You have to keep your head down. Despite the spray-laden wind, it’s tempting to lift it above the rim of the boat and look ahead, so you can see the foam-capped waves racing past as the Zodiac inflatable roars upstream. Soon, in the distance, a towering peak of rock rises up. As you get closer you see shattering precipices and giant towers dusted with snow.

This is Torres del Paine, the citadel of Chile’s epic south and one of the wildest national parks in the world. When the inboard of the Zodiac inflatable is finally switched off, all you can hear is the fury of the wind. The waves die down and the water reflects the massif in a pool as perfect as you could imagine, fringed by gnarled trees and blasted by bitter winds. Close by is a huge glacier, an offshoot of one of the largest ice fields in the world.

Then you set off walking, shifting the weight of your pack to get comfortable. There are other hikers around you, too – this isn’t deserted wilderness by any means – but the largeness of the landscape can more than accommodate everyone. High up to the east, and overlooking the scrub and blasted forest, are the unnaturally sculpted Paine Towers themselves, and in front of you, dark-capped, are weird sculptures of the peaks of the Cuernos del Paine. If you’re lucky you’ll stumble across some guanacos, wild relations of the llama, or even a shy ñandú, the South American ostrich. But perhaps the best experience to be had here is simply to inhale the air, which is so crisp and thin that breathing is like drinking iced water.

Guided treks run to Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales, or you can travel to the park by bus or Zodiac.

 

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If a guidebook tells you that something is “impossible to describe”, it usually means the writer can’t be bothered to describe it – with one exception. After pondering the views of the Grand Canyon for the first time, the most spectacular natural wonder on Earth, most visitors are stunned into silence. Committed travellers hike down to the canyon floor on foot or by mule, spending a night at Phantom Ranch, or hover above in a helicopter to get a better feeling for its dimensions. But it is still hard to grasp. The problem isn’t lack of words. It’s just that the canyon is so vast and so deep, that the vista stretches so far across your line of vision, up, down and across, giving the impression of hundreds of miles of space, that it’s a bit like looking at one of those puzzles in reverse – the more you stare, the more it becomes harder to work out what it is or where you are. Distance becomes meaningless, depth blurs, and your sense of time and space withers away.

The facts are similarly mind-boggling: the Grand Canyon is around 277 miles long and one mile deep. The South Rim, where most of the tourists go, averages 7000 feet, while the North Rim is over 8000 feet high – its alpine landscape only adding to the sense of the surreal. On the canyon floor flows the Colorado River, its waters carving out the gorge over five to six million years and exposing rocks that are up to two billion years old through vividly coloured strata. It’s this incredible chromatic element that stays with you almost as much as the canyon’s size, with the various layers of reds, ochres and yellows seemingly painted over the strangely shaped tower formations and broken cliffs. Think of it this way: the Grand Canyon is like a mountain range upside down. The country around the top is basically flat and all the rugged, craggy elements are below you. The abruptness of the drop is bizarre and, for some, unnerving. But the Grand Canyon is like that: it picks you up and takes you out of your comfort zone, dropping you back just that little bit changed.

The South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the North Rim from mid-May to mid-October. See www.nps.gov/grca for more information.

 

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They appear as shimmering arcs and waves of light, often blue or green in colour, which seem to sweep their way across the dark skies. During the darkest months of the year, the northern lights, or aurora borealis, are visible in the night sky all across northern Sweden. Until you see the light displays yourself, it’s hard to describe the spectacle in mere words – try to imagine, though, someone waving a fantastically coloured curtain through the air and you’ve pretty much got the idea.

What makes the northern lights so elusive is that it’s impossible to predict when they’re going to make an appearance. The displays are caused by solar wind, or streams of particles charged by the sun, hitting the Earth’s atmosphere. Different elements produce different colours, blue for nitrogen, for example, and yellow-green for oxygen.

