in locations from lush forests to the base of snow-clad mountains, these natural baths are a perfect way to treat your muscles after a challenging adventure. Chile’s numerous volcanoes hint at the thermal activity going on just below the surface. From simple outdoor ponds to luxury spas with hot stone massages, there are hot springs to soothe any body and soul. With its waterfalls and plunge pools, Termas Geométricas in Pucón is a fabulous place to unwind.