Chile’s unique landscape—situated between the endless Pacific coastline and the towering Andes Mountains—fill this South American country with major bucket-list items worth checking off! About 17.3 million people live in this beautiful and diverse nation, with the bustling capital of Santiago home to about six million. Whether you’re learning the Cueca (the national dance), climbing a massive volcano overlooking a bright blue lake, or kicking around at the locals’ fútbol game, Chile provides endless options for cultural and outdoor activity. Through a history of mixing of European colonization and indigenous people, this part of South America has a unique culture, language, and landscape that's all its own.
Bordering Peru and characterized by the Atacama Desert, the Norte Grande (far north) of Chile is best known for its extreme climates. The Atacama Desert, a plateau that runs east from the Andes, is so arid that it’s known as the “driest place on earth” – most of it receives barely an inch of rain per year, and some places haven’t seen a drop for centuries. Besides its reputation for dryness, the Norte Grande also boasts spectacular scenery like salt flats, geysers, volcanoes, and coastal bluffs. Many types of vegetation and animals grow and thrive north of the Atacama near the Loa River and surrounding valley. Chile’s most precious copper, nitrate, and silver deposits and mines are also found in Norte Grande and worth seeing, especially the Chuquicamata, which is the biggest open-pit copper mine in the world. Antofagasta, the largest city in this region, has incredible coastal views and an economy based on the port activity and minerals found nearby.
Just south of the Norte Grande region is Norte Chico (the near north), which stretches from the southern border of the Atacama to just above the capital city of Santiago. Home to Chile’s highest peak, a stratovolcano named Ojos del Salado, as well as Laguna Verde (its ultra-famous lake), this region is mountainous and has distinct valley ranges that run all the way from the Andes to the Pacific Coast. The climate is a bit more forgiving than its northern neighbor, with moderate temperatures and more rainfall. The Elqui Valley is the most famous part of the Norte Chico, ideal for cattle-raising and growing fruit, and almost all Pisco (the ubiquitous and delicious Chilean brandy) is grown here. On the western coast, high bluffs that overlook the Pacific form more distinct microclimates, and La Serena is popularly for its beautiful beaches.
Known as the “heartland” of Chile with the largest urban areas and rich agricultural resources, the Zona Central is a beautiful and diverse region to visit. Home to the Central Valley (located between the Andes to the east and the coastal mountain ranges west), this area has a fertile Mediterranean climate ideal for growing fresh fruits, grapes for wine, and other agricultural exports. There’s great alpine skiing in the Andes due to higher precipitation, and there are also lush old-growth forests and national parks to the south. Four incredible urban areas call the Zona Central home: the capital of Santiago, the populous Concepción, and the colorful coastal cities of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. The Zona Central holds about two-thirds of the country’s population, and for good reason!
Reaching from the waters of the Río Bío-Bío in the north to the Isla de Chiloé in the south, the Zona Sur is known as the “lake district” of Chile. With the rugged backdrop of the Andes mountains to the west, there are numerous turquoise lakes that spot the horizon amidst snow-covered volcanoes and green farmlands. Adrenaline-pumping adventure sport meccas beckon tourists from all over the world to the Zona Sur with tons of hiking, kayaking, volcano-scaling, and snowboarding options abound. Pucón and Puerto Varas are known for their sports-centric audiences, while Temuco, Valdivia, and Osorno hold most of the region’s population.
Perhaps the most spectacular yet extreme part of Chile, the Zona Austral offers a variety of landscapes all the way from the glaciers of Patagonia down to Punta Arenas, the largest and southernmost city on the planet. Much of the Zona Austral is not properly explored, providing exciting and untouched landscape for thousands of miles. The gorgeous granite peaks of Torres del Paine National Park are rightfully a well-known destination in this region of the Chilean Patagonia bordering Argentina, and a series of snow-capped mountains and volcanoes lead down to the coastline. Thousands of islands surround the coast off of Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego, including the well-known Cape Horn and Diego Ramírez.
Whether you're braving the heat of the sprawling Atacama Desert in the north or hitting the Andes for some world-class skiing and snowboarding in the south, the diverse and stunning country of Chile offers something for people of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy. With the popularity of outdoor sporting options and a rich, diverse language and culture, find out for yourself why this country is quickly becoming a top tourist destination with a stay in one of our Chile vacation rentals!
Photo credit: Pablo Rogat via Shutterstock
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