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With Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
By Steph Dyson
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 14, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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- Flexible itineraries, from two days in Santiago to the two-week best of Chile, including a road trip along the Carretera Austral
- Strategic advice for outdoor adventurers, backpackers, culture and history buffs, foodies, and more
- Outdoor adventures: Race down the ski slopes of the Andes, summit active volcanoes, or catch a thrill whitewater rafting down Río Futaleufú. Spend the night star-gazing in the Atacama Desert or wander the enigmatic Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Hike through Patagonia’s wild national parks and spot wild foxes and Humboldt penguins
- Detailed hike descriptions with individual trail maps marked with duration, elevation change, and difficulty level
- Local flavors and culture: Explore the trendy restaurants and vibrant nightlife of Santiago or savor the catch of the day at a tiny seaside restaurant. Sip your way through the vineyards of the Casablanca Valley, sample locally-made pisco, or let loose with a terremoto cocktail. Get to know Chile’s rich culture and history while strolling through charming historic quarters and visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites
- Insider recommendations from seasoned explorer and Chile expert Steph Dyson on when to go, where to eat, how to get around, and where to stay
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Reliable background information on the landscape, climate, wildlife, and history
- Handy tips for families, seniors, students, and travelers with disabilities
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
IF YOU HAVE…
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR…
The Best of Chile
BEST HIKES AND TREKS
Explore the Atacama Desert
Carretera Austral Road Trip
Getaway to the Lakes District and Chiloé
Superlative in beauty and scale and at times utterly wild, Chile is a truly unique South American nation, where you can venture from desert to glacier and from pristine coastline to soaring mountaintop, all in one trip. Those seeking an unforgettable adventure will not be disappointed.
Chile is a place that, in many ways, doesn’t make an awful lot of sense, defined as it is by huge contrasts. It’s bookended to the east and west by the snow-cloaked Andes Mountains and the freezing waters of the Pacific Ocean. The dry desert north and the lush Patagonian south are different in every conceivable way, from the colors of the landscapes to the traditions and ethnic makeup of the people—but both somehow still represent Chile.
When I head to a national park or drive out into the mountains, there is always something new that delights me. I stumble on a bewitching glacial lake or watch in awe as the stars light up the sky above a soothing hot spring tucked away in a mountain valley.
Chile is the ideal place to stray from the main roads. Go wilderness camping in a silent forest in Patagonia. Stargaze in the Atacama Desert. Ski down the flank of a snow-covered volcano. Peel back Chile’s layers and see the world from a new perspective.
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Trek Through Parque Nacional Torres del Paine: In Chile’s top hiking destination, you’ll encounter precarious glaciers, milky blue lakes, and iconic granite spires.
2 Road-Trip Down the Carretera Austral: Experience the northern part of Patagonia by car, and you’ll pass through some of the country’s wildest lands and its least visited national parks.
3 Admire Chilote Architecture: Even though it’s not far from the mainland, Chiloé is culturally distinct from the rest of the country. See multicolored palafitos (houses on stilts) perched above the water and check out the archipelago’s ingeniously assembled churches.
4 Stargaze in the Atacama Desert: Northern Chile has some of the globe’s darkest skies. There’s no better way to behold the heavens than on a star-gazing tour.
5 Spot Chilean Wildlife: Keep your eyes peeled for some of the most interesting animal species in the country, like penguins, whales, and pumas.
6 Venture to the Ends of the Earth: Take a boat cruise through the labyrinthine Chilean fjords and visit Cape Horn. It may not literally be the ends of the earth, but the remote and windswept area certainly feels that way.
7 Go Wine-Tasting: Visit Valle de Casablanca, Valle de San Antonio, and Valle de Colchagua to explore Chile’s top wineries and vineyards. If you’re short on time, you can even do a quick day trip from Santiago to Valle de Maipo.
8 Set Foot on Rapa Nui: You may have heard of it as Easter Island. This Polynesian island far from the mainland is like nowhere else on the planet.
