A Chilean legend maintains that after God created the wonders ofthe world he had many pieces leftover. He had raging rivers,sprawling glaciers, valleys and soaring mountains, snow-cappedvolcanoes, sparkling lakes, beautiful forests and expansivedeserts, icy fjords and sandy beaches. Rather than let all thisbeauty go to waste, he put them all together in a remote part ofthe world, and so Chile was born.
A long narrow strip making up the western part of SouthAmerica's tail, Chile is 2,610 miles (4,200km) in length and atmost 115 miles (180km) wide. Travellers are drawn to this countrybecause of its multitude of natural attractions, from the starknorthern deserts to the beautiful Lake District, and the dramaticmountains and fjords of Patagonia in the south. Chile is home tosome superb National Parks, including the famous and mysteriousEaster Island, and numerous activities for outdoor enthusiasts.Unlike much of South America, Chile's natural splendour is madeaccessible by great infrastructure and the outdoor adventure can bepleasantly interrupted by time in impressive urban hubs which makeit clear that this is a country thriving economically andculturally.
Chile's European colonial heritage is evident throughout thecountry, and Chile's urban population is increasingly cosmopolitan,so that many travellers are surprised by how familiar and modernChile feels in comparison to neighbouring South American countrieswhich still boast strongly indigenous lifestyles. Indigenousculture does still thrive in parts of Chile, however, and the moretraditional enclaves juxtapose interestingly with the palpableEuropean influence. The people are resilient, cordial andhospitable, from the fashionable capital city of Santiago to theisolated island of Chiloé.
Besides natural beauty and an interesting blend of cultures,Chile offers the visitor excellent wines and seafood, uniquehandicrafts and shopping, and a variety of characteristicarchitecture, making it a beautiful and memorable place tovisit.
The list of attractions in Chile is as long as the countryitself. The best of these lie in the country's vast wildernessareas, although Santiago, the capital city, also has an impressivesightseeing offering, and the nearby city of Valparaiso isincreasingly drawing global attention with its street art andbohemian atmosphere.
In Chilean Patagonia both Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael andParque Nacional Torres del Paine are among the most impressivescenic sites in the world, encompassing mountains, ice fields,glaciers and lagoons, all of which can be explored on extensive andwell-maintained hiking trails.
Interesting towns like Castro, Puerto Montt and Pucon providespringboards into The Lake District and Parque Nacional Chiloe,where the rivers, lakes and volcanoes promise a playground foradventure sports enthusiasts and the age-old Chilean folkloreenchants the more cultural-minded.
Chile continues to amaze with weird and wonderful landscapes andnatural features like the El Tatio Gyesers and The Valley of theMoon in the northern Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos.
Those willing to make a trip into yet more remote country canhop across to the mysterious Easter Island, where the giant stoneMoai stare out to sea, guarding the ancient secrets of one of themost isolated places on earth.
Chile is truly one of the most diverse countries in the worldand it is best to pick a region or two to explore to avoidtravelling long distances - popular regions like Chilean Patagonia,the Lake District and the Atacama Desert can all easily occupy anentire holiday. Travellers should also note that Chile covers anumber of different climate zones and there is no one best seasonto visit - trips should be scheduled according to the desireddestination.
The Plaza de Armas is both the heart of Santiago and the city'shistorical centre, a square hemmed in by impressive Spanishcolonial public buildings, including the 18th-century Cathedral andelaborate main post office that was once the Spanish governors'residence. As with most colonial squares of this kind, and as thename suggests, the Plaza de Armas was designed to be the open spacein which the armed forces of the city could gather to parade and toprotect Santiago's most important buildings.
The square became the hub of administrative, commercial andsocial life when the city was founded in 1541, and today it remainsthe centre of life in the city. Never a dull place to be by day,with its constant activity and throngs of people entertained bybuskers and local artists, the evenings are just as lively whenpassers-by can become embroiled in chess games on temporary tablesset up under the trees.
