You’re almost ready for your big trip to Patagonia. Plane tickets are bought, passport is ready and you have an agenda full of exciting, adventure-packed activities. The last thing to do is pack— and it can be tough to narrow down exactly what you’ll need. To make it easier, we’ve put together a guide of basic things to bring to Patagonia.
If you are heading to Patagonia, there is a good chance you will take part in some outdoor adventure activities. To enjoy your time outside safely, you need to bring some basic items.
Trekking Boots – Invest in a pair of proper trekking boots. Wearing gym sneakers to hike is dangerous and will most likely ruin your shoes. Boots that are built for trekking are durable for various weather conditions and have good grips to help you avoid falling on slippery terrain. Pick a boot that is comfortable for you. High ankle boots typically provide extra ankle support and may keep mud, rocks or sticks from getting inside. We recommend buying a half or one size bigger than usual as you will wear thick socks to hike. Additionally, try out the shoes before coming to avoid blisters or pain while trekking.
Hiking Poles – Along with a good pair of boots, hiking poles can really help keep your balance so you don’t fall or get hurt. Choose your poles by standing straight and bending your arm at a 90 degree angle. Your poles should be to the level of your wrist.
Camping Equipment – Many travelers who come to Patagonia, take part in the famous, “W” or “O” hike in Torres del Paine national park. These hikes are multiple days long and require you to come prepared with equipment to camp. Don’t forget a tent, thermal sleeping bag, hiking backpack and a portable stove.
Patagonia lies on the end of the world, not far from Antartica. That means it gets cold! In Chile’s summer months, you may be able to wear lighter clothes during the day. However, you’ll need to bring some warmer clothes for nighttime. If you’re there during the colder months, prepare for snow and icy temperatures during the day and night.
Lots of Layers – As the temperature can vary, multiple layers will help you stay comfortable. It’s also a good way to dress for outdoor sports and adventure activities. We recommend bringing a variety of clothing. This includes: long-sleeved thermal shirts, thermal form-fitting pants, trekking pants, a wind breaker, thick socks, a polar fleece and a soft shell jacket. Waterproof clothing is ideal!
A Hat, Gloves and Scarf — To prepare for the cold, consider bringing a thick pair of waterproof gloves, a warm hat and a scarf. Additionally, a cap or sunhat for warmer temperatures is useful.
A Good Coat — Bring a comfortable coat on your trip. Pick something warm, waterproof and easy to move in.
There’s a few items essential for any traveler. These will make your trip more comfortable and enjoyable.
A Day Backpack — You will most likely go on different day trips and adventures, when you come to Patagonia. A day backpack is useful for these trips, helping you hold snacks, water, your wallet and anything else you may need.
A Sturdy Water Bottle — Of course you can always purchase bottled water when you get to Chile. But here at EcoChile, we like to be kind to our earth. The water is safe to drink in Chile, so bring your own water bottle when you travel. It is useful for adventure activities and is Eco-friendly.
Camera — This one is important! After all, you are coming to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Don’t forget a camera to capture all your incredible memories.
Toiletries and a First Aid Kit — Come prepared with your lotion, toothpaste, soap, personal medications, etc. It’s also not a bad idea to bring a small, personal first kit in case of emergencies.
Converters – The electrical plugs in Chile use 220 voltage. If your country uses a different type of outlet, make sure you bring a converter.
Money – Don’t forget to change your currency into Chilean pesos. Many stores also accept the following credit cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club.
Miscellaneous Items – A few other items that may be useful include: waterproof equipment for backpacks, sunscreen or lip protection and plastic bags to keep clothing dry.
A Strong Mind and Body – This last one isn’t something you need to pack, but it is something important to note. All travelers coming to Patagonia should be both mentally and physically prepared. Prepare for high winds, rainfall and potentially strenuous treks and activities. If you are not used to hiking, we recommend doing cardio twice a week for about a month leading up to your trip.
Now you are set for an exciting trip to beautiful Patagonia! If you have any questions or would like more detailed information, feel free to send us a message via email or our online messaging service. We are always happy to help in anyway we can.
Valleys of Martian-red rock, snowless white ground, jewel-toned lakes: all over its more than 40,000 square miles, the Atacama is full of stunning landscapes and cultural sites that astound everyone who visits. But there are some that rise above the rest as being truly emblematic of this unique high desert, which has attracted humanity for thousands of years with its timeless beauty, and who then leave their mark on the land. Made by man or made by nature, these are the top must-visit places in the Atacama Desert.
Valle de la Luna – Barely ten minutes from San Pedro de Atacama you’ll find a wonderland of otherworldly rock formations, coated in what appears to be snow. But appearances can be deceiving: that white substance covering the ground and craggy walls is actually salt! The Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) is a truly lunar place, with sandy dunes and salt-covered ground hemmed in by rock walls of bright red. There are plenty of hiking paths that lead to amazing viewpoints, as well as driving roads. Best time to visit for views and to escape the heat is at sunset.
El Tatio Geysers – Roughly an hour and a half from San Pedro is one of the highest and biggest geyser fields in the entire world: the El Tatio Geysers. Meaning either “oven” or “grandfather” in the extinct Kunza language of the Atacameño people, the field is covered in eighty active geysers, as well as hot springs, fumaroles, and sinter deposits (a kind of chemical sediment that forms the strange rock formations found around geysers all over the world). Pathways cross the field (at safe distances from the geysers and springs) so you can walk past the different geysers and immerse yourself in their plumes of mist and steam. It’s like something out of a sci-fi movie and, as it’s best to visit in the early morning, a great way to start the day.
The Hand of the Desert – To reach this giant sculpture of a hand rising out of the desert floor requires a more than four-hour drive from San Pedro, but if you’re planning on visiting Antofagasta (a nearby port city) or want to go for a long drive, it’s worth the trip. Surrounded by stark white desert on all sides, the 11-meter tall hand is a striking contrast to the barren landscape and makes for a fantastic photo op.
Tara Salt Flats – The Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia are by far the most famous salt flats in South America, and while the Tara salt flats may not be as vast, they are equally beautiful. Located within the Los Flamencos National Reserve at more than 14,000 feet above sea level, the Tara salt flats are comprised of flat plains of crusty salt, as well as high desert lagoons frequented by local wildlife like flamingos and vicunas, grasslands, and bizarre rock formations like the Pacana Monks, which are vertical rock stands said to resemble the posture of monks.
Piedras Rojas – One of the most striking aspects of the Atacama desert is the richness and contrast of colors, from rocks to salt to water, and nowhere is this contrast more apparent and stunning than at the Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks). The expanse of bright-red rocks (which get their tint from iron oxidation) border on the soft turquoise blue of the Salar de Aguas Calientes lake, with colored mountains bordering on the horizon. It’s a deeply beautiful landscape and is an ideal spot for nature and landscape photographers.
Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons – Sitting at over 13,000 feet high, nestled in the shadows of colorful hills and snowy mountains, these high-altitude lagoons are about as picturesque as it can get. The blue lakes )whose colors shift in the sunshine) are surrounded by shrubs and desert grass, and they’re great sites for bird and wildlife viewing. With no other human dwellings nearby except for the ranger station, here the peace and quiet is total and you can allow yourself to be immersed in this high desert beauty.
Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works – While many people come to the Atacama to experience its wealth of beautiful natural landscapes, it also has a vast, multicultural history, which started with indigenous tribes who either lived in the region or migrated through before the Spanish arrived and then colonists came for the saltpeter boom. Saltpeter, which is another term for sodium nitrate, was mined all over the Atacama throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, but when a synthetic version was created in Germany, the industry collapsed, leaving the region dotted with the abandoned factories and mining towns that sprung up for workers and their families to live in. One of the biggest and best preserved is Humberstone and the Santa Laura plant. Nearly a five-hour drive from San Pedro, it’s only forty-five minutes from the coastal resort town of Iquique, which is a great spot for swimming, surfing, and paragliding off the massive sanddunes behind the city.
ALMA Observatory – One of the most famous of the Atacama’s many scientific observatories, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array consists of 66 radio telescopes that use millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths to probe deep space for answers to the mysteries of the universe. The telescope field and Operations Support Facility are located a short drive from San Pedro on the Chajnantor plateau at over 16,000 feet high. Scientists come from all over the world and wait years for just a few nights at the helm of these telescopes. The facility is closed to the public for night tours but there are day tours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Yerbas Buenas Petroglyphs – Time and nature are ruthless in destroying what humanity builds, but at this pile of red rocks roughly 45 minutes from San Pedro, something of ancient mankind has managed to endure. The rocks are covered in an astonishing array of well-preserved petroglyphs and rock carvings. There are over a thousand total, many of llamas and other creatures that were important in the lives of the Atacameno people. Dating back 10,000 years, it’s a truly awe-inspiring spot that offers a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of a tribe who called this desert home thousands of years ago.
Puritama Hot Springs – Need a day of rest and relaxation? Head out of San Pedro for a day at these secluded hot springs, shaded by desert grass along the bottom of a rocky canyon. A series of geothermically-heated pools are connected by a series of red walkways, and there are bathrooms and changing rooms onsite. Pretty and peaceful, it’s a lovely place to escape for a day and relax.
Are you ready to come to Chile’s Lake Region? Get ready for some incredible viewpoints and loads of exciting activities. We have put together a brief packing list to help get you ready for the big trip.
In the Lake Region, it rains a lot! The rain is unpredictable and it is frequent. Therefore it is important to come prepared for showers.
A Raincoat– Invest in a good raincoat for the trip! This is essential. We recommend something that is easy to move in and has a hood.
Water Resistant Shoes and Clothing– Bring at least one pair of water resistant walking shoes. Additionally, pack water resistant clothing if you have any (ex: pants).
Extra Socks— Pack a few extra pairs of socks to help protect your feet from the rain.
Plastic Bags — Throw a few plastic bags in your suitcase. They are useful for storing wet clothing or other wet items.
2.A Variety of Clothing
Bring a range of clothing for your trip to the Lake District. It is relatively cool in this part of Chile, but can get a bit warmer in the summer months.
Clothes for Warmer Weather — Pack a few T-shirts for the warmer days. Also pack a swimsuit and sandals in case you visit the hot springs.
Clothes for Cooler Weather — It’s always important to bring clothes for cooler temperature when you visit Southern Chile. We recommend bringing: a fleece, long pants, long sleeved shirts, a hat, gloves, a soft-shell, etc.
Trekking Clothes – There are a lot of great trekking and adventure opportunities. Make sure you bring clothing to partake in different sports and outdoor activities.
There’s a few items essential for any travel enthusiast visiting Chile. These items will make your trip more comfortable and enjoyable.
Proper Medications —Don’t leave home without your necessary medications.
Trekking Equipment — Come with trekking boots and trekking poles if you plan to partake in any hikes. High ankle boots give a bit more protection and we also recommend walking in them at home before using in the Lake District. Trekking poles can be selected by standing straight and bending your arm to a 90 degree angle. The pole should be at the level of your wrist.
Day Backpack — You will most likely go on different day trips and adventures when you come to the Lake District. A day backpack is useful for these trips, helping you hold snacks, water, your wallet and anything else you may need.
A Sturdy Water Bottle — Of course you can always purchase bottled water when you get to Chile. But here at EcoChile, we like to be kind to our earth. The water is safe to drink in Chile, so bring your own water bottle when you travel. It is useful for adventure activities and is Eco-friendly.
Toiletries and a First Aid Kit — Come prepared with your lotion, toothpaste, soap, etc. It’s also not a bad idea to bring a small, personal first kit in case of emergencies.
Camera — This one is important! After all, you are coming to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Don’t forget a camera to capture all your incredible memories.
Converters – The electrical plugs in Chile use 220 voltage. If your country uses a different type of outlet, make sure you bring a converter.
Money – Don’t forget to change your currency into Chilean pesos. Many stores also accept the following credit cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Diners Club.
This should wrap up everything you may need for Chile’s Lake District! However, if you have any questions or would like more detailed information, feel free to send us a message via email or our online messaging service. We are always happy to help in anyway we can.
The Atacama Desert is one of the popular destinations in Chile. Located in the north of the country and squeezed between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, the Atacama is the driest non-polar desert on the planet, receiving less than 0.6 inches of rain in an entire year. The lack of moisture, unforgiving sun and desert winds have, over millennia, created out-of-this-world landscapes with lunar valleys, high-altitude lagoons, cracked salt flats, and endless horizons. Full of natural wonder and with a cultural history dating back thousands of years, it’s a must-visit. But, being such a harsh and isolated environment, there can be some unexpected surprises for first-time visitors. Take it from someone who knows the area: here are 8 things I wish I knew before visiting the Atacama that will help you be better prepared and have the best trip possible!
1. There’s so much more to see and do besides San Pedro
When people talk about the top places they want to visit in the Atacama, generally they’re referring to San Pedro de Atacama and its surroundings: the El Tatio Geysers, Valle de la Luna, Chaxa Lagoon with its flamingos…the list goes on and on. San Pedro, a small adobe town with roughly 4,000 inhabitants, is the hub of Atacama tourism and the starting point for many adventures. But the Atacama spans over 40,000 square miles; there’s a lot more to see and do outside of San Pedro. You can head to the coast to enjoy the beaches or go surfing at Iquique, visit saltpeter ghost towns like Humberstone, seek out the Hand of the Desert monument, and much more. So don’t restrict your Atacama exploring to just San Pedro.
2. July-August is the best time to visit for stargazing
Even though the summer months of December through February are high season for tourists, if you love stargazing and astronomy, the best time to visit is definitely during winter. Granted, due to the altitude, arid weather, and lack of light pollution and radio interference, good stargazing can be found year-round (except during full moons) but July and August are when the skies are at their absolute clearest and most brilliant, making for amazing stargazing even without telescopes.
3. It gets really cold at night
Even though you’re going to the desert, don’t think that it’s gonna be all sunshine and heat: the Atacama’s elevation means that the temperature plummets at night, down into the forties or lower. So when packing, don’t forget to include cold-weather clothing like jackets, sweaters, long pants, gloves, and hats. That way, you can do nighttime activities like stargazing or go to visit the Tatio Geysers in the early morning and then peel off layers as the day warms up. And if you forgot to pack warm clothes, don’t worry; you can find cozy items made from local alpaca and llama wool at shops around San Pedro.
4. The altitude will affect you
San Pedro is located nearly 8,000 feet above sea level: more than a mile high. And all over the Atacama, visitable elevations can increase to the same altitude as Everest base camp (17,600 feet high). So yeah, the Atacama is pretty high, and the dry air and desert climate doesn’t help. So it’s entirely possible that you’ll experience some altitude sickness during your visit, which can manifest as headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Generally taking it easy the first few days by not pushing your body too hard, drinking lots of water, and avoiding alcohol will help your body adjust, but you can also try coca tea (made from coca leaves), which the locals use to combat altitude sickness.
5. Want to visit the Tatio Geysers? Be prepared to get up early
Paying a visit to the Tatio Geysers — the highest geyser field on the planet at over 14,000 feet above sea level — is a must when visiting the Atacama. But the best time to see the steam rising from the geysers is at dawn, when the air is cold enough for the steam to erupt in giant plumes, and since the geysers are an hour and a half drive from San Pedro, that means that you’ll need to get up super early (I’m talking 4 am!) to make the trip. And don’t forget to bundle up; not only is it early, but you’re also nearly doubling your elevation, so wear layers! But the sight is well worth the early rise and most tours bring along breakfast and coffee to enjoy at the site.
6. Most observatories aren’t open for nighttime tours
The Atacama is home to some of the most advanced observatories in the world; scientists and astronomers come from all over to use their state-of-the-art telescopes to explore the night sky. One of the most famous observatories, ALMA (which stands for Atacama Large Millimeter Array), is located just a short drive from San Pedro and their impressive telescope collection attracts a lot of interest. Lots of visitors want to see the facilities and possibly even go on stargazing tours, but since ALMA and other places like it are working observatories, they are not open for nighttime tours. However, many do offer daytime tours on the weekends (at ALMA, they offer tours of the Operations Support Facility on Saturday and Sunday mornings). For stargazing, there are plenty of other astronomy tours (like those offered by San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations) around San Pedro and further north at tourist observatories in Valle de Elqui.
7. There is no airport in San Pedro
Even though most people start and end their Atacama trips in San Pedro, you’re not gonna be stepping off the plane there. The nearest airport is in Calama, a mining town known as the Gateway to the Atacama, roughly an hour and a half away. From Calama, you can either take buses or rent cars to get to San Pedro, and most tours include transportation from Calama to San Pedro in their packages.
8. Pack a swimming suit
Even though you’re going to the heart of the world’s driest desert, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to get your feet wet! A short drive from San Pedro you’ll find the Puritama Hot Springs, a series of eight geothermal hot springs hidden by desert grass inside a rocky canyon. And, out on the salt flats, there are several salt-water lagoons that you can swim and float in. So don’t forget that swimsuit!
From the tops of its highest peaks to the rocky, wind-battered shores, Patagonia is a place that’s full of adventure and wonder. Whether your goal is to see spectacular landscapes or to experience a place whose culture was forged in adversity and resourcefulness, you’ll find it here. But as a region, Patagonia covers hundreds of square miles: too much to see and do in any one trip. What are the top things to do in Patagonia? Here are our recommendations!
1. Do the base of the Torres Hike – It’s not a trip to Torres del Paine if you don’t make the hike to the base of the park’s famous Torres (Towers). A roughly eight hour round-trip hike that ranges from intermediate to advanced level of difficulty, anyone in good physical condition can make this iconic trek. Starting from near the Las Torres Hotel at the base of the Paine Massif, you hike up and through the Pass of the Winds and then descend into the Ascencio Valley. After hiking along the base of the valley through forests and over streams, you reach the bottom of a giant jumble of rocks, the remains of a glacial moraine. Hiking to the top is the most difficult part of the hike, but it’s well worth the effort because then you can enjoy your lunch and a drink of water with a view of the three granite pillars for which the park is named.
As the most popular hike in Torres del Paine, the trail and viewpoint are frequently busy, which is why some visitors choose to spend the night at the Chileno Camp and Refugio Cabins in the Ascencio Valley and then get up early to hike to the lookout and watch the sunrise over the Towers and lake. The rising sun paints the spires the most amazing shades of red, orange, and pink, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
2. Sail to the Grey Glacier – Located on the western end of the Paine Massif alongside the final leg of the W Trek, the Grey Glacier covers over 100 square miles from its origins in the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, funneling down valleys to finally spill into Grey Lake. The front wall towers nearly a hundred feet over the lake’s waters, and if you’re lucky, you can see icebergs of all different shapes and icy blue shades crashing into the lake.
