This guide offers up-to-date travel advice and background information about the history and culture of Chile, and the world's most remote island - Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui.
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Let's cut straight to what most people know about Chile: it's skinny, it's long, it's a string-bean country. It is a 4300 km strip of all coast on one side and almost all mountain on the other, reaching from Peru to Cape Horn. Its shape alone makes it an alluring destination - travelers can attempt the challenge of going from point to point without ever needing to double back. It's the utmost in linear exploration, with chances for adventure that surpass many destinations.
But what Chile has to offer isn't so cut and dry. This country has a crazy mix of activities to keep you going for far longer than you have planned. Can't decide whether to visit a desert, surf the waves at hidden beaches, study pre-Columbian art, soak in natural hot springs, spoil yourself at a seaside spa, tour wineries, ride a horse around a volcano, kayak a river or fjord, take to fly-fishing, trek through the Andes or retrace the steps of Magellan and Darwin? Chile is the destination for you - you can do it all here. But don't limit a trip to the spring and summer: the Andes offer top-notch skiing in the Southern Hemisphere's winter months.
Chile's official heart is Santiago, one of South America's most important business centers and a bustling city with superb restaurants and nonstop nightlife. Nearby beach resorts Valparaiso, Vina del Mar and La Serena, as well as the Andes, all offer accessible escapes and loads of fun. Northern Chile holds the world's driest desert, the Atacama, which boasts pastel salt flats, fuming geysers and Inka geoglyphs. Crystal-clear skies in the north have made this area of Chile home to some of the world's most important astronomical observatories. Wine-lovers flock to the country's central valleys, which are speckled in vineyards but are also home to little-visited mountain parks and beaches. To the south, Chile sparkles lush green - a spectacle of forest, lake and volcano, woven together by rivers and undulating farmland. The island of Chiloe is a charm that is becoming more and more a travelers' draw for its intriguing ocean lore, seafood, and unique island culture. The ! Carretera Austral takes the true adventurer on a gravel road-romp through some of the most inaccesible parts of the country, to impenetrable rainforest, to the raging Rio Futaleufu and down into the barren Patagonia steppe. At the foot of the country, the jumble of fjords and the miles of milky-blue glaciers are upstaged only by the crowning jewel of Torres del Paine, a national park with spectacular granite pillars. For those able to go the extra mile, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) mystifies, Isla Robinson Crusoe lets the most urban of us play castaway, and Antarctica awakens our spirit of discovery.
For centuries, world explorers - from Magellan to D'Agostini, Darwin and Shackleton - extoled the beauty of the country's wildness: this is Chile's symbolic heart and what modern-day adventurers come seeking. Juxtaposed to this is an impressive orderliness, in part due to the strong European influence, that makes traveling in Chile easy (but more costly): Transportation is top-notch; the towns and cities, though often architecturally boring, are clean and straightforward; and most travelers agree that Chile is remarkably safe. And, hands down, the highlight of any trip here is getting to know the Chilenos, who are proud of their country's beauty and eager to make travelers feel welcome and at home.
Don't come expecting tantalizing cuisine or obvious indigenous culture, but do come with hiking boots, a raincoat and a desire to get your heart thumping while you ride the waves, raft the rivers, trek the trails, sail over desert, swim the lakes, ski the slopes or simply ogle out the window at all that crazy geography and vast wild going by.
Now, the next decision to make: Which way will you go first - north or south?
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