This square is the point from which all distances are measuredin Chile, and the central point for the grid pattern of thestreets. Visitors should be aware of their belongings here as it isa popular target spot amongst pickpockets. The square is a usefulstarting point for sightseeing in Santiago as many attractions areclose by.
The Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art is housed in the oldRoyal Customs House in Santiago. The collection is impressivelylarge compared to many other museums in a similar vein, and itspans 4,500 years and about 80 pre-Colombian civilisations of SouthAmerica. The Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, as it is known tolocals, is a fascinating place to spend a few hours and is a greatfind for art and archaeology enthusiasts.
The exhibits are beautifully curated throughout four rooms setaround a central courtyard. The collection provides an informativeinsight into the cultures of the Incas, Mayans, Aztecs and otherproud civilisations of the continent, illustrating their artisticdiversity and advancement.
It is worth paying extra for a guided tour though, because thelabels are not translated into many languages and are not ascomprehensive as some might like. Having said that, the museum is aworthwhile attraction in Santiago, especially if travellers are notfamiliar with the intriguing ancient cultures on display.
Santiago's colourful Mercado Central, housed in an 1872 wroughtiron structure, has a fruit and vegetable market as well as abuzzing fish market where an assortment of glistening fresh seafoodis packed onto the tables. Mussels, oysters and clams sit inbuckets among an unidentifiable variety of crustaceans andtentacled creatures. The fishmongers demonstrate their skill atgutting and filleting amid a cacophony of frenzied buying. The besttime to visit is at lunchtime when a delicious sampling of thewares can be enjoyed in the happily chaotic atmosphere of thecentral hall.
There are many restaurants to choose from and often the smallerones are the best - and a bit cheaper. Mercado Central can be a bitexpensive because its popularity with tourists has grown so be onthe lookout for bargains. It is crowded and chaotic, but theseafood is excellent and fresh, the architecture is interesting,and there is a festive feel to the place (partly thanks to thestreet musicians who frequent it). It is essentially a food marketbut there are usually some vendors selling souvenirs, jewellery andthe like as well. Visitors are warned to stay aware of theirpossessions because markets of this kind are often targetted bypickpockets.
Cerro San Cristóbal is a 2,752-foot (860m) hill rising abovecentral Santiago which, on a clear day, affords magnificent viewsof the surrounding city, all the way across to the Andes.
The easiest way to the top is by funicular, but there is also ateleférico (cable car), bus or hiking path leading up from thebottom through the forested slopes. There are many walkways and atthe summit is the 70-foot (22m) high statue of the Virgin Mary tomark where the Pope held a mass in 1987.
There is also a zoo on the lower slopes, and picnic sites andtwo outdoor swimming pools spread throughout the park. The hill issituated within Santiago's biggest open space, the peaceful ParqueMetropolitano; it makes for an escape from the hustle of the city.Visitors need a few hours to enjoy the park and on a sunny day theswimming pools are a delight.
This popular nature reserve in northern Chile (many claim it isthe most popular) is 459 square miles (740km sq) and is dividedinto seven sections, all offering highlights of their own. One ofthe most interesting areas within the Reserva Nacional LosFlamencos is the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), a surreallandscape of salt peaks formed by uplifted lake sediments that havebeen shaped into dramatic formations by wind erosion. With asurreal blend of pastel colours the valley is even more enchantingat sunset. Close to San Pedro de Atacama, the valley can be reachedby mountain bike or on a guided tour.
A striking feature of northern Chile's geography is theshimmering and apparently endless salt lakes that are home to manybird species; the Salar de Atacama in the reserve has a lagoon,Laguna Chaxa, which supports three species of flamingos as well asother bird life. The salt lake also affords good views of thevolcanoes in the Andean chain of mountains on the nearby altiplano.The stunning desert landscape offers many attractions: hiking,horse riding, bird watching and photography are some of the mostpopular activities. Be aware that in this desert regiontemperatures vary dramatically and can drop suddenly.
