Chile is a ribbon of land squashed between the Pacific and the Andes. Its landscape embraces glacial wilderness and moonscapes, lakes and volcanoes, beaches, salt flats, and the burnt colours of the desert. In one day it is possible to scale a mountain with ice axe and crampons, soak off the exhaustion in a thermal bath and rest beneath the desert stars of the Southern Cross.
Santiago, Chile’s sophisticated capital, nestles alongside the Andes: a frenetic collision of skyscrapers, noise and nightlife that is home to some of South America’s most experimental modern artists. The nearby port city of Valparaíso was described by Brian Keenan as a ‘Venice waiting to be discovered’, with warrens of streets and brightly painted houses.
In the far north is the small town of San Pedro de Atacama, an unlikely oasis set among geysers, volcanoes and salt flats. For the real stargazers, there are astronomical observatories to take advantage of the region’s pristine skies.
3,790km to the west lies Easter Island, famous for its 887 iconic stone heads known as moai, ranging from two to 20m tall.
Heading south, the mysterious archipelago of Chiloé is one of the most fascinating areas of Chile. Here you are almost always within sight of the sea, with dolphins playing in the bay and, on a clear day, views across to the twisting spire of the Corcovado volcano on the mainland.
Just north of Chiloé is the deservedly popular Lake District. Much of this region is protected as national parks, and the mixture of forests, lakes and snow-capped volcanoes is unforgettable.
The Carretera Austral (southern highway) is a large tract of sparsely inhabited, spectacular wilderness stretching away south of the Lake District. High rainfall and difficult access deter some but the attractions are considerable: temperate rainforests, glaciers, fjords, small islands and hidden fishing villages. There are hot springs at Chaitén and Puyuhuapi, excellent fishing and rafting in the cold clean waters. You can trek, climb mountains and cross ice fields, or cruise in comfort to the awe-inspiring sight of Laguna San Rafael’s glacier.
In the far south of the country lies the awe-inspiring Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Mecca for trekkers and wildlife enthusiasts. Throughout the year, the park offers constantly-changing views of fantastic peaks, glaciers and icebergs, where the eponymous massive granite towers overlook vividly coloured lakes and quiet green valleys filled with wild flowers.