A Beginner’s Guide to Chile: 6 of the Best
Just 240km wide at its narrowest point, Chile extends a long, skinny finger into the Pacific Ocean, beckoning visitors with a tempting selection of life-changing adventures. From soaring mountains and golden pampas to moving ice fields and dynamic cities, Chile offers a dizzying array of possibilities for the intrepid explorer. Book your car hire in Chile for the most flexible travel option, and read on for some tips on where to get started:
Apart from the impressive 2,000-metre rock towers that rise above the astoundingly beautiful landscape, the other attractions of Torres del Paine include sapphire lakes, lush forests, thundering rivers, and a glacier of gleaming blue. Established in 1959 in the far south of Patagonia, the park is still recovering from a century of overgrazing as giant sheep farm, but intensive preservation efforts are beginning to bear fruit. Flocks of gawky rhea (or ñandú), Andean condor, flamingo and many other bird species live here, and the growing herds of llama-like guanacos roam without fear of humans.
Pick up your rental car at Punta Arenas airport, which is the closest airport to the park. It is about a six-hour drive to Laguna Amarga – the usual entry point for anybody intending to complete the famous Las Torres trek. You can get close to nature in comfort, as the park offers comfortable accommodation, decent meals, and even cocktails in hotels and refugios. You will need to book in advance, however.
San Pedro de Atacama
Northern Chile’s top tourist attraction is San Pedro de Atacama, an adobe oasis set among salt flats, volcanoes, steaming geysers, weird rock formations, and unforgettable landscapes. Located 106km southeast of Calama via the Chile 23 highway, San Pedro itself is a tiny scattering of streets radiating from a pretty tree-framed plaza and church.
The advent of tourism has brought with it an abundance of hotels, restaurants, internet cafes and tour agencies, but the town compensates for this commercialisation with an compellingly laid-back atmosphere and a selection of tour options that could keep you occupied for weeks. And, whatever purists might say about the perils of tourism development, it’s hard to argue against the pleasures of a good meal and a soft bed after a hard day’s sightseeing. If you collect your rental car from Cerro Moreno International Airport, you’re just over 100km from San Pedro.
Chile is a country of extremes, but few of its attractions are as extraordinary as El Tatio, one of the world’s biggest geyser fields. Encircled by volcanoes and fed by over 80 bubbling geysers and a hundred steaming fumaroles. Perched more than 4,300 metres among the Andes in northern Chile, the geysers are at their most spectacular at 6am. From a practical point of view, it makes sense to dress in layers: It’s bone-chillingly cold at dawn, but the temperatures reach baking levels by late afternoon. You should also watch where you walk, as visitors have suffered burns from stepping through the thin crust into subterranean pools of scalding water. Don’t let that put you off, however: More than 80 active geysers, make El Tatio an unmissable spectacle, and an abundance of hot springs make it an unforgettable place to take a dip. Collect your rental car from Calama El Loa Airport, and El Tatio is just a 90km drive away.
Few global cities can boast the natural setting that surrounds Chile’s capital. Set at the foot of the Andes, Santiago is a noisy, grubby city, but it is also cultured, driven, and just slightly wacky. Venture beyond the city centre to discover flourishing restaurant and artistic scenes that are a pleasure to explore. Gourmands will find star-worthy cuisine in Bellavista and Providencia, bohemians will fall in love with the picturesque old district of Barrio Brasil, and anybody with an interest in culture will be enthralled by the excellent museums and arts scene. An appealing café culture and enticing parks give Santiago a great personality and a real sense of drive. Pick up your rental car in Santiago and head for the hills. You can go hiking, horseback riding, skiing or kayaking just a short drive from the city centre.
A magnet for poets, painters, and thinkers for years, Valparaiso is one of the most unusual cities you will ever visit. Perched on the Pacific coast in the central region of the country, Valparaiso cascades in brightly coloured layers down the steep hillsides to the sea. The maze of streets and cobbled lanes testify to a fascinating architectural and cultural history, with bohemians of every persuasion making their home in this bold and impulsive city. Surrounded by a jumble of hills, and criss-crossed by a roller coaster of lofty, winding streets and stairways studded with faded mansions, Valparaiso is arguably more charming than Santiago, seducing many visitors to skip out on other attractions to spend more time here. Drive your rental car from Santiago the 125km to Valparaiso and decide for yourself.
Chile has become South America’s newest wine route, offering a raft of stylish new guesthouses and restaurants in the Aconcagua and Colchagua valleys to tempt the vineyard hopper. Drive about 90km from Santiago, through rolling Andean foothills across a lush landscape of apple, avocado, fig, and peach plantations, to find yourself in the sleepy surroundings of Aconcagua Valley, where you can take a two-hour tour of Vina Errazurriz, established in 1870.
Then, take another scenic drive east east along Route 60, which follows the Aconcagua River through peach orchards, corn and tobacco fields, and picturesque hamlets. You’ll find Casas del Bosque and Vinas Matetic close to Casablanca. Continue on along Route 66 through the Rapel wine region to Marchihue, then on to Apalta the wine-lover’s paradise of the Colchagua Valley. Star attractions include the new Clos Apalta Winery, Vina Viu Manent, Vinedos Organicos Emiliana, and La Finca de Apalta Estate.
Now that you’re inspired to plan a trip to Chile, car hire should be next on your agenda. Wherever you plan to visit in Chile, check Nova Car Hire for suitable pick-up locations.