San Pedro De Atacama
Nestled in the heart of the world’s driest desert, surrounded by some of the planet’s most spectacular scenery, San Pedro is a very special place. The high altitude and dry climate make the sky incredibly clear, and light is saturated with intense colour. Distance disappears and everything seems within reach, including the steaming, snow-capped volcanoes of The Andes. Active geysers, vast salt flats, and the intense blue water and salt-lined shore of Miscanti and Menisques Lakes will have you entranced, and as the sun goes to sleep, millions of stars come out to play, all happily dancing in the darkness till sunrise.
It’s the most remote, inhabited place on earth, and home to the 1,000 moai statues who bear silent witness to a long-lost society. These icons draw your interest but it’s the mystery that fuels the intrigue. Why and how were they built, then destroyed, and rebuilt even larger, weighing up to 80 tons? What caused a once peaceful group to burn the other to death? These are the questions you ponder while walking or riding around the pink-sand beaches, up along the volcanic cones and across the windswept grasslands. Thankfully the isolation keeps it low key and laid back, and eager locals fan the fire of your curiosity.
Like most cities, finding the heartbeat is key to feeling it’s pulse, and in Santiago it beats strongest in its diverse neighbourhoods, known locally as barrios. Bellavista’s picturesque streets are full of art and restored mansions as well as a thriving nightlife with bars and restaurants abuzz with lively crowds. Providencia gives you elegant parks, vintage shopping and local favourites like Liguria, where the atmosphere, food and flavours are filled with passion. Lastarria is Rose’s favourite, centred around Santiago’s art spaces. It’s a little hideaway in a bustling city, where cobbled lanes are lined with cafés and boutiques, and buskers sing opera on the corner. It is a place to be, not sightsee, and with charming, character filled hotels it’s the perfect place to stay.
Happily separated from the mainland, Chiloé is blessed in nature and culture, proudly maintaining its myths and folklore. Traditional wooden houses, palafitos sitting on stilts above the water, are as charming as the wit and warmth of the Chilote people, who give the archipelago its inimitable character. Follow the empty roads to find the World heritage wooden churches, and take time to watch the fishermen collecting their fruits of the seas. Find other ‘fruits’ in the excellent Dalcahue markets where artisans from all over the island bring their crafts, especially woollen knitwear. Once rugged up, drive to the dramatic west coast and listen for the merriment onboard the Caleuche, a ghost ship said to be seen by someone every day. Local legend says mermaids brought the lost sailors back to life to save them from tumbling in the waters forever.
Aysen, Northern Patagonia
Aysen, the northern reach of Patagonia, is a place to feel small and let the scenery engulf you; where shopkeepers value the conversation of a friend over the tourist dollar of a traveller, and postcards have not yet arrived. The Carretera Austral is its meandering spine, a magnificent route with over 1,000 kilometres of unpaved road taking you through the remote and pristine natural beauty. It’s where there is no one iconic sight as they all meld together to create an environment you are continually surprised by. Your heart is captured by its landscapes as you explore the furthest reaches on trails and waterways leading you deeper into its heart. Charming lodges warmly welcome you with open fires and open spaces. Take a boat through the Marble Cathedral, where water has been sculpturing the walls for a million years. Walk through a village built on stilts and hike to a summit with views that have been quietly waiting for you to find them.
Torres Del Paine, Southern Patagonia
If the icing was ever on the bottom of the cake, it is here. Standing in front of the turquoise waters, glaciers and towering granite horns of the Torres del Paine National Park, the jaw-dropping landscape is humbling and a testament to the power of nature. The eighth wonder of the world is majestic indeed, and there’s a reason people usually stay for three nights or more. The southern light stretches long in summer so there‘s plenty of time to explore. You can hike and horse ride through remote valleys or up to where the condors glide in the pristine skies. Don’t miss sunrise, when the horns of the Torres del Paine massif glow purple and red. In autumn and winter when the crowds disperse, quietness and privilege arrives, and you could become one of the few to see the reclusive puma. •
• LATAM Airlines operates seven one-stop flights each week from Sydney to Santiago, Chile, with connections to over 115 destinations in South America. latam.com
• LATAM also offers non-stop flights between Sydney and Santiago four times a week in codeshare partnership with oneworld partner airline. From December, LATAM will fly from Santiago to Torres del Paine.
• Forward Travel: forwardtravel.com.au/chile
This article was published in the Oct/Nov/Dec 2016 edition of Vacations & Travel magazine. If you would like to subscribe to receive Vacations & Travel magazine by mail and save A$29.45 off the cover price, please visit vacationstravel.com/subscribe