While from the W trail you have a better vantage point to appreciate the sheer scale of the glacier, nothing can compare to sailing right up close to the front wall itself. At the far end of Grey Lake near the Lago Grey Hotel, you can board a giant catamaran that will take you right up to the glacier itself. And then, on the return trip, you can enjoy a pisco sour served with glacial ice taken from calved icebergs!
3. Go puma tracking – Seeing a puma in the wild is an incredibly rare experience, but Torres del Paine is actually one of the few places where you’re the most likely to get to see one of these majestic cats in their natural habitat. After fires in 2011 and 2012 destroyed large areas of lenga forest, the local guanaco population moved to better grazing grounds on the pampas, which are closer to many of the park’s roads and tourist infrastructure. And when the guanacos moved, their natural predator, the puma, followed. As such, it’s now easier than ever to see these wild cats either from the road while driving or while out hiking on the pampas. If you want to increase your chances of seeing them, go puma tracking with a local expert, who, based on knowledge of the land and animal behavior, knows exactly when and where to look to increase the chances of seeing a puma.
4. Attend a traditional asado – Before Patagonia was known for its trekking, it was a place of vast estancias and South American cowboys, all working in service of the millions of sheep that brought prosperity to the region through their wool. It’s said that Patagonia was built on the back of a sheep, and one of its most iconic culinary traditions, the asado, involves a young sheep as well. A slaughtered and skinned lamb is butterfly-strapped to a special spit, angled over a fire of hot coals, and then left to cook in the rising heat for hours. The result is the most delicious lamb you’ll ever have, with crispy skin but succulent and tender meat. The roasted lamb is usually served with sides of potatoes, pebre (a topping similar to pico de gallo), and plenty of red wine.
Nowadays, asados are mainly held for special occasions, and some estancias perform them for visitors so they can experience this most Patagonian of meals for themselves and learn about the estancia lifestyle. So during your Patagonia adventure, be sure to pay a visit to an estancia and enjoy a delicious asado!
5. Go for a horseback ride at an estancia – In addition to the asados, living the estancia life for a day offers a unique glimpse into the culture that helped colonize this region. Many estancias near Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares, while still working as sheep ranches, have now opened their doors to visitors so they can experience this lifestyle for themselves. One example is Estancia La Peninsula, an estancia located on the far side of Last Hope Sound from Puerto Natales, the gateway town to Torres del Paine. Here, you can go on horseback rides through forests and fields and along coastlines to epic lookouts showcasing the majesty of the region’s fjords. Then, at the end of the ride, you can watch sheep-shearing and sheep-herding demonstrations to see how these ranches are run and operated. But going for a horseback ride across the pampas is just about the most Patagonia activity ever and is a great way to see and appreciate the landscapes, so be sure to sign up for one!
6. Ice hike on Perito Moreno – The grand dame of Patagonia’s most accessible glaciers, the 240-foot-tall Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park is always swamped with visitors. But anyone can take a picture from a lookout or go for a boat ride close to the front wall: the ultimate way to experience the Perito Moreno Glacier is to walk on it! Even though the glacier is famous for its frequent calvings, it’s actually very stable and safe so you can go for guided ice-treks along the glacier’s surface, traversing iced-over crevasses that cut deep into the heart of the glacier, passing ice caves, and crossing streams of meltwater. And you don’t even need any prior experience to do so; that’s how safe it is! Then, before returning to the nearby town of El Calafate, stop for a celebratory drink at GlacioBar, an ice bar that’s the first bar in the world to be made out of glacial ice!
7. See the king penguins of Tierra del Fuego – Second only in size to emperor penguins, the king penguin can stand up to three feet tall and reach almost forty pounds as adults. Sporting sleek black and white feathers and orange markings, king penguins are normally only found on the Antarctica’s more temperate outer islands like South Georgia. This is what makes the king penguin colony in King Penguin Park near Porvenir, Tierra del Fuego so special: it’s the only known breeding colony outside of the species’ normal breeding grounds. To reach the main island of Tierra del Fuego requires a ferry crossing from Punta Arenas and a car ride to Inutil Bay where the colony is located; here, visitors can walk around the park on designated paths and walkways that allow them to observe the penguins and their nesting areas from a safe distance. While the colony can be visited year round, visiting from September to March offers the best chance of seeing the most penguins.
Similar to many other Polynesian cultures, Easter Island cuisine – Pascuense cuisine – was and still is to this day strongly influenced by and dependent upon the offerings of the surrounding ocean. Fish and seafood like mahi-mahi, tuna, swordfish (kana-kana), octopus (heke), lobster, sea snails, eels, and shrimp are all commonly used in traditional Easter Island cooking, complemented by fruits and vegetables like bananas, pineapples, pumpkin, sweet potato, taro, and coconut.
In the past, most foods were prepared by wrapping the ingredients in banana leaves and roasting them in an “umu pae”, an earth oven. Some of the most traditional recipes include tunu ahi (grilled fish on hot stones), po’e (a type of bread pudding made from flour, pumpkin, and plantains/bananas), and ceviche. But it can be argued that the quintessential dish of Rapa Nui is the Easter Island curanto, where meat, chicken, vegetables, seafood, and other ingredients are cooked on top of hot stones placed in a hole in the ground and covered with plantain leaves. This feast was only prepared for special events and was a huge community event, as it still is today.
Nowadays, although elements of traditional Chilean and European cooking have integrated themselves into the island’s gastronomic history, many of the restaurants around Easter Island and in the town of Hanga Roa still offer Rapa Nui dishes just as they’ve been prepared for centuries: the classic tastes of the land and sea. When visiting the island, you’ll want to make sure you get to taste the real Rapa Nui, so here are the best places to eat on Easter Island.
1. Haka Honu
This casual oceanfront eatery specializes in fresh, seasonal seafood dishes that are endemic to Easter Island, and it’s said that this place gets first pick of the catch of the day. Native fish like mahi-mahi, kana-kana, and tuna served with fruity sauces and garnishes are popular menu mainstays, as well as tangy ceviche. Standard dishes like burgers, salads, pasta, and steaks are also available. Drinks-wise, beer and cocktails pair especially well with the sunset ocean views and the fresh-pressed fruit juices are perfect for quenching your thirst. While popular with tourists, during the low season it’s also the haunt of choice for the locals, so if you’re visiting during winter head here for the party. Accepts credit cards.
2. Te Moana
Cue the Moana songs! Well, actually no, but while you won’t find singing Disney princesses and crabs here, you will find some of the island’s best traditional Rapa Nui dishes, as well as Chilean and Polynesian fare. Fresh fish is available daily, and their octopus and langoustine dishes are big crowd pleasers. But a real treat is enjoying a meal prepared on their outdoor, waterfront grill; watching your meal cook while the sun sets over the ocean beyond is a thing of beauty. They also do great fruity cocktails, complete with flowers. Seating options include indoor or outdoor veranda, and credit cards are accepted.
3. Tia Berta
If you’re craving a taste of mainland Chile while on the island, pay a visit to Tia Berta’s for her huge, delicious, and filling empanadas. Seafood empanadas are her forte, including tuna, tuna with cheese, shrimp with cheese, and mariscos (assorted seafood like mussels). The menu also includes traditional fish soup (caldillo de pescado) and ceviche. Open for brunch and lunch, and cash only.
4. La Kaleta
Looking for the best meal in town? It just might be here. In 2016, a leading Chilean newspaper named La Kaleta the best regional restaurant in the whole of Chile, and the proof is in the pudding (or rather, the ceviche). Ever since, especially during the summer season, this place is always packed for lunch and dinner, and not just because of the food: the white-washed, thatched roof restaurant is located just steps from a sandy beach and has unobstructed ocean views. Their seasonal ceviche is always a hit, as well as their fish, seafood pasta, and “Papas Vaiani”: fried potatoes, octopus, and shrimp covered in a cheesy sauce. They also have one of the best wine lists on the island. Accepts credit cards.
5. Te Moai Sunset
Pretty much every restaurant worth its salt on Easter Island has an ocean view, so how do you stand out from the pack? Offer an ocean view with Moai as well, that’s how! This hip newcomer to the Rapa Nui dining scene is set back from the beach on a small bluff and offers an enchanting, panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean with the Ahu Tahai and Ahu Ko Te Riku in the foreground. It’s the perfect spot for dinner, and the food is just as winning as the view. Succulent ceviche, catch of the day fish fresh from the ocean, shrimp and octopus risotto, and fish stew are just some of the highlights; an exceptional cocktail list and diverse wine menu complete the experience. Be sure to start your evening by enjoying an aperitif while lounging in the hanging wicker chairs on the outdoor patio. Accepts credit cards.
6. Hani Hani TunuAhi&Bar
For visitors and locals alike, it’s always a good time at Hani Hani’s. This popular restobar is a lively nightlife spot that also offers a full menu for dinner, as well as bar food. Fresh meat, fish, and other seafood are prepared on their special barbecue, but they also have good raw options like the house specialty of Ika Mata: prime cuts of fresh raw fish and ceviche combined with fruit and veggies. Decorated with a Polynesian theme and with an extensive drink menu, this is the place to be for a fun night out on the town. Cash only.
7. Mahalo Terraza & Bistro
This laidback but refined bistro takes traditional island and Polynesian dishes and ingredients and gives them its own unique twist with elegant platings and inventive combinations. Ceviche, filet of fish, shrimp curry, and other dishes are some of the house specialties, with a nicely paired wine menu to match. Located in an upscale bungalow with subdued Polynesian decor, Mahalo’s perfect setting (did we mention the ocean view dining terrace?) and delicious cuisine makes for a lovely date night spot. Their cocktails are especially refreshing. Accepts credit card.
8. Te Ra’ai
Want to experience a traditional Easter Island curanto feast? Te Ra’ai is unquestionably the best. The family that owns the restaurant has been preparing curanto for generations, offering it to the community for Tapati (the week-long cultural festival) and to visitors to introduce them to Easter Island cuisine.
To make curanto (Umu Rapa Nui), a large hole in the ground is filled with hot coals or hot stones, with plantain leaves placed on top. The leaves are then covered with meat, chicken, fish, sausage, etc., which is topped with another layer of leaves and ingredients like fruits and veggies. Everything is then covered up one final time with more leaves and then left to cook. The result is a steaming smorgasbord of delicious flavors. At Te Ra’ai, you can taste the traditional curanto for yourself, as well as see how it’s prepared. In addition, the restaurant also offers cultural shows, music, and plays, complete with costumes and make-up. This place is extremely popular, especially during high season, so reservations are recommended. Accepts credit card.
With the advent of the Internet and the popularity of travel guides and travel blogs, it’s easier than ever to find out information about places you want to visit. It can help you plan your trip better, make arrangements in advance, and decide on what you want to see and do. But even with all that info floating around, there are still things that can surprise you when you reach your destination (which can be an exciting or stressful part of traveling, depending on how you look at it).
Having done some research in advance is especially important if you’re traveling to an isolated place like Easter Island. Located 2,182 miles from the mainland, here you are literally in the middle of nowhere, so it helps to be prepared and know what to expect. What kind of money should you bring? Are there ATMs? How can you get around the island? Not to fear, we’ve got you covered! Here are 9 things I wish I knew before visiting Easter Island.
1. You won’t always have Internet
Easter Island is extremely isolated and, in many ways, cut off from the rest of the world. While it has modern infrastructure and amenities, the distance means that sometimes the Internet doesn’t want to cooperate. WiFi is only available in the main town of Hanga Roa at hotels and Internet cafes (most restaurants don’t offer WiFi) but even then, the connection can be patchy. In 2016, the Chilean government implemented its WiFi ChileGob program on the island, a public service project that provides free WiFi in public places. However, this too is only available in Hanga Roa and doesn’t always work. But being on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific seems like the perfect place for a digital detox, so feel free to ditch the devices and focus on enjoying your stay!
2. It’s not always sunny and tropical
Yes, Easter Island is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and part of Polynesia. But that doesn’t mean it’s always a South Pacific idyll. Technically, Easter Island falls under the category of having subtropical weather, meaning that, in general, the weather is warm and humid, but during winter temperatures can drop into the 50s. Easter Island also gets a lot of rain (which is spread out throughout the year but usually peaks during the winter months of June to August), which can make the island feel unseasonably chilly, so don’t forget to bring raingear as well!
3. Anakena Beach is cash-only
Anakena Beach, located on the opposite end of the island from Hanga Roa, is the only swimmable beach on the island and so is extremely popular among visitors and locals alike. With a large, half-moon beach of white coral sand, tranquil waters that are protected by the cove, and gently waving palm trees, it’s a slice of Polynesian paradise in the middle of nowhere. With no hotels or accommodations in the vicinity, most people travel to the beach for the day from Hanga Roa, and local vendors have set up food stalls and stores; picnic sites, bathroom facilities, and a parking lot are also available to cater to these day trippers. But the one thing you won’t find is a credit card machine: everything on Anakena Beach operates on a cash-only basis. ATM machines can be found in Hanga Roa, so be sure to withdraw enough for the whole day!
4.You’re not allowed to touch the Moai
I get it; the Moai are amazing examples of art, design, and engineering that boggle the mind. Who wouldn’t want to touch a piece of history like that, especially because many of them are located close by the trails and paths? But still: keep your hands off! The Moai are protected by local law and touching one even comes with a fine; one tourist was fined more than $17,000 USD! This is mainly because, due to time and exposure to the elements, the Moai are naturally deteriorating, but having tourists constantly touching them speeds up the process. So, remember to keep your hands to yourself and instead pick up a Moai figurine as a souvenir.
5. Getting here is expensive and requires some advance planning
To combat over-tourism and because the island is so small, flights to Easter Island are limited and pretty pricey: round-trip fare from Santiago in high season can be upwards of $500 per person or even get into the thousands of dollars. There are several ways to snag cheaper flights, though: visit during the low and shoulder season, book well in advance, or plan out a longer trip (flight fares go down if you’re staying on the island longer instead of just visiting for a few days).
6. There are no buses on the island
Easter Island is pretty small: only 63 square miles. With everything concentrated in Hanga Roa, that means that there are no local buses running routes around the island, except for tour buses. However, since the island is so small, that makes it easy to get around on your own. You can rent a car (there are several car-rental agencies), or go cycling (which is especially popular as the island is mainly flat and makes for easy riding). You can also hire a taxi to take you to certain sites (sorry, no Uber).
7. Everything is charged in Chilean Pesos
Since Easter Island is legally a part of Chile, the primary currency accepted on the island is the Chilean Peso. But since so many visitors come from the United States, US dollars are also widely accepted. There are several money exchange offices in Hanga Roa, or you can convert your dollars to pesos in the Santiago airport before leaving the mainland.
8. That Moai at the bottom of the ocean? Yep, it’s not real
You’ve likely seen pictures of a Moai resting on the bottom of the ocean near the island, with people scuba diving nearby. Sounds like an amazing experience, right? Well, yes, but you should know that the Moai is actually a fake. It’s a leftover prop from the 1994 movie Rapa Nui. But still, makes for a great scuba diving adventure!
9.It’s not just the flight that’s expensive
Any way you swing it, Easter Island is a pricey destination. In addition to the flights, food and lodging can also be costly, especially since lots of things on the island need to be flown there from the mainland. But there are ways to save money and stretch out your budget, like bringing customs-approved snacks and food from the mainland, making reservations well in advance, and visiting outside of peak tourist season. Plus, taking extra care to make sure you’ve packed everything you’ll need while on the mainland will help in avoiding any last-minute, “oh no, I forgot to bring…” purchases while on the island, where they’re guaranteed to be more expensive. But everything that Easter Island has to offer more than justifies the hefty price tag.
Just a 30-minute boat ride from mainland Chile, lies a beautiful archipelago called Chiloé. These incredible islands draw tourists from all over due to the beautiful nature, colorful buildings, tasty dishes and unique culture. Chiloé is special because it feels different from the mainland. Islanders call themselves “chilotes” and take pride in the place they live. There are countless reasons to put in Chiloé on your travel bucket list. Here are some of the biggest:
People who come to Chiloé are often in awe over its landscape. The islands are marked with bright green hills, fields of yellow flowers and peaceful waters. There are various ways to take in the scenery and enjoy the outdoors.
Go on a Trek:
Chiloé has a lot of natural attractions, many which offer fantastic trekking options. One of the best treks is called “Muelle de las Almas,” which translates to “Dock of Souls.”
It takes somewhat between one and a half to three hours to go there and back. The length of time depends on the hiker’s abilities and weather conditions. Trekkers should be prepared for any weather condition, no matter what the season. It rains often in Southern Chile, which can cause very slippery and muddy terrain. All visitors should wear proper hiking shoes that have a good grip, in addition to hiking sticks and some water.
The trek takes visitors through untamed forest, up misty hills and to a stunning view of the ocean alongside evergreen cliffs. The ending point is a wooden dock over the water. It’s the perfect place to snap a photo and take in the gorgeous view.
Take a Boat Ride:
Chiloé is an archipelago made up of more than 30 different islands. Therefore, a great way to explore the area is by boat.
There are several different boat tours that allow tourists to see different parts of Chiloé . One popular boat trip shows visitors different wildlife in the area. You can spot all sorts of creatures, such as penguins, dolphins, whales and various birds.
Additionally, many visitors enjoy kayaking around the archipelago. On a kayak, visitors can go to little villages, explore the wetlands and travel freely from island to island. It is a peaceful activity and a great way to spend the afternoon.
Additionally, many visitors love Chiloé is because of the island’s historic atmosphere and old fashion charm. The Chilote islanders steer towards tradition, keeping many of their homes and buildings in the original, unique style. You can see and learn about these old fashion buildings when you come to Chiloé.
Go Church Hopping:
Back in the 17th century, the Spanish Jesuits came to the Chiloé archipelago. On the islands, they started to build churches which drew inspiration from both indigenous and Spanish architectural style. At least 70 churches were built using unique architectural and design techniques. Today, 16 of these churches are UNESCO World Heritage sights and serve as some of the top tourist attractions in Chiloé.
