5 Things to Do in Chile
Featured destinations: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, Easter Island, Santiago
Published 06 May 2016
A ribbon of land 2,653 miles long and just 110 miles wide (on average) bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes Mountains to the east, Chile has one of the strangest geographies of any country. In its far north, the dark sands of the Atacama Desert form a natural border with Bolivia and Peru, while its far south is a frozen land of glaciers and penguins, as well as a gateway to Antarctica, tantalisingly close at just 600 miles away.
Needless to say, Chile is all about the outdoors. Come for the colourful lakes and twisted rock formations, mile upon mile of mountain trails, icebergs, and an extensive coastline with ample marine life. But there’s culture here too: the cities of Santiago and nearby Valparaiso are charming enough, while the remote Easter Island is where you’ll find the bizarre head statues of Rapa Nui National Park.
San Pedro de Atacama
Although it’s a quirky desert town, and a pleasant spot for a few days spent testing out the pastel de choclo (a pie made with beef, chicken, olives and mashed up corn), your real reason to come to San Pedro de Atacama is for the array of day trips into the nearby Atacama Desert. Choose from a chilly early morning visit to the misty El Tatio geysers, followed by a soak in the hot springs, the moonlike landscape of Valle de la Luna or the multicoloured lakes and flamingo-filled salt flats of Los Flamencos National Reserve. The fun doesn’t stop after dark either, as the Atacama Desert is a great place for stargazing, with numerous observatories offering informative astronomy tours.
Most visitors to Chile pass through Santiago at some point. But while you’re there be sure to make the hour-and-a-half journey to the seaside city of Valparaiso, either as an action-packed day trip or a more leisurely short break. Valparaiso is dotted with steep hills, known as cerros, which not only offer wonderful views out to sea but are scattered with colourful houses, antique street lamps and plenty of street art. It’s all a little chaotic and you’ll likely get lost in the maze of streets. But in a city this bohemian, that’s all part of the charm.
Torres del Paine
The three granite spires of the Torres del Paine tower dramatically over a turquoise blue glacial lake in the Torres del Paine National Park, forming the backdrop to many a holiday snap. To see them up close, you’ll need to pack your walking boots, as it’s a pretty steep, often snowy, three-mile hike to their base. If that sounds like too much, you can also ride a horse up there, but you’ll still have to walk the steepest parts. If you’re feeling fit, why not try the park’s five-day W circuit, taking you from glaciers and icy lakes to verdant valleys and finally, to the towers themselves.
Chile is blessed with an array of wildlife, much of which is very possible to spot, particularly if you know where to look. Gaze across the plains of the Atacama Desert to spot flamingos, llamas and alpacas, or trek the high Andes for condors (look up!) and the elusive puma. Isla Magdalena in the frozen wilderness of Patagonia is home to a colony of 150,000 Magellanic penguins, while the cold waters around Punta Arenas is where you’ll find dolphins, seals and humpback whales (December to April).
Easter Island, otherwise known as Rapa Nui, is a bit of an enigma. Just how did the 887 statues, all between 900 and 335 years old and some weighing over 80 tons, get here, and what is their purpose? Uncover the mystery for yourself on a visit to this fascinating World Heritage site, which lies 2,182 miles off the coast of Chile’s mainland. But it’s not all about the Moai –there are two gorgeous white sand beaches to chill out on, one of which is surfable. And not forgetting Ma’unga Terevaka, which at 507 metres is Easter Island’s highest point, right at the top of an extinct volcano. Hike or horse ride up for fabulous, if rather windswept, views over the island.
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