The best place to view these mystical performances is north of the Arctic Circle, where temperatures are well below freezing and the sky is often at its clearest – two conditions that are believed to produce some of the most spectacular sightings.

For the quintessential northern lights experience, pack a couple of open sandwiches topped with smoked reindeer meat and a thermos of hot coffee to keep out the chill, then take a snow-scooter tour deep into the forests of Lapland – Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city, is the best base. Park up beside a frozen lake and train your eyes on the sky. Try this between mid-December and mid-January, when there’s 24-hour darkness north of the Arctic Circle, and the chances are you won’t have to wait too long for your celestial fix.

In Kiruna, stay at the comfortable Vinterpalatset (www.vinterpalatset.se).

 

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Perched on the edge of Booderee National Park’s spectacular cliffs, the ruins of Cape St George Lighthouse offer an excellent vantage point for spotting whales and dolphins in the waters below. Rough Guides writer Sara Chare went in search of nature’s elusive giants.

Standing on the viewing platform at the Cape St George Lighthouse in Booderee National Park, I hugged my cheap and newly-bought binoculars to my chest and turned towards the rich-blue sea.

The park is situated on the New South Wales coast, less than three hours south of Sydney, and is jointly run by Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community and the Australian National Parks Authority. Covering an area known as the “bay of plenty”, it is home to the only Aboriginal-owned Botanic Gardens in Australia, over eight hundred hectares of marine park and dazzling white-sand beaches.

Booderee beach, Sydney, Australia

Between September and November, the park’s rugged cliffs are one of the best places on the southern coastline to see migrating whales; magnificent Humpback and Southern Right whales pass by with by their young, on their return journey from breeding grounds off the Queensland coast.

I had arrived towards the end of the recommended whale-watching window – between 11am and early afternoon – in the hope that there would at least be some dolphins kicking about. The day was warm and windy, the dark blue ocean flecked with the white of breaking waves. Sea birds wheeled overhead, and grasses rustled above the sound of the sea.

Next to me a man was intently surveying the ocean, a zoom-lens camera dangling from his neck. “There have been twenty whales in the last two to three hours, and a couple of common dolphins”, he informed me. I strained my eyes looking hopefully into the distance, but all I could make out was one solitary, white sailing boat amid the foamy seas.

Booderee National Park, Australia

Disheartened, I turned my attention to the lighthouse. It was built here in 1860 to aid navigation, as a result of the number of shipwrecks near Cape St George in the nineteenth century. This turned out to be a poor spot to site a beacon; the light was not visible to ships approaching from the north and only barely visible to those coming from the south. Yet despite the lighthouse’s failure to prevent wrecks, it wasn’t until nearly forty years later that a replacement was established in a better position.

Today, the skeletons of the lighthouse buildings themselves are fairly intact, the large, thick sandstone blocks bearing up well against the elements. Of the tower, very little remains except for the base; only a mound of weathered rubble faces the sea, interspersed with bright green grass fringed by the odd tree.

My tour of the site complete, I took one last, long look over the waves. I tried not to be too disappointed. After all, I should have arrived earlier.

Booderee National Park, Lighthouse, Australia

As dusk softly drew in, I made to leave. Glancing out to the sea for the last time, I searched for something resembling a breaching whale, but only saw a family on the beach below and a group of cyclists stopping to catch their breath.

Suddenly, as I turned, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, a spot of grey, a curved back and then a fin. There they were: three bottlenose dolphins fairly near the shore, taking advantage of the food brought in by the tide. I stood, smiling as I watched them make their way gracefully through the water, surfacing less and less frequently until they finally struck out for the open sea.

Now, I was ready to leave.

Various local companies provide dolphin and whale-watching boat trips in the area. If you want to explore more of the country, buy the Rough Guide to Australia. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.  

