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Chile A razor-thin country located on the western coastline
of the South American continent, Chile is
Thundering, big volume, continuous whitewater
of the Futaleufu! (Futaleufu River, Chile)
3,000 miles long, greater than the distance from
New York to San Francisco, but never more than 220 miles wide. In fact,
in many places, the country is less than 100 miles wide. It is so narrow
that, in one area on the shores of the Golfo Corcovado south of Puerto Montt,
eyebrows were recently raised when it became apparent that one private landowner
could effectively bisect the country through the assemblage of a number
of smaller parcels into one vast tract that stretched from the coastline
to the Argentine border.
A narrow strand bounded by
the peaks of the Andean cordillera along its entire eastern border and
the South Pacific Ocean along its entire western coastline, Chile is almost
completely isolated from its neighbors. This isolation has helped to forge
an independent national culture and character. And, in the immense distances
Lago Pehoe in Torres del Paine National Park.
from the bone-dry Atacama Desert in the north to
the fjords and continuous ice shields of the Cordillera Darwin in the south,
Chile offers a diversity of landscapes unmatched anywhere else in South
America. While the grand boulevards of Chile's capital city, Santiago, can
amuse the visitor for a day or two, travelers are drawn to this remote country
for its spectacular Pacific coastline and its isolated Andean highlands .and,
above all, for the splendor of its rain-soaked, wind-blasted Patagonia.
The country's numerous pre-Columbian archaeological sites, its turbulent
colonial past and its recently repressive history all add up to a feeling
of impenetrable mystery and unfathomable hardship. However, modern jet-setting
beach resorts, extinct volcanoes, high mountains, exotic seafood, sophisticated
tourist facilities and numerous opportunities for extreme adventure sports
combine to create an ideal travel environment in present-day Chile. It is
truly a miracle that Chile has escaped mainstream tourism for so long.
Santiago In the shadow of the snow-capped Andes, Chile's
booming capital of Santiago builds upwards and sprawls outwards, covering
almost 1,000 square miles of territory. Founded in 1541 by the Spanish
explorer, Pedro de Valdivia, Santiago's modern downtown area still reflects
the Spanish influence in the traditional grid pattern of its streets and
the elegant church-fronted plazas into which they open. While the city
itself has grown to immense proportions, with ring roads ringed by outer
ring roads, its central core remains relatively small and manageable.
The downtown area is centered on the Alameda, more properly referred to
as the Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins, named for Chile's national
liberator whose heroic deeds are memorialized in the street names of every
Chilean city, large and small. The city's explosive growth and its inconvenient
Spanish grid town plan have led to increasingly-frequent traffic jams
and the resulting smog that collects in the basin, often obliterating
the snow-capped mountains looming over the city to the east.
Art galleries, theaters and
museums abound in this largely Roman Catholic city, watched over by the
Virgin Mary from her vantage point atop Cerro San Cristóbal, a
2,800-foot peak on the northern
The changing of the guard at La Moneda. (Santiago,
bank of the Río Mapocho. Sandwiched between
the foot of Cerro San Cristóbal and the river is the vibrant neighborhood
of Barrio Bellavista. Restaurants, nightclubs, intriguing craft shops and
art galleries line its crowded streets, earning it the title of Santiago's
'Paris Quarter.' Two colonial fortresses perch on the slopes of Cerro Santa
Lucía, which rises abruptly from the city's largely-flat central
business district. Around the ramparts of the fortress is a beautifully-maintained
park. A climb to the top yields spectacular views of the entire city, now
home to fully one-third of Chile's people.
The city's varied attractions include its colorful
market, the Mercado Central, and its historical center at the Plaza de
Armas, an elegant town square surrounded by colonial churches reflected
in the glass façades of neighboring skyscrapers. The long unbroken
front of the Palacio de la Moneda, formerly the mint and now the presidential
residence, dominates one side of the vast Plaza de la Constitución,
where Chile evidences its tenuous hold on a European heritage with an
overwrought changing of the guards ceremony, held intermittently to the
musical accompaniment of a ragged brass band.
Puerto Montt Puerto Montt, the largest city on the long stretch
of Chilean coastline between Santiago and Punta Arenas, is the capital
of the Región de los Lagos, Chile's scenic lake district. Puerto
Montt is the
Guanacos near Cerro Castillo on the Argentine-Chilean
border. (Patagonia, Argentina-Chile)
region's transportation hub, while nearby Puerto
Varas attracts adventure sports enthusiasts for kayaking expeditions on
Lago Llanquihué and its tributaries. In addition, Puerto Varas is
the place to arrange trekking expeditions to the top of the conical Volcán
Osorno, wreathed in clouds on the lake's far shoreline and a bustling ski
resort in the wintertime. Southeast of Puerto Montt, near the town of Chaiten,
is Chile's newest adventure travel craze, the Futuleufú River and
its challenging whitewater rapids. Southwest of Puerto Montt, across the
Golfo de Ancud by ferry, is the Isle of Chiloé, Chile's ancestral
home. Fascinating fishing villages such as Ancud, Castro and Dalcahue line
its shores, and the legend of the trauco, a hideous troll-like creature
that supposedly impregnates the island's women, lives on.
