Chile is a slender ribbon of land flanked by the South Pacific Ocean to the west, and surrounded by Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.
The country is a mystifying amalgam of extraordinarily diverse scenery, vibrant cultures, and exciting cities. From the fjords and glaciers of Patagonia and Antarctica to the driest desert in the world at Atacama, volcanoes to tropical islands, Chile boasts nearly every landscape imaginable.
One of the country’s defining characteristics is its warm culture, summarised in its motto of ‘buena onda’ (‘good vibes’). Rituals surrounding relaxation and connection - such as the ‘mate’ tea custom - are integral to Chilean culture, as well as a strong connection with food, music and dance.
World-class cities like Santiago weave together 21st century global culture and time-honoured traditions, and provide everything from phenomenal restaurants and buzzing nightlife to gorgeous, trendy beaches. Wine lovers will also find worlds of taste to explore in the lush valleys of vineyards offering some of the best wine on earth.
Days 1 - 4
Resting in a valley surrounded by the snow-capped Andes and the Chilean Coast Range, Chile’s vibrant, cosmopolitan, capital city of Santiago is famous for its beautiful parks, wealth of historical attractions, and as a hub of modern arts and culture.
The Cerro San Cristobal Park, the largest green space in the city, lies on a hill and is reached by a funicular ride. It offers visitors stunning sweeping views of the city, as well as a picturesque botanical garden and two huge swimming pools.
The colonial Plaza de Armas, the old town centre, is a delight to explore with its numerous Neoclassical buildings and museums, most notably the home-turned-museum of renowned poet Pablo Neruda.
Visitors to Santiago can soak in wonderful live performances, concerts and art displays at numerous galleries and centres such as the Centro Gabriela Mistral, named after Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral.
San Pedro de Atacama
Days 4 - 6
The small town of San Pedro de Atacama is a scenic oasis in the Atacama Desert, surrounded by the imposing volcanic peaks of the Chilean altiplano and located close to several major archaeological and natural attractions. The fascinating ancient sites of Tulor and Quitor, the enthralling Atacama Salt Flat, the jaw-dropping turquoise Altiplanic Lagoons, and the other-worldly Tatio Geysers all lie nearby, and as a result, the village has become a significant tourist destination. Despite its small size it encompasses a wide range of restaurants; however, it is also known for its ‘western feel’ and retains an old-world charm. History enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the atmospheric 17th-century Iglesia San Pedro. However, it is really the breathtaking surroundings that make this destination special.
Home to ancient traditions and cultures that are fast disappearing, Bolivia is the continent’s most indigenous country, with 60% of its inhabitants descended from Native Americans - a rich heritage that is evident in the local art, cuisine, music and traditions.
Equally as fascinating is the incredibly diverse landscape, stretching from the central Andes to the Amazon Basin and encompassing a terrain that includes snowy peaks, the world’s highest navigable lake, rainforests, dry valleys, and volcanoes both active and extinct.
Whether you are in search of colourful festivals, ancient remains or an outdoor adventure, Bolivia is a tourist’s treat waiting to be discovered.
Days 6 - 7
The Siloli Desert is the world’s highest desert, resting at an altitude of 4550 metres above sea level. It is located close to Bolivia’s border with Chile and considered to be an extension of the neighbouring Atacama Desert. Visitors to this remote part of the world can look forward to dramatic views of geometrically cracked salt pans and rust-coloured hills. The desert’s most iconic feature is the Árbol de Piedra, a seven-metre high sandstone formation that resembles a gnarled tree and was shaped by the region’s harsh winds over thousands of years. The tiny settlement of Ojo de Perdiz has a spattering of guesthouses and a fascinating community, while the nearby Pastos Grandes Lagoon is a shallow salt lake set below a volcanic mountain where you can see flocks of flamingos and revel in the breathtaking scenery.
Days 7 - 8
Located in the south west of Bolivia, the small town of Uyuni is not a tourist destination per se, but rather a starting point for those wishing to explore the region’s extraordinary landscape. Group tours leave regularly from Uyuni, taking visitors on a scenic journey that includes an antique train cemetery, thermal baths, rock formations and the remarkable Uyuni salt flats. Spanning more than 10 000 square kilometres and containing 10 billion tonnes of glistening salt, “Salar de Uyuni” is the world’s largest salt plain, offering breathtaking views that place it amongst Bolivia’s main attractions.
