From the salt flats of Atacama to Puerto Williams, in the confines of South America, a journey through unlikely landscapes and wild nature.
The most beautiful needles on Earth
Icons from the south of Chile, the huge granite monoliths of Torres del Paine National Park dominate the landscape of one of the most beautiful national parks in South America. It is a huge expanse of wild nature with infinite possibilities to immerse yourself in it: from hiking on ice on the Gray glacier to a kayak trip on the Serrano river. There are also comfortable and affordable circuits to face one of the craziest weather on Earth: on the same day you can alternate the four seasons of the year, with storms and sudden gusts of wind. Here captivates the diversity of landscapes: lakes of blue waters, emerald forests and a huge glacier extension: the Southern Ice Field. The guanacos roam the steppe and the condors fly over the high peaks. The agencies of Puerto Natales offer all kinds of guided excursions, but the circuits most in demand are the Paine (circular, with nine days of travel) and the W (four-five days), so called because it draws on the map the form of this letter.
60,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins
From the Torres del Paine National Park there are those who are encouraged to visit the prosperous colonies of Magellanic penguins that are concentrated in the Los Pingüinos Natural Monument of Magdalena Island, accessible by ferry from Punta Arenas, located just opposite, on the other side of the Strait. of Magallanes.
Each year, from October to March, some 60,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins congregate in the area for the breeding period and this excursion allows them to wander, protect their nests and direct a curious look at the traveler. Back to Punta Arenas, there are many natural wonders to discover, such as the Magellan Strait Park, Cape Froward, the southernmost point of the continent, 90 kilometers south of Punta Arenas, or the desolate landscape of Pali National Park Aike, among colorful lava rocks, craters and caves. His name in Tehuelche says it all: land of the devil.
Lunar landscapes in Atacama
15 kilometers from San Pedro de Atacama, at the northern end of the Sal mountain range and within the Los Flamencos National Reserve, the impressive rock formations of the Valle de la Luna extend, eroded for millions of years by water and wind, which appear before the traveler as a dream among volcanoes. At dusk, the desert landscape is tinged with a chromatic spectacle that ranges from intense purple tones to golden, pink and yellow. It is the most popular and cheapest day circuit from San Pedro, but to avoid the dozens of tourist vans that crowd the route it is best to get up early and arrive at dawn. Another option is to travel through the desert valley by mountain bike, although always by roads and marked tracks and with lights and reflectors if we stay until sunset.
The highest geyser field in the world
To contemplate the craters, fumaroles and geysers of El Tatio, 95 kilometers north of San Pedro de Atacama, you have to take good shelter and walk at dawn, when the jets of white steam whistle and rumble around us as the sun rises on the volcanoes and surrounding Andean peaks (up to 4,300 meters high), painting everything red, violet, green, yellow and blue. It’s like walking through a gigantic steam bath powered by 64 bubbling geysers. Of course, you have to be careful: if the earth’s crust is very thin, it can fall into underground pools of boiling water. It is also convenient to dress with several layers of clothes: at dawn, the cold is intense, but when we return we will pass heat inside the vehicle. The exploitation of this natural space was given to the indigenous people of Atacameños in 2004 and an entrance fee must be paid upon arrival. If you access from Calama, you can return by the picturesque villages of Caspana and Chiu Chiu.
Adventures in Tierra del Fuego
Puerto Williams is the southernmost point of South America. A large town where wild nature becomes the protagonist. The first adventure is to get here, crossing the Beagle Channel. Afterwards, emotions continue, for example, on an excursion to Navarino Island, south of Ushuaia, on the other side of the canal: an almost uninhabited land where peat bogs, southern beeches forests and jagged needles of rock known as Teeth of Navarino. A famous hiking trail winds between them for 53 kilometers, crossing a spectacular landscape of bare rocks and secluded lakes. It is advisable only for experienced hikers: it requires at least four days during the austral summer (relatively dry), the signaling is minimal and knowing how to use a GPS with maps is essential.
Patagonia, a model national park
For a century, northern Chilean Patagonia was the most rugged and remote region of continental Chile. But in spite of its hardness, it is a land of beautiful landscapes (leafy humid forests and impregnable pines) and its essence is water: crystalline rivers and waterfalls, turquoise lakes, glaciers and labyrinthine fjords. One of its gems is the Patagonia National Park, which allows you to explore its great diversity of fauna.
Accessible from Cochrane (18 kilometers away), this stay dedicated to overgrazing changed its use thanks to the Tompkins Conservation, founded by the American businessman Douglas Tompkins, who began its restoration in 2004 until it became a model reserve that hosts thousands of guanacos , an important population of huemules (cervid in danger of extinction), flamingos, pumas, vizcachas and foxes. Even the ñandú, a species related to the ostrich, almost extinct, is being reintroduced. The park extends 690 square kilometers through the Chacabuco Valley, from the Baker River to the Argentine border, and has unforgettable hiking routes such as the one that ascends to the Lagunas Altas or the circular route of Lago Chico.
