At the close of the decade, Chile was in the news for all the wrong reasons, but a chat with Philippe Etchegaray of SERNATUR, Chile’s National Tourism Service, proves that Chile is still one of South America’s most bookable and stunning destinations.

“Tourism numbers have been running positive for us. The U.S. market is growing a little above 10 percent…we think we’ll be closing 2019 with 250,000 Americans arriving in Chile [interview was conducted in December 2019], which is our third biggest market, after Argentina and Brazil.

“Americans are mostly traveling to Patagonia, Atacama, Rapa Nui, Santiago, and Valparaiso. We’ve also been trying to highlight new destinations that travel advisors can combine with these popular destinations, including Elqui Valley, on the way to Atacama. This is a very interesting place for astro-tourism, for stargazing (in Chile you have 70 percent of the astronomy infrastructure of the world, so it must mean something). Tourism infrastructure related to that has been growing very, very fast and it’s very interesting. That’s also where the pisco is done—visitors can see how it’s produced and, of course, they can taste it.

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Horseback riding in San Pedro de Atacama. (Photo credit: SERNATUR)

“Then down south on the way to Patagonia, Chiloe is a very interesting place, very close to the Lake District, but quite unique. It’s an island with a unique gastronomy and its native traditions.

“There’s also Araucania, where you can meet the Mapuche people, get to know their gastronomy….  So, we are trying to pair Chiloe and Araucania with a visit to Patagonia.”

Etchegaray points out that Chile is a great tourism destination for most of your clients. It’s ideal for Millennials, but “we also have a very strong 50+ demographic, some Baby Boomers.” He adds that although, of course, it’s practically made for the active/outdoor enthusiasts, it’s not “all high adventure. It’s ideal for people who like being out of the city, who like nature, hiking. You can climb the tallest Andes mountain in Chile, or you can go for a hike in Torres del Paine.”

That said, he says there’s also been a growth within culinary tourism, as well as visitors seeking cultural sites. For example, the wooden Churches of Chiloe, built with native timber, are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in the north, visitors can head to the San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological and Anthropological Museum to see the Chinchorro mummies, the world’s oldest mummies.

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Stunning Torres del Paine is one of the country’s destinations most visited by U.S. travelers. (Photo credit: SERNATUR)

Etchegaray stresses that it’s important for travel advisors to look at the aforementioned and beyond Chile’s magnificent opportunities for outdoor adventures. “We want travel advisors in the U.S. to know that there is more than Atacama and Patagonia, and that Patagonia itself is more than Torres del Paine.”

In terms of news for the new year, Etchegaray mentions that he recently learned that American Airlines “is planning to double capacity” to Santiago, Chile. “So, that’s good news,” he says with a smile. “Chile is a very easy destination for Americans,” he adds.

Book It
Alexander + Roberts (alexanderroberts.com) has a new 9-day tour, Pure Patagonia, which takes travelers to Chile’s famed Austral Highway deep into Patagonia. Visitors can opt for guided morning nature walk or all-day treks; enjoy a picnic lunch surrounded by the forested lakeside at the foot of the Leones Glacier; and go on a guided rafting adventure on the Baker River, surrounded by alpine scenery.

Other booking opportunities are offered through Avanti Destinations (avantidestinations.com)—think the 8-day Atacama Explorer—and Lindblad Expeditions (expeditions.com), offering a 16-day Best of Chilean Patagonia: From Torres del Paine to Cape Horn itinerary.

For more information on Chile, head over to chile.travel/en.