Chile is a country that boasts some of the most diverse topographies in the world, offering an enormous variety of outdoor activities for sports enthusiasts, including surfing, skiing, volcano-climbing, white water rafting and many hiking routes with sublime views. Here’s a guide to the best on offer for adventurers in Chile.
Head down to the south for some of the most scenic hikes in the world, where you can trek through the mountains to lakes, hot springs, and uphill to view stunning panoramas. Many of the popular hikes can be found between Santiago and the ‘Tierra del Fuego’ – the end of Chilean Patagonia before Antarctica. Start with the snow-layered Andes, down through the Lake District and along the Carretera Austral until you reach the crown jewel, Torres del Paine. The final destination on the list is Isla Navarino, which is the last stop in Chile before you reach Antarctica. The Sendero de Chile project links all the hiking trails from the north to the south, a colossal 8,500 kilometres long.
Not for the faint-hearted, the Andean cordillera mountain range and the Chilean volcanoes provide a wide range of climbing possibilities on a number of the tallest peaks and active volcanoes. Volcán Villarrica (2,840m) and Volcán Osorno (2,653m) near Pucón don’t need any previous experience and take around five hours. In the north however, many of the volcanoes soar higher than 6,000m, therefore experience and equipment is required. Mountaineers may like to look further into climbing in Chilean on the Escalando and Trekking Chile websites.
Known as Chile’s surfing capital, Pichilemu is a small beach town now building itself back up after being struck badly by the 2015 earthquake and tsunami. The town has a particularly chilled vibe and many Santiaguinos and travellers come here to surf, or learn to surf, as the town caters for every level. Beginners can learn at Las Terrazas or La Puntilla, while Punta de Lobos is a popular spot for larger waves. Arica, found near to the border with Peru, is another popular surf spot, where annual national championships are held, the waves are a lot bigger here thanks to a string of reef breaks.
The ‘three valleys’ are a quick jaunt from Santiago, taking only an hour to reach popular trio: Valle Nevado, El Colorado and La Parva. Portillo is world-renowned and on the bucket list of many a skier, thanks to its renown as the best ski resort in South America. In turn, this has elevated the cost of skiing here. All these resorts are extremely popular with freeriders and professionals who have been known to venture down to the Southern Hemisphere to access some of the world’s most incredible terrain, accessed by heli-skiing. In the south you can also ski at Termas de Chillán and on the northern face of the Villarrica Volcano, which is near Pucón, although it only has a handful of runs.
Rafting and kayaking
The fierce and raging rivers across Chile offer great white water rafting opportunities. Río Maipo in Cajón del Maipo, just outside of Santiago, and Río Trancura near Pucón are a little gentler than the likes of Futaleufú. Futaleufú is one of the finest whitewater rivers in the world, as you descend you have to weave in and out of the intersecting boulders! The Río Bío Bío is another fast and furious river in the South. Kayaking is just as popular, with many lakes offering kayaks to rent for the afternoon. In Patagonia, you can kayak around glaciers and fjords, getting up close and personal to the Cabo de Hornos headland is a real treat.
Whether you want to pretend to be a local ‘huaso’ (Chilean cowboy), or would rather a relaxing ride through the mountains or countryside, there is plenty of horse riding available. Get up into the mountains outside of Santiago and spot condors circling above while sure-footed horses do all the work, or see the beauty of Patagonia on more energetic horses that will carry you along through rivers and varied terrain including flatter grassy ground perfect for getting a good gallop in.
When there’s no snow in the Andes, why not try your hand at sandboarding? Near to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar are the sand dunes of Reñaca and Concón where you can practise. Unfortunately, there are no such things as sand-lifts, so once you have cruised down the dune, be warn that you will have to hike back up. In the north, up near the Peruvian border, you will find the city of Iquique. Suavely board down the 350 metre high Dragón Hill, considered to be the highest urban dune on the planet.
Bikers looking for a challenge should attempt the trails of the Lauca National Park or the Pan de Azúcar National Park, where you can whizz down the hills amongst the nature. The famous Carretera Austral Highway in the Aysén region is one of the most scenic roads in the world, and while normally taken in as a road trip, it can be done by bicycle as well during the summer months. The Cancha Carrera is one of Santiago’s best downhill trails, due to its variety of difficult terrains, it is for advanced riders only. In Valparaíso, Red Bull’s urban mountain biking race should appeal to those speedy thrill seekers, while The Red Bull Enduro World Series is hosted in the Chilean hills as well.
Between November and May, the south of Chile is a paradise for anglers, a deserved reputation for its illustrious fly-fishing. Introduced in the late 19th century, rainbow, brown and brook trout as well as silver and Atlantic salmon have rapidly multiplied and flourished. Hotels along the Carretera Austral in Aysén offer fishing lodges that attract keen fishermen from around the world, due to the rivers and lakes awash with trout and salmon, weighing in at anything between one to ten pounders.