SPECIAL INTEREST ACTIVITIES

 

WHAT TO SEE & DO IN CHILE (ENGLISH)

QUÉ HACER EN CHILE (ESPAÑOL)

 

Skiing and Snowboarding
Trekking and Mountaineering
Fishing       
Cycling
Kayaking and Rafting
Surfing
Wine Related Tourism
Astronomy
Bird Watching

 

SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING

Extols one lifelong denizen, “You can ski in the Andes all morning, then enjoy a fresh seafood dinner beside the Pacific that evening.” That’s true enough much of the year. Much of what makes Chile so attractive to residents and visitors alike are the plethora of places to go in whatever direction with things to do when you get there – and reliable, safe ways to travel.

Slopes range from world-class Portillo, not far from Santiago, where Olympian hopefuls from around the globe often train, to the graceful skirts of still-active volcanoes in the southern central region. The ski season is long even in the north where it runs usually from June into October, hitting its peak from early July into August.

Of the four ski locales closest to Santiago, El Colorado y Farellones, just 38 km from Santiago, although separate, tend to be referred to as one and more recently nearby La Parva (42 km from Santiago) is often included as part of the overall complex. All are year-round residential villages with seasonal ski resort amenities and as such exude a certain charm of community. Combined, these three sites offer some 40 lifts.

Valle Nevado (52 km from Santiago) just beyond El Colorado, Farellones and Parva, the soaring rooflines of the Valle Nevado hotels symbolize the world-class resort destination that it is. Guests share access to the complex's 8 restaurants.

The world-renowned ski resort of Portillo is some 145 km north of Santiago. Its stunning location, cradled in a valley on the western end of Laguna del Inca, offers unparalleled runs on both sides.

On Ski Lagunillas, 40 mi. southeast of Santiago, is not Portillo or Valle Nevado, the skiing is challenging.

The world-class Termas de Chillán Ski and Spa Resort nestles at the base of Volcán Chillán. Clearly in a class of its own in central Chile, Termas (hot springs) de Chillán is arguably the most engaging among Chile's skiing destinations with its 29 carefully groomed runs and nine lifts, Termas offers snow-boarding runs and snow-mobile circuits, as well as dog-sledding behind Alaskan malamutes and ski schooling for adults and children alike.

Among the more remote skiing opportunities is one just under 60 mi. east of Los Angeles, on the Panamericana some 60 miles south of Chillán, within the Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja on the untrammeled slopes of Volcán Antuco. The Club de Esqui Los Angeles maintains a ski lift and modest facilities there and visitors are welcome.

Temuco, south of Los Angeles, is one of Chile's largest urban centers and capital of the IX Región de la Araucanía. Several of Chile's most magnificent Parques Nacionales lie to the east of Temuco with exciting skiing among their amenities.

Parque Nacional Conguillío with still-smoking Volcán Llaima looming in its ominous magnificence to the west. The Centro de Esquí Las Araucarias is a small, but well-equipped facility on the western base of the volcano.

Dominating the southern realms is the Volcán Longuimay with the Centro de Esquí Volcán Longuimay and the Centro de Esquí Los Arenales de Longuimay. In the winter and spring, skiing the slopes of the volcano can be a breathtaking experience.

Nestled in its own woodlands at the base of the Volcán Lonquimay, the 20 bed Hotel de Montaña is the cornerstone of the Centro de Montaña Corralco.

Still farther south, the well-established resort town of Villarica and younger, upstart Pucón lie beside Lago Villarica, the soul of Chile's awe-inspiring lakes region, its still, dark water reflecting the perfect cone of Volcán Villarica. There are ski lifts on the slopes of Volcán Villarica, operating in the winter and early spring.

Chile's most popular and well-administered Parques Nacionales, Puyehue. Of the two principal volcanos within PN Puyehue (Volcán Puyehue and Volcán Casablanca or Antillanca, “Jewel of the Sun”) the Centro de Esqui Antillanca operates on the latter. There is a great hotel and ski resort here, the Antillanca.

Some 33 mi. north of Puerto Montt, along the well-paved route skirting the northern shoreline of Lago Llanquihue, is Refugio de Esqui La Picada, a rustic little retreat in the shadow of Volcán Osorno.

