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For Australians seeking a taste of adventure and wishing to stay in the Southern Hemisphere, look no further than Chile. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the towering Andes Mountains, Chile offers a wide range of stunning natural landscapes and opportunities for outdoor exploration whether you’re making your way through the Atacama Desert or Chilean Patagonia fjords.

Chile should be at the top of every Aussie traveller’s bucket list, and with direct flights back on the cards from Melbourne or Sydney to Santiago, it’s never been easier or quicker to enjoy a Chilean holiday.

Of course, with Chile offering a diverse range of outdoor adventure activities such as hiking, winter skiing, and water sports, it’s wise to consider travel insurance with coverage for adventure and winter sports.

Natural beauty and outdoor adventure

Chile is known for its variety of breathtaking natural landscapes, stretching from the otherworldly Atacama Desert in the north, known as the driest desert in the world, to the rugged glaciers and mountains of Patagonia in the south. In the heart of Chile, you'll find lush vineyards blanketing the Central Valley, while the Lake District offers a picturesque scene of tranquil lakes and magnificent volcanoes. Along its extensive coastline, Chile boasts a wealth of beautiful beaches that rival those of Australia.

For outdoor adventure seekers, Chile is a paradise. You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy trekking, mountaineering in the Andes, skiing and snowboarding in the winter resorts, surfing along the Pacific coast, kayaking through scenic fjords, and even stargazing the Atacama Desert’s clear skies.

A great way to see this varied country and its many landscapes is to plan a Chilean road trip. You’ll need to adapt to driving on the right side, but the reward is worth it. Hit the Carretera Austral in Patagonia for some truly jaw-dropping scenery, cruise the Pan-American Highway for coastal views, or drive along the Ruta del Vino, where vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see.

Uncovering the magic of Patagonia

Patagonia covers regions in both Chile and Argentina, yet exploring the Chilean side offers many perks. Access to Patagonian national parks, such as Torres del Paine National Park, is typically more straightforward in Chile. Unlike some areas of Patagonia in Argentina that can get crowded in peak season, the Chilean side offers a peaceful and intimate experience.

Chilean Patagonia also generally offers better infrastructure and services for travellers, including well-maintained roads, a wider range of accommodation options ranging from basic campsites to luxury lodges, and a wealth of tour operators.

Chile is home to Torres del Paine National Park, one of Patagonia’s most iconic destinations which can easily be accessed from the town of Puerto Natales. The park is known for its towering granite peaks, turquoise lakes, and impressive glaciers. A network of well-maintained trails that include famous hikes such as the W and O Circuits will lead you to numerous viewpoints, valleys, and notable landmarks like the Cuernos del Paine and the Torres del Paine towers.

Witness the massive Grey Glacier, which extends into Grey Lake within the park. You can book a cruise or boat tour through the intricate network of fjords along the coast, passing by rugged cliffs, waterfalls, and likely a wealth of wildlife.

Be sure to visit Magdalena Island which is home to a large Magellanic penguin colony. Simply arrange a boat trip from Punta Arenas and walk along eco-friendly pathways to see the penguins up close and personal in their natural habitat.

One of the largest and most remote national parks in Patagonia is Bernardo O'Higgins National Park. Its isolation, with no road access and primarily accessible via boat from nearby towns such as Puerto Natales and Puerto Edén, adds to its allure.

The park is home to the O'Higgins Glacier, the largest glacier in South America outside of Antarctica. In addition to this icy spectacle, the park serves as a sanctuary to a variety of wildlife species, including marine mammals such as seals, dolphins, and occasional sightings of whales.

Atacama Desert

Located in northern Chile, the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth. It’s an otherworldly landscape of salt flats, sand dunes, volcanoes, geysers, and lunar-like valleys. Get lost in the magic of the Valley of the Moon, Death Valley, and El Tatio Geysers.

Besides simply being notably dry, the Atacama Desert is also one of the best places in the world for stargazing, thanks to its high altitude, clear skies, and minimal light pollution. Several observatories and stargazing tours will allow you to get a view of stars and distant planets like never before.

You‘ll also be spoilt for choice when it comes to outdoor adventures. Go hiking in the desert canyons in search of ancient petroglyphs left by indigenous cultures, sandboard down the dunes, mountain bike along scenic trails, or simply relax in the natural hot springs of Puritama.

Lake District

It should come as no surprise that Chile's Lake District or “Los Lagos" is known for its pristine lakes, but the region is also home to snow-capped volcanoes and lush forests. Chile's Lake District encompasses several regions in southern Chile, including Araucanía, Los Ríos, and Los Lagos.

Each lake within the Lake District has its own unique charm, the most famous being Lake Llanquihue, which is Chile's second-largest lake. It offers splendid views of the Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. Meanwhile, Lake Todos los Santos has beautiful emerald-green waters, and hot springs can be found at Lake Puyehue.

Among the popular national parks in the region are Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park, Chile's oldest national park, and the ancient Araucaria forests of Huerquehue National Park. The Lake District is an outdoor adventure paradise, offering plenty of hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and even skiing and snowboarding at ski resorts like Volcán Osorno and Antillanca.

Andean ski resorts

Chile is home to several world-class ski resorts located in the Andes Mountains, which provide exceptional skiing and snowboarding experiences during the winter months. Like here in Australia, Chile’s winter ski season runs from June to September.

Chile’s snow quality is often excellent, with dry powder snow providing ideal conditions. The ski resorts here also offer modern facilities and amenities, including well-groomed slopes, high-speed chairlifts, ski schools, and equipment rentals. For those seeking even more adventure, Chile offers opportunities for off-piste and backcountry skiing.

Located about 2 hours from Santiago, Portillo is one of Chile's most iconic ski resorts. The resort's famous "Roca Jack" run is always a popular choice due to its steep slopes and views of Laguna del Inca. Valle Nevado is one of Chile's largest and most modern ski resorts, always offering excellent snow conditions and over 7,000 acres of skiable terrain, including groomed slopes, powder bowls, and challenging off-piste runs.

Near Valle Nevado is La Parva, yet another popular ski resort in the Andes Mountains. Known for its family-friendly atmosphere and diverse terrain, La Parva offers slopes for skiers and snowboarders of all ages and abilities.

Wildlife of Chile

Thanks to a wide range of habitats including the towering Andes, deserts, and extensive coastline, it should not be surprising that there are also all kinds of fascinating animals to see. Picture this, from a flock of flamingos to a giant humpback whale breaching and tail-slapping off Chiloé Island and the Aysén Region, the wildlife is as diverse as Chile’s landscapes.

Look up and you might be lucky enough to spot an Andean condor or two, one of the largest flying birds in the world, soaring high above the Andes Mountains. These majestic creatures, symbols of Chilean pride, can often be seen in areas such as Torres del Paine National Park, Lauca National Park, and the Colchagua Valley.

On the ground, guanacos, the wild relatives of the llama, roam the grasslands and scrublands of Patagonia, particularly in Torres del Paine National Park. The country is also home to South American marine otters, pumas, Andean Mountain cats, and the endemic Darwin's fox, which can be found in the temperate rainforests of Chiloé Island.

Chile's coastal waters are teeming with marine life, with seals, sea lions, dolphins, and various seabirds. The Magellanic penguin colony of Magdalena Island is a must-visit, and the Humboldt Current Marine Reserve and the Juan Fernández Archipelago offer wildlife tours.

So, pack your bags, consider a travel insurance policy, and let Chile inspire your next adventure.

Safe travels!