Guest post by Dalene Heck from Hecktictravels.com
On our recent trip around South America, most backpackers we met were skipping the string-bean country entirely.
Why? Because it’s more expensive then some of the other popular countries on the continent. Because it’s food is nothing to rave about. Because they speak a somewhat butchered version of Spanish and can wreak havoc on the ability and confidence of traveller’s trying to learn the language.
True, Chile does cost twice as much to travel in as nearby Bolivia or Peru (but is still relatively cheap for European and North American travellers). It doesn’t serve up world renowned steaks like Argentina. And by the end of our month there, we had dropped the “s” from most Spanish words like the locals.
But the positives from our visit were overwhelming. We took our time exploring this often looked-over country, and in our adventures from top to bottom, we found six fantastic reasons that make it well worth a visit.
1. Sand boarding & star gazing
Where: San Pedro de Atacama
By day, strap on a sand board and hit the slopes of the immense sand dunes. By night, San Pedro is one of the best spots on earth to whet your astrological appetite. The high altitude conditions of dry air and very few clouds make it a perfect place to view a star-studded sky.
2. Intriguing street art
Valparaiso, the “Jewel of the Pacific” and a UNESCO World Heritage City, is full of narrow and winding streets. Built on multiple steep hillsides it has a unique system of charming funiculars and photographers will feel perfectly trigger-happy snapping the street art that decorates most walls. Countless cafe and restaurant terraces overlook the important harbour while chic Vina del Mar’s beautiful beaches and shopping are a short metro ride away.
3. Wine, wine & more wine
Where: Valle Central (near Santiago)
Chile is the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world. The most common grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenere. Each are produced the length of the country, but the most popular destination for savouring some of the good stuff is Valle Central (near the capital city of Santiago). This is home to one of the country’s favourite producers, Viña Concha y Toro.
4. Maritime culture & charm
The locals have fought building a bridge from mainland Chile to Chiloe to preserve their unique heritage. After all, some of the country’s best scenery can be found on this small island. A trip to the national park followed by a short hike and you will be rewarded with miles of glorious sand dunes and beaches. Partial to a few oysters or mussels? Make sure you sample some of the seafood, which is some of the best around. For an adventure, try a day of river kayaking. A more relaxing alternative is to spend time idly wandering around Castro which offers numerous cafes, B&Bs, spas and palofitos, houses on stilts which line the inlet of water and make for beautiful photographs.
5. Incredible mountain adventures
Hiking, climbing, kayaking, and camping in the Torres del Paine attract thrill seekers from all over the world. Puerto Natales is the main town and a popular starting point for tourists to arrange their Patagonian adventures. Other than Torres del Paine, many explore Bernardo O’Higgins National Park (one of the largest protected areas in Chile) or take part in an intimate penguin experience from Punta Arenas.
6. Slide down a volcano
More hiking, class 4-5 white water rafting, and the opportunity to climb up an active volcano and then…slide down it! Pucon is a sleepy but charming mountain town that sits at the base of the imposing Villarica volcano. Adventure activities aside, the town has plenty of cafes, restaurants, accommodation and shopping as well as a beautiful lakeside beach.
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