Comprising a long, narrow strip of land along the Pacific coastline of South America, Chile is a land of superlatives just crying out to be visited. The thinnest nation in the world, with an average width of only 110 miles, Chile contains both the world’s driest desert and the largest swimming pool. That should give you an idea of the sort of contrasts you can expect.
Chile’s wild, windswept landscapes have inspired artists, poets and travel writers for generations. Although it’s starting to attract more visitors, there will still be plenty of times when you get to enjoy an amazing vista that’s entirely free of other people. Parts of Chile can feel like the ends of the Earth, and in some ways, they are: Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America, is as rugged and wave-washed as it was when the first explorers attempted to sail around it.
Patagonia’s wild spaces inspired Bruce Chatwin’s finest writing, which in turn put Patagonia on the map for armchair explorers and anyone who loves to feel free – and feel the wind in their hair.
There’s an otherworldly feel to the Atacama Desert, too. This is a place so dry that some of the official weather stations there have never recorded a single drop of rain, and the entire region receives just half an inch of precipitation annually. You can leave your umbrella at home, and instead enjoy landscapes (and stargazing) so uncannily Martian that you half-expect to see Matt Damon in his spacesuit.
For adventure sports fans, Chile offers both excellent breaks for surfing and great skiing, with some of the best runs featuring volcanic peaks and craters rather than the more usual pine trees. It is, however, Chile’s rugged, mountainous terrain that will make the greatest impression on you – especially the jagged, snowy peaks of Torres del Paine National Park.
Once you’ve had your fill of dramatic natural scenery, return to the coastal town of Valparaiso to enjoy the colourful clifftop houses and vertiginous funiculars. Or, for the ultimate adventure, board a flight or cruise ship for Easter Island (Rapa Nui), some 2 000 miles to the west. This island, administered by Chile, is famous for its stern-faced stone statues, or moai, which have captivated and intrigued visitors for centuries.