At an altitude of 13,760 feet (4,300m), El Tatio is one of theworld's highest geyser fields, and possibly the hottest. Surroundedby volcanoes and fed by 80 geysers and hundreds of gassy fumarolesthe geyser fields are best viewed at sunrise when there are changesin atmospheric pressure; the steaming fumaroles are particularlyspectacular at this time, shooting up clouds of steam about 35 feet(112m) into the air.
Mineral deposits left behind after the evaporation of theboiling water have formed other interesting structures on the thincrust of the geyser field. While it is possible to bathe in the hotgeyser water in a small pool, parts of the field are very dangerouswith only a thin crust over nearly boiling mud so it is always agood idea to visit the geysers with a knowledgeable guide. This isa glorious attraction for photographers as the steam and the oddlandscape make for dramatic pictures. The geysers are not great foranybody who has respiratory issues though, so visitors withbreathing problems should proceed with caution. Also, be sure towear layers because although the pre-dawn temperatures arefreezing, it is much warmer at the geysers.
Most travellers visit the geysers as part of a guided tour.These usually leave San Pedro de Atacama early in the morning. Manyoperators offer this trip and it is worth shopping around to findthe best option. Many geyser tours include a stop at nearby hotsprings in the desert which is a great addition.
Following in the footsteps of Darwin after 150 years, visitorswill find an isolated but wildly beautiful assortment of rollinghills, native forests and pristine coastline in Parque NacionalChiloé. It is home to the Chilote fox, the rare pudú (miniaturedeer) and over 100 species of birds, including the Magellanicpenguin. The park offers a variety of walking trails, throughforests and under twisted tepú trees, along miles of unspoiltcoastline or along nature trails that lead up onto the hills forsuperb views of the surrounds. One of the draws of the hikingtrails in Chiloé is the wide selection of short hikes, making it agood activity even for visitors who aren't in the best shape. Thereare also epic hikes for those who want to walk long-distances. Thepark is home to several Huilliche Indian communities.
The information centre at the entrance has good displays on theflora, fauna and the traditions and folklore of the Huillichepeople. This amazing wilderness area is only 18 miles (30km) westof Chonchi and 34 miles (54km) west of Castro, making it easilyaccessible. The area receives a huge amount of rain year round sobe sure to dress appropriately.
A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, this 180,000-hectare (442-acre) parkis the pride and joy of southern Chile. The park takes its namefrom the towering granite pillars that rise over 6,560 feet(2,000m) above the Patagonian plains. It is a hiker's paradise withmany excellent, well-developed trails that traverse astoundingchanges in scenery. The hikes consist of several circuits whichvary in length and difficulty; there are very competent andinformative guides available, but unaccompanied hikes are alsoallowed. This amazing freedom is part of the appeal of thewilderness area for adventurers. Turquoise lakes and roaringwaterfalls, forests and magnificent rambling glaciers, icy rivers,daisy-filled meadows, harsh mountain passes and plenty of wildlife,including the protected guanaco (wild relative of the llama), aresome of its attractions.
Visitors can also try their hand at outdoor activities likehorseback riding, sailing and kayaking, rock climbing andfly-fishing. Two famous areas within the park are the French Valleyand Silence Valley (only accessible with a guide). The sunrise hiketo the towers that give the park its name is also highlyrecommended. For many people the world over the Parque NacionalTorres del Paine features prominently on their bucket list, and forvery good reason.
Created in 1959, Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael covers anarea of 6,726 square miles (17,420 sq km) and includes the NorthernPatagonian Ice Field. It was named after the San Rafael Lagoon thatwas created by the retreat of the San Rafael Glacier, and has beendesignated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. A fjord more than10 miles (16km) long is one of the park's principle attractions,along with some of the highest peaks in Patagonia, severalglaciers, lakes and a rich variety of bird and sea life.
