WHAT TO SEE & DO IN CHILE (ENGLISH)
QUÉ HACER EN CHILE (ESPAÑOL)
Skiing and Snowboarding
Trekking and Mountaineering
Kayaking and Rafting
Wine Related Tourism
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
• 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
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.
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
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.