Among Chile's least-visited ski sites, the Centro de Esqui El Fraile, southeast of Coihaique, overlooks pocket-size Monumento Natural Dos Lagunas, comprising Lagos Frío and Pólux.

Finally, huddled against the Straits of Magellan, Punta Arenas, capital city of the XII Región de Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica since 1974, is Chile's – and the world's – southernmost city of over 100 thousand inhabitants. Punta Arenas emerged as a critical port for vessels having to round the tip of the South American continent prior to the opening of the Panama Canal.

Reserva Nacional Magallanes is home to Centro de Esqui Cerro Mirador, several of its ten slopes affording jaw-dropping vistas over the Straits of Magellan.

TREKKING AND MOUNTAINEERING

As in North America and Europe, trekking and walking are increasingly popular activities in Chile, and the number of treks and walking tours offered by outfitters is rapidly growing. And with good reason: no other activity is so simple, accessible, and healthy, while allowing such intimate contact with local environments and cultures.

In comparison to other South American destinations, trekking and walking in Chile is remarkably safe and worry-free. Most treks take place in wilderness or scarcely inhabited areas where locals, if any, are friendly and interested in news from abroad. There are no poisonous snakes, and if you manage to spot a puma, you should count yourself very lucky. Tropical diseases are unknown here and water quality, especially in the south, is excellent. Most trails are well maintained and reasonably well marked, though erosion from horses and other livestock is a problem.

Travelers should be aware of the different fitness level which each trip implies: a program of daily walks in the Lake District is not likely to provide the same challenge as the Torres del Paine Circuit or a mixed trekking / mountaineering trip in the northern Altiplano. Lodging and the carrying of personal gear are especially important issues. Talk closely with your operator to be sure that your trip provides appropriate levels of comfort, activity, and challenge.

FISHING

Modern sport fishing in Chile got its start in 1893, when Isidora Goyenechea, wife of a wealthy mining magnate, created the country's first fish hatchery. Before this, trout did not grow here, but once introduced they found southern Chile's rivers and lakes to provide ideal habitat. As often happens when non-native species come into contact with Chile's isolated fauna, these strong, aggressive fish soon marginalized the native percatrucha.

Today, rainbow, brook, and brown trout are widespread throughout the south, attaining truly immense proportions in many of the larger lakes and rivers. Atlantic salmon, cohos, and steelhead trout, all introduced within the last twenty years, inhabit a more limited range, making their upriver dash to spawn mid to late summer (February - April). Fishing season in most regions lasts from October to April. A few blue-ribbon areas enjoy special regulations, though regulations lag behind the growth of the sport, especially in Tierra del Fuego. Catch and release is spreading but is still rarely practiced.

Fly fishermen from North America and Europe will find that fish here generally respond to the same flies used at home, only more aggressively: most have never seen a fly before. Wooly buggers are a local favorite.

Guiding services and lodges are available throughout the south. These offer a variety of services, so be sure to ask your outfitter about float trips, activities for non-fishermen, and English-speaking guides. In addition to the outfitters listed below, many hotels can arrange fishing excursions. Again, ask your booking agent.

CYCLING

The best season for biking in most Chile is the spring and summer, October-March. In the north, however, consistently clear weather allows for biking year round. A mountain bike or a touring bike with beefy tires is essential. Front suspension is highly recommended. Bring your own equipment if you plan on biking extensively in Chile.

Replacement parts are widely available in Santiago, less so in other cities. Most domestic and international airlines do not charge excess baggage to transport bicycles, provided that the total weight does not exceed the established limits. Bikes should always be packed in a bike bag or cardboard box, with both pedals removed.

Chilean bus companies most often will not charge to transport bike. For train travel, bikes must be partially disassembled. A nominal fee is charged. The Cruce de Lagos ferry across Lago Todos Los Santos in the lake region charges for bikes as additional passenger.

