Feb 03, 2017
Adventures in the Land of Neruda – Top Things to Do in Chile
A sliver of a country that stretches from South America’s belly down to its southern tip, Chile is a land of volcanoes and flamingoes, dry deserts and lush vineyards.
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Here are some of our favorite Chilean adventures.
Torres del Paine National Park
It’s easy to tell the exact moment you enter Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, as the landscape changes from ordinary to extraordinary even by Chilean standards. Jagged mountains covered in frosting, reflected in crystal clear lakes. This is one of the last places left on the planet where you can still drink from the streams; home to pumas, guanacos, condors, and the South Andean deer. Most travellers will do the ‘W trek’ in Torres del Paine—named after the W shape of the Paine towers. If a multi-day hike isn’t for you, spend a day hiking to the base of the towers. Take a reliable jacket because it’s always windy in Patagonia. As I was walking back to the beautiful Eco Camp Patagonia after a day’s hike up to the towers of Paine, windblown and it had started to rain, I saw a woman jog out of her house in running slacks and shoes. The weather may seem formidable to us travellers, sunshine one second and a full-blown snow storm the next, but to the locals in Patagonia, it was just another Saturday.
Valle de la Luna: The parched Atacama desert is home to Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), which is probably the closest I’ll ever get to the moon (though, never say never). The landscape stretches in swirls of white salt and brown earth, carved by wind and water over millennia. I was jolted back to reality only when I saw a waxing moon rising above the crumbling valley peaks. A fun thing to do in the Atacama desert is go sandboarding. I wouldn’t know because I gave up after trying to haul my bike over a steep road with a sandboard strapped to my back, and got ice cream instead. But my friends (pictured below), who weren’t big babies like I was, got over that hill and say the experience was something akin to the movie Mad Max: a cacophony of dry desert, dehydration and madness.
Geysers el Tatio: Go here early in the morning to watch the earth blow off some steam. There’s nothing very active about this activity, unless you count jumping up and down to stay warm an activity. If I’ve ever regretted not wearing that extra layer of long underwear in my life, this was it. But it’s worth a visit nonetheless. Stop at the town of Machuca on the way back—where the locals sell alpaca blankets and lama kebabs.
The Wine Region
Just outside Chile’s capital city, Santiago is Maipo Valley – home of the Carmenere grape that originated in Bordeaux. Once thought to be extinct, the grape was rediscovered in Chile’s wine region and now grows in abundance at the Santa Rita Vineyard. Switch the regular wine tour up by biking through Maipo Valley’s lush greenery. You may think wine and biking don’t go together, and it’s true, they don’t. That’s why I’d recommend getting the biking out of the way before getting plastered, because who really spits all that good wine out during a tasting? The only problem is, I remember nothing from my wine education, and still say things like, “I think this one’s smokey with a hint of grape, quite, quite.”
The Lake District
Chile’s lake district extends from Temuco in the north to Puerto Montt in the south. Though not as wild as Patagonia, the lake district is still a great place for outdoor people, with an abundance of lakes, forests and active volcanoes. Mount Fuji’s twin, Osorno volcano stands at 2,652 m (8,701ft) in the Los Lagos Region. I saw it the day before a proposed climb, and there was not a cloud in sight. I imagined myself on that white summit, looking down at the lakes below. The next day (day of climb), struggling up a snowy slope at 4am in the morning, I couldn’t see my own hands. And it didn’t get much better at daybreak. It was a whiteout, with 60mph wind and when it became clear that we weren’t going to be climbing a glacier that day, we made our way back down. A permit is needed to climb the volcano, as well as climbing equipment including a harness, crampons and ice axe. Most tour operators will provide climbing equipment, but make sure you have a sturdy pair of shoes. I didn’t have my mountaineering boots with me, ended up borrowing a pair, and lost a toenail that didn’t grow back for eight months.
Feature image: Flamingoes in Salar de Atacama, the largest salt flat in Chile. Photo: Madhuri Chowdhury
This trip was made possible by Ibex Expeditions.