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Video courtesy of Chile Tourism

Known as the Land of Fire and Ice – Chile has the largest north to south reach of any country in the world with 4,350 kilometres (2,700 miles) of coastline, bestowing upon it a host of unique geographical features. The world’s driest point is found in the Atacama Desert in Chile’s northern reaches whilst moving south the landscape comes alive passing through a combination of mountains, lakes and icecaps before plunging dramatically into the ocean at Cape Horn.

Today, Chile is arguably the most developed South American country and the capital city, Santiago, presents a mixture of first world infrastructure and old world charm, whilst serving as the gateway to Chile’s many natural wonders. The spectacular backdrop of the Andes looming high above the city is home to a number of ski resorts all within two hours driving time, a similar distance to the west takes you to the charming port of Valparaiso. Surrounding the city on three sides, Chilean wine country has become somewhat of a talking point amongst experts, even reviving the Carmenere grape which was thought to be extinct.

To the north, the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama, built almost entirely of adobe, is the base for exploring the vibrant landscapes of the surrounding desert and volcanoes reaching heights of almost 7,000 metres (22,500 feet). Moving south, the panorama becomes increasingly greener and reaches its climax in the Lake District – a natural playground of tranquil lakes, raging rivers and ancient forests. This southern region is the seat of Chilean culture and home of the fearsome Mapuche people who remained defiant to the Spanish colonial powers for 300 years.

Leaving behind the Lake District, the terrain is increasingly dominated by the impressive scenery of Southern Patagonia, home to the towering peaks of Torres del Paine National Park and the glaciers of the Southern Ice Sheets making it a perfect destination for those looking to experience nature in its purest guise.

Chile is not merely a country of natural wonders. Some 3,600 kilometres (2,250 miles) west of the mainland lies Easter Island – not only the most remote inhabited place on earth, but also one of the world’s true archaeological and historical jewels. Primarily known for the Moai stone statues which can be found there – of which 887 have been inventoried and are thought to be over 500 years old – the island is a living open air museum of archaeological, historical and anthropological interest.

