Planning Your Time
From the ocean to the Andes, the Chilean heartland is a geographically diverse region where time spent will largely depend on individual preferences. Anyone with a sense of history and an appreciation of unique urbanism could spend several days or more exploring the recesses of Valparaíso and, when walking the hills becomes tiring, spend a few afternoons on the beaches of nearby Viña del Mar or take a drive up the scenic coastline to the north. With its abundant cultural resources, Valparaíso makes an ideal location for an extended stay studying Spanish.
Most of the coastline, from Viña del Mar north, is Chile’s traditional choice for beach holidays, but intercontinental visitors are the exception—though the headlands are scenic enough, the beaches and cool foggy weather can’t match those of sunny Brazil or the Caribbean. The exception to the rule is a very specific one—surfers travel long distances and spend weeks or months at a time, often in winter, to ride the breaks at Pichilemu.
Meanwhile, the western slope of the Andes, from Rancagua south to Los Ángeles, is home to a series of high altitude national parks and reserves that, in almost any other part of the world, would be overrun with hikers. Here, though, the longitudinal Sendero de Chile is a long-distance footpath where hikers can find both scenery and solitude enough to last for weeks—unlike the fabled but overcrowded Torres del Paine.
The Andes also have surprising cultural resources, most notably the historic mining ghost town of Sewell and the massive underground copper mine of El Teniente, now open to visitors.
In winter, two high Andes locations draw skiers from around the world: the record-setting venue of Portillo, near the Argentine border northwest of Santiago, and the hot-springs-and-snow combination of Termas de Chillán, east of its namesake market town. Weeklong packages are the rule, though it’s possible to make day trips from towns below the snow line.
All year, though, Chilean wines provide reason enough to visit the heartland, though the spring, summer, and fall months are best. With well-organized wine routes in the Aconcagua, Casablanca, Cachapoal, Colchagua, and Maule valleys, as well as scattered vineyards elsewhere, Chilean wine tourism is finally making an impact. Wine-oriented visitors often spend a week or more touring the countryside and extend their visit by crossing the Andes to sample the products of Argentina’s Mendoza province.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition