Chile

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Chile.

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Torres del Paine National Park – Patagonia, Chile

Wilderness and Civilization at the End of the Earth

This remote outpost in the heart of Chile’s Patagonia is one of nature’s last virtually untrammeled wildernesses. Located just north of Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in the world, it is a solitary region of overwhelming beauty that was not mapped until the 1930s. The 600,000-acre network of deep aquamarine lakes, rushing rivers, groaning glaciers, pam­pas, and fjords is best known for the Cuernos del Paine – spectacular 10,000-foot towers of rose-coloured granite that are part of the Cordillera Paine mountain range.

The 12-foot wingspan of the fabled Andean condor occa­sionally appears against the sky in this surreal landscape; it is one of more than 100 different species of native birds, from the ostrichlike rhea to wild flamingos and black-necked geese. The orange-and-white guanaco, a cousin of the llama, and the mountain puma, among others, also make their home here. Little wonder that Charles Darwin and Jules Verne were among those who fell under the spell of this region at the end of the world. Here the plenitude of air, light, time, and space crystallize the sense of disconnection from life as you know it.

Maximize the experience with a stay at the Hotel Salto Chico, located on the shores of the glacial Lake Pehoe in the Torres del Paine National Park. At first glance, the hotel is unre­markable: The plain white clapboard structure does not try to compete with nature. But indoors it is light, airy, outfitted with natural fibers and local woods – and everywhere are huge win­dows framing views of the park’s singularly beautiful granite towers. You may be 250 miles from the closest town, but the bed linens are from Barcelona, the china from England, the guests from every comer of the world. And while the good life is alluring and the outdoor Jacuzzi-with-a-view borders on the sublime, the real luxury is being in the heart of the park. Guests can choose from a menu of sixteen excursions at different ability levels covering more than 150 miles of trails and roads (at least five excursions are offered daily). Even the sedentary traveler can tour the area, from a four-wheel-drive jeep or motor launch. Other expeditions include hiking, trekking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Then it’s back to home base, to dine in jeans and flannel shirts on king crab and excellent Chilean wines.

 

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Cruising the Chilean Coast – Puerto Montt, Patagonia, Chile

A Unique Perspective on Patagonia’s Otherworldly Channels

Two-thirds of the way down its coastline, Chile crumples into archipelagos of thousands of islets covered with flourishing vegetation that give way to eerie ice fields. This spectacular filigreed coast is home to startling land- and seascapes as well as icy channels opened by seismic and glacial activity millions of years ago that can only be fully appreciated by ship. The Chilean coastal cruise can be experienced two ways.

One choice is aboard the 110-passenger  the most luxurious of the small fleet of red-and-white ships that belong to the Kochifas family, the pioneers who opened this area to international tourism in the late 1970s. Its stops include the island of Chiloe, one of only three inhabited islands in a region where humankind has barely left a mark. Then it’s south to the Strait of Magellan and the breath­taking San Rafael Glacier, the ship’s ultimate destination in Chile’s deep south. The mile­wide, 9-mile-long glacier rivets one’s attention as its 200-foot ice spires calve off to thun­derous roars. The impression is of being among the ice floes of the Antarctic; in fact, the San Rafael is the glacier closest to the Equator.

Alternatively, passengers can opt to ply the southernmost reaches of Chilean Patagonia aboard the Terra Australis, through an area boasting more glaciers than Alaska and more fjords than Norway, Denmark, and Sweden put together. In an area off-limits to most of the larger American and European ships, the com­pact 114-passenger Terra Australis threads these waterways, skirting the island of Tierra del Fuego in the ghostly wake of Charles Darwin’s ship, the Beagle. The utter silence of these labyrinthine seas inspires the same awe that must have overcome Magellan in 1520 when he stumbled upon these then-uncharted waters at the bottom of the world.

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Portillo – Mendoza, Chile

The Best Downhill Skiing Down Under

Upside-down seasons make a jaunt down to South America’s best ski resort a great way to escape the sweltering summer heat up north. Here the western hemisphere’s highest peaks boast the finest deep-powder snow, no lift lines or slope traffic, Chilean hospi­tality, breathtaking scenery, and ice skating on Laguna del Inca (Inca Lake).

This glitzy ski resort, the site of the 1966 World Alpine Ski Championships (and off­season training destination of the northern hemisphere’s pros), nestles high above the tree line at 9,233 feet, in a bowl surrounded by some of the most spectacular peaks of the Chilean/Argentine Andes (from here you can catch a glimpse of Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua just over the border, the highest in South America at 22,834 feet). Twelve lifts give access to 2,200 acres, some at an eleva­tion of 10,000 feet, while helicopters make thousands of additional acres accessible for unrivaled powder skiing. Some slopes are notoriously impossible, such as the almost- 45-degree-angle Roca Jack, while others accommodate beginners and less-adept skiers. The bright yellow Hotel Portillo is the only game in town and offers a price range for every budget.

