- 18 million
- Chilean peso
From north to south it stretches more than 4300 kilometres, yet take a look across it from east to west and Chile, at its widest point, only just makes it to 350 kilometres. If you intend to explore its length you’re going to need a few months’ leave from work. Were you to catch a bus (the main method of overland transportation in the country) from Arica in the north to Punta Arenas in the south, you’d need about 70 hours – and a butt of steel.
Hemmed in by the Pacific on the west and the Andes on the east, this amazing country boasts a landscape that straddles desert, volcanic peaks and dense temperate forest. In fact, the Atacama Desert, with its white salt pans and lava formations, is one of the most popular destinations for travellers to Chile. It’s also the driest non-polar desert in the world.
The central regions are home to ski resorts – Valle Nevada, Portillo and Termas de Chillán – with powder as good as any you’ll encounter in Europe (the average snowfall is six to seven metres), but without the huge crowds. An added bonus is the top-quality Latin après options.
In the southern reaches of the country it’s all about Patagonia and the Torres del Paine National Park, with its landscape of glaciers, lakes, rivers and mountains, including the three enormous granite peaks known as the Paine Massif. Popular with hikers, who may stray across guanacos (a relation of llamas), pumas and the tall, flightless Darwin’s rhea, the fresh powder of the highest peaks is also accessible to skiers who have the means to employ the help of a helicopter pilot.
Santiago, one of the most popular points of entry to South America, is a vital city, with excellent architecture, shopping and nightlife. No trip to Chile, however, would be complete without a visit to the cool, seaside city of Valparaíso. This port town thrived in the 1800s, but fell on hard times when the Panama Canal opened in 1914. As the number of docking ships diminished, members of the city’s elite packed up and abandoned their mansions. These days Valpo, as it’s affectionately known, is in the throes of a cultural revival and, in 2003, was honoured with UNESCO World Heritage status. Artists have splashed cobblestone alleys with swathes of colour and new restaurants dish up some of Chile’s finest cuisine.