Despite its natural beauty and vast array of historical sites, Jordan welcomes only a fraction of the visitors to the Middle East. When many think of Jordan, they picture camels and deserts – which admittedly make up 85 percent of its land mass – but this is also a country of mountains, beaches, castles and churches, with a welcoming population and a rich culture. These are our top things to do in Jordan:


Music: Ya Mo by Dozan (with thanks to worldmusic.net).

If you’re after a spectacular panorama of the Australian Outback, there’s an alternative to scaling Uluru. Not only does Kings Canyon offer those same spellbinding vistas, but a climb here respects the wishes of the local indigenous population. Rough Guides writer Ben Lerwill strapped on his hiking boots to conquer the canyon rim. 

The morning is still cold and dark when we walk out to the vehicle. It’s central Australia’s way of telling us we shouldn’t be outside yet. But Nigel’s pick-up splutters to life and the headlight beams reveal that the outback bushland is still there, spinifex grass being tousled by the pre-dawn wind. He begins driving, and within ten minutes we’ve parked up at the foot of Kings Canyon.

The canyon rim is just a shape a few hundred feet above us, a black mass in the dim light. But I’ve been here before, more than a decade ago, and I know about the views that are up there. “The first bit of the walk’s the hardest,” says Nigel, as around us and above us the sky starts to show signs of paling. “We should start climbing.”

Kings Canyon, Australia

Kings Canyon doesn’t draw the hype and attention that it might do. Relatively few international visitors arrive in Australia with the express intention of visiting it, but it has the knack of making a marked impression on those that do. Certainly the explorer Ernest Giles, the first white man to clap eyes on the feature, was taken aback when he passed this way in 1872 and saw a mountain range looming out of the surrounding flatness. He christened the focal point of this remarkable landmark after Fieldon King, the chief sponsor of his expedition, and today what the canyon lacks in terms of a rightful apostrophe it gains through an appropriately regal title.

Naturally, even Ernest Giles was late to the party. The canyon, and the range it forms part of, now fall within the protected Watarrka National Park. It covers an area that has been of cultural importance to local Aboriginal groups for tens of thousands of years – Kings Canyon shares this importance with a potent natural attraction just three-and-a-half hours to its southwest: Uluru. For walkers, that’s broadly where similarities between the two end: climb Uluru and you’re contravening a request to keep your hiking boots to yourself, climb Kings Canyon and the journey is more about connecting than conquering.

Kings Canyon, Australia

There are five hundred rocky, uneven steps up to the shelf of the canyon. By the time Nigel and I reach the summit plateau, 270 metres up, morning has emerged in a fuzzy half-light. Within fifteen minutes, the day’s first sunlight spills over the horizon, casting the cliffs in a lambent orange and revealing the scale of the canyon itself. Sheer walls of sandstone look down onto a green creek bed far below. This early in the day, the whole cavernous scene is soundtracked only by birdsong.

The rim walk is a 6km undertaking; although some refer to the initial climb as Heartbreak Hill, it’s really not that bad. And while the whole experience is largely about the grandstand panoramas, it’s the close-at-hand details along the route that underline the majesty of Kings Canyon’s hushed, age-old presence. The ancient marine fossils embedded into the sandstone. The hulking, beehive-like domes standing as improbable remnants of rock erosion. The shaded cliff-top chasm known as the “Garden of Eden”, full of streams and lush cycads.

It’s a walk that in many ways can last as long as you’d like it to. If you linger at the more stupefying lookouts, stopping to consider the feet that have walked these red buttresses and crags in times gone by, it can take a pleasant three to four hours.

Kings Canyon, Australia aerial

When Nigel and I finish – and to complete the rim walk you have to make a reluctant descent from the plateau and return to the real world – the full heat of the day is pounding down on the outback.

Unseen across the plains somewhere, Uluru is being hit by the same sun. A day later I’m there. There’s nowhere, and nothing, like Uluru. When you’re close enough to see it, it’s like a drug – it keeps drawing you in. Before sunset, at the base of one of its faces, I watch a park ranger shutting a barrier, closing off the walking track to the top. Someone berates him, saying that a few climbers are still up there. He shrugs. “If they can walk up that,” he gestures, “then they can get over the barrier.”

A large board next to us is headed “PLEASE DON’T CLIMB”. I ask the ranger how many people go up Uluru these days. “It’s still more than 25 percent of total visitors,” he tells me. I’m surprised, and must look it. “Yeah,” he continues. “But it’s a certain type of person, you know? What gets me is that if you really want to walk on something, you’ve got Kata Tjuta 25 minutes away and Kings Canyon not far off. Beautiful, both of them. Why on Earth would you feel the need to climb Uluru too?”

Photographs courtesy of Kings Canyon Resort (www.kingscanyonresort.com.au). The resort has accommodation ranging from camping to deluxe spa rooms. 

Britz (www.britz.com.au) offers campervan hire from 11 locations across Australia with a choice of 9 vehicle types, ranging from 2- to 6-berths and including 3 types of 4WD. Prices start from A$54/day for a 2-berth based on a 7-day hire. Book 120 days in advance for a 5% discount.

You can explore more of the Australian Outback with the Rough Guide to AustraliaBook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

First, be glad that it rains so much in Scotland. Without the rain the rivers here wouldn’t run – the Livet, the Fiddich, the Spey. Without the rain the glens wouldn’t be green and the barley wouldn’t grow tall and plump.

Be glad it’s damp here in Scotland. Peat needs a few centuries sitting in a bog to come out right. Then a breeze, and a wee bit of sun, to dry it. You burn it, with that delicious reek – the aroma – to dry the malted barley. Earth, wind and fire.

And be glad it’s cold here too. Whisky was being made in these hills for centuries before refrigeration. Cool water to condense the spirit. After all, if you’re going to leave liquid sitting around in wooden barrels for ten or more years, you don’t want it too warm. The evaporation – “the angels’ share” – is bad enough. Still, it makes the idea of “taking the air” in Speyside rather more appealing.

And if it weren’t cold and wet and damp, you wouldn’t appreciate being beside that roaring fire and feeling the taste for something to warm the cockles. Here’s a heavy glass for that dram, that measure. How much? More than a splash, not quite a full pour. Look at the colour of it: old gold. Taste it with your nose first; a whisky expert is called a “noser” rather than a “taster”. Single malts have all sorts of smells and subtleties and flavours: grass, biscuits, vanilla, some sweet dried fruit, a bit of peat smoke. Drinking it is just the final act.

Aye, with a wee splash of water. The spirit overpowers your tastebuds otherwise. A drop, to soften it, unlock the flavours. Not sacrilege – the secret. Water. Is it still raining? Let me pour you another.

Speyside’s Malt Whisky Trail (www.maltwhiskytrail.com) points you in the direction of seven working distilleries offering guided tours.

 

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Camping in the UK can be a gruelling affair, what with the high chance of rain and often low temperatures – not to mention the rocket science-like fiasco of constructing your nylon home for the night. So, we’ve teamed up with Forest Holidays to offer you a night off (actually, four nights off) to enjoy the freedoms of the forest without the effort.

From bike rides and pony trekking in Yorkshire to zip wires and walking trails in Cornwall, there’s so much to see and do in the UK’s beautiful countryside. If you want to win a four-night stay in a luxury forest cabin – complete with hot tub and panoramic forest view – at any one of the eight spectacular Forest Holidays sites in England and Scotland, follow the instructions below.

How to enter

For your chance to win, all you have to do is log in or sign up to the Rough Guides Community and write your answer to the question, “What is your worst camping disaster?”, posted here, in no more than 80 words.

The prize is for a four-night mid-week stay (Monday to Friday) for up to four people at any Forest Holidays location in the UK. The prize does not include travel costs, meals, spending money or any incidental expenses and it must be taken by 31 October 2014, excluding all school holidays and bank holidays (see Terms & Conditions for specific dates). All dates and locations are subject to availability. The winner will be chosen at random and will be notified by email by 31 December 2013. See a full list of Terms & Conditions here.

