1 Ski resorts
The best skiing in South America is within easy reach of Santiago. Six principal resorts offer a combined total of over 100 pistes. Difficulty levels cater to everyone, from novices to expert adrenalin junkies looking for a heli-skiing adventure.
Cobbled streets twist and turn alongside 19th-century funicular elevators rumbling up the hillsides, while 1950s trams traverse the downtown routes. Murals and street art adorn the buildings, and all the vivid colours of Valparaíso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are painted on houses that enjoy postcard-perfect ocean views.
3 Pan de Azúcar
Coastal hills have breathtaking views of an unspoilt landscape a mere 20 km wide. Just beyond the pristine white-sand beaches, inhabited by sea lions and penguins, guanacos and foxes traverse the desert along with over 100 other species of bird. If you’re lucky, you might find an arrowhead dating back to pre-Columbian times.
4 San Pedro de Atacama
This desert town steeped in millennia of history is the gateway to the Salar de Atacama, where the smell of sulphur is in the air as you ascend thousands of meters to painted mountains branded with petroglyphs. Salt flats, geysers and alkali lakes are some of the highlights of this place, one of the greatest of global 4WD adventures.
5 Altiplano national parks
Shy vicuñas graze against a backdrop of snow-capped volcanoes in this region. Seventeenth-century clay-built churches still stand in ancient plazas surrounded by rugged steppe and high-altitude lakes. These relics are a testament to the quiet, pious life lived by the Altiplano peoples of colonial times, a lifestyle that is little changed today.
6 Wine routes
Chile’s finest vintages come from the Central Valley. This is some of the most fertile land anywhere, and it is responsible for the country’s world-renowned vineyards. Come for the day and learn the finer points of creating a perfect barrel from bona fide expert vintners.
Gateway to the Lake District, Pucón has volcanoes, fishing and whitewater rafting nearby. Marvel at the sapphire waters of the almost mythical Ojos de Caburga, or unwind in one of the area’s many thermal pools. The more adventurous can climb Volcán Villarica, or simply sit back and wait; you might get lucky and catch an eruption, with dizzying displays of smoke, light and fire.
This is a magical island of fishing, forests and mythical creatures. As with Easter Island, you could even consider this an island nation unto itself. From the unspoilt forests to the sleepy towns with their provincial sensibility, Chiloé is at once fundamentally Chilean and yet wholly different.
9 Carretera Austral
Cycle, hike or hitch your way through spectacular scenery between Puerto Montt and Villa O’Higgins. Some of the world’s last untamed wilderness can be found along this highway’s 1240 km. Waterfalls cut through mammoth forested Andean peaks, feeding rivers that shine every shade of blue and green in the spectrum.
10 Parque Pumalín
Native temperate rainforest is preserved here for posterity, along with ancient glaciers and mist-enshrouded fjords that seem lost in time. The late US billionaire Douglas Tompkins may be remembered for his successful clothing company, The North Face; however, his real legacy is this private nature reserve on the Carretera Austral.
11 Torres del Paine
This is quite simply one of the world’s greatest national parks. When trekkers dream, they dream of Torres del Paine. Those with iron wills can put themselves to the ultimate test and attempt the full circuit, a seven- to eight-day trek that showcases all the splendour the park has to offer.
12 Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
This remote dot in the Pacific Ocean with a fascinating heritage is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Two cultures collide here, one as rich and mysterious as the some 600 stone mo’ai figures sitting on ceremonial altars, the other as modern as the mass resource consumption that threatens the islands’ fragile ecosystem.