Chile has a wealth of beau­ti­ful land­scapes beyond the iconic re­gions of Patag­o­nia and Atacama. Mark John­son picks 10 wilder­ness ar­eas fea­tur­ing peaks, beaches, hot springs and in­dige­nous vil­lages

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There’s more to Chile than Patag­o­nia and Atacama. We go ex­plor­ing its nu­mer­ous wilder­ness ar­eas.


In­land from Chile’s sec­ond-old­est city of La Ser­ena, stark moun­tains en­close the Elqui val­ley, un­fold­ing into the Andes. The slopes are bar­ren and bone dry but the val­ley floor is car­peted in the emer­ald green vines of pisco grapes. This fer­tile oa­sis just south of the Atacama desert is a hub for stargaz­ing, with a half-dozen ob­ser­va­to­ries and an in­creas­ing num­ber of ho­tels. Most fa­cil­i­ties are in and around the adobe vil­lage of Pisco Elqui where inky skies abound. Get­ting there Pisco Elqui is 100km east of La Ser­ena. Buses leave every half hour dur­ing the day from the Ter­mi­nal De Buses in La Ser­ena and pass by the air­port en route to Elqui Val­ley.


The moun­tains that tower above San­ti­ago are among the high­est of the Andes (Tupun­gato, 80km east of the city, rises to 6,500 me­tres) and you can travel into them by

driv­ing up the Camino al Vol­can, along­side the Maipo river up to Cajon del Maipo. San­ti­aguinos flock to this An­dean play­ground each week­end seek­ing high ad­ven­ture, yet most for­eign­ers sim­ply zip in and out on half-day raft­ing tours from the cap­i­tal. Stick around for a while and you can camp by the river, hike to San Fran­cisco glacier, cy­cle to the geother­mal baths of Baños Mo­rales, or even ski down the side of a moun­tain (JuneAu­gust) at the af­ford­able re­sort: La­gu­nil­las. Get­ting there Metrobus 72 runs from the Bellav­ista la Florida metro sta­tion in San­ti­ago up to San Jose de Maipo (year-round) or Baños Mo­rales (Jan-March). Pri­vate buses depart from Baque­dano metro sta­tion on week­ends.


Radal Si­ete Tazas na­tional park is an oa­sis of green­ery in an oth­er­wise bar­ren cor­ner of the Andes. The park is named after the Si­ete Tazas (seven cups), a se­ries of pools in a nar­row gorge that were carved out of black basalt rock by the Claro river. One of these is now dry be­cause of an earth­quake in 2010. But there are other sights: the high wa­ter­fall El Velo de la Novia and the emer­ald green la­goon be­low La Leona wa­ter­fall, where many tourists dip their toes in the glacier-fed wa­ter. There are two ad­di­tional swim­ming holes upriver near Valle de las Catas. Get­ting there Si­ete Tazas is about 255km south of San­ti­ago by car, mostly along the paved Pan-Amer­i­can High­way (un­til the fi­nal 45km). It’s also pos­si­ble to take the bus from Univer­si­dad de San­ti­aga to Molina (three hours, around Dh12) and from there a bus to Radal Si­ete Tazas. It’s around Dh25 to en­ter, but an overnight stay at Valle de las Catas in a tent or cabin means the fee is in­cluded.


The wild and windswept coast­line be­tween Cobquecura and Buchupureo is oddly rem­i­nis­cent of the west coast of New Zealand’s South Is­land with emer­ald green hills and long, lonely stretches of sand. Step a few feet from the beach, how­ever, and the small towns are 100 per cent Chilean with colour­ful adobe homes and farm­ers who still use oxen-pulled carts. The epi­cen­tre of the 8.8-mag­ni­tude earth­quake in 2010, these towns fear even more de­struc­tion may be com­ing in the form of large-scale salmon farm­ing. Con­se­quently, they’ve turned to tourism – namely surf­ing, bass fish­ing and wildlife view­ing (in­clud­ing large colonies of sun­bathing sea lions) – to pro­vide a vi­able eco­nomic al­ter­na­tive. Get­ting there Buses Ni­lahue runs daily trips from San­ti­ago’s Ter­mi­nal Sur to Cobquecura. De­par­ture is at 3.50pm and the jour­ney lasts seven hours. Reg­u­lar buses link Cobquecura with Buchupureo 13km away.


