A sliver of a country that somehow manages to encompass barren desert, knife-edge mountains and fertile river valleys, Chile has long attracted intrepid travellers. And for 2018 the country is taking things up a notch.
Adding to the enduring appeal of its internationally acclaimed vineyards, famously clear night skies and adventure-ready landscapes, this year brings festivals, a burgeoning culinary scene and the chance to explore the new Route of Parks.
As one of our top travel destinations for the year, here’s why Chile should be firmly on your travel bucket list.
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.
5. Because South America’s top adventure destination won’t disappoint
Awarded in 2017 the accolade of the world’s leading adventure tourism destination for the second year running, Chile looks set to continue offering once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences. One of the best thrills is an ascent of one of Chile’s 3000 or so volcanoes – many of which are still active.
Volcán Villarrica near Pucón is easily the most popular, with a lava-filled crater and slopes thick with snow. To take things up a notch (well, 300m to be precise), shun the crowds and pitch a tent on the deserted summit of Volcán Llaima, Chile’s most active stratovolcano, where panoramic views span landscapes of black lava flows and ancient, umbrella-shaped araucaría trees in Parque Nacional Conguillío.
To escape even further, fly to tiny Easter Island – one of the most remote places on Earth – where solemn stone maoi line its picturesque coasts and have also been discovered on the seabed at Las Áncoras reef. Take to the crystalline waters with a scuba-diving tour for a glimpse of these statues, as well as to catch snatches of song from migrating blue and humpback whales.