With so much to explore and with such variety in Chile, this guide makes no attempt to be prescriptive. There are, however, a number of places that stand out. These itineraries are suggested for those who want to see as much of the country as they can in the time available; but those with more time to spare could easily devote several weeks to each area of the country without running out of things to see and do.

The south

One week

Fly from Santiago to Puerto Montt, allowing two to three days to visit either the beautiful island of Chiloé or the southern Lake District. In Chiloé, visit the penguins at Puñihuil, the town of Ancud and many of the island's Jesuit churches. Visiting Chiloé in 1835, Charles Darwin found that the rolling hills reminded him of England. It has changed little since and, with its rich mythology and close-knit agricultural communities, it still evokes a bygone age. Just north of Puerto Montt is the Lake District. Use the German-founded town of Puerto Varas as a base to visit the area around Lago Llanquihue, where the Osorno volcano provides a spectacular backdrop to the lake. The impressive Petrohué waterfalls are an hour to the east. Fly to Puerto Natales and spend four days visiting the mountains and eerie blue glaciers of Torres del Paine, one of the world's greatest national parks, before flying back to Santiago.

Two weeks

After arriving in Santiago, visit the port of Valparaíso before heading south by bus and spending a few days in the Central Valley, the heart of Chile. Explore the high mountains around Vilches, or the Parque Nacional Siete Tazas. Wine buffs can sample some of Chile's best wines, while beach lovers might prefer surfing at Pichilemu. Move on to the famous forests and hills around Lago Villarrica, perhaps climbing the volcano nearby, doing a day trek in the Araucaria forests of Huerquehue or Cañi, braving a day of whitewater rafting or relaxing in natural thermal springs, before flying from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales to visit Torres del Paine (as in the one-week itinerary).

One month

Spend a further two or three days on Chiloé, visiting the Parque Nacional Chiloé, and Castro. Catch a boat to Chaitén and spend the next eight or nine days exploring the fabulous region of the Carretera Austral. See giant alerce forests in the Parque Pumalín, experience some of the world's best whitewater rafting around Futaleufú and hike around Cerro Castillo, before (if money is no object) making for Puerto Chacabuco and taking a cruise to the Laguna San Rafael glacier. Fly down to Punta Arenas and visit the nearby penguin colonies or splash out on a whale-watching trip before heading on to Torres del Paine, adding the wilds of Tierra del Fuego or the Glaciares National Park in Argentina.

The north

One week

First, fly from Santiago to La Serena to spend perhaps three days exploring the area around the city. Pick two attractions, choosing from the Elqui Valley and the public observatory, the Parque Nacional Fray Jorge, the penguins, dolphins and sea lions at Isla Damas, the cave paintings at the Valle del Encanto or the Limarí Valley. Fly on to Calama and the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama and spend three days visiting the geysers, altiplano lakes, the salt flat and the Valley of the Moon, before flying back to Santiago.

Two weeks

Head to Valparaíso before catching a bus north to La Serena, the journey providing a good introduction to the beauties of the mountains of the semi-desert. Continue to Chañaral to see the spectacular Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar, before moving on directly to San Pedro to continue with the one-week itinerary. Take an overnight bus to Arica, and spend two days visiting the spectacular Parque Nacional Lauca and the world's highest lake, Chungará, before flying back to the capital.

One month

A month allows you to visit some fascinating additional destinations in the north of the country. Spend two or three days exploring the hinterland around Illapel, Salamanca and Combarbalá, for example, which is spectacularly rugged country and full of minerals and ancient rock art. Heading north from Chañaral, break your journey at the attractive coast town of Taltal and then visit Chuquicamata, the largest open-cast copper mine on earth. With two extra days at San Pedro, tour the beautiful altiplano villages, before travelling to Arica. Take a four-day altiplano tour, visiting Lauca, Surire and Isluga parks and ending in Iquique where you can relax on the beach for a couple of days, jump off a cliff on a tandem paraglide over the city, or visit the nearby thermal baths at Pica.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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