Chile: a beginner’s guide
Two centuries ago this September, Chile's fight for independence began.
Then, in 1817, José de San Martín rode his white steed across the Andes from Mendoza to Chile. At the battles of Chacabuco and Maipú – both in 1818 – he finally prevailed over the Spanish forces and left a liberated Chile in the hands of Bernardo O’Higgins.
Top five attractions
- Torres del Paine national park: the 10-day circuit around the base of the massif is one of Patagonia’s great hikes.
- The Atacama Desert, where the clear skies and unpolluted atmosphere draw the world’s astronomers (and backpackers).
- The wineries in the suburbs of Santiago.
- The Lake District, home to German settlers, Mapuche Indians and eco-conscious exiles from Santiago.
- Tierra del Fuego, where there are great (and great-value) cruises out into the glacier-walled fjords and isolated channels.
Valparaíso, for its associations with Pablo Neruda, Latin America’s most celebrated poet, (“How crazy/ a crazy port / what a head with hills / dishevelled / you don’t finish combing your hair / you never have time to get dressed,” he wrote in “Ode to Valparaiso”) and its funicular elevators – and it doesn’t suffer from year-round smog as the capital, Santiago, does.
How will Chile be celebrating independence?
Despite the recent earthquake, Chile’s tourism authorities have been keen to stress that most of the country is open for business. Independence celebrations will be muted, especially in and around Concepción, but will still go ahead. There are also commemorative stamps, the refurbishing of the cathedral in Santiago, and, on September 18, the military will be out in force; last month, there was a re-enactment of the crossing of the Andes by San Martín; the 6,060-mile footpath known as the Sendero de Chile, which goes from Arica to Cape Horn, was supposed to be inaugurated in 2010 but is not yet ready.
Souvenir to buy
An alpaca poncho, ideal for the desert at night and for Patagonia; best used as a throw back home.
Visit one of Santiago’s cafés con piernas – literally coffee shops with legs – to see smart, suited (and usually rather squat) businessmen being served espressos by leggy, pneumatic young women in pink and lime-green boob tubes and mini skirts.
‘Travels in a Thin Country’ by Sara Wheeler. A lively combination of backpacker chitchat, potted histories and analyses of the Chilean psyche after decades of Pinochet despotism makes this one of the most popular travelogues about the country.
By Chris Moss, Telegraph Journalist.