Stretching 4,270 kilometres from north to south, Chile encompasses a diverse range of climates and landscapes which combine to create a wealth of adventures for visitors to experience. Bordered by the world’s driest desert to the north, the Andes mountain range to the East, the fjords and glaciers of Patagonia to the south, and the South Pacific Ocean to the West, Chile epitomises “off the beaten track” with its range of terrains, adrenaline sports and outdoor activities.
Here is a selection of the top 10 adventure itineraries to enjoy in Chile:
Surfing the El Gringo wave
Chile has more than 4,000 kilometres of coastline with warm seas and a crazy wave called ‘El Gringo’ which attracts surf enthusiasts from across the globe. Sometimes nicknamed the ‘Chilean Pipeline’, the El Gringo wave has serious power, huge swells and shallow reefs, making it the ultimate wave for keen surfers. The best time to surf El Gringo is usually in the morning, due to the wind directions in the area, and the best location is in Arica, Chile’s northernmost city. Arica’s waves became famous in the surfing world when the World Surf League first organised a leg of their World Championship tour here.
Sandboarding in the heart of San Pedro de Atacama
Known as the ‘Land of the Indigenous People’, San Pedro de Atacama is home to ancient cultures and stunning scenery. In the heart of this vast, dry desert, travellers can surf the sand on a sandboard cruising down 120-metre dunes to get their adrenaline fix. Set 2,400 metres above sea level, sandboarders can enjoy 360 degree views of Death Valley, the name of which was coined by the French priest who discovered the area. Guided Sandboarding excursions in San Pedro de Atacama are available throughout the day.
Individual excursions and private board hire are also available.
Parasailing over the Dragón Hill in Iquique
The wild Chilean geography, full of hills and high mountains, is the perfect setting for parasailing and other aerial sports. Dragón Hill, an enormous sand dune around 4 kilometres long in the coastal city of Iquique, is one of the best places to parasail in Chile, offering incredible views as flights travel over the city and land on the shoreline. The dune is situated on a narrow rocky ledge above a cliff 500 feet high that forms a natural barrier to the sea. Varying in height from 150 to 500 metres, Dragon Hill is the largest urban sand dune in the world; only the dunes of the Sahara are taller. Parasailing is therefore the perfect way to view this diverse cityscape from a birds-eye perspective.
Mountainbiking in Pan de Azucar National Park
Pan de Azucar National Park is a coastal nature reserve divided between the arid Atacama and Antofagasta regions of northern Chile. Located at 800 metres above sea level, the National Park covers around 40,000 hectares of unique scenery where small bushes grow between brightly coloured rocks due to a fog known as the “Camanchaca”. With its rocky beaches, cacti-dotted landscape and turquoise waters the park is the perfect playground for adventure-seekers. From diving to fishing to trekking the park offers a range of activities for visitors but travelling by mountain bike across this vast terrain is the best way to take in the views and experience some of the park’s wildlife up close such as foxes, guanacos, vicunas and a colony of Humboldt penguins. There are also dedicated trails for cyclists featuring lookout points from which you can see the park’s sheer size.
Snowcat skiing in El Arpa
Unbelievable views, incredible snow, and over 3,000 feet of vertical descents, Snowcat skiing is a form of guided backcountry skiing and visitors to Chile can try snowcat skiing in the Andes just over 100km north of Santiago. Rather than hiking or using a chairlift or helicopter, skiers and boarders are transported up the mountain in a snowcat, a piste grooming machine with a cabin built on to the back. A must-do for any hardcore skier, skiing in the shadow of Aconcagua is unlike any other experience in Chile, at the summit of the valley skiers can see Cerro Aconcagua to the east, the highest peak in the Americas, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Cat skiing operators have access to vast areas of backcountry terrain, so the likelihood of skiing fresh snow is very high, if not guaranteed. The cat ride from the Refugio to the top takes approximately 20 minutes, with each run lasting approximately 20-30 minutes.
Ski down a Volcano in Pucón
Pucón is the adventure capital of Chile, where travellers can ski down the active Villarrica Volcano. Located 1.5hr drive from Temuco, in Chile’s Araucania region, the Villaricca- Pucón ski resort (commonly known as Ski Pucón) offers access to volcanic skiing in one of the world’s most active craters. The natural terrain is popular with both skiers and snowboarders due to its steep pitches and cornice drops. The peak of the volcano is 9,317ft, with a 5,380ft descent back to the Ski Pucón resort where skiers and snowboarders can enjoy over 20 runs, with 9 lifts, a well-known ski school and off-piste areas. The resort has been hosting international competitions since 1990 and its ski season runs from mid-June to October.
Cable-riding in Cajón del Maipo
Synonymous of adventure and sports, Cajón del Maipo is a gorge in central Chile located southeast of Santiago where travellers can go cable-riding through the trees just outside the capital city. The picturesque canyon is home to the El Morado Natural Monument, a mountain reserve with trails to the San Francisco Glacier and Laguna Morales. It’s steep, rocky walls mean that adventure travellers come here to hike, climb, cycle, raft and ski. Reaching heights of more than 25 metres, cable riding is a unique way to see Chile from above, as riders glide over the forest. The widespread popularity of destinations like Cajón del Maipo makes it possible to do this activity all year round and there are different difficulty levels, as well as cable rides for children.
Scuba-diving in Easter Island
Located 2,300 miles off-shore, Easter Island rests on a broad volcanic ridge that supports 144 species of algae and 111 species of tropical and pelagic fish. The pollution-free waters mean that visibility in these seas can exceed 120 feet, which provides a unique dive-experience for adventure travellers. There are many operators offering a range of local diving centres for visitors to choose from, which all follow official PADI rules and safety routines. Tropical temperatures make for easy diving in the winter, but rough waters can limit choice of dive sites in the summer. The submerged moai statue at the bottom of the ocean is one of the most popular scuba-diving sites for keen divers.
White-water rafting on Chile’s Futaleufu River
The Futaleufu River, located in northern Patagonia, is one of the world’s top white-water rivers. The river is fed by glacial snow in the Andean lakes region of Chile and the rafting season runs from December through to mid-April. Locals refer to the valley as “un paisaje pintado por dios”, meaning ‘a landscape painted by God’. Rafting the turquoise waters beneath the snow-capped mountains and glaciers is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any adventure traveller. The Futaleufu River flows 120 miles through Chile to the Pacific and visitors will find a range of rafting operators located near the river who offer a selection of tours that vary by difficulty.
Ice-field walking in Chilean Patagonia
The Patagonian Southern Ice Field (locally known as the Continental Patagonian Ice Field) is the third largest ice mass in the world, after Antarctica and Greenland and is best explored on foot. The ice-field stretches over three National Parks and covers 16,800 square km. This giant plateau is located at an average altitude of 1,500 metres and is always covered in snow. Hailed as one of the most exciting treks in the world, travellers will pass through icy rivers, snowy forests and ice-fields as they travel through the ice field on foot walking with crampons and/or snowshoes. There are a number of specialist tour operators offering treks in this region and most tours are available from November through to March.
The tourism board for Chile