In Castro, Chiloé’s capital city, the most famous church is the Church of San Francisco. It sits in the center of town and is easily spotted from a far due to its bright yellow and purple colors. The church takes a more Neo-Gothic style, and is without a doubt one of the prettiest churches on the island.
Additionally, visitors like to check out the Church of Santa Maria de Loreto, which is one of the oldest churches and Church of Quinchao, which is one of the largest. There are many different churches you can visit and each one has its own special qualities.
Chiloé’s culture is so interesting because it differs from the rest of the country. To get a true feel of the islands, make sure you take the time to learn the culture.
Admire the Colorful Palafitos:
When you think of Chiloé, the first image that often comes to mind is a rainbow array of small wooden buildings on stilts. These buildings are called palafitos, and in Chiloé, there are a lot of them. Inside the palafitos are restaurants, people’s homes and boutique hotels. These buildings are both visually pleasing and functional for a community that lives alongside the water.
There are a few viewpoints where you can admire at these colorful buildings from afar. Additionally, you can rent a kayak and paddle right next to them. Locals will smile and wave as you paddle towards the buildings, showing off the true, friendly spirit of Chiloé.
Wear Traditional Clothing:
The Southern half of Chile is known for having cold, windy and even unpredictable weather, especially during the winter months. To keep warm during winter days, Chilotes wear clothing that is made from wool. Visitors can purchase handmade hats, socks, ponchos at small, local markets, known as “ferias.” These items are useful while traveling on the island, and serve as a great souvenir or gift to bring home.
Additionally, if you come to Chiloé during the September independence holidays, you can see the traditional outfit of a Chilote at one of the many festivals and parties on the islands. Males dress in wool hats and high socks, and they use a collared shirt and a woven vest . The women dress in a black skirt, white collared shirt and a black bandana in their hair.
Try Foods Native to the Island:
Although Chilotes enjoy traditional Chilean food from the mainland, they also have a special cuisine of their own.
For the main meal, you must try the most famous dish of Chiloé — curanto. This dish consists of various shellfish, potatoes and meat, all cooked together in a hole in the ground. The meal is filling, and perfect for meat and seafood lovers. Additionally, a potato pancake called Milcao can be enjoyed on the side. This snack is unique because it is cooked together with both raw and mashed potato, which is then either fried or baked.
After a hearty meal, leave room for dessert. In Chiloé , you can try an apple empanada, which is a sweet twist on the traditional empanada. This snack resembles a small apple pie and is a great way to finish a meal.
With its snow-capped peaks, crawling glaciers, and sweeping pampas grasslands, Patagonia is arguably the top adventure travel destination in the world right now. Visitors are drawn to popular national parks like Chile’s Torres del Paine and Argentina’s Los Glaciares to come face-to-face with some of Mother Nature’s finest handiwork, and, like so many before them, fall into the spell of this timeless region at the bottom of the world. And in addition to amazing landscapes, there’s also the chance for encounters with native wildlife like pumas and guanacos, as well as opportunities to discover cultural legacies like the estancia sheep farms that gave birth to South America’s version of the cowboy, the gaucho or baqueano.
But not only is Patagonia a global leader in adventure travel; it’s also a leader in sustainable, conservation-minded tourism. This growing reputation is largely thanks to a recently-launched initiative that was decades in the making: the Route of Parks of Patagonia.
What is the Route of Parks of Patagonia?
As the name suggests, the Route of Parks of Patagonia — or, in Spanish, La Ruta de los Parques de la Patagonia — is a literal route or network that connects 17 national parks in Chilean Patagonia, stretching 1,700 miles and protecting some 28 million acres of land. The route starts in northern Patagonia on the edge of the Lakes District and extends down through the Aysén and Magallanes regions, finishing in Tierra del Fuego, offering access to a wealth of landscapes from temperate rainforests and coastline to mountains and grasslands. Visitors can drive, hike, cycle, and boat within the individual parks, as well as follow roads and ferry routes along the entire Route to discover some of Patagonia’s most precious natural and cultural gems.
Launched in late 2018, the mission of this new route is not only to protect these pristine wildernesses for current and future generations, but also to involve local communities in their preservation and maintenance, creating jobs and regional economies centered around conservation and sustainable tourism instead of ecologically-destructive ranching, mining, or logging industries.
Encompassing preexisting national parks like Torres del Paine, Queulat, and Cerro Castillo, one of the major reasons the launch of this epic network made major headlines around the world was that the Route also included a handful of newly-minted national parks, which were made possible thanks to the Chilean government being gifted an unprecedented million acres of private land for the specific purpose of creating new protected lands and rewilding environments that were previously used for commercial interests. And that historic land gift came from two people: Doug and Kris Tompkins.
Creating the Route of Parks
The origins of the Route of Parks starts way back in the early 1990s, when Esprit and The North Face founder Doug Tompkins first purchased land in southern Chile and saw the potential for conservation and returning these ecologically-ravaged landscapes to their original splendor. After meeting and marrying his second wife Kris Tompkins, the former CEO of Patagonia, Inc., the duo made conservation their number one priority, founding Tompkins Conservation and working toward preserving the wild spaces of Chilean Patagonia.
Over the decades, they bought up millions of acres of land throughout southern Chile, facing significant criticism and pushback from locals who were suspicious and wary of outsiders buying up huge tracts of real estate, viewing them as land-stealers undermining the livelihoods and natural patrimony of local communities. But their hard work, patience, and perseverance paid off, as gradually their true intentions — to support and aid towns and communities located near the parks by offering jobs and economic opportunities connected to the parks, as well as natural conservation — became apparent as they worked on a deal with the Chilean government to donate the land and establish the Route of Parks.
Although the Tompkins have done conservation and rewilding work in many parks and protected areas, the heart of their efforts can be found in Patagonia National Park, located in the Aysén region. After first visiting the area’s Chacabuco Valley in 1995, the Tompkins acquired this former ranching land in 2004 and set about the massive task of taking down guanaco fences, selling the livestock, eliminating non-native species, and restoring native flora and fauna to the area. The herculean effort paid off in this splendid national park, which is bound to become one of the most popular on the Route thanks to its southern beech forests, bright turquoise lakes and rivers, spectacular peaks, and grasslands populated by guanacos and pumas. Here, visitors see the Tompkins’ vision in full realization, as not only has the landscape been restored, but local communities are involved in park operations, and tourism infrastructure has been created, including trails, camping areas, bathrooms, a museum, and a grand park lodge.
The million-acre land gift was finally made official in April 2019, marking the biggest donation of private land into public hands in history. Thanks to the donation, as well as the Chilean government also contributing nearly 9 million acres for new national parks and protected areas, all together ten million acres was added to Chile’s protected lands, resulting in the creation of five brand-new national parks — Patagonia, Pumalín Douglas Tompkins, Melimoyu, Cerro Castillo, and Kawésqar — and expanding the borders of three pre-existing parks: Corcovado, Hornopirén, and Isla Magdalena.
Sadly, Douglas never lived to see his vision fully come to fruition, as he sadly passed away in December 2015 from hypothermia due to a kayaking incident. But Kris is still going strong, continuing her conservation work with Patagonia National Park and the other parks on the Route, as well as Iberá National Park in neighboring Argentina.
The return of the pumas
In addition to the restoration of landscapes and the long-term preservation of untouched wild areas, one of the major components of the Tompkins’ rewilding vision is having native species like guanacos, huemul deer, and Darwin’s rheas once again return to these lands. But their greatest success — and biggest obstacle — lies with pumas.
As their native prey like guanacos and huemul deer return to their natural habitats, pumas will also follow. But for many ranchers, farmers, and locals throughout Patagonia, pumas are viewed as pests that kill livestock and create problems. Therefore, there is a deeply-ingrained cultural dislike of pumas throughout the region, with many being of the opinion that they should be eliminated through hunting. Hunting pumas was outlawed in 1980, but the sentiment still remains. So, in attempting to allow pumas to return to their former hunting grounds in these new parks, the Tompkins had to fight a secondary battle: that of working with locals to change their minds about pumas, as well as showing how conservation can be an economic benefit through sustainable tourism.
Although it’s a long, slow process to undo generations of dislike or even outright hatred against these creatures, there are signs of success. “Leoneros” or hunters that were formerly tasked by ranchers with hunting down and killing pumas in order to protect livestock now help Tompkins Conservation and CONAF, Chile’s national parks branch management branch, with tracking, tagging, and monitoring the species, allowing cultural traditions and livelihood to live on but with a conservation-minded endgame.
The growing trend of “puma-spotting tourism” also shows that there should be a vested interest in the continued preservation of the species, both for biodiversity, environmental, and economic reasons. Especially in Torres del Paine National Park, where there are around 50 pumas, puma-tracking tours are wildly popular among visitors. After fires in certain sectors of the park pushed the guanaco population into the grasslands near many of the main roads and tourism infrastructure in the park, the pumas have followed, making it easy to see pumas while driving around. But for the best sightings, many visitors pay top dollar for tracking tours, where experienced local trackers use their skills to track pumas, allowing visitors to catch unprecedented glimpses of pumas engaging in natural activities like caring for their young or hunting. With these tours enabling visitors to observe pumas in their natural habitat without disturbing them, these tours have become more and more popular, especially as photographers and filmmakers take advantage of this access to capture once-in-a-lifetime footage of these big cats.
Getting up-close with Patagonia and its pumas in your own home
Although you have good odds of seeing a puma during a visit to Torres del Paine or elsewhere along the Route, one of the best ways to learn more about these astonishing creatures and their key place in the Patagonian ecosystem is by watching the work of renowned Chilean naturalist and wildlife filmmaker Rene Araneda, who has worked with Tompkins Conservation in the past, bringing the wonders of Chilean Patagonia’s wildlife to TV screens around the country and world.
Capturing the wild landscapes and native flora and fauna of Patagonia for TV shows like Animal Planet’s Wild Expectations and CHV’s Wild Chile, Araneda has also devoted much of his career to documenting the pumas of Patagonia, including with the recent documentary Into The Puma Triangle. Working with American wildlife filmmaker Casey Anderson, the team of this Smithsonian Channel wildlife documentary was able to capture never-before-seen behaviors from pumas in Torres del Paine, most incredibly observing pumas — who are normally solitary creatures — living as a pack or “pride” similar to those lived in by lions.
Offering intimate glimpses into the lives of these elusive cats, filmmakers like Araneda help educate the public about them, combating prejudice and misinformation and showing how humans and nature can live side by side harmoniously together.
How to plan your Route of Parks adventure
If, after reading this, you feel like the Route of Parks is calling your name, now’s the time to learn more and start planning your trip for when borders reopen and it’s fully safe to travel again! To learn more about the parks, you can visit the official Route of Parks website here. And if you need help planning a trip, we here at EcoChile are launching our own Route of Parks itinerary that will take you to many of the highlights along the Route, including Patagonia National Park and Torres del Paine. Check out this new 19-day itinerary here, and if you have any questions, you can reach out to one of our expert trip planners.
Once it’s safe to travel again, we know that you’ll want to get back out there traveling and exploring as soon as possible to make up for time lost; we want to do the same thing too! But the travel landscape is bound to be a bit different after the pandemic, making it more important than ever to plan ahead in order to protect your health, safety, and money.
Here’s how planning a trip a year or so in advance will benefit you:
Booking farther in advance will give you more options for activities and accommodations. Furthermore, many 2020 travel bookings that had to be canceled because of COVID-19 were pushed into 2021, meaning that there might not be as much availability as you’d expect during certain seasons and at popular destinations. Plan and book well in advance to guarantee finding the best hotels, excursions, and transport available.
In the wake of COVID-19, the travel industry has implemented extremely flexible booking, postponement, and cancellation policies to help protect clients and operators like tour companies, hotels, and airlines. We at EcoChile have also outfitted our tours with the most flexible, accommodating policies possible, working with leading travel insurance companies, so that if something comes up and you need to cancel or change anything, we’ve got your back.
Like many in the travel industry, we’ll be offering special promos and early-bird specials to entice future travelers. So take advantage of those deals while they’re available: you’ll be saving money yourself and helping support an industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic. And when you book late, there will likely not be special rates, so book well in advance!
Not only are all these logistic reasons important, but it can also be fun to have something to look forward to. Instead of rushing to plan and organize a trip a few months in advance, you’ll be able to relax and look forward to your perfectly organized trip!
You’ve heard about Patagonia. It’s that place at the bottom of South America with all those amazing mountains and glaciers. You can see intriguing wildlife like guanacos, pumas, and Andean condors. It has some pretty great treks that aren’t too difficult and therefore are really popular. Sounds like a good place to go for your next vacation!
Yes, absolutely: Patagonia is a place that everyone should experience at least once. But before hopping on that plane, there are a few things you should know about visiting Patagonia that will help you get the most of your trip. Here are nine things I wish I knew before visiting Patagonia, so you can plan ahead and be prepared to make your Patagonian vacation the best it can be!
Patagonia is actually two countries
Yes, Patagonia is a region, but it spans the southern end of two countries: Chile and Argentina. This means that, if you’re starting your Patagonian trip in Torres del Paine and then heading to Los Glaciares, you’ll be passing from Chile to Argentina and, as such, will need the proper travel documents like a valid passport. Thanks to a special reciprocity agreement between Chile and the US, there is no fee for a tourist visa to Chile for US travelers. A tourist visa for Argentina costs $160 USD but is valid for multiple entries for the next ten years. Both countries allow visitors to stay for 90 days, and there are methods for extending the visa if necessary or desired. For other countries, you’ll need to check and confirm any exact visa requirements. This also means you’ll be checked at the border by customs officials; in general, border control in Chile and Argentina is pretty lenient, but both are highly protective of their biodiversity, so flowering plants and anything with seeds are not permitted.
Summer isn’t necessarily the best time to go
Yes, summer is generally considered the best time to visit due to the lengthy days, fair weather, and reduced wind. But even in summer, good weather isn’t guaranteed, so don’t base all your trip plans around the expectation that the weather will cooperate. Plus, with summer being the peak travel season, that means that many of Patagonia’s most popular destinations, like Torres del Paine or the Perito Moreno Glacier, can become overcrowded. So if you’re looking for the more quintessential Patagonia experience of escaping into the wilderness with no one else around, spring or fall would be your best bet. There are fewer people around, popular treks and viewpoints are less crowded, fares are reduced, and you can see seasonal colors like fall foliage. And the weather is still fairly good during spring or fall, so why not give traveling in shoulder season a try?
Pack for all four seasons
Even if you’re visiting during summer, pack like you’re going to be hit by a snowstorm, a rainstorm, a heat wave, wind, hail, and gentle sunshine all on the same day. Because it’s entirely possible you will be! Patagonia’s weather is famously unpredictable: even if the forecast calls for sunshine, the mountains and massifs of this region command their own weather patterns. It can be sunny down on the pampas, but rainy and stormy in the mountains. So always be prepared and pack for all seasons, no matter what the forecast says! And if you’re unsure, ask your guide: as locals who have worked in the region for years, they’re well-versed in the local weather and can likely give you a better idea of what to expect on tomorrow’s hike than Weather.com.
The wind is truly formidable
Sitting at the tail end of South America, Patagonia is subject to brutal wind and weather formed in the middle of the Pacific and intensified passing over Antarctica and the Drake Passage. With nothing in their way, these winds — known as “westerlies” — hit the continent at speeds of a hundred miles an hour (although that’s extremely rare) and can knock grown men off their feet. In some cities, during the windy season, ropes are strung between buildings so people have something to grab onto and won’t get blown into traffic. It also makes flights quite an adventure! So watch yourself when out hiking (using trekking poles will help you be able to sturdy yourself), and be sure to pack sturdy weather gear like jackets and especially hair-ties, or you’ll be dealing with tangled hair at the end of the day and all your photos will feature “Patagonia hair”!
The right kind of boots can make all the difference
You came to Patagonia to see the sites, and to get to them, you’ll need to hit the trails. As a trekking Mecca, you’ll likely spend many days hiking and walking, and as Patagonian terroir ranges from rocky moraines to dirt paths, investing in a good pair of sturdy hiking boots is the difference between enjoying the hikes and ending the day with bleeding, blistered feet. If you don’t already have a trusty pair of hiking boots, buy some well in advance and BREAK THEM IN BEFORE THE TRIP.
It’s not a food desert
We know that you likely didn’t choose Patagonia for your vacation because of its culinary prestige, but you’d be surprised! The main tourist towns of Puerto Natales, El Chalten, and El Calafate actually have happening food scenes, ranging from cozy restaurants serving traditional Patagonian dishes like asados and king crab casserole (known as chupe de centolla) to trendy eateries getting more experimental. At the region’s top hotels, there are even restaurants serving the kind of high-end fare you’d find in some of the world’s best restaurants! You can reward yourself with locally-made craft beer at taprooms and gastropubs as well, and there’s even good, real coffee available! After all that hiking, you’re likely to have worked up an appetite, so don’t just resign yourself to a pack of ramen or a pizza (although there are crazy good pizzerias); walk around town and help yourself to the tastes of Patagonia!
Stick to the trails and obey park rules
You’d be surprised how often this needs to be said, but people visiting Patagonia’s beautiful national parks frequently disobey park rules by littering, hiking off-trail, camping in undesignated sites, making campfires when they’re not allowed, and more. The rules exist for a reason: to protect these landscapes so that not only you but others can enjoy them, now and for future generations. Sticking to the trail is actually incredibly important because hiking off-trail can harm local flora. So it’s essential to listen to park rangers and follow the rules: stick to the trails, pick up after yourself, and only set up camp where it’s allowed. And it’s not just empty threats: past fires in Torres del Paine have gotten people banned from the park and even fined thousands of dollars.
Patagonia is HUGE
Even though it looks big on a map, you can’t really comprehend the distances until you’re here. Vast distances of pampas separate the massifs that have made this region famous, like Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares, so be prepared for some lengthy car rides or flights. But even that isn’t without its rewards: on car rides you can see local fauna like flamingos, guanacos, and Darwin’s Rheas, and on planes, you can look out the window and get a bird’s-eye view of those spectacular glaciers and peaks.
Getting in shape before the trip will help make it more enjoyable
Most of the day hikes and multi-day treks in Patagonia can be done by anyone in good health and with a normal level of fitness, but there are some — like the base of the Torres hike in Torres del Paine — that are a higher level of difficulty. Even when not hiking in the mountains on “Patagonian flatland”, that still requires a lot of hiking up and down hills and gulleys. So, if you’re not a big hiker, doing some easy to intermediate trails near your home can help your body get back into the rhythm of hiking so you don’t tire out too quickly on your Patagonia hikes and can actually enjoy the experience.
