When thinking of South America, Peru, Brazil and Argentina often get the most attention. But don't overlook Chile, a country with a diverse landscape north to south and ample things to see and experience.
It's no secret. I fell in love with this country over 10 years ago. Warm and friendly people, great food, wine, interesting history. And for me, the absolute best was the amazing scenic beauty and wildlife. There is no doubt I'll be returning.
Here are my top 8 reasons to visit:
When flying to or from Chile, you'll be flying into or out of Santiago in most cases. Located in the center of the country, Santiago is the gateway for international flights as well as flights to the north and southern cities.
With over 6.6 million residents, Santiago is Chile's largest city. A wonderful historic city center, bustling neighborhoods with excellent restaurants and Cerro San Cristobal, the city's largest urban nature area for the beautiful views of the city and Andes are must do's when in town. A walking tour with a local guide, which I did, gave us a perfect overview.
Santiago is conveniently located only a few hours from the Pacific coast beaches and the port city of Valparaiso, Chile's principal seaport, where many South America cruises begin or end. Santiago is also conveniently located near Chile's wine regions - easy day trips or longer stays - easily weaved in to an itinerary.
Santiago - a perfect starting or ending point.
The Atacama Desert is the second most popular tourist attraction in Chile, just behind Torres del Paine National Park. And it is the highest and driest desert in the world - 100 times more arid than Death Valley, receiving an average 1mm of rain annually.
Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) sits in the Atacama Desert, and is one of the most visited areas of the desert. Over many centuries, winds and floods have turned the sand and stone into a landscape that mimics the moon.
The North is also known for its copper mining, salt flats, hot springs and numerous astronomical observatories. Crystal clear skies and 300 cloudless days annually has made the area a hotbed for astro-tourism, with a a third of the planets telescopes are located here.
SKIING THE ANDES
Chile has a long list of areas to ski, the most in all of South America. And because Chile has opposite seasons from the northern hemisphere, its a great destination in the summer months if you love to ski. Santiago is only 45 minutes from world class skiing in the Andes, which have become training grounds for both European and North American Olympic teams.
Ski areas offer everything from beginner to advanced slopes for world-class skiing and heli-skiing as well as snowboarding.
Of course, wine is a big attraction. Chile's nine central valleys boast some of the world's best wineries. Now one of the world's largest exporters of wine, Chile is known for its Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Aside from winery visits and tastings, other popular activities include horseback riding, biking and mountain biking.
Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui to its to the local indigenous population, sits 2300 miles off the coast of Chile, about half way to Tahiti. It is one of the most remote inhabited islands, and also one of Chile's most visited sites.
The first inhabitants of the island are believed to have been from Polynesia. Today the economy is sustained by tourism. The primary draw are the moais, massive stone monuments, which are over 800 years old. The stone statues average 13 feet high and weigh 13 tons. It is still a mystery as to how so many were built and how they were moved to the island.
Chile's Lake District is located approximately 250 miles south of Santiago. Many Germans emigrated to the area between 1846 -1914 and the scenery is likened to Switzerland with its many lakes, rivers and mountains. Puerto Montt is located in the German Euorpean Zone and is known for its salmon and microbrews.
Inland lakes are attractive to those who like to swim, sunbathe, kayak and sail. High quality fly fishing is available October - May.
Chile is home to over 2000 volcanoes, most being dormant or extinct. 50+ volcanoes are located in the Lakes District region. One of the most picturesque is Osorno Volcano, often called Mt. Fuji of South America.
Over half of Chile's Patagonia is protected wilderness, a natural haven for trekking, fly fishing, kayaking, mountain biking and rafting. It is truly one of the few places on earth that has remained largely wild.
Puerto Natales is the gateway to the Torres del Paine National Park - rugged and beautiful mountains which sit in the southern portion of Patagonia. But you don't have to be into extreme adventure to enjoy the area. There are a lot of "soft" adventures including easy day walks and tours to take in the beautiful surrounds.
TIERRA DEL FUEGO AND CAPE HORN
The Tierra del Fuego area is a set of islands located in the very south, shared with Argentina. Rugged and remote but stunningly beautiful, the region is accessed primarily by small ships. Tiny islands are home to a wide variety of bird colonies, over 4000 Magellan penguins, and elephant seals. Narrow fjords open up to spectacular glaciers.
Cape Horn is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego, often referred to the "end of the earth". Cape Horn is part of a UNESCO that overlooks the waters of the Drake Passage, the body of water between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica.
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