Chile Pictures Guide, South America

an Atacama desert swimming pool, Chile

Swimming in the thermal lake of Sejar in the middle of the driest desert in the world,
north Chile’s Atacama, in November.

Chile Tourism

easter island moai rainbow, chile

Remote, bleak Rapa Nui with its awesome moai.

Chile’s vast length – 4, 000kms (2, 500 miles)- encompasses a mass of potential activities which take place in varied and stunning locations, though many are inconveniently distant from each other and the rest of South America, in particular Easter Island.

Chile’s five top attractions

Hiking in Torres del Paine NP, Chile

Hiking to the Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine National Park, southern Chile. Photo by Liam Quinn

The Atacama desert, the hub of which is San Pedro de Atacama, which is hundreds of miles north of the capital of Santiago.

The World Heritage port of Valparaiso. This, in turn, is hundreds of miles north of Chile’s premier activity base of. . .

Pucon and the gorgeous Lake District. Pucon and its rival action centre, Puerto Varas, are hundreds of miles north of incredible mountains and treks in. . .

Torres del Paine National Park, while all of the above are thousands of miles east of the wildest Chile sights of all on Easter Island.

Easter Island, a bleak, blasted and fascinating island scattered with extraordinary ancient art. If you can afford the time and money to get there, go.

How to explore southern South America

Argentina, Buenos Aires, Tango dancing

Tango in a Buenos Aires café, Argentina.

One interesting option for independent travellers with lots of time who are exploring not only Chile but southern South America in general is crisscrossing from Argentina to Chile(and/or Bolivia), though the geology of neighbouring landscapes are usually (and naturally) similar.

For example, instead of travelling south down Chile from San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago, one could bus across the border to Argentina‘s Salta, zigging down through Cordoba to Buenos Aires, then zagging back to Mendoza before crossing over to Santiago.

Further south it’s common to cross from Chile’s Lake District into Argentina’s Lake District (or vice versa of course), and then back into Chile from El Calafate to Torres del Paine. These border crossings will involve lots of wiggly, mountainous Andean roads but immigration formalities are no problem and it’s an efficient way to see two long thin countries if you have a tough butt and plenty of time.

Self-drive is a fun option, but has some disadvantages

rent-a-jeep in atacama desert, chile

Our rental truck in the Valley of Death, Atacama.

it’s expensive.

driving’s tiring because distances are long and dirt roads require intense concentration.

sign posting of key sights in Chile is absolutely abysmal.

A lot of time can be lost searching for the location, even if your Castellano (Spanish) is good enough to get directions from locals. The magical desert pool pictured above, for example, was on a dirt road about 12 kms (8 miles) from the paved road to San Pedro, with no signs indicating direction at all, anywhere. Furthermore, directions from people in town were incorrect. A paranoid person might imagine that this is a conspiracy to force all tourists to employ a local guide or travel with a tour operator. . .

Having wasted several hours and considerable emotional energy finding the pool pictured above in their rental jeep the Bugcrew felt compelled to hire a guide to get to the Tatio geysers for sunrise, so the dastardly tourist office plan worked.
The bottom line is, in the Atacama region at least, you will need a vehicle and a guide to get to two of the four best sights.

Chile’s best weather is October-November (spring), March-April (autumn).

El Tatio geysers, Atacama, Chile

El Tatio geysers, Atacama, Chile

Which of these seasons suits you depends on your destinations and activities.
Worst: January, February (midsummer, extremely hot in the north/centre and crowded, expensive everywhere), also June, July, August (rain in the centre or extreme cold in the south; busy and expensive up north).

Obselete Sights and Guides

obsolete site, Atacama desert, Chile

A dilapidated and closed site in the  Atacama desert.

Another point that should be mentioned is that some Chilean pictorial guide books and even international guide books are years out of date, showing sights that have long since crumbled to dust, so don’t believe everything you read.

Furthermore, some local tour operators are nothing more than a bunch of lying thieves who will take you to a couple of worthless sights for the pleasure of extracting a few dollars more. And if you think we’re exaggerating read the thick book of complaints in San Pedro’s official Tourist Office that has to be replaced very frequently! Beware!

This photo gallery starts in the north at San Pedro de Atacama, including pictures of some stinkers – what we believe are the most useless ‘sights’ in the Atacama area, heads down to the centre for a glance at dull Santiago and polychromatic Valparaiso, misses out on Pucon and the Lake District (thanks to a pilot’s strike), visits Torres del Paine, then finishes with some spectacular pictures of the genuine wonders of Easter Island.