By Greg Aragon
Chile is one of the most beautiful and unique places on earth. Located on the eastern coast of South America, the country may look small and unassuming but as I recently learned, it has everything a discerning traveler could want.
My “journey” to Chile began at a mansion in Beverly Hills recently, where I joined the country’s North American Tourism Team for an evening of Chilean culture, travel and cuisine. The event featured a host of travel industry leaders, showcasing some of the top tourist attractions and destinations in the country. After spending the evening with them, I was sold on the place and knew I had to put it on my 2018 travel calendar.
While sipping a Pisco Sour, a favorite Chilean cocktail, I watched a video presentation and learned that Chile possesses a special geography that distinguishes it from other destinations; its long thin shape on the map stretches more than 2,671 miles and touches into three world regions: South America, Oceania, and Antarctica.
Its continental length from north to south lies between the rugged Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Such a great expanse gives way to an array of mesmerizing landscapes, beginning with the planet’s most arid desert, transitioning through a fertile central valley, down to a land of lakes and volcanoes and ending in the glaciers, fjords, and granite mountains of wild Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego at the tip of the continent.
The country’s diversity is highlighted in the Atacama Desert, the driest non-polar desert in the world. The aridity of the Atacama is caused by its location between two mountain chains, which prevent moisture from either the Pacific or the Atlantic oceans from influencing its weather. The resulting landscapes offer striking differences between desert lowlands and the unique life and natural formations in the Andean Plateau high above it.
One of Chile’s most striking geological features is its “backbone,” the Andes Mountain Range. In these mountains are found some of the southern hemisphere’s top ski resorts, while in its foothills lie many of the country’s best wineries.
During my introduction I experienced some of this wine, along with a traditional dinner. The meal began with red Chilean wine and a tomato and onion salad with cilantro and a fresh Hallullas or biscuit. This was followed by delicious Plateada al Horno (slow cooked beef) with mashed potatoes and salad. For dessert I had a fluffy, crunchy pastry called Alfajores and leche asada.
After eating I met a representative from DAP (www.dapairline.com), a Chilean airline/tour company with a fleet of airplanes and helicopters taking visitors to the most exotic destinations around Chile, Patagonia and the Antarctic. One of the tours that caught my eye is their Antarctic adventure that transports guests to one of the farthest and last untouched points on earth – Antarctic. This region, which has been completely sunk by ice, is the coldest, highest, windiest, driest and least populated continent.
Its unique beauty contrasted with its extreme weather conditions, make it an exotic and enchanting destination. On the DAP Antarctic tour, guests board an aircraft at Punta Arenas airport and then fly over the Magellan Strait, Tierra del Fuego Island, Darwin Mountain Range, the mythical Cape Horn and the Drake Passage.
The flight ends at King George Island, gateway to the white continent, where most of the Antarctic scientific bases are located. While here, DAP guides take guests to see the tiny Chilean village of “Villa Las Estrellas,” the Orthodox Russian Church, and then on a memorable zodiac boat ride to Ardley Island to visit penguin colonies (Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie) and navigate around Collins glacier.
After a full-day of activities, guests get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend the night in an Ice Camp on Collins glacier, inside thermal tents. The next day, it’s an exciting walk to see a sea elephant colony in the Drake Passage Area, and possibly visit the Chinese station “Great Wall.”