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Chile

With such variety, Chile is without doubt one of South America’s greatest destinations

Tailor-Made Holidays
To Chile

Chile is a land of extremes, running down the southwestern coast of South America for 2,700 miles from arid desert in the north to vast icefields in the far south, with an average width of barely 100 miles.

Roughly twice the size of Germany, Chile is bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean, to the east by Argentina and Bolivia, and by Peru in the north.

Chile’s varied geography includes a large portion of the Andes range which runs north to south through the spine of the country. The mysterious Easter Island is found far out in the Pacific Ocean. To the north is the Atacama, the most arid desert on earth; there are famous cities and productive vineyards in the centre;  temperate rainforests, beautiful lakes and indigenous Mapuche communities and Chiloe Island are found further to the south, and fjords, glaciers, ice fields and vast wild steppe landscapes can be seen in the far south.  Pumas can be seen in the far south’s Torres del Paine National Park, a land of spectacular beauty.

Santiago is the country’s capital and the largest city in terms of population and employment. It is one of the most modern capital cities on the continent and is the country’s main political, economic, cultural and industrial centre.

With such variety, Chile is without doubt one of South America’s greatest destinations.

An image caption based on something written in the destination intro. E.g. wonderful shot of an inquisitive young Gorilla in Nyungwe park

Photography by Reef & Rainforest

Best Time To Visit Chile

The climate of Chile is generally temperate but because of the wide range of latitudes and varied geographical landscape there are many climatic zones. The Atacama Desert in the north is considered the driest desert in the world. The central region benefits from a Mediterranean climate, while the south is wetter with lower temperatures.

Being in the southern hemisphere, Chile experiences its summer during December to February, and winter from June to August. Most of the rainfall the country receives is over the winter and humidity is low year round. Late September to late March are generally considered the best months to visit.

In the far south the temperature averages 6C; it’s around 14C in the centre and 16C in the north.

Chile Travel

Getting There

Flight Time

Approximately 14½ hours’ flying time non-stop from London Heathrow to Santiago.

Time Zone

GMT -4

Language

Spanish

Population

18 million

Highlights

What To See

The Carretera Austral

The Carretera Austral, or Southern Highway, has been described as Chile’s “ultimate road trip”. It is the name given to Chile’s route 7 which begins where the Lake District ends, running 720 miles north to south through sparsely populated Northern Patagonia from Puerto Montt to Via O’Higgins. The spectacular landscape is one of dense forests, fjords, glaciers, snow-capped mountains and rushing streams.

The Central Valley Wine Region

The narrow plain of the Central Valley stretches for over 300 miles southwards from Santiago to the Biobio River, sandwiched between the Andes to the east and the Chilean Coastal Range to the west. River valleys bisect the Central Valley producing some of the most fertile land in Chile and giving rise to Chile’s most productive wine region.

Within the Central Valley there are four principal wine growing regions – the Maipo Valley (cabernet sauvignon), the Rapel Valley in Colchagua Province (carmenere and cabernet), the Curico Valley (chardonnay), and the Maule Valley (inexpensive table wine).

Full day wine tasting tours can be arranged from Santiago, and some vineyards also offer boutique-style accommodation.

Alerce Andino National Park

The 39,225-hectare Alerce Andino National Park of lush temperate rainforest is located one hour southeast of Puerto Montt and stretches from the Reconclavi Estuary to the south and east and the Chapo River to the north.

Alerce Andino National Park was established to protect the last stands of one of the oldest living conifer species – the alerce or lahuan (Patagonian cyprus) which can grow up to 45 metres high and four metres wide, and live for 3,000 years. It forms part of the Bosques Templados Lluviosos de los Andes Biosphere Reserve which protects a section of the Valdivian eco-region.

Juan Fernandez Archipelago

The volcanic archipelago is located in the Pacific Ocean 400 miles west of Valparaiso. It is named after Juan Fernandez, the first European to visit in 1574, and two of the islands – Alexander Selkirk and Robinson Crusoe – are named after the real life shipwrecked Scottish sailor and his fictional alter ego created by Daniel Defoe. Today about 600 people live on Robinson Crusoe Island.

