If you ever wonder about places to visit in Chile, here is a great starting point to plan your vacation.
Certainly, for a country that has just about every imaginable landscape, from the eternal ice of the Southern region to the vast desert of the Big North, the list of attractions is almost endless and you may end up feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of them.
However, you don't have to worry about making decisions, Chilians themselves have done it for you and managed to select the top seven wonders the country has in store.
In August 2010, El Mercurio newspaper's Sunday Magazine invited readers to place their online vote out of a list of thirty sights and attractions previously selected by a panel of experts. After over 40,000 entries the list of winners was published in September 2010, so here we go, let's review the top...
Places to visit in Chile
#1.- Torres del Paine: (Torres del Paine Nat. Park)
Torres del Paine is Chile's most spectacular national park and one of the most stunning and diverse of South America. With heights up to 9,000 feet, takes its name from the three distinctive granite towers (torres) that, together with the horns (cuernos), raise above the Patagonia steppe in a majestic setting within the park.
The region is known as Chilean Patagonia, composed by two sub-regions: Aisen and Magallanes (Chile's XII Region) where the park is located and nature explodes in a concert of mountains, glaciers, islands and icebergs, marking the end of the South American continent.
One of the most inaccessible, unique, uncontaminated and beautiful places in the world, Torres del Paine is a must-go destination, ideal for hikers, climbers, adventure sports oriented and nature lovers in general. Read more about Torres del Paine National Park...
This small triangular-shaped island is - apart from being the most isolated and inhabited island in the world - home to gigantic moai statues carved from volcanic rock that have not ceased to amaze scientists and visitors alike throughout the times.
It is presumed that human presence began circa 700-1100 C.E. coming from the Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia), later to be discovered by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen on Easter sunday of 1722, who named it Paasch-Eyland: Easter Island.
Apparently, early settlers called themselves the Rapa Nui, meaning "hospitable" or "peace-loving people". The island was named Te Pito o Te Henua by king Hotu Matua. Matua is a Polynesian word for "ancestor".
It is roughly located half way between Tahiti and Chile - 2,337 miles (3,600 km) to the west of Chile to be precise. It was annexed by the Chilean Government in 1888 and placed under the jurisdiction of Valparaíso. Read more about Easter Island...
#3.- Campos de Hielo Norte y Sur: (Northern and Southern Ice Fields)
Ice fields are formed by a large accumulation of snow which, through years of compression and freezing, turns into ice. Straddling the Andes at an altitude of around 1,500 meters, there are two main ice fields in South America, on the border between Chile and Argentina, the Northern Patagonian Ice Field and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.
The Northern Ice Field falls entirely within Chile's Aysen Region, covering a surface of 4,200 km2 and extends for nearly 200km. Ice thickness reaches 1,400 meters. The Southern Ice Field - shared by Chile and Argentina - is even bigger, with a surface of around 13,000 km2. It is over 350 km long, with an average width of 40 km. Ice thickness are also greater than 1,000 meters.
#4.- San Pedro de Atacama: (Atacama Desert)
The bone-dry Atacama desert is part of the Antofagasta region in Chile's Big North (Norte Grande), in the Chilean Altiplano. So dry, that in some areas rainfall has never been recorder, for as long as humans have measured it.
Of ravishing beauty, Atacama desert is an area with unique geological diversity that attracts tourists and researchers all year round, making it also the most ideal location for Astronomical research as well.
Largest geyser field in the Southern Hemisphere and ranking 3rd on a global scale, Del Tatio geysers are located at 4,320 a.s.l. in the Big North (Norte Grande) region of Chile's Atacama desert, around 95km from the village of San Pedro de Atacama.
Best time of the day to appreciate this geothermal activity is at sunrise, when the geysers’ steam condenses against the cold morning air producing an amazing sight. It is also possible to bathe in the hot geyser water in a small pool, however, check first with the tour guide about safe places to bathe.
This tour is a must-visit, particularly if you are exploring Atacama desert. You'll be up early - around 3.30am - just make sure to bring your warmest clothing (it's bitterly cold up there) and dress in layers because at the time of descent you'll start feeling very hot.
Chiloé island is South America's second largest after Tierra del Fuego (Argentina). Located off the coast of Central Chile, it was discovered by the Spaniards in 1533.
The evangelization of natives was initially carried out by the Mercedarians (Order of Our Lady of Mercy) and later by the Jesuits, who took over until 1767, when they were expelled from the continent by a royal edict.
The jesuits organized a system of itinerant missions, building chapels in different parts of the archipelago between XVII and XVIII centuries. Each of them was made almost entirely using local timber (larch, coihue and cypres) and capable of enduring the humid and rainy oceanic climate.
This unique fusion between Indian's craftmanship and European culture created a particular style or typology known as Chilota School of Religious Architecture on Wood.
Those churches represent today the most significant group of wooden structures in all of Latin America. In the year 2000, UNESCO inscribed sixteen of them in the World Heritage List
#7.- Conguillío:(Conguillío National Park)
In the Araucanía Region of Southern Chile, Conguillío national park has an extension of nearly 61,000 ha, comprising the provinces of Cautín and Malleco. It's located 120 km East of the city of Temuco and can be accessed via Vilcún and Cherquenco (the shortest way), via Curacautín (120km) and via Melipeuco (also 120km).
Conguillío - its name comes from Mapudungun (Mapuche language) and means "water with pine kernels" - was created in 1950. Together with The Bío Bío National Reserve it was declared Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1983, conforming what is known as Araucarias Biosphere Reserve. In fact, ancient araucarias forests (also known as Los Paraguas -"the umbrellas" - for their shape) are major park's attractions.
Other attractions include several lakes and lagoons of volcanic origin such as Laguna Conguillío, Laguna Arco Iris and Laguna Verde and the impressive Volcán Llaima, whose last eruption occurred in 2008, but it started in 1640. Since then, 37 eruptions were registered, which makes it one of the most active volcanoes in the country. Best time to visit is November to March, however, it's open all year round.