Traveling on the Austral road
Although cataloging it on the road is exaggerating a bit (half of the route is not paved and can be in poor condition), this ‘roadtrip’ runs through the most extreme landscapes of the country: 1,240 kilometers through forests, glaciers, pioneer farms and rivers Turquoise Color. And all this, on the banks of a rearing Pacific. Created in the 1980s in an attempt to communicate the most isolated areas of Chile, its construction took more than 20 years and has never been as accessible as it is now, connected with a ferry to Puerto Natales. Of course, it is not a road for everyone: you have to plan the trip well and be very cautious. For example, it forces us to carry enough provisions from the beginning and keep in mind that, due to its isolation, the region we cross is not cheap.
Volcanoes, lakes and araucarias in La Araucanía
The south of Chile begins in the South Chico, in the region of La Araucanía, where snow-capped volcanoes, lakes, impetuous rivers and glaciers make up the territory of the Mapuches, which hosts up to seven national reserves, among which the national park Conguillío and its Llaima volcano (3,125 meters), one of the most active in the country and of which the Araucanians affirm that it is a living spirit.
Despite the activity of the Llaima it is possible to tour the park, created in 1950 to protect its araucaria features and 608 square kilometers of alpine lakes, deep canyons and native forests. The magma accumulated during years draws an almost lunar landscape, very impressive, especially at the end of April, when the austral autumn arrives and its colors. Beyond the main parks, do not miss the Malalcahuello-Nalcas Reserve, one of the most spectacular landscapes in the South Chico. A desert panorama of coal, ash and sand, highlighting the Christmas crater and the Tolhuaca and Callaqui volcanoes in the distance.
From Puerto Varas to the Chilean Yosemite
In addition to contemplating its landscape of turquoise-colored glacial lakes (Llanquihue, Puyehue, Todos los Santos), the Chilean region of Los Lagos invites you to visit charming towns such as Frutillar (the first Creative City of Unesco Music in Chile), or tour the National park Huerquehue.
Most visitors are concentrated in Puerto Varas, the starting point for most outdoor attractions in the area, and in Puyehue there is a ski resort and several thermal water resorts. But there are equally charming and less visited places, such as Puerto Octay, on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, with architectural remains of the German emigrants who settled here at the beginning of the 19th century – for this reason their Oktoberfest is celebrated every year. The valley of the Cochamó river, claim for climbers, is known as the Chilean Yosemite, covered with larches.
Surfing on the north coast
The surf capitals of the northern coast of Chile, Iquique and Arica, are famous for their huge, hollow waves and almost always left. Especially in July and August, when expert surfers invade them. Iquique, 1,853 kilometers north of Santiago de Chile, is sandwiched between the Pacific and the Cordillera de la Costa, which rises steeply behind them to 600 meters high. It occupies a coastal strip in the shape of a half moon and, in addition to a luxurious casino and a boardwalk, it preserves Georgian buildings reminiscent of the boom of mining in the nineteenth century.
The city has another privilege: a tax exemption that explains its buoyant commercial activity. Arica, 315 kilometers further north, is a city with great vital rhythm, warm and sunny all year round, with a nice pedestrian walk to contemplate the sunset and brown sugar colored beaches. Although there are many surfers who prefer the waves of Las Machas, El Gringo and El Buey, on the island Alacrán, breaking with a rock bottom only for experts. The proximity of the Lauca National Park and the Azapa Valley, where some of the oldest mummies in the world are located, invites you to stay for a few more days.
The island of the shipwrecked
Little visited and difficult to access, Robinson Crusoe Island, in the Juan Fernández archipelago, is one of the most unexpected places in Chile. Pirates, shipwrecks, political prisoners and (who knows) buried treasures are part of its history. And it is here that Alexander Selkirk, the shipwreck who inspired Daniel Defoe the character of Robinson Crusoe, and also was a pirate stopover during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The archipelago has three main volcanic islands – Robinson Crusoe, Alejandro Selkirk and Santa Clara – that opt for sustainable tourism on a small scale, attracted by fantastic excursions, lobster-based dinners, fishing and snorkeling among sea lions.
Rapa Nui, the mystery of the moáis
Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is one of the most famous and enigmatic destinations in the world and also the most inhabited island on the mainland of the world. The enigmatic moáis, large anthropomorphic sculptures of volcanic tuff, are its most characteristic symbol, scattered throughout the island and placed (in some cases) on stone platforms, in a supernatural setting.
It is believed that they represent the ancestors of the clans, but the big question remains unanswered: how were these giants moved from the place where they were carved to the platforms where they were located? The debate among specialists continues and in the meantime they continue to receive visitors, although their distance makes the island remain an ecotourism destination in its pure, small and pleasant state; perfect to be traveled on foot, by bicycle or on horseback.