Covering 748,800km² (without its claim to part of Antarctica), Chile is over 4,300km long and embraces almost 40°of latitude (over 70° if you include Antarctica), and thus encompasses more climates, landscapes and ways of life than any other country of its size in the world. It’s also one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America, with a very efficient transport system and other necessities such as plenty of good hotels and an efficient and incorruptible police force.
Chile is pretty affordable due to a gradual 20% devaluation over the past couple of years. There’s very little crime apart from a bit of the usual big-city pickpocketing and mugging in parts of Santiago. Incidentally, the name ‘Chile’ is probably derived from the Aymara for ‘The end of the Earth’, or perhaps ‘Snow’; the Aymara, still (with the Quechua) the dominant population of Peru and Bolivia, also live in a few villages high on the Chilean altiplano.
I have been visiting Chile for over 15 years, and it remains one of my favourite destinations. Originally I came to lead hiking trips, in Patagonia and the Lakes District, and then I found myself updating hiking guidebooks. Before too long I was able to discover the whole country while writing a general guidebook to Chile, and began to appreciate its astonishing variety of scenery, culture and activities. I even got to visit Easter Island. I went white-water rafting for the first time, and look forward to an extended sea kayak trip sometime soon off Chiloé.
The growth in wine tourism has been a revelation (as has the increasing availability of beers called what sounds like ‘Parlez Arlez’ and the like!) – the accompanying food is fun too! I’ve taken the Navimag ship between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales three times now – it’s one of my favourite journeys, where the misty atmosphere, the camaraderie and the occasional whale more than compensate for the lack of cruise-liner luxuries.
As the country has become more developed, the range of outdoor activities on offer has become wider, and the standards of accommodation and other services have risen sharply, so that Chile now compares – and competes – with the world’s best-known destinations.