Where to go

The north is generally drier. Much of it is desert except for an occasional oasis and the verdant altiplano, and there are often large distances between places of interest. The people are slightly taciturn. Unlike the south it is pleasant to visit during the colder months of the year (May to September). Highlights include the peaceful Elqui Valley, whose green vine-laden floor contrasts with the stark metalic colours of its mineral-stained mountains where the Milky Way traces a path through a night sky filled with a billion stars. Further north is the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama, surrounded by archaeological sites and awesome natural phenomena. At the northern tip of Chile the desert rises up to meet the lush green of the altiplano, home to a dozen volcanoes and a wide variety of wildlife.

The Central Valley is the heart of the country and is where most Chileans live. Santiago has a couple of world-class museums and is a good base for many of the country's best ski resorts, while Valparaíso, the so-called Pearl of the Pacific, is a multi- coloured amphitheatre of a city with an artistic, bohemian atmosphere unlike anywhere else in Chile. Beach lovers can head to the nearby resort of Viña del Mar or to any number of quiet fishing villages. A word of warning, though - the water is cold!

Stretching from Santiago to the south are Chile's prime wine valleys . Many wineries offer tours and an increasing number are home to some of Chile's more innovative restaurants.

Southern Chile is filled with lush green forests rising up from fractured fjords, fast-flowing rivers and waterfalls, pristine lakes and smoking snow-capped volcanoes overlooked by the majestic mountain range to the east. In the Lake District adventure tourism is easy, with numerous agencies offering a dozen day-long activities in the nearby lakes, rivers, forests and mountains with all the creature comforts of Pucón or Puerto Varas awaiting you in the evening. For a taste of the real Patgonia, head south to the Carretera Austral. The Parque Pumalín is an incredible conservation project with a diverse ecosystem and excellent trails to explore.

Towards the Argentine border, Futaleufú has the best whitewater rafting in the southern hemisphere, while further south, the azure waters of Lago General Carrera turn an even more unbelievable blue as they flow into the broad Río Baker that winds westwards, splitting Patagonia's two enormous ice fields before reaching the sea at Tortel, a streetless village where houses are connected by wooden walkways. South of the ice fields is Torres del Paine, whose glaciers and granite towers are the jewel in the crown of Chilean Patagonia.

A final word of advice: don't try to do too much; you will get more out of your travels by covering a small area properly than by rushing from one place to the next.

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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