Chile is dubbed the land of fire for good reason. There’s its 2,700-mile coastline of unspoiled, golden-sand beaches, the Atacama Desert bookending the country in the north, and lava-filled volcanic peaks further south. From Santiago, it’s a mere hop, skip, and jump to explore this country’s uniquely fiery nature.Read More
Where to Experience Chile’s Most Fiery Destinations
Paragliding in Iquique
Coastal city Iquique, one of the largest in the Atacama Desert, is a beach town but is better known for its spectacular topography. The sand-laced cliffs and dunes — the largest urban dunes in the world — provide the point from which to try out the city’s most high-adrenaline activity: paragliding. Considered one of the best places in the country for this sport, those brave enough can leap into the sky and catch air currents to land in the heart of the city at Playa Cavancha.
El Tatio Geyser
To get the best experience at El Tatio, wake up a few hours before sunrise and start your winding journey to where South America’s (and the world’s third-largest) geyser field sits at 14,000 feet elevation. The El Tatio geysers are their most active in the early morning hours, just as dawn breaks over the volcanoes surrounding them. If you can keep your eyes open during the drive up, don’t forget to look up at the clear, starry skies. Many guided tours will offer a pre-dawn breakfast at the geysers. Tip: Because of the high elevation and pre-dawn hours, the air temperature at the geysers can easily drop below freezing. Make sure to wear your warmest hats, gloves, and boots. If anyone tries to tell you that snow pants are overdoing it, don’t listen – you’ll have the last laugh as the warmest and best-prepared in the group.
When the sweltering heat of summer picks up in Santiago, there’s one place where all the locals gather: Viña del Mar and the surrounding beaches. The best beach is a few kilometers north, where the gilded sands of Playa Reñaca make for a popular spot for sunbathing. It may take some daring to step into the water, where temperatures barely surpass 66˚F. At sunset, the barks of the resident sea lion colony echo in the background as you join the throngs of tanned Chileans at beachside bars and restaurants.
You can’t leave Santiago until you’ve sipped on the local’s favorite alcohol: pisco. Nowhere is better to try than Chipe Libre, a hip bar in the equally trendy Lastarria neighborhood. The long-fought debate over the drink’s origins might still be hotly contested, but they refuse to get embroiled, choosing to stock both Peruvian and Chilean brands of pisco. Sample a range of different distillations through flights or delicately mixed into the bar’s signature cocktails. You won’t want to miss the pisco sour.
The black sand beaches of Pichilemu might not rank aesthetically alongside those of Hawaii or other better-known surf destinations, but it’s the quality of the waves here that counts. Among locals and the many break-seeking water enthusiasts, it’s Chile’s unofficial capital of surf. Rent a board and head out to Punta de Lobos, a beach a few kilometers south with the best left point break in the country.
Fuegos de Apalta
Nothing says South American dining quite like food cooked over an open wood fire. This is the exact premise of Fuegos de Apalta, a restaurant opened in 2017 by Argentinean celebrity chef Francis Mallmann. It’s no exaggeration to say you’ll eat the most succulent meat of your life here. New York steak or lamb ribs are delicately smoked over their magnificent steel fireplace, separated from the dining room only by a huge glass window. With the restaurant situated on the grounds of the Montes Vineyard in the Colchagua wine valley, you’ll be hard pushed to find a more picturesque place for lunch.
If there’s one activity to check off of your adventure list in Chile, it’s summiting an active volcano. Few have quite the same danger-exhilaration credentials as Villarrica, a perfectly conical-shaped stratovolcano that last erupted back in 2015. It’s a 5-hour, crampon-clad trek through ice and snow to the 9,317-foot summit, where, if luck is on your side, you’ll see bubbling lava in the crater. The way down the volcano is easier: strap on a plastic sledge to your posterior and toboggan down through paths carved out of the ice.
A few kilometers southeast of Villarrica, a paradise for tired hikers awaits in the luxurious, Japanese-inspired thermal pools of Termas Geométricas. They’re readily considered the finest in the country and comprise of seven slate pools wedged into a pretty river gorge. Visitors can relax in naturally heated waters or opt for plunge pools fed by refreshingly cold waterfalls. Luxuriate here during the day in the winter; in the summer, visit at night for star-splashed skies.