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Border to Bolivia and Argentina
If you want to climb a volcano, you wanna get high with not too much effort and if you are acclimatised, Cerro Toco is an easy climb where you can reach 5,640 metres in less than 2 hours. It can also be a preparation for other but tougher high altitude climbs in the area.
The mountain is close to the Bolivian and Argentinean border and just about 50 kilometres away from San Pedro de Atacama. There is a road leading up a long way on the mountain from where it is just 350 altitude metres more to reach the top. The volcano does not have a conical shape such as some of its neighbours but from the summit you get an amazing view over Laguna Blanca in Bolivia and of the Licancabur volcano on the border.
Easter Island (Rapa Nui)
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean
Giant stone statues are the stars on Easter Island (also called Rapa Nui). The Moai, as they are called, were carved out of the side of volcano craters and moved somehow to the shore, where they were lined up to stare over the tiny island. It is a mystery today how they were transported, in some cases to the other side of the island over rugged terrain. The history of Easter Island is full of ancient legends, controversies and guesses – though Thor Heyerdahl's wild speculations about how the island got populated by South Americans is today put to shame by genetic evidence which tells that they came from Polynesia. Due to local warfare, most statues have been knocked over, where some still remain today. Besides the stone faces, the civilisation also left behind petroglyphs (rock drawings), ceremonial villages (more rocks) and a curly alphabet that nobody today can read. Even if old rocks and mad history is not your cup of tea, the Easter Island is still worth a visit just for the sheer fact that it is the most isolated place on earth, being 1900 km from the nearest populated landmass, the Pitcairn.
The Southern part of Chile has a very rugged coastline full of fjords. Within Chile there are not that many roads to travel between Central and Southern Patagonia so a great way to cover this distance is by taking the Navimag Ferry between Puerto Natales and Puerto Montt. This three-day trip is a truly fantastic journey! You are treated with amazing scenery of volcanoes, snowy mountains, glaciers and whales - all if weather permits of course. If you get bored, there are lectures about the environment and bingo nights. This ferry is a combination between a basic cruise ship and a cargo ferry. Cheapest is to take dorm-style berths that are actually quite comfortable but you can move more upscale to private huts with bathroom. Even if it is all quite comfortable, the smell of manure from the cows that are being transported on the lower deck reminds you that it is also a cargo ship.
Otway Sound Near Punta Arenas
Approximately one hour by car from the town of Punta Arenas, you find Otway Sound penguin colony. It is the result of a successful project, that has expanded the number of the once endangered penguin species. The area is protected and you must remain on the marked trails - but from there is great opportunity to see the small black-white Magellan penguins both on the beach and in the green areas. You can also spot hares, ostriches, flamingos and many other bird species from the specially-built lookout towers. As in most parts of Patagonia, the landscape here is also cold and windy - even in summertime.
Puerto Natales is the gateway to Southern Patagonia and more specifically to Torres del Paine national park. No matter what, if you want to travel to Torres del Paine, you will spend at least some time in Puerto Natales. You can stock up on food for a trek or you can rest there after a trek. The town lies at a fjord and has a typical Patagonian feel. A walk along the fjord with beautiful landscapes and shipyards is about all you can do in the town except for enjoying the comforts of restaurants, internet and soft beds. It is also where the Navimag ferry arrives and departs so that is another reason to pass by Puerto Natales.
Close to Puerto Montt, from where you can travel south by ferry to Puerto Natales, and close to Bariloche just across the Argentinian border, Puerto Varas is a pretty town at the Llanquihue lake. What makes the town especially pretty is the view that you get from the lake shore. Two volcanoes dominate the landscape with the Osorno volcano standing out with its conical shape. On a nice day, people are drawn to the lake to go for a swim, chat, hang out or drink a beer, which is forbidden in public in Chile so they have them hide their booze while police patrols to maintain order. The town's history is still very noticeable. Around the start of the 19th century Europeans from German speaking countries were attracted to this town in order to further colonise the South of Chile and this you still feel strongly.
The city of Punta Arenas is Chile's southernmost city, and around 100,000 people live here. About a third of the population originates from Yugoslav settlers, which is reflected in the townscape, in particular in a lot of street names. It is a relatively big city with an important Chilean naval base and many restaurants and shops. In the city's central square a large statue of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who looks out towards the sea, is situated. The town also has a huge and quite special cemetery, where many of the city's historically leading citizens are buried. This city is definitely worth a visit.
San Pedro de Atacama
Travelling in the triple border region of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile it is hard to avoid San Pedro de Atacama. Not that you’d want to skip this place because it is charming and pretty with a nearly constant view of the beautiful Licancabur volcano on the Bolivian border. Starting out as an oasis in the Atacama desert, it is now a major tourist destination. It has been able to keep its charm and houses are low with inner courts. The central plaza is pretty with the adobe church that has a roof made of cactus wood. Definitely worth a visit is the Le Paige Archeological museum that displays a quite impressive amount of ceramics and artefacts from the ancient inhabitants from the Atacama desert. The desert around San Pedro is rich with beautiful sites such as the Vale de la Luna, geysers, salt flats and lots more or you could simply go star gazing anywhere in the desert.
Capital of Chile
You are in for a surprise when coming to Santiago. The city is either surprisingly dull when going to some of the conservative suburbs, or surprisingly attractive when venturing into neighbourhoods like Bellavista and Barrio Brasil. Though those areas can seem a bit scruffy at the edge, they boast a down-to-earth bohemian vibe. The streets are either filled with abandoned shops with graffiti or artsy fashion stores and there are great eateries around every corner, ranging from fancy hip sidewalk cafes to charismatic restaurants.
Easter Island (Rapa Nui)
Have you wondered how fast you can go on a banana tree trunk? Well, at the annual Tapati festival on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) one of the competitions is the Haka Pei race, where semi-naked Polynesians slide down a very steep hill on top of two trunks tied together. It takes bravery to do it, for they reach speeds up to 80 km/h. The whole festival runs for two weeks and starts in January or February, and the goal is to pick a new queen for the year. Each candidate is backed up by their whole clan and the groups then compete against each other in a range of traditional arts and sports, like the Haka Pei. It is a unique opportunity to see ancient Rapa Nui traditions come alive and get spoiled with muscular warriors and seductive beauties performing traditional Rapa Nui dance.