Whether you are gazing at awe-inspiring natural sights or discovering its rich history, Chile is a country with a habit of making one look at things in a different way...
I took a trip to Chile recently and here are a few of my highlights:
Seeing Patagonia through the eyes of the first pioneers
We saw Patagonia through the eyes of the first pioneers who arrived there at the beginning of the last century. Many made their way to the shores of Last Hope Sound to work in the building that in recent years became the Singular Patagonia. Now a luxury hotel, it began life in 1915 as a meat refrigeration plant. Its opportunities for employment drew immigrants from all over, and it was the reason that the nearby town of Puerto Natales sprang into existence. Staying here immerses you in the history of the area. Wandering about the hotel, you see the old machinery, much of which came from England. Gazing out of an enormous floor-to-ceiling window in your bedroom, you can see the old train tracks which took leather, meat and wool out to the cargo ships bound for Europe. Patagonia itself is an area of mind-blowing scenery, with glaciers, lakes, mountains and fjords. You can only try to imagine what those first explorers felt when they arrived at this then uninhabited, desolately beautiful land.
Looking at the sky as if with new eyes in Atacama
The Atacama Desert in the North of Chile is one of the best places in the world for star-gazing, with phenomenally clear skies, high altitude and next to no light pollution. The quantity and size of the stars which appeared each evening was transfixing – and I lost count of the number of shooting stars I saw! Looking through an open-air telescope at the beautiful Alto Atacama hotel, we saw Saturn and the moon – a peaceful silvery orb dotted with craters. Watching the sunset at the Valley of the Moon as a kaleidoscope of colours passed across the evening sky was another beautiful and memorable experience.
Seeing street art from a different perspective in Valparaiso
Street art or graffiti would normally be seen as a deducting from the charm of a historical city. In Valparaiso, the opposite is true. 90 minutes from Santiago, its unique character comes from the vibrant murals which cover its walls. Now a UNESCO world heritage site and the seat of the Chilean parliament, Valparaiso is the most colourful city I have been to - and its past is almost as colourful as its streets. A major port city in the late 1800s, it was a magnet for European immigrants, and the jumble of building styles throughout the city reflects this. We stayed at Palacio Astoreca, an elegantly restored Victorian mansion originally built by a Croatian immigrant for his English wife so she wouldn’t feel homesick. As I discovered, hours can be enjoyably spent wandering up and down the hills of this charming and chaotic city where every corner you turn presents you with something new!