Chile is a slender strip of a country separating the Andes from the Pacific coast. It is the world’s longest country at 4,000 km from north to south—the distance London is from Timbuktu or the entire width of the continental United States. Because of the length, Chile’s climate varies greatly, from scorching hot deserts in the north to the verdant wine country in Central Valley to the Patagonian ice fields in the south. It’s possible to see it all with South American Odyssey.
On a plateau high in the Andes, the Atacama Desert offers an extensive variety of landscapes, including salt pans, valleys, volcanoes, geysers and cobalt blue lagoons.
Dunes in the Valle de la Muerte (Valley of Death) are as high as 100 meters and surrounded by extraordinary rock formations. Sandboarding across the dunes is a popular activity for the adventurous. That’s like snowboarding only dustier.
At the bottom of the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) is a glimmering white carpet of salt left behind when ancient lakes dried up. The sun plays over the steep and craggy slopes, bringing out subtle greens, blues, reds and yellows. As the sun sets, the rocks turn to gold and then to red and finally to a dusky pink. It is, however, the moonlight that brings out the valley’s stark and majestic beauty.
The El Tatio Geysers are in a volcanic geothermal field. Columns of water and steam erupt from deep inside the earth—they are the highest geysers in the world. The best time to see the 80 active geysers is between 6 and 7 in the morning, as the sun rises and lights up the clouds of billowing steam. And that early in day, you may see viscachas, vicunas, or nandues out looking for breakfast among the yaretas (fern-like plants) and giant cacti.
Valle Central (Central Valley)
Chile’s famous wine region is 400 km long and so spans a variety of climates, soil conditions and terroirs to produce wine that is prized around the world. One place to start on a wine tour is the historic port of Valparaiso with its eclectic labyrinthe of colorful hillside houses that circle a bay of startling blue. You can set out for the Casablanca Valley with its fresh, crisp whites and cold-climate Pinot Noir. Or the Aconcagua Valley that offers superb Carmenere, Cabernet and Syrah. Or the San Antonio Valley where you will find upscale wineries that produce fine Sauv Blanc, Pinot Noir and Syrah.
Torres del Paine National Park
In the summer, you have 17 hours of daylight to explore Torres del Paine’s teal-blue waters, magnificent forests, soaring mountains, rushing waterfalls, and mystical Southern Ice Field. Noble condors whirl above and foxes, Andean deer and guanacos roam. If you are patient and very still, you may catch a glimpse of a puma.
The glaciers in Torres del Paine are part of the Southern Ice Field. Three particularly spectacular ones are Glacier Dickson that lies on the border of Chile and Argentina, Glacier El Frances that is subject to avalanches, and Glacier Grey, the premier glacier on Grey Lake. It is best seen during a sail on the lake or you can paddle a kayak through imposing blue and white icebergs. On land, an ice hike or a three-hour trek will get you there.