Real Holidays’ Sophie Garland has just returned from Chile. Travelling from the lunar landscapes of the Atacama Desert to the ice fields of Patagonia, she discovered a Latin American country well worth exploring in its own right...
I’ve always found the passion, colours and heart of Latin America drawing me back time after time. So, when the opportunity to visit Chile came up, I had my bags packed and camera ready before you could say ‘vamos!’
You might wonder, ‘is there really enough to see in Chile to warrant an entire holiday?’ I discovered that, for me, Chile is the perfect one stop Latin American trip, offering an incredibly diverse range of landscapes and experiences. Dramatic deserts: bright blue glaciers and immense mountain ranges; rural ranches and vineyards; buzzing nightlife; rich history and culture. You name it, it’s got it.
My first stop was the Atacama Desert. The flight from Santiago to Calama provided an exhilarating introduction to the immense landscape of the region, flying so close to the mountain range that it felt like we were skimming the peaks. You could easily make out the incredible patterns in the rock formations. Needless to say, a window seat is a must!
The Atacama Desert is a photographer’s dream, with an intense variety of landscapes as you travel between 2,500 metres and 4,200 metres above sea-level. Watching the changing light as the sun set over the moon-like valleys and immense sand dunes, followed by the chance to lie back and experience what some say is the best stargazing on Earth, made for an awe-inspiring first evening.
After a brief rest I had a 5am wake up call, which I may have begrudged a little at the time, but I have to admit it was worth it. After a two-hour journey, we watched in wonder as the El Tatio geysers erupted while the sun rose over the plains.
I left the Atacama thinking it couldn’t get any better, but on arriving in Torres del Paine National park in Chilean Patagonia I realised I was very much mistaken. The four-hour transfer from Punta Arenas airport may sound like a chore, but the journey sped by as I watched the changing scenery while keeping my eyes peeled for herds of wild guanaco. Stepping out of the mini-van and being battered by the high winds was my first real experience of Patagonian weather - a revitalising experience!
I stayed at the incredible Tierra Patagonia lodge, where the panoramic vista of the Torre del Paine massif set behind the waters of Lake Sarmiento is undoubtedly the best view I have ever seen from a hotel lobby. Although you don’t actually have to step foot out of the lodge to see the famous torres, you’d be missing out if you didn’t see them from every possible angle.
There are excursions for everyone here. You don’t have to head out on a hard-core eight-hour hike to see the bright blue icebergs which have drifted away from the impressive Grey Glacier (which, contrary to its name, is actually contrasting shades of bright blue). Gentle walks, boat trips, horse-riding and bird-watching excursions through the mountainous terrain and forest landscapes are also on the menu. It’s impossible to describe just how incredible this region is. I realise it sounds like a cliché, but you really need to see it for yourself.
All great trips must come to an end. Admiring the night-time lights of Santiago from the rooftop restaurant of art-deco boutique hotel Luciano K, whilst sipping a final pisco sour, was the perfect finale to my first visit to Chile.
Of course, the dream is to spend months wandering through Latin American lands, absorbing the changing cultures, landscapes and cuisines. But if you have just two weeks, Chile is a great place to start.
Think through your packing list very carefully. Weather and temperatures in Chile change with every area you visit, and often multiple times in one day in Patagonia!