Chile’s capital city is an excellent introduction to the stunning geography throughout the country with the impressive backdrop of the Andes dominating the eastern horizon. Santiago is located in the Great Central Valley, almost exactly half way down Chile’s coastline. The city has a host of excellent museums including one of the most important collections of pre-Columbian art in South America, as well as great culinary and shopping options, particularly for lapiz lazuli which is mined only in Chile and Afghanistan. Whilst a rapidly modernising city with infrastructure similar to that of first world countries, Santiago retains a charming centre. Areas such as the bohemian Bellavista and the Santa Lucia hill afford vistas over the cityscape and onto the mountains beyond, and are well worth visiting on foot.
Located right in the very heart of the driest desert on earth is the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama. The town itself is constructed almost entirely of adobe and is dotted with rustic open air restaurants, handicraft markets and a number of excellent hotels. The real adventure lies beyond the town walls and out into the desert with landscapes including enormous salt flats, the crater-like Valley of the Moon where NASA tested their lunar vehicles, or the extraordinary colours of the high Andean plateau known as the Altiplano where unusual flora and fauna dot the volcanic landscape. The town has excellent opportunities for the active traveller with sand boarding, hiking, horseback riding and cycling amongst the possibilities. For those less energetic, the surrounding landscapes and some of the clearest night skies in the world are more than enough to spark the interest of any adventurer.
The forces of nature come to life in Chile’s Lake District, stretching from the towns of Temuco and Pucón in the north to Puerto Montt in the south. Ancient alerce forests dominate the landscape, broken only by vast lakes reflecting the snow capped volcanoes to the east. Once the territory of the fearsome Mapuche who defended their homeland against the Spanish for almost three centuries, the wilderness was quickly settled by Europeans once the Mapuche eventually negotiated Chilean rule. Today there is a somewhat alpine feel with a strong German influence in the neat towns and villages. As with many areas in Chile, this region is fantastic for its world class fly fishing and other outdoor activities including hiking, rafting, cycling, horseback riding, bird watching and even mountaineering. Importantly, the southern cities of Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas are excellent access points to cross over the border into Bariloche, Argentina by a combination of road and boat.
The extreme southern reaches of Chile possess a wildness worthy of its position as the world’s southern most landmass before reaching Antarctica. Despite being the largest of Chile’s 15 regions only 1% of the population has made a life in this harsh environment which rewards anyone visiting the area an uncensored contact with nature. The access city of Punta Arenas was once an important outpost for all shipping passing through the Straights of Magellan and is full of fascinating maritime history. However the real Patagonia is revealed on the journey to Torres Del Paine National Park in the north. Often described as one of the world’s most beautiful national parks the visitor is treated to spectacular vistas of vertical granite peaks interspersed with vast glaciers calving into azure lakes and valleys full of local flora, much of which is endemic, as well as sought after fauna including the mighty Andean condor and the enigmatic puma. Far to the south of the Straights of Magellan, the true ‘end of the world’ can be found at Cape Horn. This geographic behemoth was once feared by sailors the world over and still constitutes an unforgettable experience to those rounding the cape today. A trip through Chile’s southern fjords reveals the untouched and unpopulated wilds found in the Darwin range, named after the English biologist who was left awe struck when he navigated the area in the 19th century onboard the ‘Beagle’.
Known locally as “Rapa Nui”, Easter Island is surely the world’s largest outdoor museum. At one point the most isolated population on Earth, the island has a clear Polynesian influence despite falling under Chilean rule. Rapa Nui has become best known for the massive Moai statues, hundreds of which dominate the volcanic landscape throughout much of the island reaching heights of over 20 metres (65 ft). Due to the island’s long isolation from external influences, the culture is entirely unique to the islands and the story of its development and downfall remain in large part a mystery. Thankfully however, the local people are extremely proud of their history and in maintaining a number of key traditions. The island is accessed by a five hour flight from Santiago.
South of Puerto Montt, the population thins and the vegetation thickens. This is the region of northern Patagonia that is commonly called the “Carretera Austral” named after the main road that runs south to the city of Coyhaique and terminates farther south at Villa O’Higgins between 48 degrees and 49 degrees latitude. The Carretera Austral opened little more than a decade ago to the traveling public;it is a 1,240km (769-mile) dirt-and-gravel road that bends and twists through thick virgin rainforest, past glacial-fed rivers and aquamarine lakes;jagged, white-capped peaks that rise above open valleys;and precipitous cliffs with cascading ribbons of waterfalls at every turn. The scenery is remote and rugged, and is perhaps Chile’s quintessential road trip. Along the way there are also some of the country’s best fly-fishing lodges, one of the world’s top rivers for rafting, and awe-inspiring glaciers. It is also home to fjords that are ideal for kayaking, and the rainforest jungle of Pumalín Park. The Carretera Austral runs from Puerto Montt in the north to Villa O’Higgins in the south, and passes through two regions: the southern portion of the “Región de Los Lagos” and the “Región de Aysén”, whose capital city, Coyhaique, is home to almost half the population in the area.
With the country’s vast north to south extension, Chile’s climate is extremely varied.

Coastal Chile enjoys a sea breeze so it generally feels cooler here than inland. Temperatures between 5ºC – 10ºC are most common. The rainy season is from May to August when temperatures are cooler.

The mountainous Lake District is cool throughout the year, enjoying a northern European climate. Here, April through June are the months of heaviest rainfall, and November through March is considered the best travel time, but is also the time of year that attracts the biggest crowds.

Chilean Patagonia is mainly cool, with unpredictable changes of weather throughout the year. Despite its southerly location the winter months benefit from much less wind and temperatures rarely drop much below freezing during the day. Chilean Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego have summer averages of 11°C (52°F)

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is one of the Earth’s driest areas and enjoys sunny weather and high temperatures all year round – ideal for the sun seeker!

Easter Island has a Pacific Island tropical climate that is heavily influenced by winds and ocean currents. The hottest months are January and February although good weather is available all year round.

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