Shaped like an arrow pointed at Antarctica, Chile averages 120 miles across in width and runs 2,600 miles north to south along the Pacific coast. The craggy Andean Mountains run right down the middle of the country, where travelers are finding some of South America’s most dramatic scenery, the best skiing and fishing south of the U.S. border, and 32 national parks, plus no-better-anywhere seafood and world-famous wines. Santiago, Chile’s major gateway, sits mid-country, sporting today a capital full of new and stylish hotels, restaurants where the favorite dish has got to be fish, art galleries and designer boutiques. Close to the capital lie the wine roads through the vineyards; the seaside resort of Viña del Mar and its charming neighbor Valparaiso, whose rich treasury of Victorian architecture secured the port town a place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Travelers have to take a plane to reach the natural wonders of Chile: the Atacama Desert, whose fabulous lodging fan out around the village of San Pedro de Atacama; south to the Chilean Lake District for excellent hiking, biking, kayaking and fishing; and even farther south to the magnificent national parks of Torres del Paine and Parque Nacional Puyehue. And one of the world’s great outdoor museums, Easter Island, with its iconic giant statues, lies 2,300 miles offshore. (chile.travel)
What’s New in Chile
✘ Santiago has a new and charming boutique hotel, Lastarria, where guests make themselves at home in 14 spacious accommodations and amidst gardens with an outdoor pool. Situated in the historic center of Santiago and surrounded by museums, galleries, trendy shops and restaurants, Lastarria made the Conde Nast Traveler’s “Hot List 2012.” (lastarriahotel.com)
✘ Turismo Chile is promoting a new “discovery” destination to indeed discover: the Araucania region, whose gateway is the university town of Temuco, an hour by air south from Santiago. Its attractions are blue mountain lakes, snow-capped volcanoes and pristine forests: playgrounds for hiking, kayaking, white-water rafting, fishing, mountain climbing and skiing (June-October). Additionally, Araucania is the traditional homeland of the Mapuche people, who welcome visitors to experience their culture and stay in their fine native lodges.
✘ Making Travel + Leisure’s “It List: The Best New Hotels 2012” is Terra Patagonia, a spectacular resort that rises from a bluff overlooking Lake Sarmiento at the edge of Torres del Paine National Park. All 40 rooms have grand views, and the Uma Spa has an indoor pool and outdoor jacuzzi. Activities range from fording the Baguales River on horseback to shearing sheep—with local gauchos lending a hand. (terrapatagonia.com)
✘ Adventure has just gotten more comfortable on Robinson Crusoe Island, with limited access via twin-engine plane on a 2-hour flight (in season) from Santiago. Newly opened is the Crusoe Island Lodge—making its own mark on the 2012 “It List”—fitted with 15 rooms and suites with terraces, bar-lounge, library, La Breca restaurant, and undoubtedly the one and only spa in the Juan Fernandez Island archipelago. Activities include trekking, fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling. (crusoeislandlodge.com)
✘ Also noteworthy is Robinson Crusoe Deep Patagonia, located in Villa O’Higgins, at the end of the Austral Way. The lodge opened its doors in 2010, and the company provides an array of programs for travelers to view these remote landscapes. (robinsoncrusoe.com)