Atacama Desert: The Atacama Desert sidles up to the coast along the Pacific Ocean and reaches up into the Andes Mountains. Even though Atacama gets almost no rainfall, there are some pockets of water in salt lakes, remnants from earlier periods, and it snows at higher elevations. In this rugged and largely untouched wilderness, adventurers come to experience the stark and stunning landscapes. Some excursions by horseback take in Moon Valley and a 12th-century Indian fortress, while other options include desert hikes, visits to an archaeological site, and travel to El Tatio at 4,267 m/14,000 ft.
Balmaceda: Balmaceda has Aysen Region’s largest airport and meteorological station. The first settlers arrived in early 20th century. In 1917, Balmaceda was officially founded and was named after the Chilean president Jose Manuel Balmaceda. It was initially one of the largest inland Chilean settlements in what is now the Aysen Region.
Carretera Austral: The Carretera Austral in northern Patagonia is an out-of-the-way destination. Patagonia at its absolute wildest. Lush forests, glaciers, hidden lakes and the stunning marble caves are all part of the scenery in this region. Sailing through the fjords, trekking in pristine parks, ice camping, kayaking on Lake General Carrera, and rafting down the turquoise waters of Baker River.
Chiloe Island: This is the largest of 30 islands of the Chiloe Archipelago off the southern coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean. It is the first island to come into sight crossing the Chacao Channel by ferry, which is home to the variety of potato most widely grown throughout the world. Having lived for centuries isolated from the mainland, the “Chilotes” developed a strong, self-reliant culture, rich in folklore, mythology and tradition. Chiloe has craft markets, museum exhibitions, seafood and a unique architectural heritage. Wildlife visiting the island include blue whales, Chilean dolphins and Peale’s dolphins, sea lions, marine otters and Magellanic and Humboldt penguins.
Easter Island: Few places have gripped the world’s imagination more than Easter Island with its giant stone figures. Some 600 mysterious, stone moai figures dot the island. This lonely speck of land is about 3,701 km/ 2,300 mi. west of Santiago in the Pacific Ocean. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rapa Nui National Park includes Ahu Vinapu’s Inca-like precise stonework; Rano Raraku quarry where the giant figures were carved; and Rano Kao with it curious ruins of the village of Orongo, a likely center for the ancient birdman cult. Other areas include historic Ana Tepahu caverns; Puna Pao quarry, source of the giant red cylinders crowning many of the statues; Rano Raraku Volcano; and the toppled moai of Akahanga.
Elqui River Valley: The Elqui River Valley presents beautiful landscapes that produce fruits and vegetables, especially grapes for export and for local pisco production. The skies here are among the clearest in the southern hemisphere, making this an ideal location for astronomical observatories in the summits of Tololo and Pachon Hills. The sky also attracts UFO hunters. The area has notable archaeological sites including Alcohuaz and Cochiguaz. Vicuna, the main city in the valley, is the birthplace of the Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1945 and the National Prize for Literature in 1951. Hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, river kayaking, swimming, vineyard visits, and windsurfing are some of the activities to savor. Places to visit include the Gabriela Mistral Museum, the Mamalluca Observatory Center, “Cavas del Valle” Vineyard, considered the highest in Chile, and the Cerro Tololo Observatory.
Futaleufu River: This river in the heart of Chilean Patagonia is one of premier whitewater rafting destinations in the world. The river is set in a breathtaking landscape of peaks and spires and the snow-packed crown of the Andes. The river is born in the glacial snow melt fed by a chain of lakes in the Los Alerces National Park and Chile. The river gorge drops as low as 1,700 m/5,600 ft. below the surrounding glaciated peaks. The turquoise-tinted waters are produced by the glaciers. Adventures include whitewater rafting, kayaking, hiking and horseback riding.
Northern Chile: This fascinating region is well off the tourism beat, yet offers a range of exceptional adventures. Small towns and villages such as Rio Hurtado and Pisco Elqui are set in the Andes amid striking mountain landscapes. The Altiplano is Chile’s link with the great civilizations of the Central Andes. Even now, the traditional, nomadic Aymara people wander the Altiplano with their domesticated llamas and alpacas. Experienced riders venture out on an expedition to “the roof of the Andes,” at heights up to 3,800 m/12,467 ft. Nature hikes, a visit to an unusual winery and ancient petroglyphs, some dating back 4,000 years, make this an intriguing exploration. Rock carvings depict strange masked faces, animals and other images. The caves of Pichasca were a ceremonial site with some of the oldest traces of human settlement in the region. Lauca National Park is in Chile’s far north, a land of with high plains and mountains with striking, large volcanoes.
