Chile is one of the greatest countries in South America. Its appeal is far-reaching, its culture and landscapes diverse, and its people some of the friendliest you could hope to meet.
Before you even arrive, it’s clear from the very shape of the country that you are in for a marvellous trip. Chile only spans a couple of hundred km from east to west, but runs nearly the entire length of South America, a total of 4300 km north to south.
Up in the north of Chile is the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on earth and an arid array of red rock, salt lakes and stony terrain. The place has been compared to Mars, so if you don’t fancy a rocket flight off the planet this is the next best thing.
The middle of the country tends to have a more Mediterranean climate, with warm summers and pretty mild but manageable winters, and you can find nice coastal towns and beach resorts around this region. Chile’s summer is December—March, which is perfect to escape a North American or European winter.
At the same time, the glaciers of the Torres del Paine are not far away, and the keen explorer can venture from a Mediterranean comfort zone to a snow-capped glacier within a day. The central Andes also offers opportunities for snowboarding and skiing.
You might be starting to get a sense of the natural diversity of Chile. This is a country with deserts, mountains, lush valleys, rainforests, glaciers, fjords, hot springs and volcanoes.
One of the most beautiful areas in Chile has to be Patagonia, a cool and dry region in the south that is home to one of the country’s best trail walks, the “W-Trail”. If you’re into walking, and you want to be in a sparsely populated place, then Patagonia is right for you, but be aware that the weather can be pretty treacherous between May and September.
In terms of its cities, there’s no better place to start than Santiago, the nation’s capital and a bustling metropolis where local customs meet with Spanish colonial architecture and business skyscrapers. Santiago is a modern city and an economic powerhouse for Chile, and is diverse and multicultural.
Just one hour or so away from Santiago you can find Chile’s wine-growing areas. Chile is now an international player in the production of wine, and the Colchagua Valley is the premier region, with over 20 wineries.
For those who want the authentic experience, wine is best enjoyed at the table of a local’s house, and is usually enjoyed alongside a sociable meal. The hospitality of the Chileans in world renowned, and it isn’t uncommon to be invited into someone’s home for a BBQ or seafood stew. Family and friendship are a big part of Chile’s culture, and these values can be eye opening and offer valuable perspective about what is important in life.
Another city to visit is Vina del Mar, a beach resort close to Santiago. This isn’t the best city for Chilean culture, and is more of a hub for entertainment and resort-style living. However, it is home to some epic festivals, including Chile’s biggest music festival, the Festival del Vina de Mar at the end of February.
If you’re planning a visit to Chile this year, you have already missed the music festival, but a totally different event is to be hosted in the city in 2017. The Pokerstars Festival Chile will make a stop at Vina del Mar from May 20th-27th, offering poker tournaments with buy-ins ranging from $220 to $3300, and with prize pools of up to half a million dollars.
Other cities of interest include Valparaiso, a UNESCO world heritage city set in a busy harbour and surrounded by 42 steep hills. The flat harbour at the bottom has an industrial feel, whilst the quint and relaxed hillsides provide a contrast of more exquisite lifestyles.
Chile is one of the best countries in South America for its natural and cultural diversity. There really is something for everyone, from sunbathing on the coasts to climbing ice-capped mountains.