By Allie E. Almario
There are so many wonderful highlights to Chile. This long, narrow country (2,700 miles from tip to tip, just over 100 miles wide) offers an incredible variety of landscapes, but we have a handful of favorite destinations that we think offer tremendous activities.
TORRES DEL PAINE (Patagonia)
How to get there: Well, it’s not easy. From Santiago, you’ll need to fly to Punta Arenas on one of several daily flights. From here, the nearest gateway to the park is Puerto Natales, about a three-hour drive from the airport. We recommend overnighting here for a night or two before heading to the Torres del Paine (pronounced pie-nay) Park, which is an additional two hour drive. We promise the trip is well worth it, as this park is known as the crown jewel of Patagonia.
Things to do: Hike hike hike! There are number of well-known multi-day hiking circuits for those who are up to challenging treks. Most Premier Tours travelers like to base themselves at one of the many luxury lodges within the park, and then take daily guided hikes from the hotels each day. You can choose from easy hikes at just over two hours length, or opt for a full-day hike with a boxed lunch to go.
When to go: The seasons are opposite to ours in North America, so summer in Patagonia is from December to about March. You’ll have the best chance to enjoy blue skies and pleasant temperatures. You can try June to August, but be prepared for strong, gusty winds. The plus? Far fewer crowds.
EASTER ISLAND (Rapa Nui)
How to get there: Plan on a full day of travel each way to and from Easter Island. From Santiago, it’s a five-hour flight with most planes arriving in the afternoon. On your return to the mainland, you’ll depart just after breakfast and return to Santiago by just after lunch. We recommend a dayroom at the airport hotel if you plan on taking a red-eye back to the United States that same night.
Things to do: The name Easter Island was given by Jacob Roggeveen, the first recorded European visitor to the island in 1722. He apparently arrived on Easter Sunday. There are nearly 900 Moai scattered throughout Easter Island, in various stages of construction. The average size of a Moai statue is a staggering 13 feet tall and 14 tons. You’ll need about five days to explore the most iconic of these statues, but build in a day to spend a day wandering on an isolated beach or the small town.
When to go: Surprisingly, Easter Island’s climate is actually considered tropical rainforest. Seasons are opposite to North America, so you’ll find the warmest air temperatures from December to March. June, July and August can be cool, in the 60s. Generally, the rainiest time of year is May.
THE ATACAMA DESERT
How to get there: The Atacama is the driest desert in the world and many compare its haunting landscape to those of Mars. For some, the lack of light pollution also means it is a sought-after destination for star-gazers. You must fly from Santiago to Calama, which takes just over two hours. From here, it’s about another hour’s drive to the gateway village of San Pedro de Atacama.
Things to do: Some people describe the dusty, remote village of San Pedro as funky. The hotels here range from basic hostals to incredibly luxurious five-star boutique inns, complete with villas that offer personal butlers. From town, you’ll take daily trips to the desert to enjoy hot springs, lagoons, and incredible sand dunes.
When to go: The weather doesn’t change much throughout the year, but it can be surprisingly cold here. Wear lots of layers to combat the high altitude, but also don’t forget a bathing suit for a dip into nearby hot springs.