I wasn’t certain exactly what to expect when my colleague Kayla Torgerson and I landed in Santiago for our 18-day tour through Chile. But I knew that we had an amazing itinerary before us. Santiago, the Atacama Desert, Vik Vineyard in Millahue (a couple of hours South of Santiago), Torres del Paine Park in Patagonia and an expedition cruise through Tierra del Fuego in the southernmost part of Chile.
What surprised me the most about Chile was the hugely varied landscape. The majority of the country lies along the same relative longitude (the length of Chile, at 2,670 miles; very close to the width of the US from north to south). This variety in latitude makes for an amazing variety of topography and scenery. Chile lies between the Pacific and the Andes, and has altitudes ranging from sea level to 22,600 feet……an impressive range for a country that is only 217 miles across at its widest point.
The Atacama Desert
After flying north from Santiago to Calama, we made our way to San Pedro de Atacama – and the hotel lodge where we would be staying for the next three nights – The Alto Atacama. This hotel had such a unique location and feel; nestled in the red rocks of the Salt Mountain Range. We enjoyed guided hiking and sightseeing excursions, as well as visited several other hotel properties in the area. I loved this location; a few minutes out of town, but yet close enough to be in town in ten minutes if you like. The scenery and the grounds here were beautiful, and there is no light pollution at night. The stars are amazing in the high desert (The Atacama desert is at an altitude of around 8,000 – 13,000 ft).
After our time in the desert, we returned to Santiago, and drove south to the region of Millahue, Chile and the modern and unique Vik Vineyards and Vina Vik retreat. This hotel is an amazing testament to modern art and design, and the food, wine and service were excellent. We were here for only a night, but we managed to get in some horseback riding through the vineyards, and a wine tasting before we were headed back to Santiago.
Torres Del Paine and Patagonia
After returning to Santiago and overnighting near the airport, we flew south to Punta Arenas and drove 5 hours to the entrance to the Torres del Paine Parque National in Southern Chile. I think a good way to think of the park is like the Yosemite of Chile.
The region offered amazing scenery and wildlife and terrific choices in lodging, from very basic to very luxurious, but all focused on getting you outside into the environment. We stayed 4 nights at the Explora Lodge, which is located in the park, and 2 nights at the Singular Hotel, which is located outside the park. Both properties were amazing and unique in their own ways. We did two guided excursions each day, which included hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, and glacier viewing. Much more than we were able to do in the short time we were there.
Australis Expedition Cruise
After 6 days in and near Torres del Paine, we returned to Punta Arenas to board the Via Australis for a three night roundtrip expedition cruise through Tierra del Fuego park in the southernmost tip of Chile. The ship was well appointed and the excursions were interesting and focused on wildlife and geological formations and the many glaciers located in the park. You are really at the end of the world when you are in the “Land of Fire,” and it feels as remote as it looks.
The things I loved about this trip were the access to the amazing variety of scenery and landscape and the access to activities that really were adventurous. The natural wonders on this trip far surpassed anywhere I had visited before. Chile, for me, was one of the most amazing trips that I have been lucky enough to experience.