Days 8 - 9
Surrounded by the peaks of the Andean Plateau and overlooked by the 6402m Mt. Illimani, La Paz is a truly breathtaking city whose buildings sprawl the surrounding canyon, reaching altitudes of up to 4100m.
While the sight of the city is reason enough to visit, La Paz holds a number of attractions sure to keep tourists fascinated.
Take a walk along Calle Jaen, a colonial street where museums can be found, explore the city’s cathedrals or wander through some of the colourful markets, including the “Witches’ Market” where llama foetuses and dried frogs can be found for sale.
Peru is most famous for the sacred archaeological site of Machu Picchu – visited each year by scores of intrepid hikers who brave the Inca Trail’s arduous slopes to explore the age-old ruins.
But the country’s attractions extend far beyond the mystical allure of this legendary location, and include palm-fringed beaches, quaint Andean villages and archaeological treasures that predate Machu Picchu by hundreds of years – all imbued with the nation’s rich melange of indigenous and colonial cultures.
Equally enticing are the exotic reaches of Peru’s Amazon rainforest, Lima’s superb eateries, exquisite architecture and effervescent nightlife, the glittering, mountain-ringed waters of Lake Titicaca, and the vibrant city of Cusco, referred to by the Incas as ‘the centre of the world’.
Days 9 - 10
Set on the shores of glistening Lake Titicaca, this large city is dubbed the ‘folklore capital' of Peru, well known for its traditional music and dance, and is also an important region for agricultural and livestock farming, particularly llamas and alpacas.
Highlights of this city include visits to the historical Church of San Pedro, the Sistine Chapel of the Americas, and a stroll along the boardwalk at the shoreline of Lake Titicaca.
If you have the energy, it is well worth taking a climb up the 700 steps that lead to the Kuntur Wasi viewpoint, which is presided over by a massive metal condor sculpture and offers breathtaking vistas across the city and Lake Titicaca beyond.
Days 10 - 14
Once called the ‘Navel of the World’ by the Incas, Cuzco remains a city that blends colonial Spanish charm with older, more austere remains of pre-Columbian glory – one can still see the foundations of Inca structures on many of its city streets today.
Cuzco’s most important landmarks include sites from both Inca and colonial times, such as the Korikancha (the ancient Temple of the Sun), the Inca street of Loreto with its 12-cornered stones, the cathedral, the Museum of Colonial Art, the archaeological park of Saqsaywaman (the fortress-temple), the nearby funerary shrines of Kenqo, and the water-worship site of Tambomachay.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas
Also known as Urabamba Valley, the Sacred Valley of the Incas is located in the Peruvian Andes, beneath the world famous site of Machu Picchu and not far from Cuzco, the unofficial Inca capital.
This fertile valley is fed by a network of waterways and encompasses a wealth of archaeological sites, including Ollantaytambo, renowned for its extensive Inca ruins; Tipon, which features ancient agricultural terracing and a working irrigation system; and Pisac, with its ancient vestiges and colourful weekly market.
Located more than 6000 feet above sea level in Peru’s mountain peaks, Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most impressive archaeological sites.
This legendary lofty city was abandoned by the Inca Empire, reclaimed by the jungle and lost to humanity until its rediscovery in 1911.
Built by the Incas on the summit of "Machu Picchu" (Old Peak), in the middle of a tropical montane forest overlooking the canyon of the Urubamba, the 'Lost City of Machu Picchu' is a site of extraordinary beauty and enormous archeological significance.
The complex reflects the Inca Empire at its height, with giant walls, terraces and ramps that appear to have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments.
The phenomenal technological skills of the Incan engineers can be seen in multiple facets of the site: the exacting precision of the massive stone buildings, the water channels that reveal a deep understanding of hydraulics, and Intihuatana ("the highest point of the Sun"), which served as a solar calendar that regulated planting and harvesting.
Days 14 - 15
Peru’s capital is a fantastic city to tour, dotted with a multitude of cultural sites and beautifully preserved architecture. Founded by the conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535, Lima was first named ‘City of Kings’ – a biblical reference to the ‘Three Wise Men of the East’ – before its name was changed by the Spanish colonialists.
The most significant historical buildings are located around the Plaza Mayor, the most notable being the Government Palace, where one can still observe the changing of the guard performed by the Húsares de Junín.
The beautiful Cathedral and the various small palaces and colonial balconies also play also their part in the beauty of the city.
Another highlight is the famed Larco Herrera Museum, documenting the millennial cultures that preceded the Inca civilization and containing a priceless collection of pre-Columbian artifacts, including some of South America's finest pre-Inca erotic pottery.