Patagonia: Patagonia is a vast region at the southernmost tip of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile. Civilizations with mystical rites, sailors and pioneers, explorers all have contributed to its reputation. In the heart of the region, Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park boasts incomparable scenes of granite peaks, glaciers, lakes and waterfalls. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the strikingly handsome Torres del Paine is the centerpiece of the park. It links the Magellanic subpolar forests and the Patagonian Steppes. Bernardo O’Higgins National Park borders it to the west, while Los Glaciares National Park is just to the north in Argentina. The scenery is dominated by the Paine massif, an eastern spur of the Andes located east of Grey Glacier. Small valleys separate mighty granite spires and mountains of the massif. Outdoor pursuits include climbing, fly fishing, sailing, horseback riding, kayaking and mountaineering.
Patagonia Cruises: Cruises from four to seven days travel through the Southern Patagonia Ice Field. Each cruise navigates through channels, past fjords and glaciers, and sails through Montanas Fjord, past the enormous mountains. Trekkers can walk into the forest to the base of the Bernal Glacier, with its bluish ice free from contamination. The fjord is the furthest point of the Southern Ice Fields. The ice mass feeds dozens of glaciers in the area, among which are the Upsala, Viedma and Perito Moreno in Glaciers National Park in Argentina.
Pucon: Pucon is a small city in the middle of the southern lake region. It was established in 1883 as a fort after Chile’s government conquered the indigenous population. The Andes here change into a series of spectacular volcanoes, age-old forests and lakes of distinctive beauty. This is a fashionable resort area with abundant outdoor activities such as glacier trekking, horseback riding, boating and mountain biking.
Santiago & Winelands: Santiago is a capital city that is one of Latin America’s most modern metropolitan areas. With the amenities of a world-class city, it boasts some of Latin America’s most modern transportation infrastructure, including a metro system. Santiago is headquarters to many global companies and is a regional financial center. Set in a valley with a mild Mediterranean climate, the city’s charms are found in its old quarter, European-style districts, Spanish colonial churches, gardens and government palaces. Chile’s famous wine estates are nearby – the region is the center of a thriving wine-growing tradition dating back to the mid-16th century. Many historical wine estates remain family-run. In Maipo Valley, visitors learn about Chile’s rich wine heritage.
Valparaiso: For 500 years, Valparaiso has been a port of call for vessels from around the world. This colorful city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From conquistadors and pirates to Charles Darwin and James Whistler, all came in search of some form of treasure. Its hilltop suburbs are reached by funicular railways and stairway footpaths. Vina del Mar is called the Garden City for its many parks and gardens. It was developed in the 1870s as an exclusive retreat for the wealthy.
Best Time to Go
The warm summer months, December to February, are popular times to visit southern Chile. Winds are also strongest during these months. In winter, May to September, travel is limited as most trails are closed and waterways frozen. Ski season in central Chile usually begins in June. October/November and March/April typically have slightly lower temperatures, less wind and fewer travelers. Northern Chile’s Atacama Desert and Easter Island are year-round destinations.
Day 1: Santiago, Chile / Chiloe Island
Chiloe is the biggest island in a magical archipelago known for distinctive folklore, mythology, cuisine and unique architectural heritage.
Days 2/3: Chiloe Island
Chiloe has craft markets, museum exhibitions, and a variety of marine life in the surrounding waters.
Day 4: Chiloe / Futaleufu River
Futaleufu River is a world-class whitewater rafting destination in a brilliantly stunning setting in the heart of Chilean Patagonia.
Days 5/6: Futaleufu River
Whitewater rafting, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding are among the best activities available in this mountain paradise.
Day 7: Futaleufu River / Carretera Austral
Patagonia is a vast region in the southernmost tip of South America and Carretera Austral is its best kept secret.
Days 8/9: Carretetera Austral
Marble caves and glamping on a glacier are just two of the unique experiences to be had here.
Day 10: Carretera Austral / Balmaceda / Depart
Atacama Desert (4 days)
This largely untouched wilderness boasts dramatic and ancient scenery, a 12th-century Indian fortress and the Tatio geysers that rise to 4,267 m/14,000 ft.
Easter Island (5 days)
Easter Island and its giant stone sculptures are among the handful of places in the world that remain shrouded in mystery and myth.
Elqui River Valley (3 days)
The skies here are among the clearest in the southern hemisphere making it ideal for stargazers and UFO enthusiasts. Hiking, horseback riding, mountain bike, river kayaking, swimming, vineyard visits are some of the adventures available.
Northern Chile (4-7 days)
Largely untouched by tourism, this unusual area offers horseback riding adventures “to the roof of the Andes,” ancient rock art and even a winery visit.
Patagonian Cruises (4-7 days)
Cruises travel through the utterly compelling Southern Patagonia Ice Fields to reveal blue ice and old glaciers.
Pucon & Land of the Mapuche (4 days)
Lofty mountains, spectacular volcanoes and age-old forests beckon with their distinctive beauty, and Pucon is the traditional territory of the ancient Mapuche culture.
Valparaiso (2 days)
The 500-year-old port of Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its steep funiculars and colorful, clifftop homes. An influx of European immigrants left their mark on the city’s architecture and cultural institutions.
$800-$1100 per person, per day. Land only, double occupancy.