The islands became a national park in 1935, and designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977. The islands host 131 endemic plant species, 3 endemic land bird species including the critically endangered Juan Fernandez firecrown, and the endemic Juan Fernandez fur seal.

Access to the archipelago is by air taxi (2 hrs 30 mins) from Santiago, or monthly ferry service (36 hrs).

Lauca Biosphere Reserve

Situated about 100 miles northeast of Arica, Chile’s northernmost city, this 358,312-hectare UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is rich in wildlife and comprises three protected areas – Lauca National Park, Las Vicuñas National Reserve, and Salar de Surire National Monument. The landscape is one of beautiful altiplano (high plain) scenery, meadows, lakes, rushing mountain rivers and streams, salt pans, and snow-capped volcanoes, rising from 3,400 to 6,410 metres.

The varied wildlife includes llama, alpaca, vicuña and vizcacha, and 150 species of birds including puna ibis, Andean goose, Andean condor and puna rhea. One of the most spectacular sites is bird-rich Chungara, one of the world’s highest lakes, set against a backdrop of the pristine white-capped cones of Chile’s Parinacota Volcano and Pomerape Volcano, just across the border in Bolivia.

Patagonia

Chilean Patagonia is generally considered to cover all of southern Chile south of Puerto Montt and was originally inhabited by Tehuelche hunter-gatherers and the seafaring Kaweskar. The Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to discover the area as he sailed through the straits that today bear his name.

To the west are a labyrinth of channels and fjords, to the east the majestic Andes, and to the south lies legendary Tierra del Fuego. The vast Patagonian steppes are sparsely populated, largely treeless and governed by a harsh, cold climate with a dry wind blowing continually from the north west. Rainfall is only high in the foothills of the Andes which are covered by primeval forests of sub-Antarctic beech trees.

The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the larger of the two remnants of the ancient Patagonian Ice Sheet which covered all of southern Chile and parts of Argentina during the Quaternary glacial period. Among the glaciers found in Chile are Grey Glacier and Serrano Glacier.

Santiago

Santiago is situated in the wide Central Valley at an altitude of 520 metres  set against the magnificent backdrop of the Andes to the east. The city was founded in 1541 and is now the political, economic and financial capital of Chile with almost 40% of the country’s population living in and around the city. With a population of over seven million, Santiago is also the sixth largest city in South America.

Santiago is a mixture of the old and the new, with the grand architecture of the centre, the lively nightlife of the barrios of Brasil, Lastarria and Bellavista, and the gentility of high end neighbourhoods like Providencia and Las Condes.

A guided tour of Santiago might include La Moneda (Presidential Palace), a walk through the pedestrianised streets of Huerfanos and Ahumada, the Plaza de Armas, and Santa Lucia Hill where the Spanish founded Santiago in 1541. Following that you might pay a visit to the cultural and artistic neighbourhood of Bellavista, the 300-metre high San Cristobal Hill for views of the city from the top, and finally to elegant Providencia with its cafes and restaurants for dinner.

Tierra del Fuego

The archipelago of Tierra del Fuego is found off the southernmost tip of South America. The Land of Fire is so-called because the first European visitors saw that the indigenous people lit fires on their boats to keep warm. The main island, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, is divided between Chile and Argentina and separated from the continent by the Strait of Magellan. The rugged natural beauty of Isla Grande encapsulates the different Patagonian ecosystems in a single island: South Atlantic coast, bush steppe, Andes mountains surrounded by glaciers, and deep southern beech forests. Along the legendary Beagle Channel  (explored by Charles Darwin in the 1830s and named after his ship) varied wildlife can be seen including sea lions and extensive colonies of cormorants and penguins, including the only continental American breeding colony of the king penguin, the second largest species. That colony can be found in the private Parque Pinguino Rey on the edge of Useless Bay in western Tierra del Fuego.

