Chile is well known for being that long, narrow strip of land located in the South of Latin America; home to the world’s driest desert in the North, great National parks throughout all its territory, a volcanic island with mysterious massive monolithic figures called Moais in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, massive and unique glaciers in the South, Mediterranean coasts, and, of course, the Antarctic territory.
Chile is also well known for being the most expensive Latin American country to travel. Luckily for you, I am a local, and also a teacher (which means I don’t often have money), so I can offer you an insight into inexpensive travelling here in Chile.
What can you find in the North? Beautiful beaches, historical heritage cities, and petroglyph. What can you do in the North? Treks, water sports, sand sports and a lot of cultural tours.
Take San Pedro de Atacama, for example, which is a wonderful combination of nature and archaeology. Or Parque Nacional Lauca and Reserva Nacional Las Vicuñas, both, unique, amazing spots to be in contact with nature.
As stated before, the world’s driest desert is located in Chile: the Atacama Desert- from Arica to La Serena. Same place where Mars Rover, the automated motor vehicle, was tested, since its conditions were expected to be similar to the ones in Mars! Crazy, isn’t it?
So, what can you do in such an inhospitable place? To start with, lots of treks and hikes: to the desert itself or to some spots in it, like Piedras Rojas, Salar de Talar, Geyser el Tatio, Valle el arcoirís and so many others.
I’ve heard you can even go air ballooning (though I’ve also heard it is kind of expensive, but definitely worth trying).
The beaches of Litoral Central.
Descending from the North there are literally thousands of miles of beaches. Among all those miles, you’ll find beautiful, white-sand beaches. Some can get really crowded depending on the time of the year, whereas others are almost deserted all year long. There are some in which swimming is allowed, and others where it is prohibited (but people do it anyway, mainly because it is Chile). Nevertheless, water will always be icy. Well, we are right next to the Antarctica.
You can spend either a weekend or a whole month just relaxing by the beach, or, on the contrary, enjoying every adventure they have to offer (water sports mainly, but you can also do treks and in some parts, horseback riding is allowed for adults and kids).
Santiago and around.
Santiago is the Capital city, where you are most likely supposed to arrive or at least, spend some time before heading to your final destination. Whereas some people think of Santiago only as a place to stopover, I strongly disagree. Santiago has a lot to offer to the tourist, as well as to the people who live there. Downtown you can find splendid art galleries, amazing museums, great coffee shops, vibrant neighbourhoods, grassy areas to escape from the crowds and of course, what I enjoy the most, astonishing graffiti and street art. There is a whole section in this blog created to make the most out of your visit to Santiago.
If, on the other hand, you are more of an adventurous traveller and prefer the wild, due to its geographical location, there are also plenty of spots in and around Santiago. For outdoor adventures sport, like canopying, rafting, and trekking, Cajón del Maipo, a canyon located in Andes, an hour from the city centre, is the place you are looking for. There are also other hikes and treks spots near Santiago, as well as some ski resorts.
Back on July 2014 a group of friends, my 3 year-old daughter and I travelled to Easter Island and it was marvellous. We stayed in the house of an elderly local. Local people knew him well and respected him also. His name was Coro Hucke, and he showed us the island the way only a local could do. We visited the moais, the volcanos and I even got to have coffee with the fishermen of the island and fed their massive turtle friend, whose name I totally forgot (sorry!).
If the north has the driest the desert, the south is a magical spectacle of green and life. I haven’t been to every National reserve, city, town, or port in the south, but they are all in my list. Go to the South and you’ll breathe its earthy, humid scent. Or, if camping, wake up with the sound of the forest or a river close to your base.
Pucón, Villarrica or Panguipulli, all of them surrounded by lakes, waterfalls and thermal springs, are premium destinations for adventurous travellers. Villarrica Volcano is also very near, which can be climbed through Villarrica National park.
Travellers can kayak through the Marble Cathedrals- the most stunning cave network created by Mother Nature, deep down the south. Or, they can get ready for the 5 or even 6 (depending on the tour) day-trekking in Torres del Paine, at the butt of the word, described as one of the world most spectacular treks by Lonely Planet.
Of course there are plenty of other incredible adventures you can book and enjoy in the South, and there are multiple ways to make them affordable, too.
However, Chile is not only natural beauty.
Valparaíso and Chiloé.
With regular transport from Santiago, Valparaíso is a must see port-city for every tourist visiting the country. Valparaíso, which might be called ‘a wonderful mess’ is famous for its colourful houses covered in magnificent street-art; its narrow, twisting streets; its wonderfully confusing stairs going up the hills and also, for its old-fashioned funiculars.
Further south it is Chiloé Island, less accessible but equally beautiful; Its wooden churches are very famous, along with its palafito constructions. If you are lucky, you may see a minga, which is a century-old tradition in which the community, as a whole, transports an entire house from one place to another, using oxens, through the canals.
Having all kinds of weathers, Chile can represent a challenge to the tourist, who may want to see it all. But one thing I can assure you. No matter what region you end up visiting, each of them will leave you speechless in its own way.