While the majority of visitors to Laguna San Rafael never setfoot on land, the magnificent views from the boat will no doubtstay with them for a lifetime. If you take one of the larger boattrips to see the famous glaciers in the park you will almostcertainly be given the opportunity to approach the ice flow insmaller boats and get up close to the glacier. For the reallyadventurous there are also multi-day sea kayaking tours of thearea. Most visitors describe the trip as a once-in-a-lifetime,unforgettable experience and it is not hard to see why when lookingat photos of the landscape. The glaciers are melting, making thisattraction even more poignant and special; in a few years' time thelandscape may be very different.
Castro is the main town (technically a city) on Chiloé Island.It is actually the third oldest city in Chile, founded in 1576.Castro is famous for its colourful rows of palafitos (stiltedhouses) lining the estuaries, excellent seafood and traditionalhandicrafts. With an eclectic blend of Chilote culture and moderndevelopment, Castro is a popular summer destination for Chilean andArgentinean tourists and has a laid back feel to it.
One of the town's most interesting features is the San FranciscoChurch, painted in dazzling pastel colours. The town itself is fullof interesting features however, including craft markets, theregional museum, and the MAM Gallery. There are a range ofrestaurants and shops, and a few bars to keep the fun going atnight. The central town square, Plaza de Armas, is the heart ofCastro and here you will find a number of great places to eat, aswell as a prime people-watching position.
Cycling around the island is a popular activity and a good wayto see the sights. The town also provides access to the nearbyislands of the Chiloé archipelago and the Parque Nacional Chiloé,which make for wonderful excursions.
The Spanish, who arrived in the 16th century, and Jesuitmissionaries that came to Isla Grande de Chiloe in the 17thcentury, built hundreds of wooden churches in the archipelago in anattempt to 'civilise' the three local Indian tribes that occupiedthe islands. The Jesuits built more than 80 of these places ofworship, and the Franciscan order later joined them and added tothe region's astounding collection of chapels and churches. The 16churches which still remain well-preserved have been jointlyUNESCO-listed. Visiting some of these old buildings is one of themost interesting things to see and do in Isla Grande de Chiloe.
Apart from being very old, the churches have a uniquearchitecture which makes them special; in fact, the wholearchipelago benefits from its own style of building which visitorsfind delightful. Although recognisably colonial in some ways themix between the local and the European is unexpected and originalto the area, possibly because isolation allowed the architecturalstyle to develop largely undisturbed for centuries. The churchesare wooden, often painted with the pastel colours associated withCastro. Three of the most famous can be found in the villages ofChonchi and Dalcahue, and in Castro itself.
The churches are a popular tourist attraction in Isla Grande deChiloe and for those lucky enough to travel to this region shouldtry to visit as many as possible.
In the farthest southern reaches of Patagonia, at the tip ofSouth America, lies the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, whichtranslates to 'Land of Fire'. It is a dramatic name for a dramaticplace, as the harsh winds of the sub-polar climate sweep over rockymountains, sparse tundra, and hardy forests. Tierra del Fuego is anincreasingly popular eco-travel destination, and adventuroustravellers come to see wildlife that includes sea lions, foxes,condors, owls, and firecrown hummingbirds. Hiking and camping arepopular activities, and the archipelago offers some of the besttrout fishing in South America.
While the savage natural beauty of the area is the mainattraction for travellers there is also more traditional touristicsightseeing on offer: much of the tourism in Tierra del Fuegorevolves around 'southernmost' things. The port town of PuertoWilliams claims to be the southernmost city in the world, while thesouthernmost cathedral and temple are located in Punta Arenas.While Cape Horn is widely thought to be the southernmost island inSouth America, that title actually goes to The Diego RamírezIslands, which are nesting grounds for many species of southernseabirds, including albatross, penguins and petrels. Travellerswith a sense of adventure looking to get off the beaten track willfind Tierra del Fuego to be quite a revelation.
The Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve is a paradise forbirdwatchers, or for anybody who is fond of penguins. MagdalenaIsland is located 21.7 miles (35km) south of Punta Arenas. Thereserve is a natural bird sanctuary, and is home to more than100,000 birds, including about 95 percent of the world's populationof Magellanic Penguins as well as cormorants and seagulls.
Because it is a sanctuary, the only facilities on MagdalenaIsland are for scientific research and not tourism. Guided toursare available to see the penguins in their natural habitat, and thelighthouse at the Environmental Interpretation Centre providesstunning panoramic views of the region. There are ferries availablefrom Puntas Arenas, which take approximately two hours each way andprovide snacks and coffee. These ferry rides are in themselvesthrilling in that to reach Magdalena Island the boat crosses thefamous Straits of Magellan, traversing the same waters as SirFrancis Drake and Charles Darwin.
Generally, visitors are allowed about an hour on the island toobserve the penguins in their natural habitat. The birds arenaturally curious and very amusing to watch. They return every yearbetween October and March to lay their eggs and raise their young -if you are lucky you may well see chicks.
The Pukara de Quitor Ruins are a very short distance from thetown and one of the most popular attractions in San Pedro deAtacama. The fortifications were built by the Atacameno people, apre-Incan civilization, in the 12th century. The ruins have notbeen excavated fully, despite being incredibly well-preserved,because they will be quickly destroyed by the elements if they areexposed further. The way they stand, half-uncovered, actually addsto the mysterious atmosphere of the place, and visitors can stillhave a fair idea of what the structures looked like originally. Tohelp travellers envisage the buildings as they once were a replicaof one of the 800-year-old houses has been built.
A bike ride or a quick hike to the ruins is one of the mostpopular things to do in San Pedro de Atacama. The distance is underthree miles (4km) and can be walked in about an hour. The path iswell sign-posted and not demanding. Possibly the most astoundingthing about the fort are the views from the site and those visitorswho have seen more extensive and impressive ruins - like those justnorth in Peru - will still be blown away by the surroundings. Theruins can be explored with remarkable freedom which is also abonus.
The territory of Chile extends from the tropics down almost toAntarctica, and from sea level up to breath-taking altitudes,therefore the country has a wide variety of climate zones. In thenorth there is hardly any rainfall and conditions are very hot andarid. The climate in central Chile is Mediterranean, with cool, wetwinters between April and September. Average annual rainfallincreases, and temperatures decrease, as one moves further south.In Santiago average temperatures vary between 68ºF (20ºC) inJanuary, the height of summer, and 46ºF (8ºC) in July, midwinter.In the extreme south the weather is cold and wet most of the year,with snow covering the mountains and the sky cloudy. Because theweather in Chile varies so much there is no ideal time to visit thecountry as a whole; depending on your desired area and activitiesthe best time to visit Chile will change. However, in every seasonthe country has something to offer which makes it a year-roundtravel destination.
The local currency is the Chilean Peso (CLP), which is dividedinto 100 centavos. Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club and to a lesserextent, American Express, are accepted in most large shops andhotels. ATMs are widely available.
The official language is Spanish.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round two-pinplugs and round three-pin plugs are used.
No visa is required by US nationals for visits of up to 90 days.A passport valid on arrival is required for travel to Chile.
UK nationals do not require a visa for visits of up to 90 days.A passport valid on arrival is required.
No visa is required by Canadians for visits of up to 90 days. Apassport valid on arrival is required for travel to Chile.
No visa is required by Australians for visits of up to 90 days.A passport valid on arrival is required. Visa exemptions alsoinclude passengers with an APEC Business Travel Card, valid fortravelling to 'CHL' on business, maximum stay of 90 days.
South African nationals must hold a passport valid on arrival. Avisa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.
Irish nationals must hold a passport valid on arrival, but avisa is not required for a stay of up to 90 days.
No visa is required by US nationals for visits of up to 90 days.A passport valid on arrival is required for travel to Chile.
