Chile is nature on a colossal scale, but travel here is surprisingly easy if you don't rush it.
Slow Adventure In Chile, adventure is what happens on the way to having an adventure. Pedal the chunky gravel of the Carretera Austral and end up sharing ferries with SUVs and oxcarts, taking a wrong turn and finding heaven in an anonymous orchard. Serendipity takes over. Plans may be made, but try being just as open to experience. Locals never rush, so maybe you shouldn’t either. 'Those who hurry waste their time,' is the Patagonian saying that would serve well as a traveler's mantra.
Wine Culture, Before wine became an export commodity for the luxury set, humble casks had their place on every Chilean table. Grandparents tended backyard orchards. Now, Chile has become a worldwide producer catering to ever more sophisticated palates. Rich reds, crisp whites and floral rosés, there is a varietal that speaks to every mood and occasion. But at home, it's something different. Chileans embrace the concept of la buena mesa. It’s not about fancy. Beyond a good meal, it’s great company, the leisure of overlapping conversations with uncorkings, and the gaze that's met at the clink of two glasses. Salud!
Meet A Land of Extremes, Preposterously thin and unreasonably long, Chile stretches from the belly of South America to its foot, reaching from the driest desert on earth to vast southern glacial fields. Diverse landscapes unfurl over a 4300km stretch: parched dunes, fertile valleys, volcanoes, ancient forests, massive glaciers and fjords. There's wonder in every detail and nature on a symphonic scale. For the traveler, it's boggling how so much has stayed intact for so long. The very human quest for development could imperil these treasures sooner than we think. Yet for now, Chile guards some of the most pristine parts of our planet, and they shouldn't be missed.La Buena Onda, In Chile, close borders foster backyard intimacy. Bookended by the Andes and the Pacific, the country averages just 175km wide. No wonder you start greeting the same faces. Pause and it starts to feel like home. Perhaps it's because you've landed at the end of the continent, but one thing that stands out is hospitality. Buena onda (good vibes) means putting forth a welcoming attitude. Patagonians share round upon round of maté tea. The ritual of relating and relaxing is so integral to the fabric of local life, it’s hardly even noticed. But they do say one thing: stay and let your guard down.
Santiago's arts scene is thriving, and visitors can explore a plethora of museums, such as La Chascona, dedicated to the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, which explores indigenous Chilean culture.
Stop by the Plaza des Armas, the city's main square, to relax and people watch for a taste of the real Santiago. For another burst of arts, visit the hip Barrio Brazil area, home to numerous museums and galleries. As night falls, hightail it to the Bellavista and Providencia neighborhoods, where much of Santiago's nightlife and restaurants thrive.
Of course, Valparaiso has a number of interesting museums to visit, including the Pablo Neruda Museum; the poet once lived in Valpo, as locals often refer to the city. Still, the greatest art in Valpo doesn't always lie within the confines of a museum. Rather, it's right on the streets: Valpo is home to an absurdly talented number of graffiti artists, and a discerning eye will catch some extraordinary work on building exteriors and streets.
The nightlife here is also legendary; artsy cafes, tango bars, dance clubs and pubs abound, like La Colombina or La Playa, and tend to close only when the last patron leaves -- usually sometime around sunrise.
Still, the statues are but one part of Easter Island's allure. Additional sites of interest include a museum, rock carvings and the volcanic crater. Active travelers will be pleased to learn it's also possible to scuba dive, snorkel, horseback ride and surf while on Easter Island. Flights serve the island from Santiago; be sure to confirm your ticket a day or 2 before flying, as the flights tend to be overbooked.
Not surprisingly, a handful of observatories are based here, and it's possible to visit, tour and skywatch at places like the European Southern Observatory. Base yourself in the town of San Pedro de Atacama and seek out one of the many tours offered from here into the desert. Plan to see sights like the Salar de Atacama, a dry lakebed, the Atacama Salt Flat, geysers, abandoned mining towns, ancient desert paintings of animals, and living animals like llamas, flamingos and goats.
With an altitude that ranges from nearly 10,000 feet to more than 20,000 feet at certain points, the park's elevation means that travelers should take it easy before embarking on any arduous activities to be sure they're acclimated to the thin air. Once you're ready to set out, make headway to Lago Chungaro, a scenic lake, and Parinacota Volcano, a dormant volcano towering above the lake. Also worth exploring are the park's volcanic calderas and lava fields.
Pucon is home to numerous outdoor outfitters promoting all kinds of adventure sports: Kayaking, trekking, mountain biking, rafting and horseback riding are among your options. Be sure to make your way to nearby Parque Nacional Villarrica, a 150,000-acre national park home to 3 volcanoes and scenic hiking trails.
Plan to visit the rocky spires known as Torres del Paine, a number of tiny villages, weather-worn gauchos, penguin-inhabited islands and the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the region's most popular destination.
Try to visit some of the famed wineries for tastings and tours, including Lapostolle, Casa Silva, Montes and Montgras wineries. Stop by the nearby city of Santa Cruz to pop into a tourism office to get information and maps of the wineries, as well as to join a formal tour of the region.