February 2019 – We traveled to Southern hemisphere and explored a beautiful country with spectacular arrangement of lakes, volcanoes, rivers, and waterfalls that stand out completely on their own – Chile. This is the longest and narrowest country in the world. It is a land of incredible contrasts. At its northern border, we found ourselves in the Altiplano (high mountain plateau) and the Atacama Desert, driest in the world. Moving southward, we passed fertile, temperate central valleys surrounded by the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Farther south, we enjoyed an area called the Lake Region, covered by lakes, volcanoes, rivers, and native forests. Towards the south we explored southern Patagonia and the national park there.
Four major regions in Chile which we visited
Santiago and the Central Chile – Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to set foot in Chile in 1520. In 1540, a serious conquest of Chile began and by 1541, the Spaniards founded Santiago. Although Spain did not find the silver and gold minerals they were after, the agricultural potential of Chile was enough for them to make Chile part of their empire. The Republic of Chile first declared its independence from Spain on September 18, 1810 although the official proclamation of independence took place on February 12, 1818. Santiago, capital of Chile is one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan city destinations and with a mediterranean climate – and almost no rain from November until April – we thought it was time to hop on a flight and visit.
Chilean Lake District – The Chilean govt. encouraged German immigration in 1848. From 1850 to 1875 the region around Osorno and Llanquihue in Southern Chile received some 6,000 German immigrants as part of a state-ed colonization. They brought their skills & assets as artisans, farmers, merchants, contributing to development. German settlement had a long-lasting influence on the society, economy, and geography of Lake District (northern part of the Patagonian region). We took a two hour flight from Santiago and then a transfer from the small airport at Puerto Montt to our destination of Puerto Varas (City of Roses). This was the ideal base to explore the southern end of the region.
Southern Patagonia – We flew from Santiago to Punta Arenas, about a two-hour flight south. Punta Arenas is one of the southernmost cities and sits on the Strait of Magellan, an incredibly important shipping route which used to be the only way of passing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. From Punta Arenas, we took a public bus to get to a town called Puerto Natales (approx. 3 hours). Across the Patagonian plains, we see sheep grazing across undulating steppes and llama-like guanacos galloping towards mountain ranges outlined against the ever-changing sky.
Our bus got stuck for some time behind a herd of sheep being driven to pasture by huaso (a Chilean countryman and skilled horseman, similar to the American cowboy who work on the vast herds of the cattle). Locals refer to this as ‘Patagonia traffic jam’. Watch the video until the end to get a glimpse of the dogs and the huaso.
Atacama – Took a flight from Santiago to the mining city of Calama. San Pedro is approx. 62 miles from Calama. One of the driest places on Earth, the Atacama Desert is overflowing with life and plenty of surprises. One of our stops here was at the imaginary line Tropic of Capricorn and a reconstructed Inca Trail connecting two volcanoes. During Inca times, highland volcanoes were sacred mountains where rituals and child sacrifices were sometimes performed by the Incas. Inca trails were constructed throughout the Andes for transporting goods, armies, and also ritual possessions, connecting Cuzco of Peru to all corners of the Inca Empire.
Some facts on Chile
- The currency used is the Chilean Peso.
- The main religion followed is Christianity.
- The main language of Chile is Spanish with the second main one being English.
- The current population of Chile is 18,291,214.
- The national bird is called Andean Condor & is the largest flying bird in the world.
- The most followed sport in Chile is football. Chile was the host of the World Cup in 1962 and they also finished 3rd that year.
- The national drink is known as ‘Pisco’ with the most famous version being the ‘Pisco Sour’ which consists of lemon juice, ice, sugar and beaten egg whites.
- Chile is the largest producer of Copper producing over a third of the world’s copper.
- In August 2010, Copiapó mining accident began as a cave-in at the San José copper-gold mine in the Atacama Desert near Copiapó, Chile. 33 men were trapped 2,300 ft. underground in the accident. A small borehole was drilled by rescuers to provide liquids, food, lights, and send notes to and from the mine. All of the trapped miners were successfully rescued after 69 days.
- Chile is the 5th largest exporter of wine and has more than 100 wineries.
- It is the only country to have a government supported UFO research organization, as many sightings have been reported throughout the years along the Andes.
- Atacama Desert is used as a place for astronomical study. The largest ground in the world, ALMA is located there. It is used to study the formation of stars with the help of 66 radio telescopes.
- Chile introduced its first ever female president in 2006 – Michelle Bachelet Jeri.
- Out of 2,000 volcanoes in Chile, 36 are currently active (500 are potentially active).
- Doug Tompkins was the founder of the outdoor clothing North Face and Esprit, while Kristine is the former chief executive of clothing brand Patagonia. With both of them passionate about the planet and conservation, Doug and Kris started shopping for land and spent more than $15 million to purchase the 800,000 acres that make the current Parque Pumalín. Following the sudden death of her husband in 2015, Kristine Tompkins has continued with their conservation work. Our inspiration for this trip was Bill Weir’s documentary ‘They Bought Paradise’.