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Easter Island – Chile

Island of a Thousand Mysteries

A tiny windswept piece of land called Rapa Nui continues to captivate and mystify a curious world long after its “discovery” by the Dutch West India Company in 1722, on Easter Sunday. Surrounded by a million square miles of Pacific Ocean, it’s the world’s most remote inhabited island – over 1,200 miles from its nearest popu­lated neighbor, Pitcairn Island. Called the “Navel of the World” by early settlers, Easter Island is an ancient open-air 50- square-mile museum of natural history, home to some of archaeology’s most valuable treasures. It is most often identified today with its famous moai, more than 600 huge, eerie, elongated stone figures that stare eyeless at the distant horizon. Many are 30 to 50 feet tall and weigh up to 250 tons. They were carved from the island’s volcanic tufa, transported for miles, then raised onto great stone altars called ahu.

Believed to date from somewhere between the 9th and 17th centuries A.D., these silent figures are best viewed outdoors in all their primitive splendor at Ahu Tongariki, the largest excavated and restored religious mon­ument in Polynesia. Were they conceived and carved by Polynesian people who first landed on the island around A.D. 500, or by pre-Incan stone carvers from Peru? The answer remains elusive.

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The Wine Roads of Chile – Central Valley, Chile

At Home with Internationally Acclaimed Vintners

Chilean wines are taking the world by storm, and oenophiles are keen to head straight to the viticultural source. Chile’s winemaking originated with the Spanish conquistadores and missionaries who cultivated the grape for sacramental purposes, but the wines really came into their own when noble French cuttings were planted in the mid-19th century. The principal vineyards lie in the provinces of Aconcagua, Valparaiso, and Santiago, where a series of beautiful valleys, formed during the Ice Age, are rich with fertile soil. Chile escaped the plagues that later blighted France’s vines: Together with Australia, it is the only country still planted with its original rootstock, and its ungrafted vines now last three to four times longer than their European counterparts.

The third largest wine exporter to the United States, after France and Italy, Chile boasts a list of star vintners led by Viña Concha y Toro, the largest and best known in the United States; the Viña Cousiño Macul, the country’s oldest; and Viña Santa Rita, world famous for its Cabernets. Travelers to the region fill their days with tastings and gourmet lunches at vineyard restaurants, visits to local produce markets, and an oblig­atory stop at La Sebastiana, the exquisite coastal home (one of three) of Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poet, the late Pablo Neruda. Visiting Chile without paying homage to Neruda, the locals say, is like going to church and not praying to God.

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Hacienda Los Lingues – San Fernando, Central Valley, Chile

Refined but Rustic Hospitality at a 16th-Century Working Ranch

Nestled in a fertile valley at the foot of the Andes, the 9,000 acres that comprise the Hacienda Los Lingues have been in the family of Germán Claro Lira since 1545. Today one of the most prestigious horse-breeding and agricultural farms in South America, Los Lingues ships both its lush fruits and surefooted Acuelo Thoroughbreds worldwide. Lush gardens and flower-decked patios with splashing fountains, intimate dinners in the formal dining room embellished with family heirloom silver and antique crystal, and creaky-floored guest rooms appointed with 17th-century carved beds and white lace cur­tains are all part of the lovingly preserved colonial ambience.

Days are meant for lazing about on shaded verandas while consuming a string of pisco sours, Chile’s national drink. Riders will want to saddle up and explore the rolling property on one of the ranch’s horses, which are cousins of the Austrian Lipizzaners, first brought to Europe by the Moors and introduced to South America by Spanish conquistadores.

Easter Island

Island of a Thousand Mysteries

A tiny windswept piece of land called Rapa Nui continues to captivate and mystify a curious world long after its “discovery” by the Dutch West India Company in 1722, on Easter Sunday.

Surrounded by a million square miles of Pacific Ocean, it’s the world’s most remote inhabited island–over 1,200 miles from its nearest populated neighbor, Pitcairn lsland.

Called the “Navelof the World” by early settlers, Easter Island is an ancient open-air 50-square-mile museum of natural history home to some of archaeology’s most valuable treasures.

It is most often identified today with its famous moai, more than 600 huge, eerie, elongated stone figures that stare eyeless at the distant horizon. Many are 30 to 50 feet tall and weigh up to 250 tons.

They were carved from the island’s volcanic tufa, transported for miles, then raised onto great stone altars called ahu.

Believed to date from somewhere between the 9th and 17th centuries A.D., these silent figures are best viewed outdoors in all their primitive splendor at Ahu Tongariki, the largest excavated and restored religious monument in Polynesia.

Were they conceived and carved by Polynesian people who first landed on the island around A.D. 500, or by pre-Incan stone carvers from Peru? The answer remains elusive.

What: island.

Where: 2,350 miles/3,781 km west of Santiago, Chile, 4 1/2 hours by air on flights that typically continue on to Tahiti. It can also be reached by some cruise lines.

How: TCS Expeditions in the U.S. organizes all-day trip that includes Santiago, with guest lecturers who are experts on the prehistory of the island; tel 800-727-7477 or 206-727-7300, fax 206-727-7309; tcsexp@wolfenet.com.

Cost: $4,990 per person, double occupancy, all-inclusive, land only.

When: Jan departures only. A shorter 4-day stay leaving weekly from Santiago year-round can be arranged in the U.S. through Maxim Tours, tel 800-655-0222 or 973-984-9068, fax 973-984-5383; maximtours@earthlink.net; www.maximtours.com.

Cost: from $284 per person, all-inclusive, land only.

Best times: Nov-Mar.