Long, narrow Chile stretches from the Tropic of Capricorn almost to the Southern (Antarctic) Ocean. It is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the sublime, snow-covered Cordillera of the Andes. Its environments are as diverse as the northern, Atacama Desert, the world’s driest desert, and the awe-inspiring lonely southern mountain landscapes of Patagonia. The high Atacama Desert is a 1,200-km expanse of dunes, plains, high peaks, and active volcanoes. It includes Moon Valley in the Salt Mountain Range, the ancient village of Tocanao, Atacama Salt Flat and the Chaxa Lagoon with its famous flamingos. In the deep south is Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park. This is a wilderness of scrubland, ridges, rivers, lakes and lagoons. There are the eponymous torres (towers) of the Paine Massif Lago Grey with its icebergs. Here also is Chile’s southern Lake District, in which the magnificent Parque Nacional Villarrica features both lakes and three volcanoes.
Chile’s rugged Pacific coastline stretches between these northern and southern extremes. Inland, there abound historic villages and old Spanish fortresses, and the vibrant cities of Santiago, Valdivia and ‘madly’ multi-coloured Valparaiso. Santiago’s great Museum of Pre-Columbian Art displays the rich cultural history of Central and South America. Elsewhere, in San Pedro de Atacama, the Padre Le Paige Archaeological Museum explores the ancient cultures of the Atacama region.
Chile’s famous author Isabel Allende describes the country as … “a nation of dramatic topography and diverse climates, studded with capricious obstacles and shaken by the sighs of hundreds of volcanoes, a geological miracle between the heights of the cordillera and the depths of the sea, is unified top to tail by the obstinate sense of nationhood of its inhabitants.”
Chile’s many different environments harbour an extraordinarily diverse flora that has been exploited for 400 years in manicured landscapes laid out by gardeners from Chile, Spain, Germany, England and France. This tradition is being built on by highly original contemporary gardeners. This feast of the eyes is complimented by fascinating artists’ markets.