Explore Chile's Desert, Mountains, and Lakes

My name is Jamie and I’m in love with Chile. There I said it! I am a safari specialist in love with Chile, and here's why....

I’ve done my fair share of travel around the world, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that the guide books and ‘Top 10’ lists often value man-made marvels more than natural ones. But like Africa, it is the natural marvels that make Chile so special and impossibly multidimensional. If you loved your safari (or just the idea of a safari) definitely add Chile to your bucket list.

Sun shining through a tree at Eco Camp, Torres del PaineEco-Camp, Torres del Paine

Chile has it all really-the Martian desert landscapes of the Atacama Desert (hello, Namibia), a ski-lover’s paradise in Portillo, the fertile wine regions of the Colchagua Valley (Cape Winelands, anyone?), mysterious moai of Easter Island, and of course the magnificent mastifs of Torres Del Paine in Chilean Patagonia (Mt. Kenya meets Zambian walking safari) where the craggy mountains tower over tourmaline-hued glaciers sliding into aqua lakes. These dramatically different regions and landscapes are one of the things that make Chile such a special destination.

A beautiful view from Eco Camp, Torres del PaineEco-Camp, Torres del Paine

Another thing to love about Chile and which is important for any safari-lover, are the luxurious yet unique properties throughout the country which offer an enormous range of activities. Properties like Awasi Atacama in the Atacama Desert, where in 3-5 nights you can do everything from walking, to sandboarding, to horseback and bike rides, to visiting hidden lagoons and hot springs, to exploring local villages, to star-gazing. There are several stunning properties in Atacama including Alto Atacama, Tierra Atacama and Explora Atacama but I really love Awasi because it is the smallest property in the area and offers all of its activities on a private basis, giving you a vehicle and local guide all to yourself.

Desert landscapes in the Atacama DesertAwasi Atacama, Atacama Desert

Cycling through the Atacama DesertAwasi Atacama, Atacama Desert

Of course for many people a visit to Patagonia is the big draw of a trip to Chile and let me tell you, you will not be disappointed! The setting is absolutely stunning and the hiking is second to none. Trekking and horseback riding around the park is the best way to spot the growing puma population, grey fox, or endangered South Andean deer, but even driving will afford you guanaco or condor sightings.

Mountain lion in Torres del PaineTierra Patagonia, Torres del Paine

Eco-Camp, Awasi, Tierra and Explora all have properties in Patagonia as well. I love that Awasi is in an enormous private area just outside Torres Del Paine National Park (important in an area that can get crowded) and Tierra Patagonia is visually stunning. All offer fully inclusive activities such as horseback riding, trekking and drives. For foodies, a night at The Singular Patagonia in Puerto Natales (outside the park) offers a gourmet entre to Patagonia and boat trip that offers an entirely unique glacier viewing experience to anything you'll do inside the park. It's one of our favorite secrets, but one that is starting to leak out!

Lakes in Chilean PatagoniaAwasi Patagonia, Torres del Paine

Bedroom view from Tierra PatagoniaTierra Patagonia, Torres del Paine

A few days in the Lake District is the perfect way to end a trip to Chile or break up the distance between the Atacama and Patagonia. The area is beautiful and lush and still fairly untravelled. In addition to delicious food and wine, the Lake District offers a lot of hiking that is less rigorous than trekking in Torres del Paine, a great way to spend a day for travelers of all fitness levels. At a property like Vira Vira which is near Pucon, you can also get a sense of Chile's indigenous culture that's not often seen in southern South America.

Lake District viewsHotel Vira Vira, Lake District

Local people of the Lake DistrictHotel Vira Vira, Lake District

I particularly loved Vira Vira because it is an intimate, boutique property on an active, self-sufficient farm. You can do everything from making cheese and jams picked from the Farm's fruit trees to hiking, biking, kayaking, water sports, and fishing!

Fishing in the Lake DistrictHotel Vira Vira, Lake District

Like many, I tried to squeeze it all into one trip only to realize that I just scratched the surface of it all (and I was there for 2 weeks!). Much like Africa, Chile is the perfect destination to dig into a couple of places for 3 or 4 days at a time – to get a good taste of the area (even longer if you have the time) while still having plenty to do. Combine that with a cruise through the glaciers and around Cape Horn, or some trekking around Torres del Paine, or stargazing in the painted desert, or exploring the enigmatic Easter Island, or the bucolic and untouched island of Chiloe, and a couple of nights in the port town of Valparaiso or Colchagua Valley and you’ll return home with a stir in your soul rather than boxes checked in a guidebook.

Enjoying the view in Torres del PaineAwasi Patagonia, Torres Del Paine

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Elizabeth Gordon