New Zealand nationals must hold a passport valid on arrival. Avisa is not required for a stay of up to 90 days. VISA exemptionalso includes those travelling with an APEC Business Travel Card,valid for travelling to 'CHL' for business, a maximum stay of 90days.
A return or onward ticket is required. We always recommend thatpassports be valid for six months after intended period of travel.Extension of stay possible for additional 90 days for visa exemptvisitors.
There are no vaccination requirements for entry to Chile, butvaccination for hepatitis A is recommended and a typhoid vaccinemay be recommended for long-term travellers who plan to visit ruralareas and eat outside of hotels and restaurants. Water is generallysafe in the cities, but should be treated in the rural areas;bottled water is widely available for drinking. Santiago isseverely polluted and this could cause respiratory problems or eyeirritations, particularly between May and August. Travellersvisiting the Andes Mountains should be aware of altitude sickness,and ascend slowly to allow the body to adjust. Healthcare in urbanareas is generally good, but hospitals and clinics are expensiveand usually require payment in cash. Comprehensive travel healthinsurance is recommended.
Tips of about 10 percent are expected in restaurants. It is notcustomary to tip taxi drivers but it is usual to round up the fareif they help with luggage. In general tipping small amounts iscustomary for most services.
Chile is a politically stable country with few safety threats totravellers. Incidences of pick-pocketing and mugging are on theincrease in big cities and travellers should take care of theirbelongings, especially around tourist areas and bus stations, andavoid walking alone late at night. Tourists should be particularlycautious in the Lake District as theft is on the increase, andmuggings are becoming more common in popular walking areas such asCerro San Cristobal, Cerro Santa Lucia and Cerro Manquehue. Therehas been an increase in reports regarding people receiving spikeddrinks at nightclubs and bars, particularly in Santiago. Avoid anyinvolvement in political protests and demonstrations, which takeplace from time to time. Chile has a landmine problem, mainlyrestricted to border areas adjacent to Peru and Bolivia. Theseareas are seldom visited by most travellers so landmines shouldn'tbe a problem but visitors are advised to stick to marked roads,obey all signs and seek the advice of local authorities iftravelling to the border areas of regions I, II or XII.
Large-scale demonstrations have taken place across Chile sinceOctober 2019. They can proceed with little or no notice and canresult in violence and travel disruption in cities and towns.Affected areas include Santiago, Temuco, Iquique, Conception andRancagua. Large cities such as Santiago, Vina del Mar, Arica,Puerto Montt, Valparaiso, Antofagasta and Iquique expect dailydemonstrations, and consular support in parts of the country may attimes be limited.
Bargaining is unusual in street markets or stores in Chile - ifthere is a price on goods it is seldom negotiable. Although Chileis largely conservative in outlook, homosexuality is legal and isincreasingly widely accepted socially. Punishment for thepossession and consumption of drugs is strict in Chile.
Chilean business culture tends to be formal, and this includesdress, which should also be conservative. In business, Chileansshould be addressed by their titles and surnames, unless otherwisestated. Businesses are often family-run. Third party introductionsare indispensable when arranging a meeting, and developing apersonal relationship is key. Chileans often stand very close whenconversing and it is impolite to pull away. Visitors are alsoexpected to re-confirm appointments before arriving at a meeting.Foreigners should be on time for meetings, but it is not unusualfor the host to be 15-30 minutes late. On introduction, a firmhandshake and exchange of business cards is usual - cards should beprinted in both English and Spanish and care should be taken to payattention to the card before putting it away carefully. Businesshours are generally 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, often with asiesta over lunch.
The international access code for Chile is +56. The outgoingcode is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for theUnited Kingdom). The area code for Santiago is (0)2. Hotels, cafesand restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. Asinternational roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaidSIM card can be a cheaper option.
Travellers entering Chile do not need to pay customs duty on 400cigarettes, 50 cigars (large or small) and 500g tobacco; 2.5 litresof alcohol; and perfume for personal use. Meat products, flowers,fruit and vegetables may only be imported if permission is given bythe Department of Agriculture.
