1. Its capital has a buzzing culinary and cultural scene
For years Santiago was seen by many travellers as merely a place for flight connections. Now, the city has bloomed into one of the continent’s most modern and vibrant capitals.
Awakening from a slumber, Santiago's dining scene is proving that the food alone merits stopping by, with contemporary Chilean dining spearheaded by Boragó, the fifth best restaurant in South America. Trendy sangucherías (old-school sandwich shops), such as Capicuá in the Providencia neighbourhood, are also leading the pack in rebooting Chile’s most humble cuisine: expect king crab or goat meat sandwiches that draw on culinary traditions from across the country.
2018 is also set to establish the city’s cultural credentials, with the 25th anniversary of Santiago a Mil, a festival of theatre and dance that will run until January 21. This festival will bring together acts from across the globe performing in venues and in the streets, touching upon subjects ranging from the childhood of acclaimed Chilean composer, Violeta Parra, to life in refugee camps around the world.
2. Now there’s even more wilderness to explore
Patagonia and its spectacular wind-scarred lands are held in veneration by many hikers – and for good reason. 2018 is when the focus will shift from the glacier and granite-riddled Parque Nacional Torres del Paine to the newly created Route of Parks, a string of seventeen national parks that runs from Tierra del Fuego in the south to the tip of the Carretera Austral in the north.
This year make sure you head to Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo, where multiday trails thread through wild forests and snow-crowned mountains – you can expect to see few, if any, other tourists here. Also don’t miss the 10,000-year-old cave paintings at the Paredón de las Manos.
3. You can sample top-notch tipples
Argentina has long been crowned South America’s finest wine producing country, but across the Andes, its neighbour has spent the past few years quietly pocketing prestigious wine awards. What’s more, many of the best producers are practically within spitting distance of Santiago.
One winery not to miss is award-winning Casa Marin, whose cool coast whites grow just four miles from the ocean in the San Antonio Valley. Like many of Chile’s producers, they’ve gone beyond the conventional tour and have an on-site wine bar where they've paired their best wines with gourmet Chilean food.
To visit, rent a taxi for the day from Santiago or go the whole, luxurious hog with a tour with Liz Caskey, a sommelier who’ll get you into even the most exclusive vineyards – many of which aren’t open to the public.
4. It’s home to the clearest night skies in the world
Thanks to a fortuitous mix of high altitude, aridity and low light pollution, Chile’s Atacama Desert has two-hundred cloudless nights a year and stellar conditions for stargazing.
San Pedro de Atacama is a popular starting point, with agencies transporting you out into the desert for an astronomy tour and crash course in the southern skies, where powerful telescopes magnify even the faintest glint of light.
If that’s not enough to satiate your thirst for the night sky, hire a campervan with Soulvans to head out miles from civilisation and sleep beneath the stars. You can also ogle state-of-the-art technology at ALMA Observatory, the largest, most powerful astronomical project in existence.