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Did You Know … ?

  • Chile’s Atacama Desert is the driest in the world.
  • Cape Horn in Chile is the southernmost point in South America.
  • Alexander Selkirk lived alone (1704-1708] on a Chilean island and was the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe.
  • Chile’s Congress meets in Valparaiso, not in the capital Santiago.
  • The world’s strongest earthquake since 1900 struck Chile in 1960 (9.5 on the Richter scale).

A long country

Chile, a sliver of a country extending nearly 3,000 miles down the west coast of South America, has an astonishing diversity of terrain and climate. From east to west, it is shoehorned in between the Pacific and the Andes.

But, from north to south, it extends from the Atacama, the world’s driest desert, to lands characterized by alpine valleys, dramatic lakes, volcanoes and on to Patagonia where the coastline breaks up into thousands of islands in the rough Pacific — and the scenery can be breathtaking.

Mother Nature remains dramatically active in Chile. Geothermal activity produces world-class geysers (El Tatio) plus hot springs, some of which have been harnessed to create resorts for visitors. Some volcanoes are still active, too. Events of early 2010 were a reminder that Chile also is prone to severe earthquakes and tsunamis.

The capital Santiago is in the Central Valley roughly in the middle of the country, and the bulk of the population lives in that part of the land. About two-thirds of the population is mixed European and Indian, and a tiny 5% or so is unmixed Indian. About a quarter are unmixed European, mostly Spanish, reflecting the country’s 300 years as a Spanish colony.

Chile is most popular with venturesome travelers, and, given its geography, Chile has much to offer active vacationers of all personality types. Activities range from mountaineering and scuba diving to horseback riding, mountain biking, kayaking and surfing.

Further, Chile calls itself a paradise for those who love to fish, and visitors can pursue this passion while housed in comfort at modern lodges with good food and wine. Tastings of Chilean wines are another popular choice for all personality types.

There are opportunities to interact with and learn more about native ethnic groups. In addition, most visitors like the wildlife, which includes alpacas, guanacos and llamas on land, plus, on beaches or in the ocean, dolphins, penguins, seals, sea lions and whales.

Finally, Chile’s territory encompasses Easter Island, noted for its mysterious collection of gigantic sculptures, and Juan Fernandez Archipelago, which includes an island called Robinson Crusoe because a former resident inspired a book of the same name.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Plan an itinerary that includes some or all of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Three are former mining centers: Sewell Camp in the Andes and Humberstone and Santa Laura in the Atacama Desert.
  • Eat typical foods, such as the cazuela, a broth with rice, potato, corn on the cob and some meat; the  pastel de choclo, a corn pie with meat and vegetables; empanadas, pastries filled with meat, and pan amasado, a heavy bread baked in a wood-burning stove.
  • Hire a guide in Coyhaique in order to get into position to observe condors in the Andes.
  • Go canoeing or kayaking. Chile boasts numerous rivers and lakes where these are on offer.
  • Take Spanish language classes in Chile.
  • Given the Andes extend the full length of the country, it is no wonder mountain biking is a option in many places, even at the southernmost region, Tierra del Fuego.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Chile counts 11 wine routes. Choose one and arrange to follow it — after ascertaining if the vineyards on your preferred route are open to visitors.
  • Go skiing in the Andes.
  • Add on an excursion to Easter Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a place with a cultural history like no other.
  • Visit San Pedro’s Father La Paige Museum to see mummies found in the Atacama Desert. Also, from San Pedro, see some of the desert’s natural wonders, including one of the world’s largest geyser fields, the El Tatio Geysers.
  • Go horseback riding. The option is available in several parks.
  • Carry a good digital camera and fill a memory card with shots of alpacas, guanacos and llamas. If birds are the your wildlife of choice, photograph penguins at the Humboldt Penguin Reserve.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Sample Chilean wines (which are better than you think) and buy a bottle to take home, remembering to put it into your checked luggage if you don’t buy in a duty-free shop at the airport.
  • Book an inclusive fishing lodge and enjoy plenty of fly-fishing.
  • Given the extensive geothermal activity in the country, Chile has numerous hot springs located in all its climate zones. The associated spa facilities vary from rustic to five-star resorts. Choose the one that suits you.
  • Book a cruise that will bring you to Chilean cruise ports.
  • Buy Indian handicrafts in an outdoor market.
  • The port city of Valparaiso is built on 45 hills, and its historic area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walk the city’s byways, up and down the hills, to appreciate why its preservation is deemed important.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Chile National Tourism Service at and choose your language if necessary.