Unless it says otherwise, DO NOT GO SWIMMING
It’s possible that, on social media, you’ve seen envy-inducing pictures of people taking a dip in the lake at the base of the Torres or in other lakes in Patagonia’s national parks. This is a big no-no! These lakes are full of fresh water rich in sediments and minerals from the glaciers, and in order to keep them clean, swimming is strictly forbidden. So please, save the swimming for the pool back at your hotel, and if you see someone breaking the rules and swimming in the lakes, speak up or report them to park authorities.
Visiting Easter Island is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences; a tiny speck of land located far out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a trip here is a chance to go back in time and immerse yourself in a wholly unique way of life. Known as Rapa Nui in the local indigenous language, the island has become internationally famous for its Moai: immense, human-esque rock statues that are dotted around the island. The mysteries surrounding their creation and how they were moved from place to place beguiled historians and archaeologists for years, and their size and stature mean that they have to be seen to be believed. With hiking and cycling trails, idyllic weather, sweeping oceanic vistas, endless fresh seafood, and a warm and welcoming local population who are eager to share their culture, it’s one of those destinations that has to go on your bucket list.
But even though all of Easter Island is worth exploring, there’s only so much time per trip and you want to make sure you hit all the highlights, the best that Rapa Nui has to offer. From the tips of volcanoes to pristine beaches to sacred sites, these are the 6 unmissable spots to visit on Easter Island!
An extinct volcanic crater attached to Ma′unga Terevaka, the largest of Easter Island’s three dormant volcanoes, Rano Raraku is one of the most historically and archaeologically important sites on the entire island for one big reason: it was a Moai factory.
On the slopes of Rano Raraku, Rapa Nui islanders found a massive quarry of tuff (a type of rock made from volcanic ash). Comparatively soft and easier to carve than most other rocks, tuff was ideal for crafting Moai, so 95% of the island’s famous statues came from the Rano Raraku quarry.
Used by islanders as a source of tuff for over 500 years until the early eighteenth century, at the quarry you can see for yourself the design evolution of the Moai statues. Various incomplete Moai dot the site, as well as the surrounding hillsides. Some of the most striking differences between these Moai and the ones at sites like Ahu Tongariki include their lack of pukao tophats or the fact that several are buried up to their shoulders instead of showing the whole body. In fact, it’s actually these hillside Moai statues that are some of the most famous examples of Moai on the island: since they are buried up to the neck, it is from them that the world got the term “Easter Island Heads”, as this was before excavation revealed their subterranean bodies. With 400 Moai in and around the quarry (including one attached to the quarry wall that’s 71 feet long and weighing an estimated 200 tonnes), the discovery of Rano Raraku was key to helping the world understand how the design and creation of the Moai were carried out over time.
There are various paths running around the site that take visitors past the quarry and the “Easter Island Heads” on the hillside. You can also climb up to the rim of the crater, which now holds a freshwater lake; it’s worth the climb for the panoramic view of the island and ocean.
A short walk from Rano Raraku, you’ll find one of the most instantly recognizable sites of the island: the row of 15 Moai statues standing side by side with the ocean in the backdrop.
Placed on top of an ahu (a large stone platform), Ahu Tongariki is the largest ahu on Easter Island. In the past, it was the capital of Hotu Iti, an area spanning the eastern portion of the island that was governed by a clan of the same name. During the island civil wars in the late 1770s and early 1800s, the Moai were toppled off the platform (many others around the island met a similar fate). Then in 1960, an earthquake off the coast of Chile (a 9.5, the strongest ever recorded) caused a tsunami that swept the ahu and its Moai inland. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the ahu was restored to its original place and grandeur, following a five-year retrieval and renovation project.
A wonder to behold any day of the year, Ahu Tongariki is especially amazing to see during the Summer Solstice, when all the Moai face the setting sun head-on. The site is also popular for watching the sunrise over the ocean with the ahu in the foreground.
Rano Kau & Orongo
On the southwestern headland of Easter Island can be found one of the island’s most striking geographic features: the enormous crater of the Rano Kau volcano.
Rising 1,063 feet up from sea level, Rano Kau is an extinct volcanic crater (like all the other volcanoes on Easter Island), making its immense, circular crater a must-visit for views of the island, ocean, and the freshwater lake in the base of the crater. A single trail leads to the rim (a tiring but relatively easy hike), where you can take in the crater’s conical walls, the lake and surrounding vegetation, and the ocean beyond. The crater – which is more than a mile across – is especially interesting because, thanks to the tall walls that shelter the base from winds, the crater has formed its own micro-climate; vines and figs grow especially well here. From the far end of the crater, you can also see where the outer walls of the volcano plunge down as steep sea cliffs into the Pacific Ocean.
Here, you’ll also find Orongo, a stone village that used to be an important ceremonial center. Made up of 53 circular stone houses, which were built low to the ground and without windows, Orongo was the site of one of the most spectacular and dangerous feats in Rapa Nui culture. Every year, a competition was held to bring back the first “manu tara” (sooty tern) egg of the season. The terns nested on a small island just off the coast called Motu Nui; to reach the island, contestants had to climb down the sheer volcanic sea cliffs, swim to the island, grab an egg, and then repeat the journey back up the volcano. Incredibly dangerous, many participants were killed during the race, either by falling from the cliffs, being eaten by sharks, or drowning. The man who finally emerged as the victor was dubbed the “Tangata manu” (Birdman).
Now a World Heritage Site inside Rapa Nui National Park, you can visit Orongo and see for yourself just how treacherous the race was.
Ana Te Pahu & Ahu Akivi
Easter Island was created more than 750,000 years ago by volcanic explosions. During its formation, flowing lava created subterranean channels all over the island, which hardened into rock and formed cavities in the earth. Ana Te Pahu (meaning “the cave of the drum”) is the largest of these volcanic caves.
Located near the base of Ma′unga Terevaka, in the past, the cave was likely used as a place of shelter, since the cave entrance is easy to access. A nearby chamber of the cave holds a water reservoir and archeologists have found evidence of ancient cooking stoves. The entrance to the cave was also surrounded by banana trees, earning Ana Te Pahu its second name “the cave of bananas”.
Visitors can explore the cave on their own, as there are rudimentary paths, but it’s recommended that they bring sturdy walking shoes and a flashlight.
Near the cave, you’ll also find one of the island’s Ahus, Ahu Akivi. Although not as well-known as Ahu Tongariki, it’s one of Rapa Nui’s most sacred sites. Erected sometime in the 16th century, the seven Moai on the ahu were believed to be the reincarnations of important leaders or kings on Easter Island, and so were built and placed facing the Pacific Ocean (instead of inland, like other ahus) as auspicious symbols of protection and luck for the clans of each Moai leader. The site was also used for astronomical observations, serving as points for precision measurement by lining up with the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes (the only Ahu on the island to do so).
Visitors to Easter Island primarily go to discover the island’s unique history and culture. But don’t forget that Easter Island is still a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with lovely weather, tranquil ocean views, and sandy beaches that are perfect for days of rest and relaxation. Anakena is the island’s main beach: a protected cove of white coral beaches, turquoise water, and waving palm trees. Idyllic and isolated, it’s the perfect spot to spend a day enjoying the sun and surf after days of cultural immersion. The water stays warm enough for swimming all year round, and there are nearby restaurants, picnic areas, and facilities for day trippers from Hanga Roa (the main town on the island).
But Anakena is more than a pretty beach: it’s actually the cradle of Rapa Nui’s culture and civilization. The first king of the island, Ariki Hotu Matu’a, landed here with his tribe and established the first colony on Easter Island, and later, the beach and surrounding lands were the home of the royal Miru tribe and an important cultural center. All this is known from the many archaeological artifacts found around the beach and nearby hills, as well as two ahu.
Ahu Te Pito Kura & Paro Moai
Ahu Te Pito Kura forms part of a historic complex of buildings, strategically and symbolically located at the center of the site. The ahu has only one Moai, Paro, which was pulled down and destroyed at some point in the past (it’s believed it happened in the mid-1800s). But Paro is more important because it was the largest Moai ever made and transported on Easter Island.
Made in the Rano Raraku quarry more than 8 kilometers away, moving this behemoth statue – which weighs more than 80 tons and is 32 feet long – must have been an incredibly difficult and strenuous feat. Today, Paro lies face down where he first fell, with his pukao hat a short distance in front of him.
But the site holds other treasures, like the Magentic Stone. Legend says that this large and spherical stone was brought to Easter Island by its first king Hotu Matu’a and that it possesses special energy called “mana”, which acts as a sort of magnet. This can be explained by the presence of large quantities of iron content in the stone, causing it to heat up quickly and affect nearby compasses. In the past visitors were able to place their hands on it to try and feel the energy within, but after some inappropriate behavior, it’s no longer allowed. The stone is what gives the site its name: “The Navel of the World”.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is still far from over, many countries around the world have tackled it successfully enough to start reopening their borders and attractions to visitors, with health and safety measures set in place. Many people are eager to get out and explore the world once again but want to do so safely, making visiting off-the-beaten-track, remote, and lesser-known locations where there will be fewer crowds a top priority for travelers.
Luckily, Chile is absolutely full of such destinations. Our skinny country has far more to offer besides just Patagonia and the Atacama Desert, so if you’re looking to travel to Chile once it’s safe to do so, we invite you to discover one of its hidden gems. From remote valleys to secret hideaways, many of Chile’s finest natural treasures are overlooked by visitors, which is their loss but your gain. Here are eight of our favorite off-the-beaten-track destinations around Chile that you can visit once travel restrictions are lifted.
Located in the far north of Chile near the city of Arica, Codpa Valley is an ancient oasis hidden amongst the rocky desert hills of the northern Atacama. Despite its arid environment, the valley is extremely fertile and lush, full of fruit trees, desert trees, and other greenery that are fed by a pristine river. The valley gets its name from the small village of Codpa, which was founded by Spanish colonizers and is home to a famous church that was built in the late 1600s and is one of the oldest churches in the country.
Today, the valley is best known for its agricultural output (producing fruits like guava and mango), its importance in the early days of Chile’s colonization, its indigenous history and culture, and the production of pintatani wine, a sweet red wine that is still made in the same way the Spanish settlers once did. Codpa is rarely on tourists’ radar but for those willing to take a chance, you’ll discover a timeless culture and way of life that has endured for generations, preserved by the heat and desert sands. There are hotels and accommodations throughout the valley, and visitors can spend their days visiting historic villages, learning about the agricultural products of the region, immersing themselves in the history and making of pintatani wine, and discovering native culture at pre-Hispanic sites like the Ofriaga petroglyphs.
Salar de Maricunga
While most visitors to the Atacama Desert stick to the main landmarks and attractions near the town of San Pedro de Atacama, this high-altitude desert has many more beautiful, remote places worth exploring. One of these is the Salar de Maricunga, a vast salt flat located in Nevado Tres Cruces National Park. Stretching 8,300 hectares, the stark-white salt flats dazzle the eyes, and the surrounding landscapes are also dotted with lakes and lagoons in vibrant shades of blue. On the horizon, you can see Ojos del Salado, Chile’s highest peak and the highest active volcano in the world, as well as the other mountains of the Nevado Tres Cruces volcanic massif. The park is also an excellent place to see migratory flamingos during the summer months. Far from the tourist crowds of San Pedro, here you can enjoy Chile’s altiplano away from the noise of humanity, with no sounds but the high-altitude winds and the occasional squawk of a flamingo.
Llanos de Challe National Park
You may think the Atacama is stark and lifeless, largely devoid of plants and animals. It’s why the landscapes are so often compared to Mars or the Moon. But not so. Head from the interior of the desert to the Pacific Coast and it’s a whole other world, as you’ll discover at Llanos de Challe National Park.
Here, the coastal hills receive frequent moisture coming in off the Pacific in the form of dense cloudbanks and fogs; locally, they’re called Camanchacas. These mists allow plant life to flourish, giving this national park its own unique ecosystem and incredible biodiversity full of endemic and rare plant life including flowers and cacti. If you’re lucky and visit when the El Niño–Southern Oscillation takes place, you can even witness the famous flowering desert phenomenon, where the blank desert fields spring to life with vibrant flowers and plants. It’s also one of the best places outside Patagonia to see guanacos thanks to a large native population.
Although it’s not one of Chile’s Greatest Hits attractions like the Atacama or Patagonia, the name “Elqui Valley” may ring a bell to you; that’s because, in 2019, a total solar eclipse passed over this area and for a few brief minutes the eyes of the world were on Elqui. But this network of mystical valleys in Chile’s Norte Chico, a region between the arid Atacama and the lush central valleys near Santiago, deserves more than a passing glance. First off, it’s the birthplace of Chilean pisco: a grape-based brandy that is the country’s national drink. The valley floors are crisscrossed with patchwork vineyards, and many pisco distilleries open their doors for tastings and tours so you can learn all about this unique spirit. Immerse yourself in Chilean culture by discovering the life of one of Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poets, Gabriela Mistral, who was born here, and outdoor lovers will also enjoy going on hikes or horseback rides throughout the hills or biking down the winding roads.
The altitude and clear-skies also make for incredible stargazing, arguably even better than in the Atacama. The hilltops here are dotted with professional and public observatories, with tours and stargazing sessions that will absolutely blow your mind. This closeness to the skies is believed to have imbued the region with a special cosmic energy; with extraordinarily high electromagnetic readings, people here feel like they have a direct connection to the universe, making it a hotbed of alternative beliefs and hippie communes. So if you need to have your chakras realigned want to reconnect with the universe, this is the place to do it.
Altos de Lircay
From dense forests and snowcapped peaks to fields of hexagonal stones believed to be UFO landing sites (yes, really), the Altos de Lircay National Reserve is truly an out-of-this-world destination. Located in the Maule region, this reserve is often bypassed by visitors heading to the more famous Radal Siete Tazas National Park nearby.
The park has many hiking trails, either for day trips or longer, multi-day treks, and its isolated nature makes it perfect for backcountry camping and hiking. The trails pass through the park’s abundant woodlands, with many ending at mountaintop viewpoints that offer spectacular vistas. One of the most popular trails leads to an area called El Enladrillado, a tabletop plateau of flat, hexagonally-shaped stones. The bizarre nature of the landscape has led some to believe UFOs land here, making it a popular spot for “believers” to visit. But even if you don’t believe in extraterrestrial life, the amazing views and otherworldly rocks are worth the hike. In addition to hiking and camping, there are also horseback riding trails as well.
Conguillio National Park
This dramatic national park, located in the Araucania region of central Chile, is often overlooked by travelers because it’s not in the more popular adjacent Lakes District or down in Patagonia. But that’s their loss, because it’s easily one of Chile’s finest hidden gems, not only because there are fewer crowds so you can better connect with nature, but because the scenery is unreal. Dominated by the mighty (and still active) Llaima Volcano, this landscape is prehistoric: full of stark black lava flows, Technicolor lakes, and ancient forests. The main distinguishing feature of the park are the forests of Araucaria trees; towering giants that can live for thousands of years and are characterized by their bare trunks and curving crown of spiny branches. There is one Araucaria located in the park, the Mother Araucaria, that is over 1,800 years old! There are several small towns with cabins and hotels on the parks’ outskirts, but many choose to stay in the park, camping or in cabins, for more direct access to the park’s many hiking trails and outdoor recreational activities like kayaking on Lake Conguillio. You can also see amazing local wildlife like woodpeckers, condors, and foxes.
Carelmapu and Humedal de Maullín
This massive ecosystem of wetlands, swamps, tidal bays, rivers, estuaries, marshes, and flats covers 1,350 hectares in southern Chile, serving as protected lands for the incredible variety of birds that reside in or migrate through the area. At least 28 species of birds use these abundant wetlands as a resting place along their migratory path, and studies have found nearly a hundred different kinds of birds use the area overall. This makes this a fantastic place for birdwatching and to learn more about Chile’s fascinating flora and fauna. Throughout the protected reserve, there are designated areas for kayaking and boating, as well as hiking paths, cycling trails, and viewpoints from which to take in the views and wildlife.
To best experience the Maullín wetlands, stay in one of the nearby towns like Carelmapu. This charming village sits on the edge of a peninsula that juts out into the ocean, surrounded by dramatic scenery like seaside cliffs and lush fields and forests. Truly, the vibrantly-green landscapes look like something from coastal Ireland or England, and Carelmapu even means “green place” in Mapudungun, the language of the native Mapuche tribe. The town dates from early colonial days when it was a fort, so there are some interesting historic buildings to visit that showcase local architecture, like the Church of Carelmapu that is built in the same style as the famous Chiloe Island churches.
Patagonia National Park
This 752,503-acre national park is one of the newest additions to Chile’s many protected lands, having been part of the major land donation gifted to the Chilean government for conservation by Doug and Kris Tompkins. But Patagonia National Park, which is located in the southerly Aysen region, was one of the Tompkins’ pet projects for rewilding and rehabilitation, removing farm infrastructure to entice native species like guanacos and pumas back. Today, the park is thriving, full of wildlife and spectacular scenery like rolling grasslands, dramatic rivers, turquoise lakes, endemic forests, craggy mountains, and more. As the park is still relatively new, visitor numbers are still low, so you can be among the first in the world to fully appreciate its beauty and tranquility, as well as contribute to its legacy of preserving Chile’s natural places for the future. There are many different hiking trails throughout the different sectors of the park to enjoy, as well as other attractions like visiting the confluence of the Chacabuco and Baker River or going for scenic drives. The park is also home to the Lodge at Valle Chacabuco, a spectacular wilderness lodge in the style of the historic hotels of US national parks, as well as campsites.
Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia is one of the most popular outdoor adventure destinations in the world, and for good reason. The park has spectacular glaciers, mountains, grasslands, lakes, and rivers, and is essentially a nature-lover’s idea of paradise. Many people visit to do day hikes to popular spots like the French Valley, the Grey Glacier, or the base of the Torres, or others do the W circuit or Paine treks. And on all the many different treks and activities you can do to explore the park, you’re bound to see some of Torres del Paine’s unique and diverse fauna: animal life. While this is not a definitive list, here are 12 of the animals you can see in Torres del Paine National Park!