Special offer for Rough Guides readers: Save 10% on cabins at Forest Holidays for holidays in 2014. Simply quote ROUGH13 when booking at www.forestholidays.co.uk (0845 130 8223). Offer expires 31 December 2013. Forest Holidays’ timber and glass cabins come in a variety of sizes suitable for families, couples and groups of friends (from one to four bedrooms).

A remote mining town in Outback New South Wales, Broken Hill nestles up against the South Australian border, 1150km by road from Sydney. Visitors that make the effort to get here will discover a thriving art scene, eerie mine tours and some of Australia’s best desert vistas. Rough Guides writer Sara Chare explains why this town is top for Outback adventures.

There’s little doubt that Broken Hill is synonymous with mining – it’s been riding the minerals roller-coaster since 1888 when the area’s rich deposits of silver, lead and zinc first drew plucky prospectors to an unforgiving expanse of desert. Today the industry is still part of the town’s DNA: instead of enquiring how you slept over breakfast, here you may find your host asking “Did you feel the blast yesterday?”; a sign in the launderette reads “Mine clothes NOT to be washed in these machines” and streets are named after ore and minerals like iodide, cobalt and oxide.

Yet look beyond the giant slag heap in the centre of town and you’ll find a surprisingly attractive place: wide streets fringed by corrugated-iron buildings, Art Deco shops and heritage pubs with ornate iron balconies; trees and welcome patches of green providing a welcome contrast to the orange, arid surroundings. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover art galleries, a theatre and a cinematic heritage to rival most Australian cities. Not bad for a Outback outpost of 20,000 souls. So where to begin? Here are five essential “Back O’Bourke” experiences:

Tyres, Broken Hill, Australia

Break bread at Broken Earth

Affectionately known as the Line of Lode, Broken Hill’s slag heap has found a new lease of life as the home of the classy Broken Earth Restaurant, which offers sunset cocktails and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. There’s also a thought-provoking mining memorial here: a rusted-steel sculpture listing the names of the deceased and their cause of death – including cave-ins and falls – in chronological order.

Discover the Brushmen of the Bush

Inspired by the relative isolation and the desert landscapes that surround the town, artists have flocked to Broken Hill from elsewhere in Australia. Perhaps the best known gallery is that of Pro Hart, a miner who was born in Broken Hill and whose paintings of union leaders, miners and everyday life in the Outback made him justly famous. Visitors who pop in to The Silver City Art Centre & Mint, meanwhile, can try to imagine themselves stepping into The Big Picture, an impressive hundred-metre-long painting of local desert scenes.

Just north of town there’s more to please the eye at the Living Desert. This 24-square-kilometre site is split into two parts: the Flora & Fauna Sanctuary contains an Aboriginal quartz quarry, but the highlight is the striking Broken Hill Sculpture Park, perched on a hill above. The result of a sculpture symposium in 1993, each of the twelve sandstone carvings is by a different artist. The best time to visit is at sunset, when the rocks glow a warm red and there’s nothing for miles around to spoil the view.

Sculpture park, Broken Hill, Australia

Place your bets

Broken Hill always been a legendary drinking hole – it once had more than seventy hotels – and gambling has long been part of this culture. Come Friday night, boys from the bush flock to the Palace Hotel to play the traditional game of Two-up. Once an illegal back-lane gambling operation, the game sees two coins tossed under the watchful eye of the ringkeeper and bets laid on whether they fall heads or tails.

Go down under

Silverton, 25km away, makes an interesting side trip from Broken Hill. A variety of films and adverts have been shot in the area; the friendly local pub, The Silverton Hotel, displays entertaining photographs of cast and crew while movie-buffs can head to the Mad Max 2 museum. Nearby, the Day Dream Mine’s walk-in tours offer an unrivalled chance to experience life underground. Kitted out with a hardhat, head torch and heavy battery pack, visitors are taken down three levels of the mine and shown the seam of silver that the owner still works in his spare time.

