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Great Escape CHILE

Set out on an adventure that covers the length of our Best in Travel 2018 winning nation, from the granite spires of Torres del Paine to poetic, seaside Valparaíso, and from the vineyards and starry skies of the Elqui Valley to the arid canyons, salt lakes and volcanoes of the Atacama Desert.
A farmer leads his horse to graze near Alcohuaz, at the end of the Elqui Valley in northern Chile

Plan your trip

1 Marvel at Patagonia’s mountain masterpiece in the Torres del Paine National Park (p66).

2 Ascend the higgledypiggledy hillsides by funicular railway in Valparaíso, Chile’s bohemian port city (p68).

3 Follow the Chilean hippie trail to the vineyards, pisco producers and clear night skies of the Elqui Valley (p70).

4 Witness the silence of the salt flats in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, yet incongruously alive with flamingos (p72).

MAP ILLUSTRATION: ALEX VERHILLLE. PHOTOGRAPHS: LARISA BLINOVA/ALAMY, WOLFGANG KAEHLER/GETTY, PHILIP LEE HARVEY, JAVIER MAMANI/STRINGER/GETTY

HOW TO GET THERE

British Airways is currently the only airline with direct flights to Santiago from the UK, departing from London Heathrow (from £792; ba.com). Airlines such as Air France, Iberia and Alitalia also offer connections between the UK and Santiago, with stop-offs in Paris, Madrid or Rome respectively (from £794; alitalia.com). British nationals visiting Chile for less than 90 days do not need a visa to enter the country.

HOW TO GET AROUND

Travel distances in Chile are vast, so it’s worthwhile booking one or two internal flights if you’re pushed for time. Santiago is the hub, with local airlines Latam and Sky offering flights to Puerto Natales and Puntas Arenas (for Torres del Paine), La Serena (for the Elqui Valley) and Calama (for the Atacama Desert, Santiago-Calama from £250; latam.com). Passenger trains are scarce, but there’s an extensive long-distance bus network serving almost all towns. Car hire is readily available at Santiago airport (from £25 per day; europcar.com). A 4WD can be helpful if you’re planning to head off the beaten track in the Atacama or Patagonia.

HOW LONG TO SPEND

The itinerary in our story can be completed in around two weeks, although a month would be much more preferable for you to fully explore Chile. To extend an itinerary, consider spending time in Santiago, the fishing villages of the Chiloé Archipelago or to drive the Carretera Austral – the bumpy highway that traverses Chilean Patagonia.

SAFETY AND SECURITY

Chile is one of the safest countries to visit in South America, however it’s worth being cautious when visiting larger cities. Valparaíso has a longstanding reputation for petty crime, such as pickpocketing and muggings, particularly in the old port area. Be aware that Chile suffers from violent earthquakes, with lots of seismic activity recorded in Santiago and Valparaíso in 2017.

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