There are a number of settlements on Tierra del Fuego, with the largest, Puerto Williams, on Isla Navarino vying for the title of “southernmost city in the world” with Argentina’s Ushuaia, which is actually the region’s largest city.

Torres del Paine National Park

The 242,000-hectare Torres del Paine National Park was created in 1959, and named in 1970 after its three distinctive granite monoliths, or towers (paine being an indigenous word for the colour blue and not the name of an explorer).

In 1978 Torres del Paine National Park was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve because of its unique ecology encompassing ancient forests, glaciers, lakes and rivers. The park has four different types of habitat: pre-Andean scrubland on river banks and lake edges; Magellanic deciduous forest lining the park’s gorges and hillsides; Patagonian steppe, treeless due to poor humidity and harsh winds and found mainly in the eastern sector of the park; and high Andean desert.

The National Park is home to 26 species of mammals including guanaco, puma (Chile’s largest carnivore), the endangered South Andean deer (the Huemul, Chile’s national symbol), two species of fox, and the Patagonian skunk.

Bird species number 118 and include wading birds such as the Chilean flamingo which lives in the numerous lakes and lagoons across the park, 15 species of birds of prey including the Andean condor (South America’s largest bird), and the flightless rhea, which lives on the Patagonian steppe.

Torres del Paine National Park is also a popular trekking destination with over 150 miles of trails. The most popular multi-day treks are the nine-day El Circuito trek and seven-day ‘W’ Trek. There are also a number of day hikes including French Valley, and to the base of the Torres del Paine.

Valparaiso

First settled in 1542, Valparaiso is a centuries old port city spread over 42 sprawling hills which descend to the sea. Prior to the construction of the Panama Canal (1914), the Port of Valparaiso was the most important in the South Pacific as ships from around the world called here once they crossed Cape Horn or the Straits of Magellan. Today Valparaiso is an important Naval base, the seat of the Chilean Parliament, and the hills of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion are jointly a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

To visit Valparaiso is to explore a labyrinth of streets that stretch over the many tiered hillsides facing the bay, and to enjoy the imaginative architecture and bright colours of the homes built by the first Europeans to settle here, many with corrugated iron walls. Enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean from the “21 de Mayo” promenade and panoramic lookout point; visit the La Matriz church and “Plaza Sotomayor” with its impressive Naval Heroes Monument; see the Ex-Governor’s Palace and the Justice Tribunal building, as well as the Turri Clock and the first Spanish language newspaper building, the El Mercurio.

To the northeast of Valparaiso is the “Garden City” of Viña del Mar, renowned for its beautiful avenues lined with immense old trees, well-kept parks, popular resorts, long sandy beaches and holiday atmosphere.

The Lake District

Chile’s Lake District stretches over 200 miles from Temuco in the north to Puerto Montt in the south, and spills over the border into Argentina to the east. It is a region of 12 great lakes, snow-capped volcanoes, dense forests, and rich farmland.

Up until the 1880s the landscape was dominated by thick forests of araucaria, temperate Valdivian rainforest, and Patagonian cypress, and inhabited by indigenous Mapuche. Towards the end of the 19th century, German, Austrian and Swiss settlers transformed parts of the region into lush dairy farmland, The German influence can still be seen in the architecture and on the menu of many Lake District towns including Osorno, Puerto Varas and Frutillar. Some 20,000 Mapuche still live in the area’s reservations, especially around Temuco.

Today visitors flock to the beautiful Lake District region, staying in Puerto Varas or Pucon, to explore the many national parks and enjoy a variety of activities such as hiking, volcano climbing, horse riding, and relaxing in the numerous thermal springs. Winter brings an adventurous crowd to ski down the snow-covered volcanoes.

Chiloe Island

Chiloe Island lies off Chile’s Lake District and is separated from the mainland by the Chacao Channel. The main Island is 112 miles long but only 31 miles wide and consists mostly of farmland, temperate moss covered rainforest, rugged coastlines and picturesque fishing villages. The main centres of population are Ancud, Castro and Quellon It is an island with its own traditions, customs, legends and music where time has seemingly stood still since the arrival of the Spaniards.

