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, Bolivia to the east and Argentina to 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.
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!
As a consequence, there is a multitude of very contrasting landscapes from the north to the far south: from the Atacama Desert, the most arid on the planet, to the famous Cape Horn through the central valley holding the capital, Santiago, and the colonial town of Valparaiso. Add Tierra del Fuego and the many fjords, volcanoes and lakes to that, and you have a thousand reasons for leaving to discover this country!
One of the country's most isolated, and frankly stunning, regions, Patagonia is not to be missed. Peppered with sublime and spectacular glaciers, the region is home to vibrant turquoise lakes whose colour belies a ferocious iciness. Forming part of the Los Glaciares National Park, alongside the Perito Moreno and Upsala Glaciers, Lake Spegazzini has made its way onto many bucket lists. Whilst being truly stunning in its own right, it is also a symbol of the very real threat that global warming poses to both our natural phenomena and our own human future. Seeing this wonderful sight will put much into perspective.
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.
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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.
In Patagonia, avid equestrians will not miss the opportunity to do some horse-riding, as it is the ideal place for it. Patagonia is also something of a sanctuary for larger marine life, and some of the world's most powerful mammals bask in its waters. The southern right whale is the great feature of Patagonian whale watching, and from early June to November, hundreds of them arrive to grace these waters and the presence of any lucky whale watchers who have come to greet them. Whale watching season runs from May to December.
Another species that has made Patagonia its home is the guanaco. A relative of the llama and alpaca, unlike those weird and wonderful animals, the guanaco has not been domesticated. They are a stable of the altiplano in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. As one of South America's largest wild animals, they are no more free from human distraction than in the heart of Patagonia.
You must spend a few hours walking around Valparaiso's old Chinese district to discover the nostalgic atmosphere of this port city.
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.
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 wooly 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!
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.
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.
+Trekking in a national park, a cultural stay in Santiago or relaxing on the coast, Chile offers a diversity of scenery that allows all sorts of combinations of holidays.
+It is without doubt the safest country in Latin America.
+People travelling through it in a car or as an "autotour" package will experience a real "road movie" on the southern motorway taking them to Patagonia.
-Huge distances, particularly when you have to cover them in a bus. Allow for time and a number of nights on this means of transport.
-Expect sharp changes of climate in the south of the continent.
-The cost of living. As opposed to its northern neighbours, Bolivia and Peru, Chile is quite an expensive country.
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).
In the North you will find beautiful clothes made of llama wool, wall coverings, wooden carvings, and lapis-lazuli jewellery. Shopping hours are the same all over the country: 10:00am to 7:00pm, or from 10:00am to 1:00pm and from 4:00pm to 8:00pm, from Monday to Friday, and from 10:00am to 2:00pm on Saturday. Arica, Iquique, and Punta Arenas are free trade zones. The prices here for purchases like Hi-Fi are really attractive.