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How to trek your way around Chile

 

From Atacama to Patagonia and the Lake District and Easter Island, Chile offers craters and volcanoes, mountains and mysterious monuments.

It’s no surprise that so many intrepid travellers are choosing a luxury holiday in Chile. The country’s landscape is diverse and breathtaking – from lunar vistas to salt lakes, geysers, glaciers and granite mountains. This narrow ribbon of land along the South American Pacific coastline merits exploration and investigation. Read on to find out more about some of the trails and treks with which you can delight your senses on a holiday to this captivating country.

 

Find your head on Easter Island: 

Isolated and enigmatic, Easter Island will draw you in like no other place. There are over 800 monoliths carved into heads and torsos to discover on mostly one-day hikes around the island, which remains largely unexplored and unexplained. Perhaps it is the remnants of a lost continent, or was a landing place for stonemasons fleeing Peru. Some believe extra-terrestrial forces have been at work there. Its full history may never be known. What is definite about Easter Island is its impressive and inspirational views – best explored on foot. Trekking from Ahu Vinapu to the Rano Kau crater is awe-inspiring and not for the faint-hearted. This hike delivers on promises of amazing scenery, over rocky terrain and cultural stone artefacts. Ranu Kao sits at the southwestern tip of Easter Island and the crater is one of the area’s largest natural features.

Another demanding hike is the Patrimonial Route – covering seven kilometres and taking four hours around the ceremonial village of Orongo. Or enjoy the three-hour climb of Mount Terevake, the highest point on the island, and then the Poike peninsula. Whichever route you choose to take, you will be sure to see amazing sights and enjoy absolute peace and quiet. 

At one with the world at Atacama: 

This desert area back on the mainland is far from deserted. Although the variety of landscapes will make you feel like you are stepping between alternate worlds. From salt lakes, to geysers and lunar landscapes, the Atacama Desert covers nearly 1,000 kilometres and is an adventure playground for trekkers. With several different hikes available, a stop-off here for a few days will allow you to enjoy all of its dramatic aspects.

There are many treks that follow the water course along the tight valleys. We recommend starting with the Guatin Valley trek which takes you across the confluence of two rivers and joins the Puritama hot springs with the pristine meltwater from the Purifica River in the Andes. Hikes here reveal rewarding sights of candelabra cacti, some of which are 500 years old, and finishing off in the hot springs will revitalise tired legs.

The Moon Valley hike is also unmissable. This takes you through salt gorges and is a highlight of any visit to Chile. The trails tend not to be very well marked so consider carefully whether a guided tour may suit you best and also ensure that you don’t miss the delights of this five kilometre trek. Start out at the gnarled rocks of Tres Marias across the Salt Mountain Range and over to the Great Dune. Sunset here is not to be missed, and the stargazing is ethereal should you choose to camp out after your day’s hike.

Visit the volcanoes of the Lake District: 

The two areas of La Araucania and Los Lagos form part of Chile’s beautiful Lake District. Here deep blue mountain waters, snow-capped volcanoes, larch forests and a rich variety of birds and marine animals abound. Treks will take you into forests of monkey puzzle trees or to the banks of thermal hot springs from where you can admire the volcanic peaks of the Andes.

A must-do trek here is the active Villarrica Volcano day trip. Come prepared – you will need crampons, ice axes, helmets and a professional guide at the very least to ensure you make the top of the peak. It’s not a walk in the park by any means but it is well worth the effort and exhilaration.
Around the Lake District, you can also take more leisurely hikes. Although perhaps not quite as rewarding as Villarica, the National Parks of Conguillio and Huerquehue and Vincente Perez Rosales are worthy of a stop-off – if only to view another volcano at Osorno and the Petrohué rapids close to Puerto Varas.

Take it to the extreme in Patagonia: 

Although most people will trek the W trail of Torres del Paine because of its popularity, there are many other reasons it should not be missed out. The iconic five-day hike will take you along 70 kilometres of rocks and valleys and to the side of Glacier Grey which sits at the edge of the Patagonia Ice Field. If you want to push the boat out, extend the W circuit to the O – and take nine days to circumnavigate the Paine massif in its entirety.

If you prefer to avoid the crowds, take to the ‘next W trek’ and embark on a four-day, 43 kilometre trip through Cerro Castillo National Reserve. Here you will see lakes and glaciers, and perhaps catch a sighting of the endangered huemul deer. This is no easy option - the terrain and stream crossings are difficult. Not one for the nervous hiker. 

For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, go to Dientes de Navarino. This trek at the very end of the world on Tierra del Fuego will give you something to talk about back home. It is probably the least heard of and the most difficult trek in Patagonia, starting at Puerto Williams through a distance of 53 kilometres over harsh terrain and taking three to four days. This is where the Andes meet the Antarctic plate. Take a guide – these conditions can be extreme and exceptional. Just like the landscape you’ll encounter on your trip.