Chile has always felt like something of a second home to me.
I moved with my family at aged 10 to the Falkland Islands, and aside from a gruelling 18 hour flight back to the UK with the RAF, the only way to get home was via connection in Chile. Rather unsurprisingly, the opportunity to break your 8000 mile home journey in this incredible country meant that for 5 years summer holidays invariably involved at least sometime in Chile, and that was where my love affair with the country was born. Six years after leaving the Falklands and returning to the UK, the third year of my university studies offered the opportunity to return, to spend a year in country perfecting my Spanish and exploring even more of the stunning destinations Chile has to offer.
So why is Chile such a special destination? I will try and explain exactly what is on offer, and why you should consider it for a trip in the future.
- Unique Geography. If I am honest Chile’s geography is in many ways ridiculous. Its only a few hundred kilometres wide at its widest point, crammed between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific, this in itself leads to a great selling point! There are few places in the world, where you can wake up in the capital city for breakfast, head out and enjoy a days skiing in the mountains, before enjoying a Pisco Sour (the national cocktail) on the beach at sundown, but that really is doable in Santiago. If getting East to West is easy, getting North to South is anything but. To travel from Arica, Chile’s northernmost city, to Punta Arenas the southernmost is around 4000km as the crow flies, or around the same distance as London to Nigeria. This country is definitely unique, and boy does it pack a lot in.
- Incredible Scenery. Being 4000km long, Chile is home to nearly every conceivable climate and ecosystem. The northern Atacama region is home to the world’s driest desert, there are parts of this expanse where it hasn’t rained for 400years, and it definitely feels like another world. The bright blue sky reaches down to the snow capped volcanic peaks, the red desert floor looks almost Martian, and the blinding white salt flats are home to flamingos and condors. Moving south, central Chile is a veritable breadbasket. The lush greenery is bountiful with orchards, vineyards and ranches, this is cowboy country and although perhaps not as famous as the Argentine Gauchos, the Chilean Huasos are no less skilled. In the 1800s the Chilean government actively encouraged Germans to settle in the Lake District area of the country, and there’s a distinct Bavarian flair to this land of bright blue lakes, verdant forest and picture perfect conical volcanoes. Finally there is the deep south, and Chile tends to leave its great panoramas to the end. The wilderness of Patagonia is breath taking, this is the realm of Guanacos (a type of Llama) and Pumas, a hikers dream amongst the iconic peaks of the Torres del Paine National Park.
- Surprises. Chile is known for its scenery and its outdoor activities, but there are some real surprised to be found outside of these. The Atacama is one of, if not the best place, to enjoy star gazing in the world. The lack of rain and cloud combined with the high altitude means the stars are so bright and clear it is easy to enjoy them even without a telescope. Hotels can organise tours with local experts if you are an enthusiast, or you can simply sit back and gaze at the heavens if you just want to enjoy the show. Chile is also home to superb road trips. Doing this in the Lake District is easy, with good tarmac roads and a well beaten path, meaning this is a really relaxing and enjoyable way to explore. For the adventurous though the Carretera Austral regularly features on best road trip in the world lists. Single track and gravel for the most part, a 4x4 is a necessity for this trip, as is an ability to change a tyre and live without mobile signal or Wi-Fi. For those who are happy to do so, some of the most awe-inspiring and least visited scenery in the world awaits.
- Culture. Chile is the birthplace of two Nobel prize-winning poets, world famous authors, and numerous artists and musicians. Literature has long been an important part of the Chilean Culture, and local heroes Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda both won Nobel Prizes for their work. Neruda is a cherished national icon who is strongly linked with the opposition to the dictatorship of the 1970s and 80s; visiting his houses in Santiago, Isla Negra and Valparaiso are a must. Valparaiso, a UNESCO World Heritage city on the coast, was once one of the most important ports on the Pacific. While the building of the Panama Canal reduced its importance, the port vibe has been replaced with a distinct Bohemian flair. Enjoy incredible street art, and interesting galleries, all crammed together in this gritty city.
- The People. The traditional Chilean Folk song ‘Si vas para Chile’ ends with the line that translates as "In Chile, you'll see how well they treat friends from abroad." And this is as true today as it was in the forties when it was written. Expect to be looked after and welcomed by the majority of the people you will meet. Chileans are a friendly lot, who in the main enjoy people visiting their country and showing it off to the world. They are known as ‘the British of South America’, a nickname they enjoy, and they have a genuine warmth towards the British who have historically been a long held Chilean ally. All in all it means you should be thoroughly cared for throughout your stay.
Hopefully that has whetted your appetite for visiting this amazing country. Feel free to contact us to discuss a trip in detail.