Spanning half the length of South America, from the deserts of the Atacama to the glacial wastes of the almost Antarctic, Chile is an oddity. Long isolated by the ocean and the mountains that line its length, the country has had to forge a strong sense of its own identity. Overcoming its violent past, Chile has blossomed into a laidback, thriving destination. In a country so diverse, literally everything is on offer. Outdoor options are innumerable and almost everyone will relish the space, wilderness and unspoiled nature of much of the country.
Try empanadas, pastry stuffed with diced meat or fish, humitas, seasoned corn paste wrapped in corn husks and boiled; and good steaks. Work your way through the excellent wines produced locally or sample pisco, a type of grape brandy.
What to see
Chile’s hedonistic, cosmopolitan capital is full of life and colour. Come in the winter to take advantage of the nearby ski fields, some of the highest commercial runs in the world.
Historic town and port perched on a cliff that conceals some fascinating sights amidst its labyrinthine streets and colourful houses.
At the heart of the Lake District, this lively town offers superb access to the nearby walking, cycling, rafting and horse-riding opportunities as well as the smouldering volcanoes nearby.
Colonial coastal town close to a splendid stretch of beach that is backed by vineyards.
Cruise this mythical southern passageway in Darwin’s wake, looking out for sea lions and waiting for an opportunity to take to the water in a kayak.
Top experiences / sites of particular interest
Torres del Paine
Spectacular national park that boats brilliant lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, peaks and huge, 2000m-tall rock pillars that lend the region its name. Head here for excellent trekking and wildlife-spotting.
San Pedro de Atacama
Charming adobe town isolated amidst the sands, salt flats and geysers of the Atacama Desert.
Parque Nacional Conguillo
A Unesco Biosphere Reserve and one of Chile’s most spectacular national parks, head here to explore the lava fields and recovering landscape surrounding Volcan Llaima.
The world’s most remote inhabitable islands are home to some extraordinary stone sculptures, moais, whose construction and purpose remains a mystery.
A broad section of the country where the favourable weather has ensured that grape production is good and subsequently that Chile has been catapulted up the ranks of serious wine producers worldwide. The Colchagua Valley offers the best combination of wines, fine dining and outdoor activities.
Fascinating, myth-filled archipelago famed for its churches and traditional houses on stilts, which is best explored by sea kayak.
Lose the crowds by following this long, potted road to nowhere into the Andean backcountry in search of national parks and wild spaces.
When to go
Weather & Seasons: Because the country is so long, it is difficult to categorise its weather. In general though, the north is hot and arid, the central region more temperate and the south potentially very cold. High season is December to March but for the north visit year-round and in the south come from November to April. The ski conditions are best June to August.
Important Dates and Festivals: Festivities and holidays occur throughout the year. Look out for celebrations around Independence Day in September, Easter and Christmas.
Getting there / around
Flights: There is an international airport in Santiago (SCL).There is an extensive internal network of domestic flights, which are essential if you are short of time.
Road: The Pan American Highway runs through much of the country. Other roads can vary in condition and the Carreterra Austral in particular is potentially treacherous. If you are venturing off the beaten path, take additional petrol and spare tyres. Buses are popular, comfortable and affordable.Car hire is possible in most major towns.
Overall Chile: Because the country is so long and thin – more than 4000km from tip to tip and just 175km wide on average – you’ll need plenty of time to do it justice. In about four weeks you can zip from San Pedro de Atacama to Puerto Natales, taking in a number of stops, but you’ll have plenty of days where you’re just travelling.To do Chile justice, you really need two months travel to work your way north to south and see everything in between. You’re better off taking the time to explore one or two regions in greater detail.
One Month: Spend four weeks exploring the Carretera Austral and Patagonia, escaping the crowds and losing yourself in Chile’s wilderness.
Shorter Trips Alternatively, take two weeks to explore the Lake District and Wine Region, allowing enough time for some culture and a number of adventure activities that can be found here too.
Overview of Chile: There are good country guidebooks for Chile available from Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Footprint and Frommer’s. Insight offer a more heavily illustrated, inspirational guidebook to Chile.
Walking Guides. Walkers should also keep an eye out for the Cicerone guide to Torres del Paine.
Country Maps: There are comprehensive country maps of Chile available from Reise Know-How,de DiosandFreytag & Berndt. There is also a Chile Pocket Atlas from Reise Know-How.
Street Maps: There is a street plans of Santiago on offer from de Dios
Sectional Maps: JLM Mapas publishes a range of sectional maps including coverage of ChiloePucon and Puerto Natales.
Trekking Maps: They are also responsible for a number of national park maps, including Pucon San Martino de los Andes and Torres del Paine.
Easter Islands: Easter Island is covered by JLM Mapas.
In Patagonia, the most famous travel literature on the country is a controversial account of his travels in the region that may or may not have fictionalised elements within it.
Chile, Travels in a Thin Country is an account of a six-month odyssey from the northern deserts to the southern shores that captures the essence of the country and sheds light on Chilean character.
Against the Wall is the story of Mountaineer Simon Yates, of Touching the Void fame, and how he tackled one of the world’s largest vertical rock faces.
Try Of Love and Shadows by the country’s most celebrated contemporary author, Isabel Allende, which tells the story of two people prepared to risk everything for the sake of justice and truth, despite the threat of arrest, sudden disappearance or execution.
House of Spirits spans four generations and looks at the way in which people, spirits and nature converge.
Look out for By Night in Chile, the story of a priest who believes he is dying and relives incidents from his life; and Distant Star, which pieces together the life and works of a would-be poet turned assassin during Pinochet’s regime in Chile.
Spanish. Language Books:Pick up Lonely Planet’s Spanish Phrasebookto help get by.
CurrencyChilean peso (peso) made up of 100 centavos.
UK and US citizens do not require a visa before entry to the country.
issues Inoculations for Hep A, Hep B, Rabies and Typhoid are recommended.
Safety, FO travel advice
Generally safe and stable.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Chilean country representatives can be found
In the UK:12 Devonshire Street, London, W1G 7DS. Tel:- 020 7580 6392
In the US:1732 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 200036. Tel:- 202 785 1746.
There are no tourist boards in either country.
For more information visit: www.visit-chile.org.
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