Puerto Montt was founded in 1853 by Vicente Pérez
Rosales, but most of its earliest settlers were German. In the late nineteenth
century, the city was the hub of the German colonization of southern Chile.
The German influence is still readily apparent in the accents and surnames
of the local population, as well as in the Bavarian architecture of Puerto
Montt, Puerto Varas and Frutillar, a tidy little German-speaking town
on the western shores of Lago Llanquihué. Angelmó, just
west of Puerto Montt, is a fishing village with a bustling wharf, a colorful
mercado artesenal and good seafood restaurants.
Patagonia The Chilean version of Patagonia, situated on
the rainy western slopes of the Andes, is very
Life in Patagonia continues the way it has
for many years. (Patagonia, Chile).
different from the Argentine version, which is
located on the dry eastern side of the massive cordillera. Chile's Patagonia
is, for the most part, a harsh land of mountains, glaciers, fjords, rocky
coastlines, rain and overcast skies, while Argentina's Patagonia boasts
miles and miles of golden grasslands, hosting estancias bigger than many
American states. Both sides of the divide, however, do share one thing
in common: the violent, unrelenting wind.
Bruce Chatwin grew up in England dreaming of Patagonia,
fascinated by the tales of his grandmother's cousin, Charley Milward,
who settled in Patagonia when the ship that he captained sank at the entrance
of the Straits of Magellan. Chatwin evocatively described Puerto Natales,
the isolated town on the Ultima Esperanza Sound through which all roads
in Chilean Patagonia must eventually pass:
"The town of Puerto Natales was in sunshine, but
purple clouds were piling up on the far side of Last Hope Sound. The
roofs of the houses were scabby with rust and clattered in the wind .Raindrops
smacked on the pavement. Old women, black specks along the wide street,
scuttled for cover. I sheltered in a shop smelling of cats and the sea.
The owner sat knitting socks of oiled wool. About her were strings of
smoked mussels, cabbages, bricks of dried sea-lettuce and trusses of
kelp, coiled up like the pipes of a tuba."
Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia, 1977
While Chilean Patagonia's crowning
glory is its bold and imposing Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the region
hides many other spectacular treasures in the nooks and crannies of her
wind-blown shores. The pinguinera (penguin colony) and research station
at Otway Sound (Seno Otway), blasted night and day by hurricane force
winds, is one of the world's largest. Along the road from Punta Arenas,
llama-like guanacos roam the vast treeless tundra and small Patagonian
foxes, looking for the carcasses of fallen sheep, dart through the wind-flattened
The Futaleufu River hosts some of the world's
best fly fishing. (Futaleufu River, Chile)
Arenas itself, the 'Southernmost City in the World'
(having ceded the titles of 'southernmost town' to Ushuaia, Argentina and
'southermost community' to its Chilean neighbor, Puerto Williams), is a
captivating place. It is more than just a town at the end of the world;
by all appearances, it is a working city at the end of the world. It is
also the capital of the Magallanes province, Chile's southernmost. At its
docks, next to fishing boats returning from the seas with a bounty of centollas,
the massive crabs that are a regional delicacy, ships bound for Antarctic
exploration sit idling, waiting for the right conditions for departure.
A dolphin-escorted cruise through the Beagle Channel, which threads through
the fjords and waterways of the Cordillera Darwin southward from Punta Arenas
to Isla Navarino, below Tierra del Fuego, is also a memorable experience.
Majestic mountains and waterfalls crash abruptly into the frigid, steel-gray
waters and rivers of ice flow silently into the sea, as the southern end
of Chile dissolves into a series of impenetrable islands and rocky outcrops.
The Cueva del Milodón, the cave filled with the preserved remains
of a milodón, a now-extinct herbivorous mammal, that so fascinated
the young Bruce Chatwin as he grew up in far-away England, can be visited
on the road north of Puerto Natales. Chilean Patagonia is truly a land of
dreams and wonders, a land of uncharted shores and unclimbed mountains.
