The Best of Chile
My time in the undiscovered gem of Chile was by far one of my favourite experiences of South America, offering a wealth of cultural charm and natural beauty. It’s been a couple of years since I discovered this beautiful nation but I always think about going back.
Here are some of the highlights that represent the best of Chile:
The Atacama Desert is one of the highest and driest deserts in the world, living in the rain shadow of Chile’s coastal range. The region is vast, combining infinite barren sands, sculpture-like rock formations and oases of blue lagoons, hot springs and lakes.
A tour usually begins in Calama, via San Pedro de Atacama, before exploring Moon Valley’s incredible pure white salt flats. Along the way we floated in Laguna Cejar, a really salty lagoon like the Dead Sea, and sand boarded at Valle de la luna – imagine snowboarding on endless dunes of soft sand, in the sun!
The Death Valley has two beautiful crystalline blue lagoons, where we swam and watched flocks of pink flamingos. The sunset here is something to savour, the sky becoming an incredible collage of yellows, oranges and blacks – at night, you can gaze at stars falling across the sky every few seconds.
Santiago De Chile
Spending time in Chile wouldn’t be complete without a stay in its capital, Santiago. The city is circled by the towering Andes, providing an incredible backdrop on a clear day, despite Santiago being known for giving off something of a smog.
The city combines rich heritage and artistic flair with a quirky up-and-coming charm. You should spend some time in the Barrio Brasil district, gazing at the marvellous architecture and wandering around the colourfully painted side streets, dotted with palm trees.
I really enjoyed my time in Bellavista and Providencia, which provides some of Chile’s finest cuisine, including Caldillo de congrio, delicious seafood chowder with fresh cilantro and cream, and Chacarero, a Chilean Croque Monsieur, made from sliced grilled beef, fresh avocado, tomatoes and cooked green beans.
If the charming tropical parks, café culture and bright atmosphere aren’t enough for you, proximity to the Andes means you can quickly escape for outdoor pursuits like kayaking, walking and trekking.
Chilean Patagonia was my absolute dream destination, combining pristine wilderness and crisp snow-capped mountains with opportunities to trek and explore.
We headed to the southernmost provinces of Magallanes, Última Esperanza and Tierra del Fuego, where we trekked through vast mountain ranges and rafted across deep blue lakes as the sun appeared from behind the clouds.
Torres del Paine National Park is incredible – here we kayaked amongst enormous blue and white icebergs, surrounded by towering sun-blushed white mountains.
San Rafael Glacier in Laguna San Rafael National Park is also amazing – the most beautiful of 19 glistening white masses of ice. We waited patiently for an iceberg to ‘crack’ before dropping into the lake below; it was amazing to hear this sudden, almighty boom break the silence and stillness of the wilderness.
Beautiful nature is everywhere in Patagonia – we spotted black-browed albatross, huala ducks, dolphins, fur seals, chungungos, and elephant seals; it’s a true paradise.
Easter Island, which lies off Chile’s coast, is one of the most isolated environments on the planet, combining some truly breath-taking scenery with amazing archaeological feats.
The region is most renowned for the iconic Moai at Ahu Tongariki, stoic long-faced statues carved from volcanic rock; lined up along the coastline, they gaze over the horizon, leaving an eerie sense of the ancient spirit world still existing there.
Along the way you must visit the temple ruins of Ahu Akahanga and the famous bird paintings of Ana Kai Tangata, etched into a mysterious cave on the seafront. Making my way to Maunga Terevaka, the highest point of the island, on horseback, was also a really uplifting experience; but if you’d rather relax, the beaches are beautiful too.
With some of the clearest waters in South America, Easter Island is perfect for scuba diving, while surfers also enjoy the incredible waves which constantly crash against this ancient island.
Chile will surprise you with its beauty; from the landscapes to the ancient history and culture, it retains a sense of being completely untouched.
This post was written by Helene Cooper of Dragoman, who provides tours of Chile plus many other areas across the world.