Few countries, moreover, can match Chile for the sheer diversity of scenery and range of climatic zones – from the driest desert in the world to immense ice fields and glaciers. Spread between these extremes is a kaleidoscope of panoramas, taking in sun-baked scrubland, lush vineyards and orchards, virgin temperate rainforest, dramatic fjords and endless Patagonian steppes. Towering over it all is the long, jagged spine of the Andes, punctuated by colossal peaks and smouldering volcanoes. Given this geographical spread and dearth of population, it’s not unusual to stumble on steaming hot springs, gleaming white salt flats or emerald lakes, and have them all to yourself.
Lovers of the great outdoors will likewise be seduced by the almost endless possibilities for outdoor activities, whether it be jeep rides, birdwatching, skiing, horse trekking, hiking, volcano climbing, sea kayaking, whitewater rafting or fly-fishing – all offered by a large number of local outfitters, with the possibility of designing unique itineraries to suit your tastes. If you have less active plans in mind, you can sit back and take in Chile’s scenery from multi-day boat cruises through the southern fjords or jaw-dropping topography from the comfort of a plane or hot air balloon. Wilderness aside, Chile’s wine-growing regions are second to none and connoisseurs can sample a wide range of tipples, including Carmenère, Chile’s signature grape, while cultural exploration may take you from Santiago’s Salvador Allende memorial to to the Mapuche reducciones of the Lake District, the gold rush remains in Tierra del Fuego, the Chinchorro mummies in Arica’s best museum or the remains of nitrate mines around Iquique. However you do it, Chile will not disappoint you, and you can experience its diversity in whatever style you choose – this is not a developing country, and you don’t have to slum it while you’re here. There are plenty of modest, inexpensive accommodation options and camping facilities up and down the country, while those on a more generous budget will find increasing numbers of luxurious, beautifully designed boutique lodges in spectacular locations, particularly in the south.