Torres del Paine Near Chile's fragmented southern tip, approximately
75 miles north of the crossroads town of
Torres del Paine National Park. (Patagonia,
Puerto Natales on Last Hope Sound, is Chile's showpiece,
the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. The torres (towers) themselves, spectacular
granite pillars that soar almost vertically out of the tiny vest-pocket
lake at their feet, reach astounding cloud-wreathed heights of 6,500 feet
(2,000 meters). This spectacular sight, which gives the sensation of walking
up out of the back of a massive throat and onto a rocky tongue surrounded
by towering teeth, is accessible by way of the heart-stopping Río
Paine trail, a five-to-six day circuit that threads through many of the
park's greatest splendors, including, besides the torres, Lago Grey and
its spectacular glacier. The ambitious may forego the entire circuit and
hike in and out of the torres in one day. Guanacos frequent the wind-blown
hills and the shores of Lago Pehoe and the park's other lakes. The pumas
that prey upon them are not far behind. Because the park is relatively protected
from the harsh Antarctic winds, a wide variety of flora, and twenty-one
different mammal species, flourish in its mountains and valleys. Cascading
waterfalls, forested slopes and never-ending glaciers shedding icebergs
into sparkling lakes complete the picture.
(Rapa Nui) Lying 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) west of the
Chilean mainland, on the latitude of Caldera, is enigmatic Easter Island.
Called Isla Pascual by the Chileans and Rapa Nui by the natives, Easter
Island, the world's most remote inhabited island, was first settled around
500 A.D. by Polynesians presumably arriving from the Marquesas. The mysteries
of Easter Island are manifold. Nobody knows how itinerant Polynesian settlers
were able to build a culture of such magnitude in such a
The Harbor at Horcon. (Valparaiso Region,
remote location, or how they were able to design
and sculpt the 700 or so colossal basalt statues, called moais, that are
scattered across the main island, peering inland from their deep, empty
eye sockets. The moais were erected between 1000 and 1650 A.D. and were
first viewed by European eyes on Easter Sunday in 1722, when the Dutch explorer,
Jakob Roggeveen, steered his ship into the bay where Hanga Roa now stands.
Today, Easter Island offers the ultimate in off-the-beaten-track adventure.
Only about 2,000 people, about 70% of them Polynesian, live on the island,
most of them in the town of Hanga Roa. A national park, the Parque Nacional
Rapa Nue, covers most of the main island. And you can sail for 1200 miles
(1900 kilometers) in any direction without sighting any other inhabited
speck of land.
People The original inhabitants of what is now Chile
were the Atacama, Diaguita and other small indigenous groups of the Atacama
Desert regions of the north. The Mapuche, or Araucanians, settled in the
central valley, where the bulk of the population remains today. Most of
the present-day population of Chile is mestizo or of European descent,
primarily from German and Swiss backgrounds. Only a small fraction of
the population has retained a pure Native American heritage. The majority
of the population is concentrated in urban areas, where 84% of Chileans
make their homes. The country enjoys a high standard of living, as evidenced
by its low infant mortality rates, its 75.8-year life expectancy and its
95.7% literacy rate. More than three-quarters of the population identifies
with the Roman Catholic church, although there are sizable Protestant
and Jewish communities as well.
Travel Tips Beginning in late 1998 and continuing throughout
much of 1999, the streets of some of Chile's
Trekking in Torres del Paine. (Patagonia, Chile).
major cities were filled with civil unrest, engendering
sometimes-violent street protests that were triggered by the indictment
by a Spanish judge of Chile's former military leader, Gen. Augusto Pinochet
Ugarte, for human rights violations. The episode refreshed many suppressed
memories and reopened many old wounds, but Chilean society is generally
very stable and reserved.
The country enjoys a steadily-expanding economy, permitting
Chile to invest billions of dollars in neighboring countries. Chileans
enjoy one of the highest standards of living in South America. Accordingly,
Chile is generally a safe and stable place to visit. While the crime rate
is low and the Pinochet protests have largely subsided, travelers to the
country are still advised to consult the U.S. State Department's consular
warning for the latest information on security issues in Chile.
Temperature/Weather Chile's great latitudinal range means a great
diversity in climates and weather patterns. Accordingly, there is some
part of Chile that is ideally visited in just about every season of the
year. Santiago and the central valley are best during the verdant spring
(September through November) and during the fall (February through April).
Patagonia and the Chilean Lake District, centered around Puerto Montt,
are best visited during the summer months (December through March). Chile's
ski resorts are, of course, at their peak during the winter months of
June through August. The arid Atacama Desert of Chile's northern reaches
can be visited any time of the year, because the cold Humboldt Current,
just offshore in the Pacific, generally keeps temperatures low. Easter
Island (Rapa Nui) is cooler and less crowded outside of the summer months.
Precipitation, which peaks in the winter months, generally increases the
further south you go, reaching its apotheosis in the Magallanes region,
where up to 200 inches of annual rainfall is the norm.
Reading List In order to make the most of your trip to Chile,
the following reading lists will help you gain a better understanding
of the landscape, culture and people. Here you can also purchase any books
you might need for your Global Adrenaline trip!
Global Adrenaline, Inc.
1640 North Wells Street, Suite 207
Chicago, Illinois 60614
Tel: +1-866-884-5622 (toll free in USA)
Tel: +1-312-863-6300 (outside USA)