Chile things to see and do

Tourist offices

Chile Tourist Office

1550 Avenida Providencia, Santiago, Chile
Tel: (02) 2731 8337
www.chile.travel

Things to see and do

Antarctica

Voyage to the world's last undiscovered wilderness, Antarctica, from Chile's southernmost city, Punta Arenas. Where else will you find penguins, vertiginous icebergs and live out the fantasy of being Scott of the South Pole for a few days? Only in the whitest land of them all.

Atacama desert

Let the uniquely arid and landscape of the Atacama desert – the world’s driest - sweep you away, with its broad, stark vistas of volcanoes, salt marshes and lakes and abandoned homes of the indigenous Aymara people. Is it any wonder? Some areas of the Atacama haven’t seen rain for more than 400 years. Some of the oldest mummies found on earth come from Atacama and are estimated to be 9,000 years old.

Chile's Lake District

Mountain deep, river high, Chile's stunning Lake District comprises national parks that offer staggeringly beautiful views of ancient monkey puzzle trees, pristine alpine lakes and perfectly shaped volcanoes. Ideal for kayaking, trekking and fly-fishing and heaven for those who love the great outdoors.

Chiloé Archipelago

The quirky group of Chiloé islands, which are separated from Chile by the Chacao Channel, have more than 150 colourful and old wooden churches to marvel at – and 16 of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites - as well as precarious houses on stilts lining the water’s edge.

Copper mine

Chuquicamata is the world's biggest open pit copper mines, administered by the Chilean government copper corporation and it located is 2,850 metres above sea level. It produces more than a quarter of the country’s copper and guided tours of the mine and the once-thriving but now-abandoned ghost town are provided by Codelco.

Easter Island

A lonely volcanic island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as far away from Chile as from Tahiti, Easter Island is famous for its mysterious stone statues, or moais, that form an almost unbroken ring around the coast. Three hundred statues and related items of stonework, which were built during the 10th to16th centuries, grace the island. Scientists are fascinated to learn how native inhabitants designed and forged the massive sculptures from hard volcanic rock, and how they transported them to the coast from inland quarries. Other sites to investigate include the volcano crater Rano Kau, the Orongo rock carvings, and the museum in the main town of Hanga Roa.

El Gringo

The surf’s up all down the Pacific seaboard – the only decision is where to hit it. World championships are held at Arica and Pichilemu, known for their short tubular waves with a rock bottom, but the less experienced should start to find their point break at Punta de Lobos, Chile’s most well-known surf spot. You’ll have to head north for an international-class wave, the ironically named El Gringo, in Arica – but it’s only for experts.

Fishing

One of the best spots in the world for its fantastic trout and salmon fishing is in the Lake District and Patagonia. The rivers and streams off the carretera austral, the road that penetrates deep into Chile's southern wilderness, are remarkably clear and offer wonderful opportunities for fly-fishers. Check out Río Emperador Guillermo where more than 100 rainbow trout come out to play a day.

Glaciers

Witness giant icebergs from a glacier cruise, which follows a spectacular route through Chile's Inside Passage, the Beagle Channel and around Cape Horn, passing through glacial valleys (notably at Laguna San Rafael), fjords and past huge icebergs. Passengers can disembark at various points en route, notably at Puerto Natales and on the Argentinean portion of Tierra del Fuego.

Humberstone

In Humberstone (www.albumdesierto.cl), a deserted former nitrate mining town in the far north of Chile containing rusting industrial equipment and abandoned homes, visitors will feel the haunting sense of emptiness and eeriness of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Juan Fernández Islands

Re-trace the footsteps of the real-life Robinson Crusoe in the little known Juan Fernández Islands (650km/ 403 miles) west of Valparaíso. Scotsman Alexander Selkirk was marooned here in the early 18th century, forming the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe.

