More than just a gateway to other parts of South America, Chile deserves a close look in its own right.
Take off heading east and it would be easy to over-shoot Chile on a journey to South America. Barely 175km wide on average, this narrow ribbon of a nation is home to the key airline gateway of Santiago, yet is often skipped by travellers heading further to higher-profile destinations like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. Yet what Chile lacks in longitude it more than makes up for in latitude, giving it a striking diversity in cultures and landscapes. Spanning more than 4000km, it stretches from the wild and icy islands of Tierra del Fuego in the south to the mysterious deserts bordering Peru in the north. As its energetic capital, Santiago is more than just a stopover city and offers colourful markets, lively bars and restaurants, serene parks and interesting museums. In a country defined by the Andes, it is spectacularly located against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks, close to popular ski fields like Valle Nevado. Further north, the world’s driest desert, Atacama, is home to strange lunar landscapes, vast salt flats and active geysers. The world’s oldest-known mummies stem from the ancient Chinchorro culture of this region and are up to 2000 years older than the preserved pharaohs of Egypt. In the south, the pristine wilderness of Patagonia is rightly renowned as one of the great natural treasures of the planet, rich with spectacular mountains, fjords, glaciers and forests. Extraordinary landscapes like the serrated peaks of the Torres del Paine National Park have made it an iconic adventure destination, often packaged with expedition cruises and Antarctic voyages. But perhaps the most intriguing Chilean destination is beyond the mainland ribbon in the south-eastern Pacific, where Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, draws tens of thousands of visitors each year to see its mysterious moai statues.