1. Pumas – The king of Patagonia, puma sightings in Torres del Paine have become increasingly common in recent years after fires forced the guanaco population into the areas of the park with more roads and tourism infrastructure. The pumas live solitary lives except when the females are raising their young, which take several years to mature. They prey on guanacos, as well as sheep, which has led to anti-puma sentiment among ranchers and farmers, who hunt them to protect their herds. But conservation and educational outreach programs are turning the tide of opinion on these powerful predators.
2. Huemuls – If you catch a glimpse of these very shy and elusive deer, which are featured on the Chilean coat of arms, you are really lucky! Sighting a huemul is more rare than sighting a puma. These deer, which are endangered from diseases contracted from farm animals like sheep, loss of habitat, and hunting. With a brown coat and large ears, huemuls are also about half the size of regular deer.
3. Darwin’s Rhea (Nandus) – Similar in appearance and size to an ostrich or an emu, these large birds – which have grey plumage and ruffled feathers – live and travel together in flocks as big as 30 individuals. Similar to their cousins, the ostrich, and emu, they are flightless and elude predators by running at incredible speeds on strong legs. Females lay clutches of up to 50 eggs, which, when they hatch, take three years to fully mature. As its name suggests, it was first recorded by Charles Darwin during his journey on the Beagle.
4. Guanacos – A relative of the alpaca and llama, these spindly-legged camelids are some of the most common sights in the park, roaming around in large herds or as individuals (if you see an individual, they are a young male who does not have a harem of females). Competition between males (especially during breeding season) is fierce and fights are common, during which they try to bite their opponent’s testicles. The guanaco diet consists of grass and other plant life, and they mainly live and around seen out in the pampas part of the park, where the herds roam. Their main threat is from the puma, and herds have sentries on hilltops to keep a look out and raise the alarm should they see anything.
5. Condors – The Andean condor is truly a sight to behold: with a wingspan that can reach ten feet, they are one of the largest bird species in the world. Condors are scavengers, using the thermals and air currents over the park to soar high and keep a lookout for leftovers (carrion) like dead guanacos, which they can spot from incredible heights and distances. You can often see them flying high over the park or coming home to nest on cliff faces.
6. Armadillos – There are two different kinds of armadillos in Torres del Paine: the Piche Patagon and the Quirquincho Peludo. The main difference between the two is when they are active, as the dwarf forage for food and explore during the day and the hairy are nocturnal. Both subspecies dig burrows to live in and feed off of grubs, roots, and shrubs. Sometimes they are hunted for their meat or their tough, protective body armor, but in general, they are left alone.
7. Hog-nosed skunk – Surprise, surprise, there are skunks in Patagonia! They’re not a common sight, as they mainly come out at night, but they can sometimes be seen nosing around and foraging for insects, grubs, and wild vegetables. They live in deep burrows that they dig themselves in the pampas, more desert-like areas of the park, and they can be seen out and about during spring, summer, and fall, as during winter they close off their burrows and live off of stored food. And, of course, like all skunks, if threatened or startled, they will spray a stinky, nasty-smelling substance in self-defense.
8. Southern grey fox – The Patagonian fox (or chilla) are a likely sight while out exploring the park or hanging out at your accommodations, as they are curious and are often found just out exploring or hunting for their daily diet of rodents, berries, eggs, or other small prey. With a greyish brown coat (which they are sometimes hunted for) the fox can also be identified by its distinctive “yip” call. Also, these foxes are actually not even foxes at all but are a member of the lycalopex family, which are often referred to as “false foxes”.
9. Red fox (culpeo) – These adventurous and nosy red foxes are renowned for their “auspicious” and bold hunting style (their name comes from a Mapuche word for madness). In the past, their diet was mainly made up of rodents, birds, berries, and eggs, but since sheep were introduced here in the 1800s, the foxes have definitely taken advantage of the easy prey and have made the sheep their primary targets. With beautiful fur of red and brown, the foxes are sometimes hunted for their furs, despite protection laws.
10. Geoffroy’s Cat – A sighting of one of these is a real treat, as sightings are incredibly rare since they are nocturnal hunters, coming out at night to catch small birds and rodents. About the size of an average house cat, the Geoffroy’s cat has a soft coat of tawny brown or light grey covered with black spots and stripes. In the past, they were hunted for their pelts and were even listed as endangered for a while, but new laws and protections have allowed the populations to bounce back. Some naturalists wait their whole lives to see a Geoffroy’s cat, so if you see one during your stay at the park, you are truly lucky.
11. Magellanic woodpecker – Torres del Paine is home to some spectacular bird species, like this jet-black with red faced beauty. They are mostly commonly found in the forested part of the park, drilling into trees for insects, grubs, and other edibles, as well as creating homes for their families. If you are patient and quiet while walking through the forests in the park, you may hear the distinctive “tock, tock, tock” of their hammering.
12. Austral parakeet – Parakeets? In Patagonia? You bet! These birds, which are identifiable by their green and red plumage, can be found in the park’s forests and woodlands, feeding off of berries, seeds, and other plant life.
Did you know this is the only king penguin colony in South America?
Thanks to the initiative of scientists, landowners, biologists, vets and archaeologists, the Pingüino Rey Private Park seeks to raise awareness among visitors of the value of the bird life on the island and prevent the endangerment and extinction of this species. This place has the right conditions for nesting, resting and feeding – which you may be able to observe, depending on the season. Here, you’ll learn about this amazing animal, which is considered to be the second largest of the world’s 18 species of penguin, measuring up to 95cm tall!
The large island of Tierra del Fuego is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan, surrounded to the south by the Beagle Channel, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean on the Argentinian side and to the west by the Chilean territory of the Pacific Ocean. This area is noted for its large number of fjords, its Cordillera de Darwin mountain range, its inhospitable climate and important bird life, especially the “King Penguin” colony that visit the private park.
PUNTA ARENAS & SURROUNDINGS
You will have excellent service at the Yegua Loca hotel located in the city of Punta Arenas. Depending what time you arrive, you’ll have time to explore, get to know the surrounding area, and prepare for your adventure on the following day.
PUNTA ARENAS – TIERRA DEL FUEGO / KING PENGUIN PARK
After breakfast, a van will pick you up between 7:00-7:30 am to begin your trip to the Pingüino Rey Private Park. You will take a ferry across the Strait of Magellan towards the chilote bay located on Tierra del Fuego, where the first activity will consist of a city tour around Porvenir before continuing on towards the Park. There, you will have time to observe, take pictures, and learn about this amazing colony that now contains over one hundred penguins distributed over grassland areas, coastal bays and the Park’s gentle hills.
Once you have finished exploring the Park, you’ll head to the Cerro Sombrero, another part of the island, where you can explore the town and enjoy its facilities. Later, you’ll head back to Punta Arenas.
PUNTA ARENAS – SANTIAGO AIRPORT
When your stay in Punta Arenas reaches its end, a van will pick you up from the hotel at an agreed time according to the time of your flight and take you to Punta Arenas airport where you will catch your return flight to Santiago.
Without a doubt, Easter Island is a bucket-list destination: seeing those giant Moai statues with your own eyes, hiking up volcanoes, learning traditional dances, dining on island cuisine, and lounging on coral sand beaches while listening to the waves. Even though Easter Island is only 63 square miles, there’s a ton of things to do packed into such a small space. Here are the Off the beaten track activities on Easter Island!
Hanga Roa – Before the Europeans came to Easter Island, the Rapa Nui islanders lived spread out all over the island. But now, everything is centralized in the main town of Hanga Roa. Located on the island’s western coast, here is where you’ll be based during your visit: the airport is just outside of town, all the hotels and accommodations are here, tours depart from here, and most of the best restaurants and stores are located here as well. Hanga Roa is also the only place on the island you can get WiFi.
Meaning “wide bay” in the native language, it’s a charming town of just over 3,000 that’s easy to navigate on your own and a great place to experience how historic and modern Rapa Nui have come together to coexist (check out the graveyard to see how Christian and Rapa Nui beliefs and iconography blended; looking out over the ocean, the graveyard is a fascinating blend of crosses and Moai).
In addition to exploring the rest of the island, it’s a good idea to set aside a day or two just to get to know Hanga Roa, as there’s plenty to do and see. By the oceanfront, you can walk along Pea Beach, a scenic strip of white beach where you can soak up the sunshine, look at native flora, and even catch a few waves in the sheltered harbor.
Further along the coast, you’ll also find the stately Ahu Tahai and Ahu Ko Te Riku, two beautifully preserved examples of classic ahus (a large stone platform with Moai arranged in a row along the top) and Moai (you’ve likely seen pictures of Ko Te Riku, with its singular Moai staring with its wide, white-painted eyes). You can also visit the fishing port, enjoy some of the island’s best food at spots like La Kaleta, Te Moai Sunset, and Haka Honu, and be wowed by traditional Rapa Nui dances and music at Kari Kari,
Sebastian Englert Museum – Even though you can see evidence of Easter Island’s ancient civilization all over the island, most of the remnants of the island’s past are now protected inside museums and archives, and one of the best collections of Easter Island artifacts in the world is housed right on the island at the Sebastian Englert Museum in Hanga Roa.
The only museum on the island, it’s named after Sebastian Englert, a German priest who came to Easter Island in 1935 and then dedicated the rest of his life to understanding, documenting and preserving Easter Island’s culture. The museum represents his life’s work: a collection of more than 15,000 artifacts including tablets of Rongo Rongo writing, a rare example of a female Moai, a reconstructed Moai eye, stone tools, and more. Information about the collection and overall Rapa Nui history and culture is available in English, French, German, and Japanese. For a more in-depth look into the island’s history and customs, this is a must-visit.
Ana Kakenga – Known as “the cave of two windows”, this ocean-front cave is famous for its rock-framed views of the Pacific Ocean, but the cave itself – a volcanic tube that was once used as a shelter by different Easter Island tribes – actually is rumored to have a tragic past. It’s said that the cave was the final refuge for a pair of young lovers who, fearing retribution for their forbidden love by their respective tribes, hid there as a last resort.
But it’s easy to see why they would choose this cave as their final place to be together: after climbing down through the opening in the ground that leads into the subterranean cave, you can see the ocean through two rock “windows”, each located down a different passage. With the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks and the picturesque ocean view, it’s quite romantic and makes for a great snapshot.
While open to the public, it’s recommended that you visit Ana Kakenga with a guide, because the entrance (a small hole in the ground) can be difficult to find on one’s own as there’s no signage. A narrow opening that requires a tight squeeze to get through, it’s easier with a guide to direct you and also help you navigate the cave.
Ahu Vinapu – Most of the Moai and Ahu around the island are male in appearance, but Ahu Vinapu is home to one of the few examples of female Moai. Made of red scoria rock, which is the same type of stone used to make the pukao “top hats” seen on male Moai around the island, the female Moai resembles a column and most details have been erased by time, but archaeologists still believe it is feminine in nature. The most notable female Moai, now housed in the museum, was found near this site.
The ahu, which is part of a large ceremonial complex consisting of several ahus with downed Moai, is also important because of how the ahu was constructed. Large pieces of stone were carved and fitted together in a manner similar to how the Incans of Peru constructed their incredibly complex stone cities in places like Machu Picchu and Cuzco. Archaeologists believe these similarly “fitted stones” suggest that there was communication between the Rapa Nui people and the Incans, or, as another theory goes, that the ahu was built by the Incan emperor Tupac Yupanqui when he went on an exploratory trip of the Pacific Ocean around 1480. Several other theories exist, but as no solid evidence has yet come to light, how Ahu Vinapu was built remains one of the unsolved mysteries of Easter Island’s past.
Ahu Vinapu is just a short drive from Hanga Roa, and you can easily navigate and walk the site on your own. It’s a good idea to go with a local guide, though, to provide more background information.
Puna Pau – While visiting sites like Ahu Tongariki, you’ll likely notice that some of the Moai are wearing hats: rounded squares of red stone with a smaller cylindrical piece on the top. These stone hats are called “pukaos” and the stone to make them came from a special place: the quarry at Puna Pau.
Located inside a small crater near Hanga Roa, Puna Pau was a rich resource of scoria, a low-density, reddish rock. Whereas most of the Moai figures were carved from tuff (a darker but also relatively soft type of volcanic rock) taken from the Rona Raraku quarry further up the island, scoria was only used to make the pukaos, Tukuturis (a different kind of sculpture from the Moai), and petroglyphs. Nowadays, the site itself is lovely, with rolling green hills dotted by burgundy-red boulders; a pathway through the hills taken you to the quarry itself.
Ahu Huri A Urenga – Ancient civilizations seemed to have quite a knack for knowing the stars (perhaps even better than we do with all our modern technology), and the Rapa Nui were no exception. At the entrance of Ahu Huri A Urenga, a water well and small indentations made in the stones would collect rainwater to reflect back the stars for observation and study. It is believed that this site was vital for the Rapa Nui calendar, as solar observations taken at the site helped mark the start of seasons and even regulations (like fishing). The ahu platform and the Moai on it (which is one of the few examples of Moai with hands) also directly face the sunrise on the winter solstice. The site was also used for funerals, as there’s a crematorium located at the back of the complex.
Trekking or cycling at Terevaka – Terevaka is the largest of Easter Island’s three volcanoes, and the summit offers wonderful views of the island and ocean. As such, it’s a popular place to go for a hike or for cycling. Despite being the biggest, it’s a fairly easy hike for everyone: the surrounding landscape of undulating hills with ocean views is pretty flat, and the gently-rising slopes aren’t too strenuous.
The summit can be a bit windy, but the views are worth it. Rent a bike in Hanga Roa for the day to go cycling on the trails, or just lace up your hiking shoes and start walking!
Ovahe Beach – Most people don’t go to Easter Island for adventure; aside from some light hiking, cycling, and scuba diving, the majority of visitors are here to experience the culture. But even with such a lightweight schedule, a relaxing day at the beach is always a good idea! While Anakena, the most popular beach on the island, is absolutely lovely, if you’re looking for solitude and to see a lesser-known part of the island, head to Ovahe Beach.
Like Anakena, Ovahe beach was also the site of an islander settlement but now it’s primarily known for its rugged beauty. The small, pink sand beach is surrounded by rocky sea cliffs, making it a perfect place for sunbathing. The warm turquoise waters are a popular spot for snorkeling, as the offshore coral reefs and rocky outcrops are frequented by native sea creatures like sea turtles and fish. However, the currents are stronger here than at Anakena and as the beach is isolated, there’s no lifeguard on duty so caution when swimming is urged. Ovahe is also one of the last refuges for native coastal flora on Easter Island, so you can see local flowers and plants.
If you love trekking and want to visit Patagonia someday, chances are that high on your list of to-do hikes is the W Trek in Torres del Paine. But in recent years, as more and more people come to Chile and Patagonia for its world-class trails and trekking opportunities, the W trek has become overcrowded and far too busy during the high season months of December through February. For people traveling to Patagonia looking to escape into nature and get away from the crowds, that experience of being secluded and alone in the wilderness can be ruined. Luckily, there are plenty of other trails all over Patagonia, ranging from the northern area in the Lakes District to the far reaches of Tierra del Fuego, that can satisfy your appetite for adventure.
1.Dientes de Navarino – The Dientes Circuit, located on far-flung Navarino Island in Tierra del Fuego and so-named for the jagged, tooth-like appearance of the island’s mountain chain, is about as different from the W as you can get. With virtually no trail infrastructure save for markers, hikers need to bring all their own camping and hiking equipment, making it the perfect multi-day trek for true outdoor aficionados. Lasting four days and covering 53 kilometers of rugged, isolated backcountry, the trail passes through valleys, Magellanic subpolar forests, peat bogs, lakes and rivers, and finally peaks at the Virginia Step with otherworldly views of the Beagle Channel and the mountains and fjords of Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn. For hikers who enjoy escaping into pure, untrammelled nature and tackling treks that few people have done before, the Dientes Trek is a welcome challenge.
Where: Navarino Island, Chilean Tierra del Fuego
How long: Roughly 53 kilometers (roughly 4 days)
When to go: November through March
Difficulty Level: Advanced
Why make the trip: Beautiful vistas of fjords and mountains, untouched nature, isolated and unknown to most Patagonia visitors
2.Cerro Castillo – Fans of the Dientes Trek and undeveloped hiking trails will love this lesser-known but spectacular four-day trek in the Aysen region. Cerro Castillo, named for the battlement-like pinnacles of the rock formation that marks the highest peak in the Central Andean range (2,320 meters) this newly-appointed national park has all the attractions of Torres del Paine — towering peaks, sprawling glaciers, and beautiful views over lakes and mountainous passes — but without the crowds. The trail can be accessed from different trailheads, allowing for day hikes, but the standard multi-day hiking route is roughly 62 kilometers (38.5 miles) long, with the highlight of the trail being the view of the mountain over the brilliant turquoise waters of Laguna Cerro Castillo. Isolated and with very basic infrastructure at the campsites and along the trail, the hike is definitely recommended for expert hikers who are comfortable spending many days alone in remote territory. But the views, peaceful atmosphere, and chance to see elusive wildlife like huemul deer and pumas make this hike well worth the effort.
Where: Aysen Region, Chile
How long: 62 kilometers (roughly 4 days)
When to go: November through February for summer (high season)
Difficulty Level: Intermediate to advanced
Why make the trip: Beautiful views of jagged mountains and lakes, great opportunities for wildlife viewing, uncrowded.
3.Darwin’s Trail – This trail, which spans both land and sea, retraces the route of famed naturalist Charles Darwin through the Fuegian Archipelago when he first sailed here in 1832 aboard the Beagle on its second voyage and came into contact with the Yaghan tribe. Enamored of the region’s wealth of biodiversity — which you can observe for yourself thanks to the abundance of marine wildlife, seabirds, and the miniature forests of mosses and lichens — the observations Darwin made on his voyage through Tierra del Fuego helped shape his ideas on evolution, making this route a great destination for hikers with an interest in botany, biology, and history. The path, which passes through various waterways like the Beagle and Murray channels, also includes short and relatively easy hikes to inland lookouts from which Darwin could observe the landscapes, such as the trail leading to a lookout over the historic and beautiful Wulaia Bay, landing site of the Beagle and of bloody conflicts between the Europeans and the native Yaghan.