In a for­got­ten cor­ner of Chile’s La Araucania re­gion lies Lago Budi, a salt­wa­ter la­goon formed after the dev­as­tat­ing Val­divia earth­quake and tsunami of 1960 (the most pow­er­ful tremor ever recorded). Its shores are pop­u­lated by Chile’s largest-sur­viv­ing

Conguillío na­tional park is one of the LAST places on earth that looks as it did when DI­NOSAURS roamed the planet. These ‘living fos­sils’ cre­ate a SUR­REAL ter­rain be­fit­ting of a LONG-LOST era

in­dige­nous group, the Ma­puche, and sev­eral fam­i­lies have re­cently trans­formed this serene spot into a unique ‘ethno-tourism’ des­ti­na­tion where vis­i­tors can sleep in tra­di­tional ruka homes, work hand-in-hand with lo­cal crafts­peo­ple and eat hearty Ma­puche foods such as mil­cao (grated potato pat­ties) and ha­rina tostada (toasted wheat flour). Get­ting there Two hours west of the re­gional cap­i­tal of Te­muco (by bus or car), you can ei­ther visit Lago Budi on your own or choose one of seven cir­cuit tours of­fered by the com­mu­nity (avail­able in English or Span­ish).


With a vast for­est of an­cient arau­caria (mon­key puz­zle) trees, Conguillío na­tional park is one of the last places on earth that looks as it did when di­nosaurs roamed the planet. That’s why the BBC se­ries Walk­ing with Di­nosaurs put many of its com­put­er­gen­er­ated cre­ations against the back­drop of Conguillío’s ‘living fos­sils’, which date to the Me­so­zoic age. These um­brella-like ev­er­greens jut out from the An­dean foothills in all di­rec­tions, cre­at­ing a sur­real ter­rain be­fit­ting of a long-lost era. The park’s true show­stop­per, how­ever, is the 3,000-me­tre Llaima vol­cano, a con­i­cal peak whose last ma­jor erup­tion in 2009 left be­hind a stark, lava-scarred land­scape. Get­ting there Drive to the south­ern en­trance of Conguillío, 110km from the re­gional cap­i­tal of Te­muco, to ap­proach via the ser­vice town of Melipeuco on roads that don’t re­quire 4WD. Or, Nar Bus leaves Te­muco daily at 6.45am for Melipeuco, where the tourism of­fice can ar­range a taxi on­wards into the park.


The forested hills that sur­round the lake­side re­sort of Pucon are home to more than a dozen geother­mal baths where you can rest weary bones in 40°C wa­ters, of­ten within sight of the smok­ing Vil­lar­rica vol­cano. The best of the bunch is the stylish Ter­mas Geo­met­ri­cas, where wooden board­walks lead through a fern-cov­ered canyon to 17 slate-bot­tomed pools, each with its own toi­let, lock­ers and deck­ing. This sprawl­ing com­plex boasts cas­cad­ing wa­ter­falls, fire-heated rest ar­eas and a rush­ing cool­wa­ter river at its core. Get­ting there Pucon is 100km away from Te­muco by car or bus. Ter­mas Geo­met­ri­cas is two hours fur­ther by car or tour (ar­ranged in Pucon) to the south­ern en­trance of Vil­lar­rica na­tional park .


