"Chile - Land of fabulous contrasts" Top 5 Page for this destination Chile by TheWanderingCamel
Chile Travel Guide: 4,907 reviews and 13,609 photos
A land of amazing contrasts, from the driest desert on earth - the Atacama, in the north - via forests and farmlands to the fiords and glaciers of the south, one thing is constant - the line of the Andes always marking the country's eastern border. They form the backdrop to the capital city, Santiago, and march parallel to the road the whole length of the north-south highway, sometimes close, sometimes a faint line of snow-capped peaks in the distance. Every now and then the symmetrical cone of a volcano breaks the chain of rugged mountains, whilst the foreground changes from desert to the vineyards and paddocks of the Central Valley and on to the forests and fields of flowers of Northern Patagonia. Further south, the land fragments into thousands of inlets and fjords, peninsulas and islands, growing ever-more wild and dramtatic until, eventually, the road stops and you must take to the sea to continue your journey.
Chile's contrasts continue with the two main cities - Santiago, the capital, and Valparaiso, the main port.
Despite a 450 year history of European settlement, Santiago looks and feels like a 20th century city, the result of a devastating earthquake in 1960 that wreaked enormous damage requiring massive rebuilding, and of the wealth that the mines of the north have brought to the country. Whilst it may lack the elegance of Buenos Aires or the drama of Rio, Santiago's setting - right at the foot of the Andes - its distinctive barrio, parks, avenues of tree-lined streets, good restaurants and superb Pre-Colombian Museum all come together to create an attractive city that certainly warrants a few days of your time.
Valparaiso on the other hand, built around the magnificent harbour that made it far more wealthy than the capital in the days of sail, when it was the most important port on both South and North America's Pacific coast, is a ramshackle tumble of old houses built on 44 hills, that only recently has begun to reclaim its colourful past. With its unique character and raffish air that all historic port cities seem to carry, Valparaiso is undoubtedly the most interesting city in Chile and not to be missed.
Leaving the cities behind, and travelling south as we did (the north and its desert are going to have to wait for another visit) there is the fertile Valle Centrale to cross. The landscape changes from the ordered rows of vines of the huge vineyards that supply Chile's important wine industry to softer fields of grazing land bordered with fences bedecked with wild roses and on to the forests and lakes of Patagonia, ablaze with notro - the flaming scarlet Chilean Fire Tree. Passing through small provincial cities, a detour out to the coast to see an historic battleship, 800 kilometres roll by and we've reached Valdivia, not even halfway to the far south, but as far as we had time for .. this time.
Further south there are the glaciers, peaks and primaeval forests of Southern Patagonia, but we returned to Santiago and then flew west to Chile's furthest-flung possession - and one of the world's most remote places - Easter Island.
When the Spanish Pedro de Valdivia arrived in Chile in the 1550s, he no doubt expected the native people would soon fall... more travel advice
Although the rain and mist that are so prevalent in Chile's Lake District weren't around whilst we were there, it was... more travel advice
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Chile Travel Guide
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