Where: Tierra del Fuego, Chile, and Navarino Island
How long: 2-3 days
When to go: November through March
Difficulty Level: Easy to intermediate
Why make the trip: Remote islands, marine wildlife, stunning flora
4.Cochamo Valley – When most people think of hiking in Chile’s beautiful Lakes District, they think of Huilo Huilo. But this valley, located roughly two hours from Puerto Montt, is home of the region’s most thrilling and beautiful trails. Cochamo Valley, known as the ‘Yosemite of Chile’, is only accessible via a 4-to-6 hour hike that leads you into the heart of this granite-domed paradise, filled with old-growth forests, pristine rivers, and grassy pampas. The valley’s shape doesn’t lend itself to circuitous trails; rather, people hike into the valley, stay at a number of campsites and go on day hikes to different areas and lookouts, like the Arcoiris trail, a five hour to summit push that rewards those who tackle it with astonishing views. Due to the remote location of the valley, the trails and campsites are very rudimentary, making it a great destination for people who love roughing it outdoors and taking on more challenging trails. The sheer granite cliffs, which can rise up to 1,000 meters high, have also turned the valley into an international destination for rock climbers.
Where: Los Lagos Region, Chile
How long: 4-6 hours (10 kilometers) to La Junta campground in the valley
When to go: November to mid-April
Difficulty Level: Intermediate to advanced
Why make the trip: Remote, pristine trails, great rock climbing, secluded wilderness, granite dome mountains.
Everyone knows that Chile is one of the best destinations in the world for downhill skiing, home to first-rate resorts like Portillo or Valle Nevado, but there’s much more to winter in Chile than just hitting the slopes. Summer in the southern hemisphere, which falls during the months of June, July, and August, offers the perfect escape for the heat of summer in the northern hemisphere, as well as the chance to see Chile’s captivating landscapes in all their wintry glory. From trekking in Patagonia, to stargazing in Chile’s northern deserts, to enjoying uniquely Chilean winter drinks and food, winter is fast becoming the new best time to visit Chile.
1.Epic winter sports – Chile’s many diverse regions make the country perfectly suited to a huge range of winter sports, making it the perfect winter getaway from the summer heat in the northern hemisphere. If downhill skiing isn’t your forte, the Lakes District is prime territory for excellent cross-country skiing, as well as the chance to ski down volcanoes, and snowboarding and extreme sports like heli-skiing are also very popular. If you’d prefer not to shred the slopes, winter trekking is on the rise, like the W trek in Torres del Paine, or day treks in the area like Cerro Dorotea, or live your Iditarod dreams and go dog sledding with a team of huskies through Chile’s southern forests.
2.Beautiful snowy landscapes – Torres del Paine. The Atacama Desert. The Andes. The Lakes District. All these beautiful landscapes are one of the main reasons people want to visit Chile. Now imagine them in the wintertime. The granite peaks and pampas of Patagonia, covered in snow and ice under a cold winter sun. The Lakes District – land of luscious forests and towering volcanoes – becomes the ultimate winter wonderland. The dramatic backdrop of the Andes behind Santiago, capped with a layer of snow. If you go crazy for a fresh snowfall, winter in Chile is the best time to go.
3.The coziest winter food and drink – To get through those long, cold winter nights, Chileans have created some of the tastiest, most filling winter fare in South America. For lunch or dinner, tuck into a warm bowl of cazuela, Chile’s version of chicken noodle soup, chicken-and-dumplings-like pantrucas, or porotos con riendas, a hearty stew of beans, spaghetti, squash, and sausage. Then, for apres-ski drinks, try a cup of navegado, Chilean mulled wine, accompanied by a plate of sopaipillas pasadas, which are disks of fried Andean squash that have been soaked in a sugary sauce called chancaca.
4.The best time to go stargazing – Winter is when the skies in the southern hemisphere are at their clearest, making prime stargazing spots like San Pedro de Atacama and the Valle de Elqui even more spectacular. You can visit world-class observatories like ALMA (unfortunately not at night, though, as it’s a working observatory) where you can learn more about the important scientific discoveries that have been made at Chilean observatories. Then, bundle up at night for stargazing tours with local expert astronomers, where you can use a range of telescopes to see nighttime marvels like nebulas and planets and learn all about the constellations and southern skies.
5.Low season crowds – Aside from the top ski resorts outside Santiago, winter is low season for tourism in Chile, which is good news for you! There will be even fewer crowds at the top destinations like San Pedro or Torres del Paine (which is now open for winter trekking, either with the full W or day treks), there is more availability at the top restaurants and hotels all over the country, and, best of all, you get to take advantage of great low season rates!
Visiting the driest desert on Earth – San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro lies in the north of Chile, acting as a gateway to the driest desert in the world, the infamous Atacama. In San Pedro and its surrounding there are a lot of activities related with adventures, gastronomy, amazing landscapes and local culture, you simply must go if you’re ever in Chile.
Using San Pedro as a base, you can easily explore the otherworldly valleys, high-altitude lagoons, and ancient hillside ruins. You can also gawp at the night sky – possibly the clearest in the world – by taking an astronomy tour, or simply walking a little away from the light of the town. A starry night here is something you will never forget.
Ideally, you will need 4 days to make the most of your time here. The town is small and easily walkable. There are tour agencies and empanada shops (the best kind). More time will allow you some relaxation and wiggle room, less means you will need to select your activities wisely. Without further ado, here are the best things to see and do around San Pedro de Atacama.
Where to Visit
1. Valle de la Luna
Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, is a spectacular valley located just 13km from San Pedro.
The information desk at the entrance provides maps of the valley, taking you all the way to Las Tres Marias, three unusual rocky formations that jut out of the desert floor.
The first stop, around 3km from the entrance, is the salt caverns. They’re a winding and narrow cave system, containing unearthly geological structures. You can walk the snaking trail in around 20 minutes and either carry on along the main road, or take a right as you exit the caves and explore a less visited part of the valley.
There are more surreal cliffs and caves, but the further you head in this direction, the less people you will encounter, and the more it begins to feel like you are truly isolated in the desert. The midday sun beats down on your face and neck, no matter which way you look.
The main view that everybody comes to see in the Valley of the Moon is the sunset, particularly from the top of the giant sand dune. The path is sandy but well worn; it shouldn’t pose a problem to anybody. The view from the top makes you understand the logic behind the valley’s name. It was also here where NASA tested the prototype for the Mars rover, due to its strikingly similar terrain.
Watching the sun drop behind the ridge is beautiful on its own, but it doesn’t compete with the red-gold afterglow that engulfs the desert. At the top of the dune, you can walk along the ridge in either direction. The right allows you a view of the sun setting behind the sand dune, and if you turn around, you have the full chain of the Andes mountains, complete with several large volcanoes in the distance. The left has a view of the craggy hills and the interminable desert. The path goes on further, too, meaning there is more space to find your own spot, away from the crowds. This is the busiest time on the sand dune, but the view is remarkable all-day long. A sunset here is one you will remember for the rest of your life.
How to get there Getting to Valle de la Luna can be done in a several ways, depending on your preferences. The best option is to take a tour, which will pick you up from your hotel or hostel and transport you to the entrance, visiting each of the locations with a knowledgeable guide, before dropping you back off at your accommodation. They usually start at 2 or 3 pm so that you can catch the sunset, but an earlier one is possible.
Cycling is easy as well. In your free time you can rent a bike in town and start your trip. The ride from the centre of town to the entrance takes about 25 minutes. However, upon entry into the actual valley, the road becomes rickety and there are steep sections, too. A helmet and visibility jacket are essential for you to take the bike into the valley. I made the mistake of cycling there without either, and was told upon arrival that they would not let me take the bike inside without them.
2. Valle de la Muerte / Valle de la Marte
The Valley of the dead, also known as the Valley of Mars, is closer to San Pedro than the Valley of the Moon. Its surreal landscapes are just as astonishing, but they have the bonus of being less crowded than their bigger and more popular neighbour. That’s not to say that nobody visits the Valley of the Dead, but it doesn’t get as many as the Valley of the Moon.
The entrance is on the right-hand side of the road to Calama, approx 2km from the centre of town.
This valley is the perfect place to sandboard. The Valley of the Moon also has a huge sand dune but you are not allowed to sandboard on it. As well as climbing the dune to ride back down, it is also worth going up for the view alone. The desert rolls out before your eyes, stretching all the way to the jagged Andes mountains, cowboys ride through the rugged valleys, kicking up dust in their wake, and bizarre outcrops defy logic at every turn.
I made the mistake of climbing the dune in a straight line, from the base to the highest point. Don’t make the same mistake as me. I had to use both my hands and my feet, as the surface was almost vertical. My feet sunk into the sand a good 30cm with each step, making the whole ordeal unnecessarily demanding. I had half the desert in my shoes by the time I made it to the top. Luckily, I had enough water to make sure I didn’t pass out from the midday heat. Despite taking the most difficult route (there is a well-trodden track for sandboarders, which takes you up diagonally), it was well worth the effort.
You can also continue on the path further into the valley, which winds its way up to the opposite side of the sand dune, giving you a view of what lies beyond the towering ridge. It looks like an extreme Motocross track, built for giants. I still struggle to get my head around how these valleys were formed.
How to get there
You can travel here using the same methods stated for the Valley of the Moon.
A way to get to the Valley of the Dead is with a tour departing from your hotel. Your van will stick to the main road towards Calama. The sandy hill, directly in front of you as you leave the town, is the entrance. It should not take longer than a few minutes to get there. If you have enough time it is possible to reach very good viewpoints. Take plenty of water and some snacks.
There are tours combined with the Valley of the Moon, if you prefer to visit both at once.
Finally, you can cycle. It’s easy to get here, despite a little up-hill section. Cycling in the actual valley can be quite difficult however, as the sand can be thick. I walked to the top with my bike, then rode down (without peddling), but my wheels jammed in the sand and I flew over my handle bars, almost rolling off the steep road and into the Valley of the Dead below. It would have been a fitting place to die, but it was not to be. You can also cycle from here to Pukara de Quitor in a relatively fast time, as there is a path directly from entrance to entrance.
3. Pukara de Quitor
This fascinating hill-side ruin was once a mighty fortress, perched in a great defensive location, destroying the element of surprise for invaders. You can find it 3km north-west of San Pedro. Like most of the attractions here, there is an entrance fee of a few thousand Pesos. If you have a bike, there is a place to lock it at the entrance.
You can choose between climbing the ridge that runs along the 700-year-old ruins, or the hills in the distance. The hills contain several view points and shelters to rest, as well as a few interesting structures at the top. From the peak, you can look down on the Valley of the Dead to see it from a different perspective. You can also gaze into the valley that leads to Catarpe – an interesting and adventurous bike ride away.
The view from the top of the hills is worth seeing. You see everything from an inferior angle, and whilst you can get a lot closer to the ruins, you can’t go inside them. Having said that, the path is short and is probably worth the 15 minutes it will take to walk.
Near to the entrance of Pukara de Quitor, is another path. Instead of taking the ramp up to the bike storage and ticket office, go the opposite way, sticking to the wall of the rock, and follow the path up to a cave and some amazing archaeological carvings. The cave is pitch black at certain points, so make sure you have a torch handy. Be careful with your head, too, especially for tall people like me. You’ll be bending a lot. On the other side of the cave is a small open area, where you can witness the unusual rock formations up close, and add your own cairn to the masses already there, before heading back the way you came. It might be a good idea to take something to cover your nose and mouth, as you will inhale a lot of dust. Outside, you can marvel at the two giant heads, that have been carved from the cliff face.
How to get there
All the above options apply for here. You can take a tour, walk or cycle.
Arguably the best activity to do here, based on the area’s pristine skies, is look upwards. Within the next year, over 70% of the world’s astronomical observatories will be based here. From this desert, you can see the Large Magellanic Cloud with the naked eye, a foreign galaxy that orbits the Milky Way, over 150,000 light years away. You can also see the Small Magellanic Cloud, fainter and even further away. It’s the farthest visible object in the southern hemisphere, without the aid of telescopes. You can also stare into the heart of our own galaxy. Do you know that strip of cloud-like substance you see in films and the best astrophotography? You can see it with your own eyes.
It takes a brilliant camera to be able to pick any of it up, but luckily for us, almost all astronomy tours will take a group photo on their own cameras. You can ask for one on your own, too.
I went on a tour and couldn’t recommend it enough. They took me on a 2-hour tour, pointing out all the visible constellations of the zodiac and explaining the reasons behind them. They also showed us a short documentary and allowed us to feast on little sausages and snacks.
It obviously helps if you have an experienced guide who can point to Saturn as soon as you ask him and tells you everything about all the stars you see.
I visited in August, the tail-end of their winter, and Saturn was the easiest to see. Early at night, it is possible to spot Mars and Jupiter, too. At different times throughout the year, it’s possible to see all the first six planets with the naked eye.
5. High Plain Lagoons and the Atacama Salt Flats
The high-altitude lakes are definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area. You have the opportunity to watch pink Flamingos in Chaxa National Reserve, walk on a frozen lake at Red Stone, and see Vicuñas (a relative of llamas and alpacas) in their natural habitat – the hills above 3,000m.
It’s best to start early for these places, as they’re a bit further away than the majority of the attractions. I drifted in and out of sleep on the ride there, catching dreamlike glimpses of snowy peaks, sprawling desert and grazing vicuñas, half-listening to the guide talk about how vicuñas are still hunted for their fur, despite it being illegal.
I woke up when the smooth road swiftly changed to a jolting sandy track. I bounced up and down, bashing flailing limbs off parts of the jeep that I didn’t even know existed. Then I was hit by the cold. Mornings at high altitude aren’t pleasant for the half-dressed. Luckily, I was prepared.
How to get there The best way to go to these places is by taking a tour. It’s worth it. We visited all the aforementioned places, as well as Toconao, a traditional village. The main square has large cacti that grow 1cm per year. These cacti were over 2 metres tall, meaning they were planted in the early 1800s! You can explore the handcraft shops and go souvenir hunting, check out the old church, or taste local homemade ice cream. They have Rica Rica flavour, which is a mint-like herb that grows in the shrubby area of the desert. The driver makes a short stop here, too, for you to harvest your own supply.
Other things to do in the area include:
Tatio Geysers – Expect an early start if you visit these. They’re most active around 4.30 am.
Hot Springs / Aguas Calientes – There are lots of hot springs near San Pedro de Atacama. I visited hot springs in Peru and Bolivia – there is nothing quite like bathing in hotter-than-bath water in the middle of the freezing cold Andes. (As Termas Puritama and Tatio Geysers.)
Hot Air Balloon over the Atacama – Ballooning over the Atacama Desert is a breathtaking and unique experience. You will start the tour right before sunrise to see all the colors and rocks of the desert in the morning light. Every tour is different because you don’t know where the wind will take you but you can be sure that you will have an impressive view over the stunning landscape of the Atacama Desert. This is definitely a memory you will never forget!
The Flowering Desert – A lot further south from San Pedro, but still in the Atacama, near to La Serena, there is a natural phenomenon taking place in the desert, causing flowers to blossom everywhere. It only happens once per year and this year is supposed to be the largest ever.
How to Budget Generally, San Pedro is slightly more expensive than other towns of similar size in Chile. The customers are predominantly tourists, which means the prices are inflated. It’s possible to find all type of vegetables, meat, fish and local food. There are many options of restaurants, accommodation and activities for your stay in San Pedro de Atacama.
When to Go The Atacama is dry, with clear skies all year round. You can count the number of clouds you see in your time here on one hand – most likely, you won’t need any hands. On the astronomy tour, the guide said that only 30 nights of the year are cloudy, and even then, they’re not terribly intrusive.
Chilean summer runs from December to February, and their winter, from June to August. However, the climate here doesn’t change that much. Due to the altitude (2,408 metres above sea level), San Pedro experiences cold nights all year round, with the lowest being in July and August, at -1° C, and the highest, around 5-6° C, in January. In the day, the winters can reach 20° C, and the summer, 25° C. The altitude makes the days seem hotter though, because the sun’s rays have less of an atmosphere to cut through before reaching you. Combine this with the unusual clarity of the sky, and basically, you will frazzle.
If you want to avoid the crowds, then the best time to visit is just before winter (northern summer holidays), but after southern summer. April – June is classed as low season here. There will be less people, but never expect it to be empty. San Pedro is a tourist hot spot.
What to Bring
Altitude Sickness Tablets – Depending on your attitude toward altitude, you may wish to bring some medicine. Some people simply don’t agree with being at higher elevations. While 2,408 metres isn’t ridiculously high, some of the activities can go well over 4,000m. You can also buy local remedies for altitude sickness all over town. Coca leaves are helpful for long uphill hikes. Just don’t swallow them.
Vaseline or Lip Balm – This one is fairly self-explanatory. You’re in the driest desert in the world. Without it, your lips will crack, bleed and split. I speak from experience.
Sun Lotion – The altitude makes you burn a lot faster than if you were at sea level.
Map App – While there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned paper map, it won’t help you if you don’t know where you are in the first place. MAPS.ME is a good choice as it allows you to download the maps for offline use (like most apps), but it also shows walking trails and footpaths that are mostly invisible on Google Maps, for instance.
Water and Snacks – Again, it’s self-explanatory. You need lots of water in the driest desert on Earth. If you’re stranded, don’t count on rain to save you. Certain areas here receive less than half an inch per year. Some native people have never seen rain in their entire life, particularly closer to Antofagasta. A little snack is helpful, too, as there aren’t any shops outside of the towns.
Camera – This is an unforgettable place, but it doesn’t hurt to keep photos.
This National Park of 150.612 hectares, located in the very south of Chile, in Tierra del Fuego, was only opened in December 2013. In the east, it borders the Argentine Tierra del Fuego National Park; together, the two parks are called Parque para la Paz (“Park for Peace“).
Yendegaia’s breathtaking landscape includes trees like Antarctic beeches, coigüe, canelo and the Chilean firetree notro, extensive grassland, a rugged coast, fast-flowing rivers, sublime mountains, lakes, glaciers, and also thickets and herbs able to resist the windy climate conditions, heavy rainfalls and low temperatures. From June to September, temperatures can get as low as 11 degrees below zero, but in summer they reach up to 24°C.
Besides the 128 vascular plant species, 49 bird species and other animals – some of them in danger of extinction, e.g. the Andean fox, the Southern river otter and the ruddy-headed goose – have to cope with that climate. Other animals living there are leopard seals, elephant seals and kelp gulls.
