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Chile

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile

Chile is one long strip of land which lines the Pacific Ocean for over two and a half miles. Chile shares borders with Peru in the North and with Bolivia and Argentina to the east and the south. A country of contrasts, its extremities are rich with diversity in its climate, landscape, traditions and peoples. Patagonia in the south and the Atacama Desert in the north are separated by the dramatic Andes. Chile however doesn't stop here Easter Island also forms part of the country; the small island attracts visitors' curiosity from all four corners of the world but very few tourists actually visit its 2000 mile coastline. Like its South American neighbours, Chile plays host to hundreds of annual festivals celebrated by locals and tourists alike. Music and dance form a large part of these celebrations - which the local people are very proud of.

Before leaving

Stunning scenery

To the east of Santiago, you can cross the Andes via the border post of Puente del Inca at the foot of the Aconcagua. At 6,959m, it is the highest mountain in the Americas. It is a truly breathtaking landscape of a thousand colours. For those coming from the south, La Serena and Arica (which is a little more to the north), are very pleasant little seaside towns that are great for ending your trip.

Desertastic

In the north of the country, the village of San Pedro de Atacama is worth a stay of several days. It is a departure point for short stays in the Atacama Desert, the Tatio geysers, the Valley of the Moon (unforgettable at sunset), and the expedition to the Uyuni salt desert in Bolivia.

Novel that comes to life

To discover one of the more unknown parts of Chile, visit Isla Robinson Cruscoe - a small island 13 miles long and 4 miles wide - which hosts plants and animal species native to the island, including the Juan Fernandez fur seal. The island was made a National Park in 1935 and today visitors can explore either alone or with a guide to discover the wealth of endemic flora species. Booking return flights from Santiago to Isla Robinson will usually set you back around 300 dollars but the fact that the island is still relatively unknown to travellers means you really will experience tranquility hard to find elsewhere in Chile.

Horse lovers paradise

Finally, last but not least Patagonia, the land of explorers, filled with wonder and intrigue. There's the chance to visit a plethora of national parks including Laguna San Rafael, Katalalixar, Bernardo O'Higgins and the most famous, Torres del Paine, which takes you to the most southern point of the globe, Cap Horn. Here, avid equestrians will not miss the opportunity to do some horse-riding, as it is the ideal place for it.

Land of the Rapa Nui

Far away from there, in fact 3,680 km from the coast but still belonging to Chile, is the mysterious Easter Island. Renowned for the moais, stone statues erected on both sides, this island is 166km squared and has more than 3000 habitants. A lot of people go there just to see what the fuss is all about.

Our Editorial team's advice


This huge territory is around 2,600 miles long, and even more than 3,700 miles if you also include the Antarctic areas claimed by Chile. On the other hand, it is only 110 miles wide between the Andes Cordillera and the Pacific Ocean. Diverse and unique, if you travel to Chile you'll be sure to create some real memories!

A trip to Chile requires a well packed suitcase. The difference in climate between the North and South means that swimming costume, ski attire, flip flops, snow boots and a woolly hat are all essential. If you're thinking of hiking through the Andes, Atacama or Patagonia a comfortable pair of shoes are also a must have!

Watch out for the volcanoes in Chile as seismic activity is high since the country is located on the Nazca plate. Many towns are often susceptible to minor tremors. If an earthquake does occur whilst you are there it's advised to stay away from the windows, hide under a table, a bed or stay standing under a door frame. If you're outside, you must try to find an open space. If you're in a car, stop on the side of the road, stay inside and wait for the tremors to finish.

Drinking water is available pretty much anywhere in Chile but those of you with sensitive stomachs should stick to bottled or tap water that has been boiled.

Traditions


You can try to bargain in the markets, however, it is not usual in the shops.

Around 5.00 - 6.00pm it is the time for the "once", a type of savoury snack that often replaces dinner, in a café or at home. At this time you can eat sandwiches, guacamole, scrambled eggs or cheese. Chileans are also big tea drinkers.

Although the siesta has largely disappeared from big cities, more traditional towns and villages have kept this practice.

Chilean people are very well mannered so be sure to use an official title such as Señor/Señora when addressing someone you don't know well. In the south of the country, the locals tend to be quite reserved but still very welcoming.

Chilean rodeo is a tradition and a national sport. It puts horse riders to the test as they try to capture horses in an area called the medialuna. The most popular Chilean tradition takes place on the 18th to the 19th of September. The Fiestas Patrias commemorate the first government in 1810. There's a huge party atmosphere with kites, horse races and traditional dances running through the city for two days.

One of the most important pilmigrages in Chile is the Yumbel, in the Bio Bio region, a small town which welcomes more than 300,000 pilgrims, all dressed in red and yellow every year on the 20th January. During the first two weeks of February, there is a festival on Easter island which commemorates the ancestral traditions of the Rapa Nui. Everyone immerses themselves in ancestral customs with dances, music and traditional food.

What to see

The desert , Chile
The desert
The vineyards , Chile
The vineyards
The lakes , Chile
The lakes
Chile : Explore

Food


Chilean cuisine is as varied as the country is vast. You will not be able to avoid 'cazuela de ave', a soup based on corn and chicken mixed with various vegetables. It is very copious. Empanadas are rich pastries with meat, vegetable or cheese filling that are sold everywhere and can be eaten at any time; during meals, with the family or in the street.

Humita is a corn purée prepared with milk and onions. Chilean wine, made from very high quality grape varieties originally from Europe, are grown on the Pacific coast. The Santa Carolina wines (Cabernet, Sauvignon, Chardonnay) and 'pisco', with a muscat base, are 'must' wines.

Chile offers a super cuisine with a huge range of delicacies and the climate is perfect for a large production of fruit and vegetables. You are able to find seafood, meat and wine all of excellent quality. Chile's most famous specialty, before wine, is Pisco Sour. Originally from Peru, this cocktail has an alcoholic base (pisco), lemon (pica), liquid sugar, goma and white egg; it's a real delicacy which can turn out to be slightly dangerous.

All over Santiago, you bump into vendors offering 'mote con huesillo', which is essentially peach juice with wheat seeds. Other specialities include barbecued lamb and giant crab from Patagonia, seafood and meat empanadas, sopapillas (fried pumpkin bread) , cola de Mono which translates as monkeys tail, which is a milky coffee based cocktail and agua ardiente (white rum).