Chile’s awesome landscapes include eight UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves, plus four World Heritage Sites. Dotted with archaeological sites, the arid north and its uplands were outliers of the Inka and earlier Andean civilizations. The Spaniards left their own monuments as colonial churches and chapels, but indigenous llama and alpaca herders have outlasted them in a region that’s now home to sprawling national parks of wildlife-rich steppes at the foot of snow-topped cones. Desert rats find the Atacama irresistible and the clear skies have made the semi-arid Norte Chico a stellar site for professional astronomy — not to mention a few flaky UFO cultists.
Central Chile  is wine country, where a smattering of colonial monuments have survived the ravages of earthquakes and modernization, and it’s also home to one of South America’s liveliest and most progressive capital cities, Santiago . Chile’s counterpart to San Francisco, the port city of Valparaíso  is an historic treasure, and the California-like coastline has its own surfers’ mecca in the town of Pichilemu . In winter, the Southern Hemisphere’s best skiing is barely an hour from downtown Santiago.
Often compared with the Pacific Northwest or the European Alps, the southern mainland  is a land of lakes and forested mountains where conventional and adventure tourism flourish side by side. Protected lands form an almost unbroken block for hundreds of kilometers on both sides of the Chile—Argentina border and the nearby archipelago of Chiloé  is a verdant outlier with a unique cultural heritage.
Farther south, the Patagonia steppes , mountains, fjords, and ice fields are some of the world’s wildest remaining country, and a gateway to the grandeur of Antarctica. Getting there is more than half the fun on the scenic southern highway and the ferries through the uninhabited channels. For one of the world’s wildest adrenaline rushes, there’s rafting and kayaking on the untamed Río Futaleufú .
Glaciers still reach the sea here and on Tierra del Fuego , while whales and penguins cavort in the Strait of Magellan. The region’s highest-profile destination, Torres del Paine  provides exhilarating scenery and hiking.
In the distant western Pacific, Easter Island  (Rapa Nui) is an iconic destination for its megalithic monuments and their enigmatic origins, but its contemporary Polynesian hospitality is a revelation. Closer to the continent, the tiny Juan Fernández archipelago  helped bring world literature the story of Robinson Crusoe, but its modern treasure is its luxuriant flora and fauna. As unique as its environment may be, the Crusoe saga lends the place a romantic universality that makes it unforgettable.