The aim of the National Park is to conserve biodiversity and to boost tourism in the areas of adventure, outdoor, special interests and ecotourism. As it was only founded in 2013, there aren’t any official trails yet, but you can explore the area via numerous non-official trails starting from any point of the Y-85 road, from Fagnago Lake, or by boat from Puerto Williams. Also, a road from Vicunya to Yendegaia is being built and will probably be finished by 2021.
To get to this 48 km² island belonging to the Bío-Bío Region, you have to take a boat or a helicopter in Tirúa, which is 34 km away and the closest city on land.
The center of the island has been declared a nature reserve by the CONAF thanks to the forests housing the Chilean myrtle, Lenga beeches and the Chilean ulmo Olivillo, partly on a small mountain chain reaching up to 390 meters in height. On the “Sendero Camino Nuevo“, a walking trail of 1.5 hours, you can also spot some animals, such as chucao birds, pink-footed shearwaters and the rodent Pacific degu, which is endemic to Isla Mocha and critically endangered. Another animal of interest, although dead since almost two centuries ago, is Mocha Dick, the whale that inspired Herman Melville for his famous novel Moby Dick and which contributed to the more than 100 ship wrecks around Isla Mocha.
On its long sandy beaches, fishers share the coast with windsurfers, sailors and other people simply enjoying an easy walk along the Pacific Ocean.
At 15-30°C, it is more relaxing going there in the summer, as in winter temperatures fluctuate between only 10 and 15°C and there can always be a lot of rain. There aren’t any ATMs either on the island nor in Tirúa, so it is important to bring enough cash. Also, there is only one hotel on the whole island. However, the people there are happy to let tourists stay with them, or you can take your chances and camp somewhere in the wilderness.
3) SALTO DEL INDIO, CURACAUTÍN
In the Araucania Region, 14 km from Curacautín city and at an altitude of 719m, the stunning, 20m high waterfall Salto del Indio awaits you.
Even though the waterfall’s visibility is limited by forests, you can get still amazing views of it from the many viewpoints around. There are also tracks leading down to the very base of the waterfall, which is the intersection of the rivers Indio and Cautín, the first of these being the one that ends there and becomes the Salto del Indio. According to an ancient legend, the waterfall was created when the Indian boy Cayú jumped off into Cautín river because he could not be together with his love Millaray, Princess of Araucania.
The waterfall is part of the 12 hectare Senderos del Indio Park that offers restaurants, huts, a hostel, handicrafts, viewpoints and a mini farm in a fascinating landscape shaped by volcanic sediments from Lonquimay volcano.
4) LOS MOLLES
The small coastal town Los Molles in the Valparaíso Region, only 8km away from the Coquimbo Region, provides the perfect place for a relaxing holiday.
Although the town is more than prepared for tourists, – for example, there are 678 houses, but only 636 inhabitants – it is a calm area with sea view restaurants, white sand beaches, fantastic sunsets, camping possibilities and adventure tourism offers like diving or cove exploring.
Besides tourism, agricultural food, craftmanship, fishing and aquafarming plays a great role in the inhabitants’ lives.
130 of more than 300 plant species in Los Molles are endemic and many of them can be found in the Bioparque Puquén, for example the endangered Pouteria splendens and various cactus, the Alstromeria and water clovers. Also colocolo cats, marine otters and seals live there. Highlights include the paleontological deposits with crustace and and insect fossils, as well as a complex with subterranean caves and a so-called “cold geyser“.
5) CHAÑARAL DE ACEITUNO
Chañaral de Aceituno does not describe a town, but a cove in the municipality of Freirina, Atacama Region, two hours away from Vallenar.
The reason so many people come here is whales. During the summer, up to six different types of whales can be seen from this very spot.
Opposite the cove, you will find Isla Chañaral, part of the CONAF Pingüino de Humboldt National Reserve and home to many Humboldt Penguins. At certain times of year, you can also spot different groups of common bottlenose dolphins from here.
6)VENTISQUERO COLGANTE QUEULAT
The name Ventisquero Colgante Queulat describes a “hanging snowdrift” with waterfalls of up to 293m in height, located inside the Queulat National Park in the Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Region in the south of Chile.
The Park borders the Cisner river to the south and the Lago Rosselot National Reserve to the west. Its area of 1541km² (595 mi²) covers glacier-capped mountains, virgin evergreen forests, lakes, lagoons, two small icefields and even a part of the Puyuhuapi Volcanic Group.
The Valdivian temperate rainforests’ trees include tepú, quila, chilco, nalca, coigüe de Magallanes and lenga. Alongside mammals like the pudú and kodkod, birds such as the chucao tapaculo, the Chilean pigeon, the Magellanic woodpecker, the thorn-tailed rayadito, the yellow-billed pintail and many more live in this area.
7)ISLA MADRE DE DIOS
Just a one-day boat trip from Puerto Natales away, you will find the Madre de Dios Island, located in the Magallanes Region, not too far away from the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. It is part of the Madre de Dios archipelago consisting of five islands, only one of them inhabited.
On the steep coasts of the 1043km² island, which is partly composed of limestone and was only declared a nature reserve in 2008, there are numerous natural caves created by the erosive combination of wind and tides. Some of them have been used by the Kaweskar people, who lived there from 6000 years ago until the 21th century, for different purposes like burial places or temporary camping. In 2006, the Cueva del Pacífico cave was discovered, and in it rock art and cave paintings. Another interesting one is the “Cave of the Whales“, where 2600-3500 year-old whale skeletons were found.
The landscape of the island was created at the same time as Chile’s coastal mountain range and the Andes, therefore it is of igneous rock origin and contains several mountains and native forests with trees like canelo and lenga.
Due to the rainy and cold climate – the average temperature is 9°C – the island can become dangerous, and so far has remained nearly unexplored.
8) CERRO LAS PEINETAS
It was only in 2002 that this over 2000 meter high mountain of the Villarrica National Park in the Araucania Region was climbed for the first time. Since then, not many routes have been detected, but there is a six-hour trekking route and a ten-hour climbing route. However, these activities are only recommended for experienced and physically fit climbers.
The landscape around this mountain of volcanic origin presents the green, rugged valley of Trancura river, which is of glacier origin, where you can find trees like the raulí, the coigüe, the lenga and the araucaria.
To get there, you can either start at Tromen Lake, or at several points on the road to the Argentine border crossing point Mamuil Malal.
9)ALTOS DEL LIRCAY NATIONAL RESERVE
If you are in Santiago and wondering where to go, the 12.163 hectare (46.96 mi²) Altos del Lircay National Reserve is not too far away; only about 270km south in the Maule Region, close to the Andes, and the volcanoes Descabezado Grande and Cerro Azul.
Around the three main rivers in the reserve, Lircay, Blanquillo and Claro – the latter ending with a spectacular waterfall – grow the threatened two species Hualo, seven of the ten species of the Nothofagus trees occurring in Chile and also the ciprés de la Cordillera. One of the reserve’s purposes is to protect rare and threatened animals such as Tricahue parrots, Sapito Hermoso, the reptile Matuasto del Maule, the lizard of Cristián, pudús, pumas, and meadowlarks.
The climate there is characterized by warm periods with some extended dry ones, but there can also be snow on the east side during winter and part of spring. The average temperature is at 14.7°C.
When going there, you will have to announce your visit to the Guardaparques Office at the entrance of the reserve and pay a small fee ($5000 CLP for foreign adults). If you want to stay overnight, it important keep in mind that pets, hunting, fishing and camping at the Enladrillado viewpoint or at lagoons of high altitude are prohibited. You have three options for the campsite: Antahuara (point 1), Los Carpinteros (point 6), Valle el Venado (point 10).
As well as horseback riding, there are several trekking routes ranging from 20 minute over 10 hour to 4 day walks.
10)SALAR DE MARICUNGA
As part of the Nevado Tres Cruces National Park in the Atacama Region, about 160 km northeast of Copiapó and at an altitude of 3750 meters, the Maricunga Salt Flat extends over an area of 80 km².
This salt flat once used to be a lake, but with time the water evaporated and, as it is located between two mountain ranges (Claudio Gay and Domeyko) and does not have any access to the sea, the salt remained in the basin.
77 animal species, 65 fauna species and many flamingoes live in the Salar’s desert climate with an average high of 18.4°C and an average low of 4.5°C. As it can be difficult to get there in winter, the Park is only opened from October until April.
Other places of interest inside the Nevado Tres Cruces National Park are the Santa Rosa Lagoon, also in the north, and the Negro Francisco Lagoon in the south of the Park, which is less high than the north.
In this area close to the Argentine border, there is also Chile’s highest mountain peak, which belongs to the Nevado Ojos del Salado volcano, the highest active volcano in the world. Other volcanoes in the salt flat’s surroundings are the Incahuasi, the San Francisco, the Tres Cruces, and many more.
At 8.25 in the morning we started our tour to Cajon del Maipo. Everybody was aboard and Felipe, our guide, suggested we get some rest during the drive from the city. He spoke in Spanish first (3 of the passengers were from Argentina, 4 from Brazil, 1 from China, 1 from USA, and me, from England), then repeated in English.
It took around one hour to get to the small café at the entrance to the canyon, where we stopped for morning beverages. We had a small slice of cake each. The group talked amongst themselves, learning about where everybody was from and where they were going.
I was still sleepy-eyed when we entered the café, but during the drive afterwards, the scenery crystallised. We were driving into a verdant valley, mountainous walls rising either side of the road, snowy peaks growing in size, the closer we got. This was Cajon del Maipo. This is what I’d seen in all the photographs beforehand.
The guide spoke excellent English. He was friendly and eager to answer any questions, not just about the tour, but Chile in general. We drove through the small village of San Jose de Maipo, established in 1792. To officially become a village, it had to build a little church, a hospital, and a town hall. It was originally home to the miners of the region, who mined silver and gold. Nowadays, they sell handmade goods, made from the precious minerals.
The guide continued to talk as we passed through the village and the surrounding canyons. The river Maipo that runs through this valley, winding its way through the jagged terrain, is of great importance to Santiago. It provides electricity for the capital, but also acts as a gateway to nature, with lots of choices when it comes to adventure sports. You can kayak and raft on the river, and many Santiago dwellers come here on weekends to get out of the smog of the city. The crisp mountain air refreshes your body and clears your mind.
We continued further into the canyon. We drove past a small train track, with a few stationary trains. Felipe explained they used to take Copper out from the mines, to Santiago. In 1985, they removed most of the track. Also Pinochet, Chile’s old dictator, used to live here. We drove past his old house, but I was taking in so much information, so quickly, that I didn’t actually see it. It’s somewhere in the valley. I’m pretty sure it’s there.
Before I could contemplate what Pinochet had done, we whizzed through another small village, learning about the Almond trees of the area – Cajon del Maipo’s biggest export.
Finally, after almost 2 hours driving, we were able to stretch our legs and take a few pictures. It was possible to see the glacier atop the summit of the mountain – a giant slab of ice, perched precariously on the edge.
The place appeared to be full of large bomb shelters. They looked like something plucked straight from a war film, but Felipe told us that they were occupied between 1953 and 1964 by the builders of the nearby dam. They have curved roofs to deflect wind and allow snow to fall off. However, they don’t have windows, and the builders had to live in freezing cold temperatures for the entirety of the project.
After 20 minutes strolling around here, we drove onto the dam, a short hop down the road, where we left the bus again to explore the beautiful 4 winds corner. It’s not hard to see how it got its name. Before you know which way to turn, you’re blown in several directions, dust stinging your eyes and trapping itself behind your eyelids. Mini tornados swoop over the water in the distance.
A crowd of fellow tourists huddle on the corner, struggling to stand up straight while taking selfies, asking me to take photos of them.
When I was free from my role as an unpaid photographer, I took some photos of my own. The reservoir was just stunning. The snow-tipped mountains enhanced the appearance of the man-made lake.
After a short drive back the way we came, we pulled over to the side of the road, and Felipe told us he’d arranged a picnic. A table was arranged on a little hill, with a trickling waterfall in the rocks behind it. There were olives, little bits of carrot, and bread. The dip for the bread was a mixture of soy sauce, sesame seeds and philadelphia. It was a bizarre mix – one I’d seen another Chilean eat, earlier that week. It wasn’t three things I’d have chosen to put together personally, but it was surprisingly good. Maybe this is eaten everywhere and I’ve just never heard of it, or maybe it’s a modern delicacy of Chile. Either way, it’s definitely worth a try.
There were a few bottles of wine to share between the group, too but I’m not much of a wine drinker.
Chile’s glorious terrain is rich with colour, lakes and waterfalls and the best way to see them up-close is to cycle through its lands. It may seem like an arduous feat, but there are many ways you can cycle through Chile, enjoy the landscape, wineries and beaches all at the same time.
What’s great about travelling by bike is the freedom. You can simply stop anywhere you want and take photos, and you can rest-assured that your travelling is not impacting negatively on Chile’s unimaginably beautiful landscape.
Here are the top five bicycle tours you should take to see Chile at its finest:
Lakes And Volcanos District
Take to Chile’s southern region by bike and see the volcanic rocks and glistening lakes from the most natural mode of transport of them all – a bicycle. It might seem like an impossible feat to cycle across the glacial landscape of the south, but in fact the terrain of ripe farmland and dense forest is the perfect ground for a cycling adventure. Get close-up to the spectacular Andes mountains, as well as some of the region’s most mesmerizing national parks. You can also cycle close to the Lanin Volcanoes, through the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve and the newly-paved roads that run around the stunning Lake Ranco – taking the old German settlers route. The climate is also perfect for cycling, at around 65 degrees most of the year.}
Bicycle the border
Take to the border between Chile and Argentina by bike and see some of the region’s most stunning sights along the way, including glaciers, national parks and ancient forests. The Andes mark the stretch between the two countries, and this tour takes you along some of the original indigenous trails that were created by some of the first people on the continent. This tour is uniquely local, with stops at local villages, as well as untouched forests and as far across to the Pacific coastline trails in the Region de los Rios.
Chile’s wine country
Take this cycling wine tour from Santiago to the beautiful village of Zuniga and enjoy cycling through the vineyards of this quaint little town. The cycle takes you through many other beautiful Chilean towns along this wine celebration, with traditional windmills and the most famous wine region in Chile, the Colchagua Valley. The tour also stops in the wine capital of Chile, Santa Cruz, which is located in the Valle de Apalta. Try some of the most historic wines of Chile here, as well as some of the newest selections of eco wines. The tour travels as far as the stunning shores of the Pacific Coast, where the rugged, beautiful and isolated beaches provide some much-need respite from cycling, before returning via shuttle back to Santiago.
Patagonia bike tour
Start your tour in the stunning lake lands of Bariloche with stunning views of the Andes and the lake. Enjoy a magical boat ride and journey through the Arrayanes National Park, home to South America’s unique myrtle sand, before cycling from Lake Espejo to Cardenal Samore Pass. When you finish the ride there will be a divine thermal baths waiting for you to unwind and rest your aching muscles. Take in Lake Llanquihue by bike, with views of the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. The tour will also head through stunning farmlands, including spectacular waterfalls, such as Saltos de Petrohue, and Puertos Varas – a small lake town where you will complete your cycling journey.
Santiago and its surrounds
Leaving from Santiago head into Casablanca Valley, known for its delicious wines and untouched eucalyptus groves. Cycle next through the Andes-lined trails of San Antonio Valley, where wine tasting and horse riding are popular pursuits. A stop at the colourful city of Valpariso is also part of this itinerary, before heading over to the coastline at the beach town of Matanzas. Head back into another beautiful wine region, this time the Apalta Valley, where you finish the tour at the premium winemaking destination of Chile before heading back to Santiago.
Chile is an extremely unique land mass. It’s length is stretches down as far as Antarctica with spectacular fjords, great lakes, impressive mountains and glorious glaciers. While the north extends to the Atacama desert, one of the driest desert locations in the world. The two ends could not be more different.
These unusual extremities makes Chile a place of spectacular beauty. So much so that much of this thin strip of land is now protected as National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so the rich biodiversity of the land is able to survive. It also means that visitors can enjoy these famous landscapes knowing they will be protected and managed.
To really discover Chile’s truly diverse terrains, be sure to visit these top five beautiful national parks in Chile.
Rapa Nui National Park
More commonly known as Easter Island, Rapa Nui is the local name for the island that sits out in Chile’s Pacific coastline. The island is known for its ancient Moai statues, which were built by islanders of Polynesian origin who settled on the island in around 300 AD. Between the 10th and the 16th centuries, the islanders competed in building and erecting enormous statues and shrines and today there are around 900 statues still remaining. This unique cultural landscape is not only a prized national park but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its fascinating cultural significance.
Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine is probably one of the best-known National Parks in Chile, as well as one of the largest in size, the park is also the third most visited national park in Chile, with over 250,000 visitors every year. It’s southerly location contributes to its impressive array of ice fields, fjords and glaciers that make up its landscape. The natural beauty on offer in the park is astonishing, with waterfalls, lakes and lagoons adding to serene blueness of this part of Chile. The region is best known for its Cordillera Paine Mountain Range, which is made up of rose-coloured granite and reaches 3,000 metres high. You can access the park from Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas, and combine your visit the stunning nearby Bernardo O’Higgins National Park.
Juan Fernandez Archipelago
The magnificent volcanic islands that make up the Juan Fernandez Archipelago are home to some of the most unique species in the world. The islands have unusual and rare creatures that are not normally found in conditions such as this, including woodpeckers, firecrowns and marsupials. Many of the creatures living on the islands are at serious risk of extinction, and as such the park has been a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1977. The islands’ landscape are just as extraordinary with deep ravines and volcanic peaks topped with snow – ideal for exploring.
Located between Santiago de Chile and Valparaiso, La Campana is one of the country’s smallest national parks, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sights. Easily accessible from one of the two nearby cities, the national park is home to Cerro la Campana, a 6,000-foot-high mountain that Charles Darwin climbed on one of his visits to the continent. From the top of the mountain you can enjoy spectacular views of the Andes and Olume Valley – a view that is well-worth the climb.
Chiloé is Chile’s most northerly archipelago, and is home to some of the region’s most noteworthy architecture. This island national park is filled with a number of wooden churches, many of which are protected under UNESCO World Heritage. The park is also dominated by the many Valdivian forests, known for the pudu (small deer) and Darwin’s fox. From the coast here you can also spot colonies of sea lions, flamingos and pgymy blue whales. Its wet weather and distinct forests give this park a very different feeling from all of the other national parks in South America – a distinctive landscape has been the setting for many myths, legends and stories of witchcraft over the centuries.
