Arica is the gateway for visiting Lauca National Park and for crossing the Andes to La Paz, Bolivia whilst San Pedro de Atacama, near Calama, is an ideal base for exploring the Atacama Desert. We arrange extensions to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia or across to the gorges, plains and microclimates of the Eastern Andes in Argentina.
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The vast Salar de Atacama salt lake covers over a thousand square miles and is home to three species of flamingo. The impressive eroded landscapes of the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) are best viewed at sunset. We also recommend seeing the El Tatio geysers come to life at dawn but bear in mind the altitude (4,321m).
The Lauca National Park covers over 500 square miles (137,000 hectares) and is dotted with traditional villages, settlements and lakes against a backdrop of snow-capped Andean peaks. Lago Chungara (above), at an altitude of over 4,500m above sea level, is particularly noted for wonderful views and varied wildlife.
From Santiago we recommend a visit the vineyards of the Maipo Valley which have helped to put Chilean wines on menus all over the world. Valparaiso and Vina del Mar are both within easy reach of the capital. If you are keen on astronomy we suggest a visit to an observatory during your stay in Chile, either in the Atacama desert or near La Serena.
The closest ski-resort to Santiago is just over an hour away at La Parva, 2816m, with 30 pistes. Nearby Valle Nevado, 3000m, is more extensive. Portillo is 145km north of Santiago at 2835m and has 23 runs. The ski-season lasts from June to October.
The Chilean capital is a modern metropolis with a backdrop of the Andes. On a clear day there are great views from the hills of Santa Lucia and San Cristobal. Santiago has around 30 museums and 40 art galleries. The Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art is particularly good. Barrio Brasil is a lively area of bars, restaurants and cafes.
Valparaiso is an historical port which was hugely important for trade with the East Coast of the United States but declined with the opening of the trans-continental railway in the US and the Panama Canal. Valparaiso is rather bohemian, with an international reputation for graffiti street artists. Visitors love it or hate it.
Viña del Mar is an hour and a half’s drive from Santiago on the Pacific Coast. The climate and its beaches are attractive all year round. The Quinta Vergara is one of the historic mansions on the coast worth visiting. We also recommend an excursion to Isla Negra, where the Chilean poet and Nobel laureate, Pablo Naruda, lived.
La Serena was founded in 1544, making it the second oldest city in Chile. The city retains many colonial influences, including 29 churches and some fine municipal buildings. We recommend an excursion to the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory and to the strange woods of Fray Jorge National Park.
There is much to see and do in southern Chile, from exploring the lakes and volcanoes of northern Patagonia to travelling through the Chilean fjords and down to Torres del Paine. For onward travel to Argentina we suggest the Andean Lakes Crossing from Puerto Montt to Bariloche, an overland journey from Torres del Paine to the Perito Moreno glacier near El Calafate or take the spectacular Australis cruise from Punta Arenas through the Strait of Magellan and Beagle Channel to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.
The archipelago of Chiloé is located thirty minutes by ferry from Puerto Montt. The colourful houses (‘palafitos’) on stilts over the water, are a distinctive feature of Castro, the capital. We also recommend visiting Ancud which is dominated by the fortress of San Antonio.
Puerto Varas, on the western shore of Lake Llanquihe, is an ideal base from which to explore the towns, lakes and volcanoes that characterise the southern lake district. It is also the departure point for the spectacular Andean Lakes Crossing to Bariloche in Argentina.
Punta Arenas is the embarkation point for the wonderful 5 day/4 night Australis cruises through the Magellan Strait and Beagle Channel to reach Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego (Argentina). Australis also offers a shorter 3 night round trip journey to Brooks Glacier, Ainsworth Bay and Parry Glacier or longer itineraries of 5, 6 or 7 nights.
Torres del Paine National Park covers over 900 square miles and was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1978. The spectacular granite towers and dramatic peaks contrast with vast open spaces, multi-coloured lakes, ice fields and glaciers. Keep your eyes peeled for condors and guanacos, flamingos, ibis, hares and foxes.
Robinson Crusoe Island is the most famous of the Juan Fernandez islands, named after Daniel Defoe’s novel about a marooned sailor. His story was based on the experiences of Alexander Selkirk who was isolated on the islands between 1704 and 1709 and after whom another island in the archipelago is based.
Rapa Nui (Easter Island) is one of the remotest inhabited islands in the world, famous for its enormous stone statues (‘moai’). We recommend a stay of at least three full days here to explore the island.
The first report of the famous statues came from the Dutch admiral, Jacob Roggeven, who visited in 1722. By the time of Captain James Cook’s visit in 1774 many had been toppled. Easter Island also has petroglyphs and a hieroglyphic writing (‘rongo rongo’) which has not yet been fully deciphered.
These three remote, sparsely populated islands were discovered by Spanish explorer Juan Fernandez in 1574. Robinson Crusoe Island has the largest population totalling just 843 people in 2012 whilst Alexander Selkirk Island has fewer than 50 inhabitants and Santa Clara Island is uninhabited.
Further Afield & Combinations
Chile can easily be combined with Argentina in a number of ways, such as the Lakes Crossing between Puerto Varas and Bariloche or the Australis Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. We can also arrange transfers between Puerto Natales and El Calafate which is ideal for visiting Torres del Paine National Park and Perito Moreno Glacier. There are flights between Santiago and Mendonza for the Argentine vineyards but we can otherwise book a bus transfer over the Andes. In the north, we can arrange a land transfer from the Atacama desert to Jujuy or Salta.
The journey from San Pedro de Atacama to the Uyuni Salt Flats is a great adventure, with fantastic scenery and opportunities to spot wildlife in the colourful salt lakes in the region.
From Punta Arenas you can fly to the South Shetland Islands to travel to the Antarctic Peninsula.
There are weekly flights from Punta Arenas to the Falkland Islands, where, it is said, man and penguin live in harmony.