SANTIAGO: A MODERN METROPOLIS BETWEEN MOUNTAINS AND SEA
Santiago de Chile is located in the country’s central valley, at the foot of the Andes Mountains with its world-class ski resorts, and less than two hours’ drive from the superb beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Santiago, home to over a third of all Chilean citizens, combines the conveniences of a modern metropolis with the tradition of a city steeped in colonial history. Visitors delight in its outstanding variety of museums, parks, and exhibition areas – not to mention countless restaurants and entertainment venues, from the charming artists’ quarter of Bellavista and its vivid nightlife, to the trend-setting restaurants of the elegant Las Condes district. And with Chilean wines gaining ever-increasing world renown, the nearby countryside offers plenty of opportunities to visit both traditional, well-established vineyards and dynamic, up-and-coming wineries.
VALPARAISO: CULTURAL CAPITAL & WORLD HERITAGE CITY
Valparaíso, which lies on the coast just to the northwest of Santiago, is considered Chile’s cultural capital. This charming port city takes its distinctive character from the steep hills, covered with colourful houses and winding streets, which ring the harbour. The city’s famous funicular elevators provide quick access to the hilltops, where a spectacular panoramic view awaits. Lower down, visitors can enjoy some of the best seafood in the country, amid the colonial architecture of the historic city centre. Valparaíso was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2003, joining cities like Venice, Prague, and Istanbul.
SOUTHERN LAKE REGION: FAIRY-TALE SCENERY, PUERTO VARAS AND SEAFOOD
The Southern Lake Region is a world of dramatic volcanoes and peaceful lakes, with the high Andes Mountains soaring in the background. Its fairy-tale scenery and unique selection of plants and animals can be easily enjoyed via hiking, climbing, rafting, riding, sailing, kayaking, fishing, and countless other outdoor activities. When a traveller awakes in Puerto Varas and looks out over the deep-blue waters of Lake Llanquihue, surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of Osorno, Calbuco and Puntiagudo volcanoes, it’s easy to think that the city exists for aesthetic rather than economic reasons. Puerto Varas was founded by German settlers in 1854, and German culture remains evident throughout the area; for example, visitors will find a wide range of delicious cakes to sample here. In fact, the region has plenty to offer in terms of its cuisine, which makes use of the best that the nearby sea provides: salmon, crabs, mussels, king crabs, oysters, and much more. Puerto Varas serves as an excellent base for excursions in the Lake District to Todos los Santos Lake, the waterfalls of Petrohue, and the little village of Frutillar, with its museum which recounts the history of German colonization. And just to the south lies the harbour of Puerto Montt, starting-point for sea cruises to the south, and home of the entertaining Angelmó fish- and handcraft market. Whether you’re seeking an active holiday, or can think of nothing better than to enjoy a magnificent landscape with a good glass of wine, the southern Lake Region is for you.
EASTER ISLAND: GIANT STATUES IN FAR RAPA NUI
Easter Island, known to its native Polynesian inhabitants as Rapa Nui, lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At about 3.800 km from the mainland and 4.200 km from Tahiti, Easter Island is the most remote place on earth. The island has a triangular shape, with the cone of an extinct volcano at each of its three points. Despite its small size – not measuring even 25 km in length or breadth – and its centuries-long isolation from the rest of the world, Easter Island nevertheless has a rich heritage of history, art and culture. In fact, the entire island seems to be an open-air museum, with nearly 1000 “moai” (statues), cult sites, and ancient cave dwellings open to the public. A large part of Easter Island is protected as Rapa Nui National Park, which was established in 1935, and which, like Valparaíso, is listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
ATACAMA DESERT: MOONSCAPES AND GEYSERS IN THE RAINLESS DESERT
The small oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama is located in the middle of the Atacama Desert, the driest location on earth. San Pedro is blessed with a wealth of nearby natural attractions, which have summoned tourists to the area for decades. A few of these natural and archaeological highlights include the picturesque El Tatio geysers, the dramatic Valley of the Moon, the ancient fortress of Pucará de Quitor, the thermal springs of Puritama, and the fascinating Padre Le Paige Museum. Fortunately, San Pedro never seems to change, with its sandy streets and low adobe houses apparently untouched by the stream of visitors who come to experience the incomparable Atacama Desert.
PATAGONIA: THE BEAUTIFUL ‘END OF THE WORLD’
Patagonia is the well-known name for a little-known region at the southern ‘end of the world.’ One of the planet’s last areas to have survived almost unchanged by man, its glaciers and high mountain peaks astonish visitors with their unique magic. Punta Arenas, with a population of 150,000, is the capital of the Magallanes Region. The city’s airport makes it the first stopping-point for most visitors to the area, but Punta Arenas is inviting in its own right, with an excellent infrastructure and a lovely city centre. Puerto Natales is located to the north, on Ultima Esperanza (“Last Hope”) Fjord, near both Torres del Paine National Park and Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina – a site which makes it the perfect starting point for many trips and excursions. Patagonia’s (and perhaps Chile’s) uncontested natural highlight is the national park’s three granite peaks – the ‘Torres del Paine’ – which reach steeply into the sky, providing iconic photographs and stirring memories for all who visit. The northern borders of the park are covered by mighty glaciers, and among the park’s wildlife are herds of guanaco and hundreds of bird species, including condors and rheas, large flightless birds similar to ostriches. For visitors, clothing providing warmth and good rain and wind protection is a must – but the best planning will take into account the locals’ advice: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait fifteen minutes.”
Punta Arenas is the capital of the Magellan region and has a population of 150,000. Due to its strategic location on the Magellan Straight, the city is used by merchant ships to this day. For this reason, as well as the growth in sheep farming during the 19th century, Punta Arenas enjoyed great wealth in the past. The city’s origins can actually be found 60km/37mi south of Punta Arenas, at the Fuerte Bulnes fortification. This is where the first pioneers lived for five years, before a more suitable spot was located in 1848, after which Punta Arenas was founded. The reconstructed site of this first settlement is now an open-air museum. Apart from the mansions of the sheep barons on Plaza Muñoz Gamero, Punta Arenas’ touristic appeal lies in its cemetery, in particular, whose many family tombs and chapels make it probably the most impressive cemetery in Chile. An excellent view across the entire city with its red, blue and yellow roofs, as well as of the port, can be enjoyed from the summit of the Cerro de la Cruz. Additional attractions here are the Andino ski centre on the edge of town, where visitors can ski and enjoy sea views at the same time; and also the Forestal Magallanes nature reserve. The views from here reach all the way to the Magellan Straight and Tierra del Fuego.