KAYAKING AND RAFTING

Whitewater rafting got its start in Chile in the late 1970's, when a team of North American boaters ran the first descent of the río Biobío. What they found amazed them: day after day of huge, powerful rapids, deep basalt canyons with waterfalls cascading down on either side, old growth Araucaria forest on the surrounding hills, steaming riverside hot springs, a living Pehuenche Indian culture, and a smoking volcano presiding over it all. The Biobío immediately became the world's premier wilderness rafting trip, and Chile's place on the map of international whitewater destinations was assured.

This came as no surprise to geographers. A simple look at the Andes, paralleling the Pacific coast for thousands of miles, is enough to devise that this country was made for the whitewater boater.

In the past twenty years, over a hundred rivers have been run in Chile, from Santiago south to Punta Arenas. Water temperature, peak season, substrate, difficulty and hazards vary hugely from one region to another, and water levels fluctuate from year to year. The trips offered here, however, involve descents of rivers with long histories of commercial operations. Water levels within specified dates are dependable, and local or international guides are well trained and certified.

Ask your operator for specifications regarding difficulty and security measures of any rafting or kayaking trip. It should also be noted that kayak trips listed here are for experienced boaters; contact your operator for information on kayaking lessons in either of the following regions.

SURFING

The Humboldt Current brings very consistent powerful swells to the Chilean coast. Winter low-pressure systems and resulting winds over the Pacific make for even bigger waves (4-5m). Summer (Nov-Apr) generally produces the cleanest waves in most of Chile.
Maps and break-break descriptions of the entire Chilean coast are available from The Surf Report, PO Box 1028, Dana Point, CA 92629. You can also pick up a copy of the Chilean surf magazine Marejada at board shops throughout the country.

For wind surfing, the most consistent winds and benevolent climatic conditions are concentrated in the spring and summer months (Sep - Mar).

Boarding equipment is considerably more expensive in Chile than abroad. It is encouraged to bring your own equipment. People without own equipment are best off in central Chile where there is a better chance to rent a board or hook up with others.

WINE RELATED TOURISM

Chile has been a wine producer from a log time ago. In fact Pizarro, the Chilean conqueror brought the first vines to Chile in 1548. Three centuries later around 1850, the first fine European grape varieties were introduced such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenére, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and important wineries that are top producers now were born such as Santa Rita, Concha y Toro, Cousiño Macul.

But only in the second half of the 20th century important investments in new vinification, irrigation technologies, plus the construction of modern cellar allowed Chile to become one of the world most prominent producers of wine. Exports jumped from 15 million dollars of export in 1980, to 600 million in 2001. The largest market for it is Europe, followed by US.
This technological advances coupled with native weather and soil conditions. Chilean wine growing region is located between the pararels 27° and 38°S. The same strip of land goes through the wine regions of South Africa and Australia, two of Chile competitors. And in the north hemisphere the same strip of land goes through California, France, Italy, etc. While most countries wine regions suffer with Philoxera wine plague, Chile is the only country in the world free of Philoxera.

Chile's wine region includes eight separate valleys, each with its own characteristics and wines. The Casablanca Valley is generally considered the finest producer of whites, principally Chardonnay but with a growing reputation for Sauvignon Blanc. The Maipo valley, meanwhile, is Chile's most traditional wine region and producer of the country's finest Cabernets and Merlots.

Near Santiago, they make a great weekend escape or luxury vacation all on their own.

• Casablanca Valley Wine Route: The Casablanca Valley is an area for the whites. Travelers from Santiago pass through Casablanca on their way to the coast, about 80 km from the capital and 40 km shy of the coast and the city of Valparaíso (World Heritage), the country’s major port. Alongside sits Viña del Mar, the resort city across the bay. http://www.casablancavalley.cl/

• Cachapoal Valley Wine Route: About an hour south of Santiago along the Route Five South or “5 Sur” lies the Cachapoal Valley, a sub-appellation of the larger Rapel Valley — perhaps best known by those who incline toward Merlot. Eleven of the valley’s wineries have joined together to form the Cachapoal Valley Wine Route in operation for three years. http://www.cachapoalwineroute.com/

• Colchagua Valley Wine Route: The appellation of Rapel Valley, is often known for its two smaller appellations. The southernmost of the two is Colchagua Valley, 120 km (about 2 hours) south of Santiago. For many this is Cabernet country and from the hillsides along the route come several of today’s new breed of broad-shouldered premium cabernet based reds. www.colchaguavalley.cl