Chile National Tourism Website: www.chile.travel
Embassy of Chile, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 5304104.
Embassy of Chile, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 72222361.
Embassy of Chile, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 235 4402.
Embassy of Chile, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 4608090.
Embassy of Chile, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6286 2430.
Embassy of Chile, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 667 5094.
Embassy of Chile, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 4716270.
United States Embassy, Santiago: +56 (0)2 330 3000
British Embassy, Santiago: +56 (0)2 370 4100.
Canadian Embassy, Santiago: +56 (0)2 652 3800.
South African Embassy, Santiago: +56 (0)2 8200 300.
Australian Embassy, Santiago: +56 (0)2 550 3500.
Embassy of Ireland, Buenos Aires (also responsible for Chile):+54 11 5787 0801.
New Zealand Embassy, Santiago: +56 (0)2 616 3000.
Chilean wine enjoys a good reputation with sommeliers all aroundthe world, with its popularity soaring in the last decade. CentralChile's Mediterranean climate is ideal for vineyards, and some ofthe best wine comes from the Central Valley, around Santiago. Winetastings are a popular activity in Santiago, and there are manywineries to choose from. Valle de Maipo, Valle de Casablanca andValle de San Antonio are the closest to the city, and there arenearly 30 wineries in Valle de Maipo alone. Wine country in Chilestretches for many miles along the coast, from Valle de Elqui inthe north to Valle de Malleco in the south.
Chilean wine country is an especially beautiful region in thesummer, and a great way to explore the area is on bicycles whichcan easily be hired in nearby towns. Some groups of wineries havebanded together to offer established tours along 'wine routes', ofwhich the circuit of the Colchagua Valley is the most popular. Manytour operators in Santiago offer wine tasting packages as well.There is much to delight sommeliers in the region but it is also afun experience for the uninitiated.
Vina del Mar is a short bus ride from Santiago, right next toValparaiso; in fact, travellers could be forgiven for thinking thetwo coastal cities are one and the same. Vina del Mar has a verydifferent character to bohemian Valparaiso though - it is a safer,more manicured city celebrated for its fun resort culture, itsmalls and its beautiful beaches. Vina del Mar translates asVineyard of the Sea, and the city's beautiful parks have earned itthe romantic nickname of Ciudad Jardin, or Garden City.
Pretty Vina del Mar is a popular summer resort and weekendretreat for the wealthy inhabitants of Santiago and the beaches andcasinos boom in the peak summer months between December andFebruary. Like neighbouring Valparaiso, the city boasts arollicking nightlife and a good restaurant scene.
Vina del Mar's beaches are its biggest asset but although theyare very picturesque they are not always safe for swimming.Visitors should be careful not to underestimate the power of thewaves and currents and should obey directives from lifeguards whenthey are present.
Valparaiso, only 75 miles (120km) from Santiago, has a realbohemian spirit. It is an historic port city; in fact, in the 1800sit was the main shipping hub of the Southern Pacific, which broughtwealth, floods of European immigrants, and that deliciously naughtyatmosphere found in places frequented by sailors. Valparaiso clingsto the steep sides of 45 hills along the coast, a tricky geographythat makes epic staircases and quaint old funiculars integral togetting around.
The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to a wealth ofwell-preserved historic architecture, but it is the very modernstreet art phenomenon which truly sets the place apart. The sheeramount of murals and graffiti, mixed up with grand old buildings,makes the whole city feel like a weird work of art. To add credenceto this artsy atmosphere there are musicians busking on seeminglyevery corner and artists selling their work at improvised stallsall over the picturesque hillside districts.
Unsurprisingly, Valparaiso is renowned for its vibrant nightlifeand there is a surplus of cool places to eat and drink in the city.Apart from taking in the art, colourful architecture and numerouspubs, travellers should be sure to visit the quirky home of belovedpoet Pablo Neruda, which offers glorious views over the city aswell as insight into his life.