Experience the unique terrain of the Atacama desert like the ancient people of the Atacama did on the Ancestral Caravan tour. Trek the desert using traditional Andean llamas alongside local communities and indigenous people sharing their customs and culture along the way. The tour is a great way to learn more about the traditional cultures of the desert and connect with local people.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
See the desert from another angle on a magical hot air balloon ride above the Atacama. Eastern Safari’s “Balloons Over Atacama” offers daily flights over the Atacama Desert and close to San Pedro de Atacama, with views of the endless salt flats, impressive volcanoes and ancient rock formations. Every ride can hold up to 16 passengers, and a premium option is also available, which includes a toast of sparkling wine at the end and a photo of the flight.
Half Day Fishing Tour of Easter Island
Explore Easter Island and learn more about the native tradition of fishing and cooking on this half day tour of the island. With the help of a native Easter Islander fisherman, you will learn the core techniques behind fishing on the island and then fish in its waters yourself. The catch of the day is then prepared and cooked over the island’s natural hot volcanic rocks to create the traditional dish “Tuni Ahi”, which is served on banana leaves.
Horseback riding in Easter Island
Travelling the island on horseback is one of the best ways to see the hidden natural beauty of the region and reduce your carbon footprint. A typical Rapa Nui experience takes you to some of the more remote areas of the island that can only be reached by taking this traditional mode of transport. What’s more, you don’t have to be an experienced rider to make the journey and travel into the past, it’s a peaceful and engaging experience that takes all-levels of riders through regions such as Rano Raraku, Orongo and Mount Terevaka.
Santiago and Central Chile
Penguin Watching Cachagua Tour
Leave the hustle and bustle of Santiago and head to the beautiful beaches and islands off the villages of Cachagua and Zapallar. Known for their delicious seafood and stunning shoreline, the villages offer access to the remote and protected Humboldt Island, also known as Penguin’s Island. Enjoy the magical Chilean countryside on route to the coast, made up of Avocado farms and vineyards, and a boat ride to greet the colony of penguins located on Humboldt Island. There will also be time to swim and sunbathe at hidden bays and sample local seafood.
Snow Hike tour from Santiago
Put on your snow shoes and trek through the heart of the Andes, on this expertly-led hiking experience like now other. Led by an expert mountaineer guide the trek leaves from Santiago to the valley of Cajon del Maipo. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains ranges and snow-topped peaks as you climb, and when you finally reach Aguas Penimavida. Knowledgable local guides will enhance the experience with stories of the mountain ranges and volcanoes before heading back down to the town of San Jose del Maipo, and a delicious Chilean empanada. Chilean Lake District
Alerce Andino National Park
The Southern Chilean Lake District is one of the country’s most dramatic landscapes, and this tour takes you to one of the region’s most prized natural emblems, the ancient Alerce tree. The tree was made a national monument in 1976 and is a massive 45 meters high and 4 meters wide. Located in the Alerce Andino National Park, this tour takes you through ancients forests and offers views of the Calbuco volcano and the Andean-Patagonia mountain range. Take on three beautiful trails, including a wet waterfall hike and plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Located in the Los Lagos region of Chile, the Chiloe Island tour departs from Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt. Take the ferry across the Pacific to the island, which is the fifth largest island in South America. Visit the island’s oldest village, Chacao, and its distinctive UNESCO World Heritage Listed native timber churches and architecture, dating back to 1567. The tour also includes a visit to Castro, the capital and third oldest city in all of Chile. Visitors will have a chance to shop in the towns and city and sample food at a typical Chiloe Island restaurant.
Whale watching from Punta Arenas
Journey through the first ever Marine National Park in Chile, Francisco Coloane, and spot some of the most majestic creatures in the world, humpback whales. Get up-close to the marvellous creatures surrounded by impressive untouched landscape, including hanging glaciers on the Darwin mountain range, as you journey by boat through the park and regions around it. There will also be a chance to spot some of the other inhabitants of the park, including Magellan penguins, sea lions, austral dolphins, albatross and sea elephants.
Ice Hike at Glacier Grey
There is nothing quite as impressive as walking on a glacier. With Big Foot Patagonia you can ice hike on Glacier Grey, and be on the only tourists there! With the assistance of an experienced guide, you will be supplied with the relevant equipment to climb and take the 2.5 hour trek through cracks, rivers, lagoons and tunnels of the pristine Grey Glacier. Visitors with knee problems should consult guides before booking.
Canter along winding trails along rocky slopes, across sparkling streams and past jade-green lakes surrounded by craggy mountain peaks . A horseback ride through Chile will reveal stunning remote scenery that you couldn’t see any other way.
Horseback riding is one of the best ways to see the rugged and beautiful countryside of Chile. You’re following in the hoofprints of the Chilean Huaso (cowboy) tradition, experiencing nature with all of your senses.
There are so many gorgeous places to ride horses in Chile, but here are a few of the most stunning opportunities to saddle up and hit the trail.
Torres Del Paine National Park
Mother Nature sometimes likes to show off what she is capable of and Torres Del Paine is a great example of this. The Torres del Paine, the mountains that give the park it’s name, are three distinctive peaks of granite piercing the sky. Enormous glaciers, towering rocky peaks, glittering lakes and thundering rivers fill every visitor with awe.
The terrain is perfect for long galloping rides and you can either stay in an estancia (a ranch house) or camp on a multi-day ride. You will be able to ride up to the glaciers, explore the foothills and skirt along the wetlands against the spectacular backdrop of the Paine Massif.
The wild and barren landscapes of Patagonia, with their snow capped mountains and enormous skies, are the perfect place for a horseback riding adventure. UNESCO has named this area as a World Biosphere Reserve and it is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
The wind can blow hard and the weather conditions can be extreme, so listen to the advice of your local guide for a safe and enjoyable ride. The horseback journeys in Patagonia will generally take the low trails through the valleys in order to avoid the heavy winds.
Cross Between Chile and Argentina on Horseback
For a truly epic horseback journey, you can cross the Andes on a trail that San Martin and his “Army of the Andes” used in 1817 as they freed the people of Chile from the European monarchs. You’ll journey through the steep mountain pass, flanked by the towering stone peaks of Mercedario and Aconcagua.
During the journey you will have lots of time to stop in local villages along the way and explore. You’ll have the option of ending up in Mendoza, Argentina where you can relax and sample one of the world-renowned wines that are produced here – you’ve earned it.
The Atacama Desert
The Atacama is a huge expanse of stony terrain dotted with salt lakes and felsic lava flowing towards the Andes. It is situated between two mountain chains that create a rain shadow on either side, making it the driest non-polar desert in the world. There are some weather stations here that have never received rain and sometimes the region goes for years without a drop.
Exploring this ancient, arid desert on horseback is like no other travel experience in the world. As you ride past the rusty ravines, vast white salt flats and coloured lakes, you will feel like you are on the surface of another planet.
The small town of San Pedro de Atacama is the ideal base for beginning your journey. Be sure to head to the Valle de la Luna, which has a moon-like landscape and looks surreal and hypnotic when illuminated by the golden glow of the setting sun. Most horseback riding tours will begin in San Pedro and travel along the Vilama River to the Valley of Arenoso, the Devil’s Throat and Coca Stone.
To create your perfect horseback riding adventure in Chile, check out our Design your Tour feature so that you can put together a custom tour.
Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile, is one of the world’s most spectacular regions. Flanked by glorious mountains, lakes and glaciers, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is a hot spot for backpackers and adventure travellers alike.
But when it comes to finding the most unique places to stay it can be tricky, that’s why we’ve put together a list of our favourite places to stay in Patagonia. From glamping in eco lodges inside the national park to enjoying warm log fires, spas and breathtaking views of the park. Patagonia’s accommodation has it all.
The award-winning EcoCamp is uniquely located in the stunning Paine massif in the heart of the Torres del Paine National Park. Stay in a sustainable lodge and enjoy community dining amid the natural surroundings of the mountains and glaciers of Patagonia. Spend your days trekking through the natural beauty of the region and finish your days in the warmth and comfort of your lodge, equipped with polar fleece blankets and a private bathroom. The camp offers four different types of lodges, with one large enough to accommodate a family of four.
The Singular is a hotel chain that has made its mark on Patagonia with the Puerto Bories Hotel. This five-star luxury hotel was refurbished from its original life as an old storage plant in the 20th century (by company Frigorifico Bories). The hotel is committed to protecting the environment and are always finding innovative ways to reduce their carbon fingerprint and water efficiency, including building the hotel with sustainable materials. This unique building is located just outside Puerto Natales and celebrates its heritage and history with so many original features still intact. Make use of world-class spa and stay in one of the 57 rooms and suites onsite. The hotel also offers a number of excursions to the Torres del Paine National Park, and has been voted one of the best hotels in Chile by the Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice Awards.
The stunning Awasi Patagonia hotel is made up of 14 exclusive villas nestled amid the foliage of a private reserve, overlooking the region’s jewel: the Torres del Paine National Park. Every villa comes complete with a specialist private tour guide and vehicle to explore the park and allow you to get off the beaten track. Modelled old Patagonian outposts and shelters, every villa offers exclusive views of the forest and the Patagonian Steppe as well as unrivalled privacy, a warming hot tub and an open fire. Dine at the on-site restaurant, the Relais & Chateaux, and enjoy fresh, made-to-order dishes cooked by chef Federico Ziegler and picked from the natural landscape. Villa rentals start from $950 USD per day, per person.
Situated close to the breathtaking Lake Sarmiento, Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa is a relaxing retreat for visitors looking to escape city life. Immersed in the hillsides of Patagonia, the hotel offers incredible vistas of the Torres del Paine National Park. The wood clad walls and Chilean furnishings and craftsmanship are a cosy space to spend a cold evening in the park after a day of hiking. When your legs are tired you can make use of the hotel’s exceptional Uma Spa, with its adventure spa philosophy that includes indoor and outdoor pools, a jacuzzi, steam bath, sauna and spa treatments, all of which come with extraordinary views of the national park.
Get up-close to the wondrous Torres del Paine National Park, one of the finest natural sights in the world, when you stay at Altiplanico Hotel Puero Natales. Popular amongst backpackers, eco-lovers and adventurous sports-people, the hotel has all of the mod-cons and luxuries you can expect from a luxury hotel, including free internet, a bar and a restaurant with a varied daily menu, massages and laundry service. The hotel’s ethos is all about being at one with nature, and instead of imposing on nature the architecture actually merges in with its surroundings. The interior and exterior design reiterate a respect for the environment and the native culture that inspired the design.
The temperate rain forest is one of the gems of our country, even though you can also find them in some border areas of Argentina, their larger extensions are here, in the south of Chile, from Valdivia to Chiloé. It is wonderful to be in the middle of one of these forests, despite their darkness, in them you feel how life sprouts from below, everything emerges seeking for the sunrays that appear like extraterrestrial spotlights that cross the branches and leaves to the floor. A bed of rotten leaves, new ones, sprouts, lichens, mosses, renews, seedlings, shrubs, flowers and an endless list of native fauna thrives thick while being escorted above by evergreens, creating a perfect and unique jungle climate where we will feel astonished by the mere life anxious to come out on stage.
Also called the “Valdivian jungle”, this forest appears in a temperate rainy climate, unique, given the fact that it hosts more than two thousand endemic species, which means that you will only be able to see them there, in no other place in the world.
Not only you will be able to see the green color in all of its memories, you will also feel it, breathe it and keep it forever within yourself. Somewhere there, where certain emotions are recollected and kept, those that once you feel them allow you to come back to them mentally, whenever you want, when you feel the need for.
If you feel emptiness in any area of your life, you should visit this place, its density, diversity and beauty will fill this gap for sure, and the smell of its fertile and fruitful floors will make you walk happily between ferns and water courses. You will feel protected as you walk, the same way that the tallest treetops protect these lands that are real cradles of life, hope oasis for the world we live in.
Some of the species that you will be able to see are: Chilean myrtle (Luma apiculata), Chilean hazel, (Gevuina avellana), Coihue (Nothofagus dombeyi), Hardy fuchsia (Fucsia magellanica), Maqui (Aristotelia chilensis), Ulmo (Eucryphia cordifolia), Tineo (Weinmannia trichosperma), Olivillo (Aextoxicon punctatum), Colihue (Chusquea culeou), Bellflower (Lapageria rosea), Chilean mitre flower (Mitraria coccinea), Ferns (Lophosoria quadripinnata), Luma (Amomyrtus luma), Chilean guava (Ugni molinae), Chilean firetree (Embothrium coccineum), Quila (Chusquea quila), among many others, as fungus, mosses, lichens, creepers, birds, frogs, insects and mammals.
Today’s dynamic result of the interaction of the geographical elements that have made up the Chilean territory throughout history is a highly rich patrimony. It has a variety of ecosystems, microclimates and diverse scenery – some of it unique worldwide.
These characteristics of Chile are not news to the global scientific community, which has shown interested in them for decades through the development of important scientific and technological projects. This has enabled us to keep expanding our ability to perceive and interpret Chile as a true natural laboratory.
To astronomers, the skies over the Atacama Desert are unrivalled. International institutions have funded various astronomical installations and by 2018, 68% of the world’s capacity for observing the universe will be found here. Observatories you can visit in the Atacama Desert include Paranal and Alma.
What is more, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are frequent events in Chile. In fact, more than 40% of all the planet’s registered seismic energy has been released in Chile, with these phenomena constantly present. This presents a perpetual opportunity for scientific tourism and research. Additionally, we are located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, meaning that this is one of the most volcanically active countries on Earth.
In this respect, one of the most interesting areas to visit is Kutralcura Geopark, situated in the Araucanía region in the south of Chile. Here, you can explore the volcanoes of Chile via its 15 georoutes.
These examples are but a small sample of local projects and places with unique features of Chile related to their intrinsic scientific value. If you are interested in learning more about these types of initiatives, I recommend consulting the book “Tecnociencia” by Andrea Obaid, editorial compass Chile, where 30 routes for scientific tourism in Chile are detailed in Spanish and English.
The legacy felt over the 4,270 kilometres taken up by Chile comprises the expressions of the country’s nature and culture, demonstrating the evidence of its land’s evolution and that of its inhabitants. It is like traveling in time; being able to discover, understand and value that which often seems so little and insignificant.
We should take advantage of the opportunities these places offer us, so we can relate to our heritage in a more profound way, broadening and complementing our knowledge.
The city of Valdivia is one of the oldest cities in Chile (founded in 1552) and it is sometimes known as “the pearl of the south”. But what makes of Valdivia a unique place like a “pearl”? Is the charm of Valdivia something that we could put in word? Probably not, but if you go to these places, you can figure out why they call it like that.
Valdivia is a river city, so, to understand the magic of the place, you should visit its rivers. You can walk along the river bank by “Costanera Arturo Prat” and see there are a lot of gardens and benches just to contemplate it… because it is not just a river! it is the place where the city takes its life (for example, where people practice rowing and the sea lions take a nap).
Teja Island and botanical garden:
One of the most amazing things in Valdivia is its connection with a little island called “Isla Teja”. This place (formerly belonged to a single person) is the home of one of the most important universities in Chile (Universidad Austral), some museums and a beautiful botanical garden with around 950 different plant species. You can spend an entire day exploring the gardens!
One of the characteristic attributes of the city of Valdivia is its river market, which is in the river bank near the “Pedro de Valdivia Bridge” that connects Valdivia with Teja Island. In this market (opened early in the morning) you could buy different types of foods, like vegetables, cheese, fish or seafood in general. Also, you can find typical crafts. However, is the smoked fish, especially smoked salmon, the main attraction for the tourist.
Valdivian Fort System:
Valdivia, as I said, is an old city. Long time ago, it was a strategical place for Spanish colonization as you can see for its fortresses located in Cruces River, Corral Bay and Valdivia itself. If you want to explore this side of the history of the city, you will have a lot of fun because there are at least 10 different locations related to Spanish fortifications.
And finally, food and drink:
(This is not a specific place, but it is directly related with the charm of Valdivia!) This city is a rich gastronomical place with some roots in German cuisine and Spanish cuisine, but most important, it has a strong influence from the river and the sea (you can eat different types of fish, but Salmon it is one of the best options here). Also, you can delight your taste drinking different types of craft beers. All you must do is to come and enjoy the charm of Valdivia!
A little more than a month ago, I went to Coyhaique. I didn’t know it before – I live more than 1,000km away from the capital of vast Chilean Patagonia, an area named “place where there is water” by the Tehuelches, where the Simpson and Coyhaique rivers converge. I flew from Puerto Montt to Balmaceda; the flight went quickly thanks to being able to view our thin strip of a country from the air, the great mountain range that is the central axis from which countless fjords, rivers, lakes and pampas fan out, watched over by the indefatigable Pacific Ocean.
Coyhaique is surrounded by tableaux, hills and drop-offs that enable you to gaze upon the place from within, in the middle of landscapes formed and molded by the perennial winds. Here, our sight is awoken and all our senses are united.
Our brain bestows us with this optical ability so that we can resume and project everything we feel into a large visual field, which immediately and naturally takes away our narrowness of vision – this is why I believe that any path one takes from Coyhaique is beautiful.
The hills rise from the Andes like titans sprinkled with snow, the ocean devours the cliff-sides, the sheer force of the water that flows over the hills, weathering the earth home to the Andean deer, the birds and the hares, camouflaged among coihue, lenga and ñirre trees that follow the sunlight over the surrounding streak of mountain that wraps around this area, just like our senses do through our sight.
We sat among tranquil lagoons and felt the lone southern wind shake the flowers of a lupin field. We saw its seeds cast over villages, next to the rivers that flow through the area, and we contemplated the vastness of General Carrera Lake, sitting on a solitary jetty in Puerto Ibáñez.
It is then that you come to understand that there is much more, that it goes beyond what you can see; and if you explore further, you can see from atop naturally formed lookout points that this is, quite literally, “the beginning of the end of the world.”
6 places we recommend to visit:
Coyhaique, Puerto Aysén, Acantilada Bay, Castillo Hill, Lake Tamango, Puerto Ibáñez.
Where is a good place to stay? :Vista Patagonia Lodge, where view is once again king – where you can open the bedroom window, see the Mackay Hill and be left speechless, honored to be so close.
A lodge decorated in clean, modern lines, tended to by the owners, you can feel at peace there. It’s an exclusive-feeling place surrounded by silence, with quality, warmth and a privileged view.