• Curicó Valley Wine Route: Two hundred km south of Santiago further along the Route Five South or “5 Sur”, the Curicó Valley is home to some of Chile’s oldest (and newest) wineries. Seventeen have formed an official Wine Route, offering the visitor the opportunity to see a broad spectrum of variations in Chilean wine making. www.rvvc.cl

• Maule Valley Wine Route: About 250 km south of Santiago, the Maule Wine Route is southernmost on Chile’s wine travel map. This is one of Chile’s oldest wine regions and many old vineyards, planted with ancient and gnarly head-trained País (Mission) are still visible in the area. www.chilewineroute.cl

ASTRONOMY

Another aspect of Chile most of the people don’t know is the importance of the country as a privileged land for scientific astronomical observation. That has made of Chile an important player on the Scientific Astronomical world. On the lasts 20 years Chile has concentrated billions of dollars on the development of large scale observatories. The reasons for this are specially 3:
• Levels of humidity of the air
• Sunny days a year
• Level of brightness or luminosity of neighboring cities
This has allowed investment on observatories such as Paranal the one we see here in the picture, and others such as ALMA project and project OWL, or Overwhelming Large Telescope to be built on the year 2008.
The astronomical VOCATION of this region is seen also on the relation of the local cultures and the stars. The archeological sites, such as the many pukaras are located facing the sunrise, the crops were related to the equinox and solstice, their traditions and festivities are coordinated with it also. Various sings of the significance of astronomy importance for the indigenous cultures can be easily found at different places around the second region of Antofagasta.
Also, this is becoming a paradise for amateur astronomers. Every single town you visit, has a astronomy club. In every school students have a basic astronomy course as part of their curricula, and amateur observation there is just fantastic.
For European and North American stargazers, a visit to the Southern Hemisphere can be truly disorienting. Orion appears on his head or side, Polaris can't be seen at all, even the sun seems lost, following a course through the northern sky. Few visitors will forget their first glimpse of the Southern Cross, or Cruz del Sur; less well known are the Clouds of Magellan, two irregular satellite galaxies of our Milky Way visible to the unaided eye at a distance of 180,000,000 light years.

The skies above the Andean foothills between La Serena and Copiapó are recognized as being the clearest in the southern hemisphere, a fact which has led the world's great astronomical laboratories to construct giant observatories here.

The European Southern Observatory, representing a coalition of eight European nation, maintains La Silla Observatory and Paranal Observatory further north; here the ESO is busy at work on the last of four 8.2 meter telescopes which together comprise the Very Large Telescope (VLT).

The Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, meanwhile, is constructing an 8 meter Gemini telescope near their current site. Las Campanas Observatory, owned by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, is in the process of adding two 6.5 meter telescopes to their installations near La Serena.

While the Community Observatory at Cerro Mamalluca is open for public viewing, the rest of these observatories are only open for tours during the daytime.

Nonetheless, beneath these skies even the unaided eye reveals new constellations, new galaxies, new worlds.
Chile: the best viewpoint on the southern skies.

BIRD WATCHING

Chile's incredibly varied habitats are home to some 430-450 bird species, 12 of which are endemic to the mainland or offshore islands, another 80 of which inhabit ranges limited either to the southern cone (Chile-Argentina) or northern coastal desert and Humboldt Current (Chile-Peru). Novice birders will find Chile to be an excellent introduction to the Neotropical families without the confusion produced by the extreme diversity of the tropics.

Veteran South American birders will most likely focus on endemic and limited-range species. Even the rankest beginners will be fascinated by dramatic, eye-catching species including 3 species of flamingos, Magallanic and Humboldt penguins, Lesser and Puna Rheas, and the ubiquitous Andean Condor.

Plan your birding tour to coincide with the Chilean spring (September-November), when migrant birds from North America will have arrived at wintering grounds, and local breeders will have returned from their own wintering grounds in the north. As always, ask your operator carefully about guide qualifications.

Copyright © 2005- Embassy of Chile, Washington, DC and GlobeScope, Inc.