Main road, Broken Hill, Australia

Strike out(back)

If you want to venture further afield, Broken Hill is an excellent base for day trips to see the Aboriginal rock art in Mutawintji National Park, the Menindee Lakes’ varied birdlife or the opal town of White Cliffs, where many locals live underground because of the extreme heat.

You can explore more of the Australian Outback with the Rough Guide to Australia. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Stretching north to south for 4270km and only 64km wide at its narrowest point, this land of ice and fire, periodically shaken by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, is one of the most geographically diverse on earth.

Most travellers fly into the capital of Santiago, roughly in the middle of the country, and head either towards the fjords, forests and mountains of the south, or the beaches, stargazing observatories and deserts of the north. To help structure your trip, here is our first-timer’s guide for things to do in Chile (see our map of these top sights here).

Around Santiago

The mountains around Santiago and Chillán, further south, in the foothills of the Andes, are prime skiing spots. Just an hour from the capital, you can ride the funiculars up the many hills of the historic port city of Valparaíso, or visit the excellent wineries of the Maipo and Casablanca valleys.

Santiago, Chile

Northern Chile and the Atacama Desert

North of Santiago, the arid Elqui Valley is the place to sample pisco (Chilean brandy) and gaze at the stars through powerful telescopes at the Cerro Mamalluca observatory – one of the most unforgettable things to do in Chile.

The Humboldt Current that keeps Chilean waters frigid provides an ideal environment for penguins at its namesake coastal reserve just off the mainland north of La Serena, and even further north, the teal-coloured waters of Bahía Inglesa could fool you into thinking that you’re in the Mediterranean.

The Nevado Tres Cruces National Park, reachable from the mining town of Copiapó, boasts Chile’s highest peak, Ojos del Salado (6893m) and the electric blue of high-altitude lagoons – Verde and Santa Rosa attract flocks of flamingos and roaming herds of guanacos and vicuñas.

Atacama salt flats

The adobe village of San Pedro de Atacama, at the heart of Chile’s vast northern desert, is the jumping-off spot for sand-boarding down dunes and visiting the otherworldly crimson landscapes of the Valley of the Moon, the Atacama salt flat, aquamarine high-altitude lagoons, and the El Tatio geysers with natural hot springs. Atacama’s clear skies also make the desert an ideal location for the world’s most powerful telescopes.

Heading north from there, seaside Iquique is one of South America’s top paragliding destinations; you run off the giant sand dune that backs the city.

From Iquique, the scenic route to the border town of Arica takes you past the Giant of Atacama petroglyph, the picture-perfect adobe church of Isluga, the vast dirty-white Surire salt flat – home to three flamingo species – and through the elevated Lauca National Park – all green meadows, snow-tipped volcanoes and peacefully grazing alpacas and vicuñas. Arica’s biggest attraction, the ancient Chinchorro mummies – some of the world’s oldest examples of artificially mummified remains – are found in a museum in the nearby Azapa valley.

The Lake District & Chiloe

Heading south of Santiago, you see the smoking snow-tipped cap of the Villarica volcano long before you arrive in Pucón – the Lake District’s activity centre for hiking, biking, rafting, horse-riding and the challenge of the all-day volcano climb. More technical climbs await on the volacnoes in Puerto Varas, further south – a supremely picturesque spot on the shores of Lago Llanquíhue.

The Río Petrohué attracts rafters and kayakers, and the Lake District’s flat, deserted roads, snaking around a profusion of crystalline lakes and waterfalls, is a paradise for cyclists.