Chile boasts a stag­ger­ing 4,270km of coast­line, yet has pre­cious few beaches

wor­thy of a transat­lantic jour­ney. Caleta Con­dor is an ex­cep­tion. This bone-white beach is hid­den in an in­dige­nous re­serve of the Huil­liche com­mu­nity who, with the help of the World Wildlife Fund, have been de­vel­op­ing tourism in­fra­struc­ture along a spec­tac­u­lar stretch of Pa­cific coast­line. Tourism is still nascent here and home­s­tays are the only real al­ter­na­tive to camp­ing. Each February the area plays host to one of the world’s most re­mote arts fes­ti­vals, Fes­ti­val Nó­made, which draws free-thinkers from near and far. Get­ting there Reg­u­lar minibuses con­nect the re­gional city of Osorno with Bahia Mansa, where you can book an early morn­ing boat to Caleta Con­dor (about Dh985 a boat, split among the pas­sen­gers). You can also swap the two-hour boat ride for a two-day hike.


Chile Turismo Ru­ral is a gov­ern­mentspon­sored ini­tia­tive that helps ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in the Chilean Lake Dis­trict (a re­gion stretch­ing 400km from Te­muco to Puerto Montt) pro­mote au­then­tic tourism op­por­tu­ni­ties, where vis­i­tors can get off the beaten path and in­ter­act with lo­cals (ba­sic Span­ish helps). On the turquoise To­dos Los Santos Lake (in Vi­cente Perez Ros­ales na­tional park), that means hop­ping aboard a small boat and rid­ing past ac­tive vol­ca­noes to

TAN­TAUCO Park opened here in 2005 to pro­tect not only the vir­gin FORESTS, but also a rare mouse-sized MAR­SU­PIAL (monito del monte) and the SMALL­EST DEER in the world (the south­ern pudu)

the small cab­ins and lodges along its road­less edge. Some vis­i­tors will jour­ney on­ward by boat to the tiny pic­turesque vil­lage of Peulla at the far end of the lake, and fol­low The Mo­tor­cy­cle Diaries’ Che Gue­vara’s route through stun­ning An­dean scenery over to the Ar­gen­tinean re­sort of Bar­iloche. Get­ting there Book a cabin or lodge with Chile Turismo Ru­ral and hosts will pick you up from the pier at Petro­hue, two hours from the tourist town of Puerto Varas by pub­lic bus.


You could eas­ily mis­take the gently rolling hills of Chiloé Is­land for ru­ral Ire­land, but travel to its south­ern tip and you’ll find a 1,180 sq km patch of tem­per­ate rain­for­est that’s pure Chilean wilder­ness (and one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots). Tan­tauco Park opened here in 2005 to pro­tect not only the vir­gin forests, but also a rare mouse-sized mar­su­pial (monito del monte) and the small­est deer in the world (the south­ern pudu). This pri­vate re­serve is a project of for­mer Chilean pres­i­dent Se­bas­tian Piñera and boasts 150km of well-sign­posted trails, as well as a mix of fully equipped camp­sites and un­manned refu­gios (huts), mak­ing it ideal for multi-day ex­cur­sions. Get­ting there Park head­quar­ters are in Quel­lon, which re­ceives reg­u­lar buses from Chiloé’s main city of Cas­tro. Trans­port into and out of Tan­tauco can prove tricky on your own (and may in­volve a ferry, de­pend­ing on your des­ti­na­tion). Chiloé Nat­u­ral runs a num­ber of multi-day back­pack­ing trips through the park with English-speak­ing guides.


Top left: ad­ven­ture play­ground Cajon del Maipo. Far left: fish­ing in Cobquecura. Left: hand­made weaves by the Ma­puche. Top: wa­ter­fall El Velo de la Novia (Bride’s Veil) in Radal Si­ete Tazas na­tional park

Chilean pine trees. Be­low: Hot springs. Bot­tom: the Conguillío na­tional park, with um­brella-like ev­er­greens that jut out in all di­rec­tions

Above: the main city of Cas­tro on Chiloé is­land. Left and be­low: To­dos Los Santos Lake – hop on a boat to ride past ac­tive vol­ca­noes

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