Chile: the best places to visit in the land of fire and ice
| This Article was created in partnership with Wendy Wu Tours |
A narrow sliver of land between the towering Andes and the Pacific Ocean, Chile is blessed with natural beauty far beyond her size. Join Wendy Wu Tours on an adventure through this extraordinary land, from the fiery hues of the Atacama Desert in the north to the icy beauty of Patagonia in the south.
One of the driest places on Earth, the Atacama is exactly what you’d imagine Mars to look like. The simplicity of its shapes and colours affords the landscape a stark, crimson-hued beauty. Jagged triangles of rock form otherworldly valleys and ridges, while perfectly symmetrical volcanoes are brushed with the same red tones that shift to purple and black with the setting sun.
Enjoy the beauty of this desert spectacular by simply staying in the hub of San Pedro de Atacama or venture deeper to find a more varied palette. Your vista of the seemingly endless rocky plains are broken only by azure lakes populated with salmon-pink flamingos, the white geometric patterns of a salt lake, or the yellowish billows of steam produced by the geothermal pools and geysers. The Atacama is also the ideal place to stargaze. The night sky here is staggering in its complexity, with galaxies, planets and constellations visible to the naked eye. The Atacama Desert is truly unlike anywhere you’ve experienced before.
Santiago de Chile
Nestled in a bowl created by the Andes Mountains, whose peaks are easily visible throughout the city, cosmopolitan Santiago pulses with a love for life. Each of its vibrant neighbourhoods leaves a unique impression, from stately Centro (downtown), which is full of colonial architecture; to Bellavista with its relaxed and bohemian vibe; and boisterous Barrios Brasil.
On the coast, 100 kilometres from the capital, the port city of Valparaíso has a ramshackle, roguish charm. Perched on the cliffs above the industrial seafront is the city’s UNESCO-listed historic quarter. Here, the cerros or neighbourhoods are full of narrow streets lined with colourfully painted houses, chic cafes and boutiques, and artfully dilapidated mansions with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. Reached by funicular lifts, getting lost in this brightly hued maze is the perfect way to spend a day in the city.
Thanks to a long resistance to the advances of both the Inca and the Spanish, Chile’s Lake District was long a region of simple farming settlements and the indigenous Mapuche people. Much of its thick forest remains today, dotted with deep lakes and watched over by snow-capped volcanoes. Towns such as Puerto Varas, on the banks of Lake Llanquihue, charmingly blend in with their surroundings and offer a gateway to the gorgeous nature they reside in.
In summer, you can hike the forested slopes of Volcan Osorno and in winter venture down on skis. At the foot of the volcano you’ll find thundering waterfalls and lush greenery. Explore Chiloé Island, part of an archipelago just off the coast, which is home to pastoral landscapes steeped in folklore and, often, an enigmatic fog. Don’t leave without taking a photograph of Chiloé’s ‘palafitos’ (overwater bungalows), and spotting as many of the island’s 150 charming wooden churches as possible.
Encompassing the tip of the South American continent, Patagonia is a region of wild grey seas, ice and rock. Its landscapes are pristine and, thanks to its huge scale, incredibly diverse. From the colourful town of Puerto Natales, you can cruise the desolate waters of the Ultima Esperanza Fjord to spot sea lions, snow-capped mountains and glaciers, before heading to Chilean Patagonia’s headline attraction, the Torres del Paine National Park.
Centred round a massif of towering granite columns, the eponymous Torres, this national park showcases the very best of Patagonia’s dramatic landscapes. Alpine valleys, grassy meadows, dramatic peaks, and sparkling blue lakes abound, all watched over by the mighty Grey Glacier. This is nature at its most magnificent, and totally unmissable.