Sand dunes, salt flats, geysers and lagoons at foot of the dramatic Valle de la Luna
CHILE: A long (4,270km) thin (177km) stretch of land situated on the western edge of South America, Chile is a captivating country where you’ll find diverse landscapes, plenty of buena onda and unforgettable experiences.
As a vacation destination, Chile is one of those countries that does have something to offer every traveler, and the longer you can stay here, the better. However, if you only have a few days to spare, then you can still enjoy some extraordinary Chilean experiences on a short-stay vacation.
Santiago is the capital city and where you’ll land if you board a direct flight into the country from Heathrow Airport. From here, you can take a trip to the futuristic vineyard of Viña Vik by helicopter, dive into history and culture in the city’s historical center or marvel at the ornate mausoleum of Eva Perón in the Cementerio de la Recoleta.
Atacama Desert. Dry and desolate at first glance, the Atacama Desert is a fertile and abundant landscape where you’ll find traditional villages high up on the Andean plateau and sandy beaches in the north.
The Elqui Valley has become famous with stargazers for its cloudless, crystalline night skies unspoiled by light pollution. Astronomical observatories located here, including the Mamalluca and La Silla, study the night sky and draw in hundreds of curious travelers every year who want to delve deep into the mysteriousness of the universe.
Plenty of cities and regions are unique, but San Pedro de Atacama is quite possibly the only location on Earth that deserves that crown. Sand dunes, salt flats, active geysers and jewel-like lagoons all make up its landscape, set at the foot of the dramatic, pink-streaked Valle de la Luna.
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Wine and Valparaíso. As you head toward the central regions of Chile, you’ll notice the landscape morph significantly from the deserts of the north into lush valleys and picturesque seaside resorts, with the majestic Andes Mountains towering in the background.
Just south of the cosmopolitan capital city of Santiago are the country’s premier wine valleys. Though you can reach the Casablanca, Colchagua, Aconcagua and Maipo valleys within a short drive, you can still turn your expedition into an indulgent overnight stay at one of the many vineyards found here where you can sample exquisite local vintages and enjoy the delicacies served up in the region’s restaurants.
Visit during the southern winter season, and you’ll be able to indulge your love for skiing and snow sports on the finest slopes in South America. Connected by road easily, it’s only a two-hour journey from the mountains to the coast so that you can enjoy the best of both worlds.
The prettiest coastal city is undoubtedly Valparaíso. Once an important port city in its day, its grand, colonial mansions and colorful buildings show signs of wear and tear, but still possess that unmistakable je ne sais quoi of faded grandeur. The city lays out across several hills that you can explore on vintage funicular cars — when you reach the top, the sea views are unparalleled.
The Wilds of Patagonia. Descending further south, you’ll see the landscape morph again, this time into the volcanos and rapid waters of the Chilean Lake District. The historical location of some of the fiercest battles waged by the Mapuche against the invading Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, here you can feel that untamable Chilean spirit.
Any visitor to this part of the country can expect to find a plethora of things to see and do. The relaxed vibes of the lakeside town of Puerto Varas make it an ideal base camp for outdoor sports and adventures in the Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales while the snowcapped volcanoes and a total of eight expansive natural parks in Sur Chico tell the tale of an ancient and primal Chile.
You can explore Chile’s spiritual side even further on the island of Chiloé. The old ways of witchcraft and mythology still live on here, finding a sense of harmony alongside colorful, UNESCO-listed church buildings.
Things get wilder still in Chilean Patagonia. Home of the awe-inspiring Torres del Paine National Park, you can get swept away by its vast plains, abundant forests and deep fjords with their bright blue glaciers.
Easter Island. What article about Chile would be complete without a mention of the enigmatic Easter Island? Although it’s a five-hour flight from the mainland, Rapa Nui as it’s also known, is more than worth the journey. Questions about this island, located deep in the South Pacific, and its ancient, guardian-like Moai statues that still stand proud to this day have gone unanswered for centuries.