9 Explore Charming Cities: Eat at world-class restaurants in cosmopolitan Santiago and ride the ascensores of bohemian Valparaíso (pictured).
10 Get an Adrenaline Rush: Sandboarding, surfing, and white-water rafting are just some of the nearly endless adventures possible in Chile.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
In the country’s most modern city, fine-dining restaurants rub shoulders with typical Chilean bistros and spirited live music venues. Historic buildings host museums and cultural centers remembering Chile’s colorful history. The capital city’s backdrop of the snowcapped Andes means skiing, hiking, and remote weekend escapes are never far away.
Valparaíso and Viña del Mar
On the coast west of Santiago is a cooler climate and crisper air, housing the seductive beach resort towns of hilly bohemian Valparaíso and modern Viña del Mar, where Chile’s rich and famous kick back during the summer. Picture-perfect coastal towns surround the two cities to the north and south, boasting glorious sun-drenched beaches. Nearby, the Valle de Casablanca is laced with long-standing vineyards.
Norte Grande and the Atacama Desert
Stretching from the border with Peru, the seemingly barren plains of the Norte Grande fold into the spine of the Andes. The region is home to the mummies of Arica, colossal waves beloved by surfers, and abandoned mining towns. The gateway to the Atacama Desert is San Pedro de Atacama, a place that promises lunar landscapes, otherworldly salt flats, and unparalleled stargazing.
The Norte Chico is a region of inviting coastlines, green valleys, and wilderness that sees few international visitors. The unsung Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar, a reserve of remote beaches and wildlife, is one of the region’s greatest draws. Chañaral de Aceituno is the country’s top spot for whale-watching. In Parque Nacional Llanos de Challe, rare periods of rainfall lead to one of Chile’s strangest sights: the desierto florido (flowering desert), when the otherwise barren land blooms with wildflowers in countless hues. Inland, the verdant Valle de Elqui produces Chile’s national spirit, pisco.
Sliced in half by Chile’s main highway, the fertile Central Valley is crisscrossed by grapevines and framed by ski resorts on the shoulders of volcanoes. But the Central Valley has more to offer than just wineries and adventure sports. Coastal Concepción, the largest city in the region and the capital of Chilean rock music, is the gateway to a range of fascinating historical monuments and towns.
With its backdrop of perfectly conical volcanoes, lush Valdivian temperate rainforest, and shimmering lakes, the Lakes District is Chile’s adventure capital. Hike through national parks populated by unique flora and fauna, including the iconic araucaría (monkey puzzle tree). Summit the active Volcán Villarrica, relax in natural hot spring pools, and learn about the region’s indigenous Mapuche people in this beautiful region.
The Chiloé Archipelago dances to the beat of its own drum, with a traditional and relaxed pace of life. This is one of Chile’s lushest ecosystems. Parque Nacional Chiloé and remote Parque Tantauco are excellent places to encounter endemic wildlife such as the pudú (pygmy deer). The area is known for its architecture, which includes historic wooden churches and colorful palafitos (houses on stilts).
Northern Patagonia and the Carretera Austral
Northern Patagonia is a landscape of dense forests and hidden glaciers. Drive Chile’s greatest road trip on the Carretera Austral, a mainly unpaved highway. It traverses the region, snaking through barely populated land and world-class national parks filled with quiet trails and rare wildlife.
Southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego
The emblematic granite spires of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine have made this South America’s hiking capital. It’s also a wildlife haven, home to penguin colonies and waters rich in marinelife. Tierra del Fuego is perhaps Chile’s least-explored area, a landscape of steppe and snowcapped mountains that attracts hikers, adventurers, and fly-fishers.
Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Over three thousand kilometers from the mainland, Rapa Nui is Chile’s most enigmatic island, home to massive and awe-inspiring moai statues. Occupying most of the island is Parque Nacional Rapa Nui, Rapa Nui’s biggest draw, where you can see the moai and other monuments of this early culture. Relax in the laid-back town of Hanga Roa, or join in the celebration of the Rapa Nui culture during the annual Tapati Rapa Nui festival.