La Serena

The town of La Serena is a good base to visit some of the region's attractive white sandy beaches. The streets of the second city to be founded in Chile (in 1544) are filled with attractive colonial architecture and restored churches (although avoid the January and February crowds). A day trip to the fishing village of Los Choros is worth the effort for some downtime with bottle-nosed dolphins and sea otters.

Maipo River white-water rafting

White-water rafting down any number of the country's spectacular rapids is a popular adrenaline rush - you'll find specialist operators offering trips down the Maipo near Santiago, the Trancura near Pucón, as well as the Bio-Bio River in Region VIII. Specialist operators can organise week-long trips. The scenery around the Bio-Bio includes hot springs and waterfalls.

Parque Nacional Lauca

Parque Nacional Lauca, in the north of Chile, is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve - look out for flamingos and rheas (an ostrich-like bird) on these unique salt plains. The park is also home to Chungará, one of the highest lakes in the world.

Patagonia rainforests

See millennia-old larch (alerce) trees in the lush, temperate rainforests of Patagonia in Region X. Pumalín Park (www.parquepumalin.cl), the vast 700,000-acre nature reserve and government-protected sanctuary founded by American billionaire Douglas Tompkins, is one of the best places to see these remarkable trees on one of the park’s 13 trails.

Portillo ski resort

The world-famous Portillo resort (www.skiportillo.com), next to the Inca lagoon, hosts many national ski teams, including the Austrian and Italian skiers over for the European summer. Portillo’s powder snow is a perfect match for boarders. Other slopes in the area can be found at Farellones-El Colorado, La Parva and Valle Nevado. The ski season runs from June to September.

Pre-Colombian Art Museum

Santiago's small but magnificent Pre-Colombian Art Museum (www.precolombino.cl) is a moving testament to the sophistication and artistry of the cultures that thrived in South America 4,500 years before the arrival of the plundering conquistadores. A fascinating collection of ceramics, textiles and Chinchorro mummies, which outdate their Egyptian counterparts.

Rapel Valley

A stone’s throw at 60km from Santiago, the Rapel Valley is located between Rancagua and Chimbarongo and is a region known for its wide grape varieties. Split into two areas, Cachapoal and Cholchagua, these areas have earned international recognition for their Carménère and Syrah wines. Concha y Toro, one of Chile's oldest winemakers, is famous for its Carménère. Further south of the capital and also worth inspection are the Curicó and Maule valleys.

Santiago views

Hike up towards the giant statue of the Virgin Mary atop Cerro San Cristóbal for a spectacular panorama over Santiago's vast sprawl. At the foot of the hill, in the of Barrio Bellavista district, nose round the quirky, eccentric La Chascona (www.fundacionneruda.org), once the Santiago home of the poet Pablo Neruda.

Star-gazing tours

Get a glimpse of galaxies far away at one of several powerful observatories situated in the northern Coquimbo region of Chile, which is famed for its lack of light pollution and remarkably clear skies. Collowara Observatory, 1,300 metres above sea level atop Cerro Churqui, has a powerful 14-inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope you can get your eyes on. Both Collowara and Tololo Observatories are located near La Serena, while La Silla is based in La Higuera.

Torres del Paine

The iconic jagged peaks of Torres del Paine are a defining sight of the far south of Chile. Trek either one of its two circuits, the Grande or the W, for a step into Patagonian wildlife and catch the impressive Southern Ice Fields, a trip best made in summer and a vista to leave you breathless. For the most southern trek in the world, take on the newly opened Dientes de Navarino.

Valparaíso

Valparaíso is one of the most atmospheric port cities in Latin America - a city with sinuous hills and a labyrinth of precipitous streets and colourful clapboard houses that inspired the poet Pablo Neruda. A dash of culture sums up this unique coastal city while blending beaches with bohemia.

Volcán Villarrica

One of the world's most active volcanoes, Volcán Villarrica near Pucón, is safer than it sounds - it is also one of the world's most monitored, so you should have plenty of warning of any imminent eruption while peering down its crater. The country’s last major eruption was Chaiten in the south, which occurred in 2008.

Edited by Jane Duru
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