If you’re looking for a unique travel adventure, you can’t do better than Chile. Chile extends only 271 miles between its most distant eastern and western points, but the long blade of a country runs 2,670 miles from north to south, more than enough room for a stunning array of impressive natural and man-made landscapes.
Here are the top eleven reasons to visit Chile for a cultural, biological and geological experience that you literally cannot find anywhere else in the world.
Santiago’s numerous distinctive neighbourhoods offer a variety of intriguing attractions; the city is very pedestrian friendly and visitors will feel quite comfortable on biking or walking tours.
Santiago’s Mercado Central is a sprawling market housed in a massive historic cast iron building. The Mercado Central draws Chileans of every stripe, who select from a bountiful display of fresh fish, meat, vegetables and produce. Formal restaurants and informal eateries are wedged among the rows of stalls, and the people-watching is as interesting as the shopping.
2. Wine time
Chile’s eternal rivalry with Argentina has led residents of the former to estimate they produce 10 times as much wine as their beloved neighbors. Indeed, Chile is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of wine and its eighth-largest producer according to Tourism Ministry estimates.
Most importantly for visitors, wine-making regions within an hour of downtown Santiago are accessible for personalized tours. The Colchagua Valley is Chile’s premier wine-making region, home to about 20 wineries which formed the foundation of the country’s original wine route, established 15 years ago.
3. Valparaiso’s funiculars
The historic coastal city offers a visual feast hinted at by its nicknames “San Francisco of the South” and “Jewel of the Pacific. Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage city built upon a network of 42 steep hills dotted with brightly colored buildings winding upward from the shore.
Chile’s southern Patagonia region is a land of mountains, fjords, lakes and forests offering relatively isolated and inspiring landscapes far from the crowds. The resort town of Puerto Varas was dates back to colonization by German immigrants in the mid- to late 1880s. Their influence remains in the city’s numerous homes and public buildings finished in German period architectural styles.
5. The Greatest Biodiversity
The Tropical Andes is officially considered the area of our planet with the greatest variety of lifeforms. It covers an area of 485,716 square miles, running from the northern mountains of Chile up through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and finishing in Venezuela. So far scientists have identified a huge 45,000 species of plants, 1,666 birds, 414 mammals, and 1,309 reptiles and amphibians living in this extraordinarily vibrant strip of land, and they’re not even finished yet! This amazing diversity is caused by the dramatic peaks and valleys of the Andes, which create a whole host of different habitats within a limited space.
6. The Oldest Mummy
When thinking of ancient civilisations and mummification, it’s usually the pyramids of ancient Egypt that spring to mind first. But Chile has a rich and extensive pre-Columbian culture of its own to appeal to fans of history. In fact, Chile can lay claim to the oldest human-made mummy that has been discovered in the world so far, which was found in Arica in the very north of the country. Mummification was practiced by the Chinchorro people some two thousand years before the Egyptian mummies and the oldest mummy of all, that of a small child, dates back to 5050 BC.
7. The Longest Mountain Range
The whole length of Chile is dominated by the Andean Cordillera, the longest continental mountain range in the world. Of course not all of it is in Chile and in fact the mountains run continuously for about 4,300 miles, through seven Latin American countries. As a result, there’s almost nowhere you can go in Chile that isn’t chock full of staggering scenery and opportunities for adventure ranging from a day hike in the Andes, to climbing, white water rafting, skiing and snowboarding. Even the capital city Santiago is surrounded by breathtaking snow-frosted peaks and is a great jumping-off point for the mountains.
8. Sand boarding & star gazing
By day, strap on a sand board and hit the slopes of the immense sand dunes. By night, San Pedro is one of the best spots on earth to whet your astrological appetite. The high altitude conditions of dry air and very few clouds make it a perfect place to view a star-studded sky.
9. Incredible mountain adventures
Hiking, climbing, kayaking, and camping in the Torres del Paine attract thrill seekers from all over the world. Puerto Natales is the main town and a popular starting point for tourists to arrange their Patagonian adventures. Other than Torres del Paine, many explore Bernardo O’Higgins National Park (one of the largest protected areas in Chile) or take part in an intimate penguin experience from Punta Arenas.
10. The Driest Desert
Ironically, the driest desert on earth - the Atacama Desert - is located next to the world’s largest body of water, the Pacific Ocean. Some areas of the Atacama Desert haven’t seen any kind of rain for over 400 years, whilst others see just 1 millimetre a year. The lack of clouds makes this a popular spot for astronomers, both amateur and professional alike, who come to enjoy a clear view of the star-studded skies. And once every three to five years, the El Niño phenomenon causes an increase in winter rainfall, triggering a spectacular bloom of brightly coloured flowers that transforms the desert into another world.
11. The Highest Volcano
If you were going to choose one country to look for the world’s highest volcano, Chile would be a good place to start. The country is home to around 620 volcanoes in total - although fortunately only 36 are listed as currently active - but the summit of Ojos del Salado in the Atacama region puts them all in the shade at 6,910 metres high. Due to its position near the Atacama Desert, the mountain is generally dry and snow-free, making it a great location for a fairly easy hike. You might even catch a slight smell of sulphur on the breeze, a gentle reminder that this is still an active volcano.