When to Go
Seasons in Chile are reversed from the seasons in the northern hemisphere. December-February is summer, and June-August is winter. September-November is spring, and March-May is fall. Unlike most South American destinations, Chile doesn’t have a specific rainy season, although most areas see more rainfall April-September.
Orcas and humpback, blue, and sei whales appear off the Pacific coast and in the Chilean fjords late November-April. Magellanic and Humboldt penguins breed on small islets off the coast September-March.
Summer offers warm days and warmer nights across the country and sees crowds in Patagonia, Rapa Nui, San Pedro de Atacama, and the Lakes District. Easter Week (Semana Santa) and the school holidays during the last two weeks of July are also high tourist season. Expect crowds and high prices at the ski resorts during this period.
Hotel prices, airfares, and bus fares soar during these periods. Booking in advance, in some cases up to two months ahead, is necessary. This is also the case for Chile’s 17 or so public holidays, when most restaurants and shops are closed. Many of the country’s main festivals and celebrations take place during summer.
Patagonia is best experienced in the shoulder seasons, October-November and March-April, when the weather is still warm and the fierce summer winds die down. While there is a growing trend toward accommodations and other tourist businesses opening earlier and staying open later in the season each year, some may not be open at the ends of these windows. In the rest of the country, these months are also a good time for tourist-free beaches. Independence Day celebrations are September 18-19 nationwide.
Before You Go
Passports and Visas
Visitors from the United States must have a valid passport to enter Chile. No visa is required, but your airline may ask you for proof of onward travel before you board. Upon arrival, travelers are normally given an entry stamp for 90 days. Australian nationals must pay a reciprocity fee at the airport. All visitors are given paper entry receipts, which must be presented at departure.
To travel in Patagonia during the December-February high season, book accommodations a few months in advance. For lodgings along the W and O routes in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, prebooking is compulsory; expect to book your lodgings at least three months in advance.
Overland bus transportation can be booked on the day of departure, but if you’re traveling in Patagonia, it’s best to reserve a few days in advance. Boat transport can normally be arranged up to the week of travel.
Vaccinations and Insurance
No vaccinations are required for travel to Chile, but routine vaccinations should be up to date. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccinations against hepatitis A and typhoid. Rabies shots are recommended for those traveling to remote destinations.
Medical care in Chile is of a high standard, but buying health insurance before traveling is recommended, as private medical treatment can be expensive.
Car rental is easy to arrange in cities across the country. Rates are more favorable when you book in advance, particularly during the high season, when demand can often exceed supply in parts of Patagonia and around San Pedro de Atacama.
Most travelers arrive by air to Santiago’s modern Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport. Other international airports include Aeropuerto Internacional El Tepual in Puerto Montt, and Aeropuerto Internacional Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo in Punta Arenas.
The main overland routes into Chile are from Mendoza and El Calafate, Argentina. Crossing into Arica from Peru in the far north is also common.
Domestic flights are the most comfortable means of covering large distances in Chile and are becoming increasingly affordable. Long-distance buses are slower but comfortable. For budget travelers, they are often the most practical form of transport. Renting a car allows far more flexibility and provides access to national parks that are otherwise difficult to reach. Budget plenty of time for car travel, as driving distances are vast.
Public transportation is very reliable across the country. In Santiago, the metro and bus systems are affordable and easy to use. Taxis are reliable and generally safe.
It’s possible to take a boat along the Patagonian coasts and fjords, with local passenger ferries and upmarket cruise ships offering a unique perspective of Chile. Adventurous travelers can also cover the full length of the country by bicycle.
What to Take
For hiking in Patagonia, waterproof jacket, hiking boots, and pants are a good idea, along with trekking poles. A waterproof camera bag or dry bags are useful to protect electronics from the rain. A 60-liter backpack for long-distance trails in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine provides enough space for camping equipment and food.