Lake District, Chile

A short ferry hop across the channel from Puerto Montt takes you to South America’s second largest island: fog-shrouded Chiloé. Its biggest draws are the tiny villages, each sporting a unique wooden church; two wild national parks – Parque Nacional Chiloé and Pargué Tantauco – and birdwatching while kayaking at dawn in the sunken forest of Chepu Valley; or else checking out Magellanic and Humboldt penguins off the Puñihuil coast.

Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

South of the Lake District, northern Patagonia is a lush, untamed mass of forest, rivers, fjords and mountains, bisected by the infamous Carretera Austral (Southern Highway). At its north end is Pumalín Park, a virgin protected area; the southern half is good for hiking, whereas the north is only reachable by private boat. South of the park is Chaitén, a town half-destroyed by the volcanic eruption in 2008; from here a road leads east to Futaleufú, South America’s most challenging white-water rafting destination.

Pumalin Park Chile

The potholed dirt-and-gravel Carretera Austral is Chile’s biggest driving challenge. The road cuts through spectacular mountainous landscape before terminating by the glacial waters of the vast Lake O’Higgins, passing the unique boardwalk village of Caleta Tortel along the way. From Villa O’Higgins, the end of the line, there is a spectacular hike to Argentina’s El Chaltén that involves two river crossings.

Southern Patagonia – a land of vaqueros, mountains and huge swathes of scrubland, dotted with roaming guanacos and ñandú (ostriches), has two main towns: historic Punta Arenas, and the smaller Puerto Natales – gateway town to the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park. Natales is where hikers and climbers gather before and after their assault on the distinctive bell-shaped mountains, rock towers, glacial lakes and backcountry trails of Chile’s most popular natural attraction.

Chile, Torres del Paine National Park

Across the stormy Magellan Strait, and south of Tierra del Fuego – South America’s largest island and Chile’s southernmost settlement – is Navarino Island. Tiny Puerto Williams, a remarkably warm and hospitable community of king crab fishermen, nestles at the foot of the bare Dientes de Navarino mountain circuit. This is the continent’s most challenging multi-day hike, and the best place to organise yachting adventures to the ships’ graveyard of Cape Horn.Flying here gives you unparalleled views of the jagged southern Andes, while the a weekly ferry to Punta Arenas provides a close-up look at the most pristine of Chile’s fjords, where you’re likely to spot dolphins, penguins and the occasional whale.

The island territories

The country’s most far-flung territories include Easter Island, far out in the Pacific Ocean, home to a now extinct civilisation and the world-famous moai (stone statues). Closer to home is the Juan Fernández archipelago consisting of tiny islands; the main one, Robinson Crusoe Island, is famous for the castaway who inspired the eponymous novel. Inhabited by a couple dozen lobster-fishing families, it boasts incredible topography and endemic wildlife species such as the firecrown hummingbird.

Moai Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island

Getting around

Getting around Chile, from the far north down to the Lake District, is straightforward. There are two major bus companies: Tur Bus and Pullman, both of which run fleets of comfortable buses. You can choose between cama (bed), semi-cama (reclining seats) and regular seats. Fairly frequent minibuses ply the Carretera Austral, connecting the main town of Coyhaique with Chaiten and Futaleufú up north and as far south as Villa O’Higgins.

To reach Patagonia, you either have to take a bus via Argentina from either Pucón or Futaleufú, take the scenic four-day Navimag ferry cruise south through the fjords, or fly.

Travel in the Lake District, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego may also involve ferries. LAN and Sky Airline cover all major cities in Chile between them, flight-wise, though to reach Robinson Crusoe Island you’ll need to hop in a tiny six-seater Cessna from Santiago.

During the colder months, bus, plane and ferry services in the south are greatly reduced, whereas transport in the northern half of the country is generally unaffected. Inaccessible by public transport, the national parks of northern Chile are easiest done as part of an organised tour.

If you want to explore more of this small but exciting country, buy the Rough Guide to Chile. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. You can see the author’s photographs of her trip in Chile here.

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