"Chile - Land of fabulous contrasts" Top 5 Page for this destination Chile by TheWanderingCamel

Chile Travel Guide: 4,921 reviews and 13,613 photos

Ribbon of beauty

Stretching for more than 4000 kilometres down the southern half of South America's Pacific seaboard, yet not even 450 kilomtetres at its widest point, Chile encompasses some of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes to be found anywhere on the planet.

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.

A Tale of Two Cities

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.

Country roads

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.

Contrasts indeed.


  • Last visit to Chile: Nov 2006
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (38)

Comments (12)

  • Goner's Profile Photo
    Dec 20, 2009 at 7:04 PM

    Wonderful introduction, looking forward to my trip to Chile next month.

  • Sep 8, 2008 at 10:44 PM

    handy tips about valparaiso! slowly focussing on the upcoming trip!

  • globetrott's Profile Photo
    Feb 28, 2008 at 3:11 PM

    excellent informations and great pics bringing back great memories and want me to go back and explore more of this great country !

  • SLLiew's Profile Photo
    Feb 25, 2008 at 1:47 AM

    Wow...amazing page of Chile. There is so much things to do and see. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experiences there. Hope to visit one of these days. Cheers, SL :)

  • Faiza-Ifrah's Profile Photo
    Nov 18, 2007 at 6:19 PM

    a great intro to a less known tourist destination. i liked ur description and pictures are gr8 :-)

  • hindu1936's Profile Photo
    Nov 3, 2007 at 9:16 AM

    Oh God!! No coffee. I ain't going! Good to know this. Enjoyed the rest of your pages and I WILL stoke up on coffee before going. We have an REI 9 cup stainless steel pot that is always with us.

  • Jim_Eliason's Profile Photo
    Oct 31, 2007 at 6:27 AM

    great page!

  • kyoub's Profile Photo
    Oct 21, 2007 at 3:39 AM

    Having another look at your Chile pages. You have some great tips. I am longing to go back to So.America.

  • atufft's Profile Photo
    Oct 7, 2007 at 10:06 PM

    Outstanding Description of Chile! I want to try a Pisco Sour and have a view across the mountains!

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Apr 1, 2007 at 1:18 AM

    Yes, please Pisco Sour for me - how I miss this drink ! Marvellous, Leyle :-)) So you even had a front seat during that exciting Andes trip :-)) Haha, coffee... this is surely something to earn lots of money - to open a real café somewhere in Chile :-)

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