The coast between the island and the mainland is rich in underwater life and the ferry crossing from the mainland often produces sightings of Peale’s and Chilean dolphins, southern sea lions and birds such as Antarctic giant petrel, sooty and pink-footed shearwater and flocks of black-necked swan. On the west coast the rocky islets at Punihuil has a mixed breeding colony of Humboldt and Magellanic penguins, kelp gull, rock shag and flightless steamer duck, and sightings of the endangered marine otter and southern sea lion are common. During the summer months (January to April) a population of blue whales comes to feed on high concentrations of krill and can, with luck, be watched from the shore. In the north of the island is the Chepu River, a beautiful area of mangroves and almost pristine temperate rainforest, which is a stronghold for the critically endangered southern river otter, (rarest in the world). The area is also home to the southern pudu deer and birds including the endemic slender-billed parakeet. The island also has its own nearly endemic mammal: the extremely endangered Darwin’s fox of which there are about 250 on the island – the only other population is in the Nahuelbuta National Park on the mainland.

Atacama Desert

The Atacama plateau, an extreme environment considered the world’s driest hot desert, is a mixture of salt lakes, geysers, felsic lava flows and an enormous expanse of sand that follows Chile’s northern Pacific coastline for 600 miles.

Over 500 plant species have adapted to the harsh desert conditions, mostly occurring along the slightly greener coastal strip where sea mists provide moisture for cacti as well as the specialised lizards, birds and insects found only in this desert. Further inland are salt pans and geysers. All of three species of flamingo (Chilean, Andean and James’) can be seen alongside horned coot, Andean goose and gulls on the salt flats, particularly at the Los Flamencos National Reserve. There are few mammals in this habitat but guanaco, vicunas, southern viscacha and Andean fox (culpeo) might be seen. In remote spots along the rocky coast there are huge colonies of Humboldt penguins, sea lions and fur seals.

Calama is the entry point for visitors flying in from Santiago. It is then a 90-minute drive eastwards to San Pedro de Atacama, the gateway to exploring the desert.

Easter Island

This small triangle of volcanic rock, just 7.5 miles at its widest point, is considered by many to be the world’s most remote inhabited island. Known as Rapa Nui to its native Polynesian inhabitants it is 2,236 miles west from the nearest point on the American continent – the coast of Chile – and the nearest habitation is on Pitcairn Island, 1,243 miles to the south west.

It is not clear exactly when Rapa Nui’s first human inhabitants arrived from Polynesia, possibly from around 800 AD. They developed a distinct culture which was at its peak between the 10th and 16th centuries when the Rapa Nui carved and erected 900 moais (stone statues) across the Island. These stone blocks carved into heads and torsos averaged 4 metres tall and 14 tonnes. No-one knows exactly why the Rapa Nui undertook such a monumental task, though the consensus from scholars is that the moai were created to honour their ancestors and important members of society.

Human pressure on the land led to environmental degradation and by the time the first European settlers reached the Island in 1722, and named it Isla de Pascua or Easter Island, the island was largely barren and sparsely populated.

Featured

Wildlife Holidays

Accommodation

Featured Places To Stay

EcoCamp Patagonia

Located in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park, with a unique view of th...

Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa

Located in the Catarpe Valley, just over a mile from San Pedro de Atacama’s ma...

Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa

Stylish hotel close to the rustic village of San Pedro de Atacama...

Hotel Cumbres Puerto Varas

With beautiful views of Lake Llanquihue and the Osorno and Calbuco Volcanoes...

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Destination Map

Chile

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Chile: -35.675147, -71.542969

Your Very Own

Chile Specialist

John Melton

Area Specialist

When travelling through Chile you can experience such wide variations in geography and climate that packing can be a challenge, so please pay special attention to our packing guidelines.

If you have any questions regarding travel to Chile, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)1803 866965