Last year, Chile saw its visitor numbers increase by 28 per cent, having attracted over a million more holidaymakers than it had done in 2015. That’s not to say, however, that the country has lost its charm. Chile still only gets around five per cent of the numbers that the likes of France and America attract. What’s more, visitors are spread out over a country that measures some 4,200 kilometres in length, its stunning landscapes tumbling down Andean peaks to form everything from pretty vineyards to Patagonian wildernesses. Here’s why you should be planning your Chilean holiday.
At the end of the continent, Patagonia looms large. This is a frontier land where snow-capped peaks jag through blue skies, glaciers creek along twisted fjords and grasslands seem to sweep endlessly on. It all makes for truly spectacular scenery, appreciated on everything from cruises through labyrinthine waterways to hikes and horse rides through the Patagonian Steppe – the great cold desert that blankets the region’s northern section. It’s also the backdrop for one of the world’s great national parks – Torres del Paine. Here, azure lakes, crashing rivers and giant glaciers are watched over by those majestic granite pillars that have long adorned glossy travel magazines.
Flung some 3,500 km into the South Pacific from mainland Chile, Easter Island is a remote mystery. It’s a volcanic protrusion that you’ll know for its iconic moai – eerie statues whose construction dates back to the 13th century. Totalling more than 900, they’re the faces of deified ancestors that gaze enigmatically out to sea. But, the island is also much more than its stony emblems. Hikes, bike trips and horse rides bring you among the island’s raw beauty while slivers of golden sand offer some time for relaxation. You’ll also have the chance to visit traditional villages and ancient petroglyph carvings.
Given its longitudinal extension, Chile features a vast array of ecosystems and a suitably spectacular complement of wildlife. If you head down to Patagonia, you can expect to find penguins huddled in colonies, while a trip into the Andes will see you gazing up at condors swirling on thermal currents. And, there are always the brightly coloured flamingos of the Atacama Desert. However, it’s Chiloé Island that truly impresses. After marvelling at its colourful stilted houses, you’ll be treated to everything from penguins and blue whales to colourful kingfishers and Chilean otters.
If you venture just a short hop out of the country’s capital you’ll quickly find yourself surrounded by fertile valleys terraced into rows upon rows of lush-green vines. It’s where life goes on at a slower pace as horse-drawn carts ply dirt roads and fading haciendas dot rolling hillsides. It is possible to get a taste on a day trip, but be sure to linger longer to really immerse yourself with stays in colonial mansions and century-old farmhouses. You’ll quickly find yourself slipping into days spent sampling playful whites and nights spent by the fire with a hearty red.
This is your chance to experience another world. Mountains are crumpled into a Martian landscape, rock formations twist into dramatic peaks and lakes come in bright greens and deep blues. And, given that it’s one of the driest places on earth, it’s only populated by the odd frontier town, meaning that it’s one of the world’s greatest places for stargazing. It’s all predicated on a violent volcanicity, best experienced with a walk through the El Tatio geyser field. Here, you can enjoy dips in hot springs as great geothermal spurts rise into the sky.
The country’s capital delights with a truly multifaceted charm. Fresh seafood is served up in historic markets, award-winning museums host world-class exhibitions and funiculars rise up to spectacular views of the city’s Andean frame. In between, there’s a pervading enthusiasm, showcased in Santiago’s leafy parks and its sidewalk cafés where locals sip on pisco sours.
Chile’s most characterful city is an artist’s haven. This charming seaside town has long attracted creative types, its tumbling hills dotted with colourful houses and plied by equally vibrant funiculars – 26 in total. In between, fading mansions and the energy that comes with a hardworking port town makes Valparaíso one of Chile’s most exciting propositions.
This 200-mile slice of rolling farmland, old-growth forest, volcano beasts and, yes, gorgeous lakes is Chile at its bucolic best. Although there are dots of civilisation, often beautified by historic German architecture, the real fun lies out in the wild. A superbly curated collection of national parks offer plenty of adventure activity, ranking from hiking and volcano climbs to rafting and canyoning. There’s even thermal spring soaks and winter skiing.