Chile is a long, narrow country that extends from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean on the southwest side of South America, from latitude 17° 30' S in the Altiplano to 56° 30' S at the far end of continental Chile and 90° S in its Antarctic territory.
Chile has a unique geography: its territory includes Easter Island, 3,700 km from the mainland, as well as territory in Antarctica (Chile Antártico, 1,250,000 km2). Continental and insular Chile, which includes the mainland and offshore islands and archipelagos, covers 756,096 km2. Chile's main territory is twice the size of Germany and consists of a strip of land 4,200 km long and 90 to 440 km wide. In the far south, the land is transacted by hundreds of islands and fiords.
Chile's extraordinary variety of natural wonders includes the driest desert in the world, the altiplano, lakes and volcanoes and southern canals and glaciers. It's a country of contrasting and overwhelming landscapes, where contact with nature is guaranteed and it's still possible to find unexplored areas.
This narrow territory has over 4,000 km of coastline and beaches for all tastes. Chile is home to all of the climates of the world save for one (humid tropical), which has allowed for the development of multiple natural landscapes. The northern area is arid and cold at high altitudes. It also receives brief bouts of precipitation that allow plant life to bloom in the desert. The central area is temperate and warm, perfect for wine producing. In southern Chile, the landscape becomes rainy, lush and rural, and the temperate jungle begins. Southern Patagonia is marked by intense cold and strong winds as well as fjords, lakes and raging rivers. The variety is completed by the archipelago of Chiloé, the pristine Juan Fernández (Robinson Crusoe) Islands, and magical Easter Island (Rapa Nui) with its warm subtropical climate.
"Ethnic tourism" is a great way to discover and learn about a country's native cultures. In Chile's altiplano, inland from Arica, Iquique and Antofagasta, you can explore small towns where the inhabitants still practice the traditions of the Aymara culture (including colourful celebrations). Their daily life is a product of this culture's contact with the Incans and the Spanish conquistadors. You'll marvel at the area's churches, museums and archaeological sites where you can learn more about pre-Columbian cultures.
Easter Island offers an opportunity to view the mysterious Moai statues and have direct contact with the Rapa Nui culture, which you can experience to the fullest during the Tapati Rapa Nui celebration that is held each February.
Don't miss the old quarter of Valparaíso, which has been selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or regional festivities including the central regions' wine harvest, Quasimodo processions and rodeos and the La Tirana celebration in the Atacama Desert.
SPORTS AND ADVENTURE
The Andes offer a number of trekking trails where you can marvel at the natural beauty of this small country, which practically hangs off the edge of the map.
Options include northern altiplano treks at altitudes of over 4,000 meters, climbing circuits (of varying skill levels) at the world-renowned Torres del Paine National Park in southern Patagonia, and paths leading through native forests on the island of Chiloé and northern Patagonia. Keeping with the mountain theme, the area surrounding Santiago and the southern part of the country are home to skiing and snowboarding runs that attract tourists from around the globe each year.
With an endless array of rivers and lakes and an unusually long coastline, Chile is a premier destination for water sports like surfing, kayaking, rafting, scuba diving and fishing. The rivers and lakes of Patagonia offer world-class fly fishing thanks to their abundance of trout.
Adventure seekers will find plenty of places to practice sandboarding, canopying, paragliding and other exciting sports throughout the country.
If you're looking for something more peaceful, southern Chile is the place for you. Its lush forests, waterfalls and lakes are a delight for travellers looking to connect with nature in its purest form. Relax as you take in its canals lakes and volcanoes. Snapping photos will be your only care in the world.
Fans of "astro-tourism" simply have to visit northern Chile, which is home to one-third of the planet's telescopes and is an international hotbed for this scientific pursuit. Its unbeatable conditions include the dryness of the air, which produces clean skies – the area enjoys more than 300 cloudless nights a year- and institutional stability.
Armazones de Chile Hill, which sits 3,060 m above sea level and just 20 km from another important astronomy centre in Paranal (east of Antofagasta), will serve as the site for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). This super-sized instrument will allow scientists to search for new planets and stars and capture images that will help determine whether there is life in other parts of the universe. Both observatories are overseen by the ESO (European Southern Observatory), which is currently developing in partnership with North America and East Asia another important project, ALMA, on the outskirts of San Pedro de Atacama at 5,000 meters above sea level.
You don't have to be a scientist to enjoy the clear Chilean skies and contemplate the vastness of the universe. Your trip to Chile can include visits to the touristic astronomical observatories in Valle del Elqui, near La Serena and Ovalle, as well as Mamalluca, Pangue, Cruz del Sur, Cerro Mayu and Collowara (in Andacollo).
Patagonian ice fields to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west—make Chile a veritable agricultural island. Together they help maintain healthy conditions and protect vineyards against pests and disease. And with a geography as diverse as Chile’s, you can be sure that the climate will have terrific variation.
Chilean wines are known the world over for their quality, variety and competitive prices. Some of the best wines in the world are produced in the country's central valleys. Try touring the wine routes, which are located in the Aconcagua, Casablanca, San Antonio-Leyda, Maipo, Cachapoal, Curicó and Maule Valleys. The Elqui and Limarí Valleys produce exquisite white wines and pisco.
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