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Here's the problem with adventuring in Chile: As one of the world's most geographically diverse countries, this super-thin South American adventure center suffers from a wealth of choices. Its desert's desolate grandeur gives way to the central heartland's lush valleys; translucent azure lakes and ancient forests in the southern mainland roll gently into Patagonia's deep glacial fjords. And all of it lies between a Pacific coastline that runs for nearly 3,000 miles and a parallel Andean mountain range that rises upwards of 20,000 feet in places. From the European-like center to the Antarctica-like south to enigmatic Easter Island, it's hard to believe Chile claims it all.

More surprising is that, after surviving years of authoritarian rule, this country is making a comeback, especially in the world of outdoor enjoyment. Increasing numbers of Chileans are outdoors-oriented, and many of the national parks have developed good infrastructure, including trail networks, campgrounds, and restaurants. Even better, adventure is never far away: Within an hour of bustling Santiago, you'll find wild mountain country perfect for hiking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and skiing. Travel farther and find Old West-type ghost towns, soaring volcanoes towering over grazing llamas, flamingos surrounding saline lakes, and enormous glaciers hosting thousands of penguins.

Don't stop there. On the southern mainland, rafters and kayakers roar down raging rivers, while climbers and hikers relax in volcanic hot springs after the day's exertions. And Patagonia's lengthy coastline, a scenic treat comparable to Alaska's Inside Passage, leads to the sheer granite spires of world-famous Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.

With so many choices, picking Chile's best adventures is a tough call. Dividing them into mainstream and off the beaten path categories is even more difficult because most of the country is off the beaten path.

More and more, however, Chile is moving onto the adventure traveler's list of must-sees. So before the secret gets out, grab your sense of adventure and hold on—Chile can be a wild ride.

Article © Wayne Bernhardson, 2000


About the Author: Known in South America as "the gringo who knows Chile best," Wayne Bernhardson has authored several Lonely Planet guidebooks on Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. He lives in Oakland, California, and holds a PhD in geography from the University of California, Berkeley. He speaks fluent Spanish, less fluent German, serviceable Portuguese, and desperation French.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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