|Subject: Re: Chile|
I think you will be very pleased with a visit to Chile. Our visit in 2001 was spectacular with the result that we plan on returning a number of times in the future. Our first visit focused on southern Chile; Patagonian Chile, Chíloe island, the Lake District, and ultimately our exit point in Santiago. We'll be headed back to see the beaches and the wine-producing region in the future. Therefore I can't give any recommendations on those two subjects.
Remember that southern Chile is a vast distance from Santiago. Domestic air travel will be necessary if you plan on visiting that region. We entered Chile by bus from Argentina disembarking in Puerto Natales. Here we picked up a rental car which we drove into the Torres del Paine National Park for a couple of days. This is an absolutely spectacular park, glaciers and the beautiful mountains they've sculpted over the eons. Wildlife to be seen includes lots of guanacos, rheas, maras (Patagonian hare), Andean condors, eagles, parrots, and foxes. After leaving Torres del Paine we headed south to Punta Arenas where we spent the night before catching our two-hour flight north to Puerto Montt. There are penguin populations which can be visited from Punta Arenas. Additionally, Punta Arenas is the entry point for Tierra del Fuego.
Puerto Montt is the entry point for the island of Chíloe to the south and the Lake District to the north. We picked up a car at the airport, spent the afternoon in Puerto Montt before heading on the ferry over to Chíloe. Puerto Montt and Chíloe are renowned for their wonderful seafood, especially the shellfish. Chíloe has an interesting subculture steeped in mythology due to its being isolated from mainland Chile. In many respects Chíloe reminded us of Nova Scotia. The weather beaten wooden architecture and the seaside setting could just as well of been the Northern Atlantic instead of the southern Pacific. We also enjoyed a few hikes while on the island. On the ferry back to Puerto Montt we were surprised to see a couple of penguins swimming along in the boat's wake.
North of Puerto Montt, the Lake District extends for several hundred kilometers smack up against the Andes to the east. Puerto Varas is the gateway to the first of the lakes, Lago Llanquihue which is bookended by the looming presence of the volcanoes Calbuco and Osorno. This whole region is very similar to the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. But the series of volcanoes running north and south have names like Llaima, Villarrica, Osorno, and Calbuco instead of Rainier, Hood, Baker, and St. Helens. Beautiful lakes are divided by rolling pastureland. Ample rainfall assures an emerald green landscape year around. This region was settled by German immigrants who were kind enough to bring along their brewing and pastry-making skills. A delightful detour from the lakes is the city of Valdivia out towards the coast. Situated on two rivers and the home of a major university, a visitor to Valdivia might be in for a shock to see rowing crews plying the river in the late afternoon as if they were strolling along the Charles River in Boston. Just a few miles out to the coast sits the beautiful town of Niebla overlooking the steep headlands where the rivers meet the Pacific. This strategic location is the home of several Spanish forts with their 17th century cannons guarding the entry to the rivermouth. On the sunny day we visited we were able to spy a number of dolphins cruising up the river oblivious to the silent cannons hundreds of feet above them on the cliffs.
Our passage through the wine country was done on an overnight train from Temuco to Santiago. So, we slept through the vineyards of Chile. Those will have to wait for another visit. Santiago is a bustling metropolis with the normal pluses and minuses. Great restaurants and air pollution. Fun shopping and too many people. Intriguing museums and noisy streets. Still, definitely worth a couple of days of sightseeing.
A search of the archives should pull up a number of posts relating to Chile.
John in San Diego