Can Chile be as puzzling as its landscapes? Find out what to visit on this cultural guide to Chile.
If you’re feeling adventurous
In its narrow strip, Chile displays landscapes so different from one another that one could think it is almost a little museum of the world.
The Atacama desert is one of the most arid places on Earth. Temperatures can be as high as the ones found in the Gulf, and rain hasn’t poured over some places for well over a century. When NASA was testing satellites to send to Mars, they tested them on Atacama first.
Yet when one continues to explore the narrow strip designed by Chile’s border, volcanoes and breath-taking lakes will appear. The Lake District is often compared to the Alpine settings of Austria and Switzerland. Chile’s southernmost part is a puzzle of fjords, inlets and canals, not unlike what you would see in northern Europe. Just in the Laguna San Rafael National Park, you can find the San Rafael Lagoon, the San Rafael Glacier and a fjord more than 16 km long.
The cities and the culture
If you’re flying to Chile on an intercontinental flight, chances are that you will land in Santiago. The country’s capital is also its largest city and, probably, the only city on this list that you will recognize.
Tourists heading into Santiago should be aware that earthquakes have destroyed most of the historical buildings from the colonial rule or ruins from pre-Columbian civilizations. The Casa Colorada, the Plaza de Armas and the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral are some of the few that survived. Any cultural guide to Chile should mention, however, the National Library, the Gabriela Ministral Cultural Center, the Central Market and the Municipal Theatre of Santiago. If you understand Spanish, you’re in for spectacular surprises.
Just 111 km outside of Santiago lies Valparaíso, the country’s second metropolis. Literally, its name means Paradise Valley. And, for the writers of this cultural guide to Chile, it is. Even UNESCO recognized its historical quarter as a World Heritage Site.
You can’t miss Valparaíso’s colorful streets, unique architecture, urban design and unusual funicular lifts. In and outside of the center, enjoy the cool, laid-back vibe of the city’s festivals, street artists and graffiti. Other attractions include Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, South America’s first volunteer fire department, Chile’s first public library, several universities and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous printing, El Mercurio de Valparaíso. Could you imagine a nicer place to become a Spanish Guru?
If you want to visit the lakes in Chile, Puerto Varas is a good starting point to explore the region. But the city is worth a visit on its own. Unlike many cities in the country, Puerto Varas was the home to several European settlers from Germany and Austria. Their contributions to Chilean culture are undeniable, like the houses and cuisine of Puerto Varas show.
Sewell was an old mining town built for the miners and their families by an American company. In the 1960s, during its peak, it housed 16 000 people. It then began its decline: by then, the mine was in activity for 70 years. The population decreased and, in the 1970s, the company was nationalized by the Chilean government. Some of the buildings were demolished before Chile considered it a national monument in the late 90s. Today, the buildings were restored so that visitors can understand how day to day life was in the village. Mining is one of the main sources of income in Chile and in 2010 the world cheered on as 33 Chilean miners were rescued after spending a record 69 days underground.
Insular Chile has one of the most well-known tourist attractions in the world: Easter Island. The famous Moai statues were built by the Rapa Nui people centuries before the Europeans arrived. Ahu Akivi, for example, was a celestial observatory in the 16th century. All the seven statues at the site face sunset during the Spring Equinox and have their backs to the sunrise during the Autumn Equinox.