Motion sickness pills can be a welcome antidote to rough ferry journeys. Binoculars for whale-watching or bird-watching are useful. To protect against the sun, a wide-brimmed hat and high-SPF sunblock are essential. Pack plenty of light layers for cold nights.
The Best of Chile
Chile’s sinewy length is matched by a wealth of places to visit. It’s no mean feat to pack in the country’s highlights in a two-week trip. Stand in awe of some of its most jaw-dropping landscapes and remotest national parks while soaking up history and culture. This itinerary is selective and fast-paced. It requires a number of domestic flights to cover the necessary long distances between attractions.
Arrive in the morning into Santiago’s Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benítez and take a taxi to the city center. Drop your luggage at the stylish boutique hotel The Aubrey, in the heart of Barrio Bellavista.
In the vibrant Barrio Lastarria, take the paved path to the top of Cerro Santa Lucía for dazzling panoramas across the city to the mountains beyond.
Head to the Plaza de Armas, Santiago’s main square. Visit the 18th-century Catedral Metropolitana before spending an hour or so in the superb Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, exploring the underground room dedicated to pre-Colombian Chilean textiles, ceramics, and religious artifacts.
For dinner, get acquainted with the country’s diverse organic wines and creatively plated Chilean dishes at Polvo Bar de Vinos.
Valparaíso and Valle de Casablanca
Take the 1.5-hour bus ride west to the wine region of Valle de Casablanca and rent a taxi to take you around the nearby wineries. Drop in for a tasting and vineyard tour at Viñamar and Emiliana, then have lunch at Tanino, the on-site restaurant at Casas del Bosque.
Hop back on the public bus; it’s an hour-long journey to Valparaíso, where you can stay the night in Winebox, a hotel owned by the former winemaker of Casas del Bosque.
Start early for the 1.5-hour bus ride to Casa Museo Isla Negra, the sea-inspired home of poet Pablo Neruda, south of the city. Dine on baked parmesan razor clams at the museum’s restaurant, El Rincón del Poeta, before returning to Valparaíso.
Spend the afternoon visiting viewpoints in the graffiti-daubed hills of Cerro Alegre. Pop into the Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes for a history lesson about the city. Be sure to ride on a couple of the creaky ascensores, historic funiculars that transport passengers up the city’s steep hills.
Catch the bus to the Santiago airport and take an early-morning flight to Aeropuerto Internacional Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo (3.5 hours), the main airport in Patagonia. From the airport, a bus (3.25 hours) runs north to Puerto Natales, where you can wander among historic weatherworn buildings and watch birds from the banks of the mountain-fringed sound on which the town is situated. Note that it’s possible to fly directly to Puerto Natales from Santiago during high season. This will allow enough time for a half-day horseback tour at a nearby ranch.
Rent a car for the following day’s drive. Have dinner at the innovative Lenga (make a reservation ahead of time) before getting a good night’s sleep in elegant VinnHaus.
Leave early for the 2.5-hour drive to the southern entrance of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Take a three-hour boat tour with Turismo Lago Grey to the snout of the dazzling Glaciar Grey.
Have dinner at Hotel Lago Grey, where you’ll get views of bobbing icebergs on the lake. This is also a good spot to spend the night.
From your hotel, take the road through the national park to the Centro de Bienvenida. From here, take the trail to Mirador Las Torres (15km round-trip, 4 hours), a viewpoint of the park’s eponymous towers. It’s a steep climb up a rocky valley to reach the lake and granite peaks. Return the way you came.
Drive back to Puerto Natales. Treat yourself with a night in the gorgeous fjord-side hotel Simple Patagonia. Dine next door in The Singular Patagonia, with its lavish wine menu and gourmet Patagonian-inspired cuisine.
It’s time to visit Argentinean Patagonia. Board a bus (5hr) for El Calafate, Argentina. Continue on to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares,
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