Journal: TWUKSection:
Title: Issue Date: 02/04/01
Author: Page Number: 44
Copyright: Other

Chile by Louise Longman

Chile offers more than a mouthful of festive fun

Raised profile makes nation flavour of the moment

CHILE is like a Christmas stocking – it’s long, thin and fit to bursting with unexpected goodies.

Fortunately there’s no lump of coal at the bottom, but if you start at the top and travel southwards, you’ll encounter all four seasons in one holiday, from the scorching hot desert of San Pedro de Atacama to the fjords and glaciers of Torres del Paine in the south.

Squeezed down the very western side of South America, behind the Andes and bordering the Pacific Ocean, Chile is one of the most unknown countries of South America. Yet an increasing number of tour operators are adding Chile to their Latin American programmes.

Bristol-based Trips Worldwide has featured Chile for just under a year and Exodus Travel has added Chile’s scenic Lake District to its 2001/2 programme.

Exodus Travel operations manager for the Americas Rob Dixon says programmes such as BBC2’s Andes to the Amazon series have boosted Chile’s appeal, while Journey Latin America director Chris Parrott believes Chile has simply become “the flavour of the moment”.

“A lot of people have been put off from going to Chile because of Pinochet, but for the past three to four years, there’s been more publicity. Chile offers reasonably good infrastructure and it’s run now like a Western democracy,” said Parrott.

I expected to be greeted with dusty dirt tracks, tumble weed and poncho-wearing locals during a two-week trip to visit my sister over Christmas. What I found was breathtaking scenery, an extremely punctual and luxurious bus service running the entire length of the country on Chile’s Pan-American Highway, and a host of extreme sports and activities to tire out even the most adventurous traveller.

“When people think of panpipes and the Incas then Peru is the one to visit,” said Dixon. “But if it’s mountains and wildlife you’re after, then you should go to Chile.”

While there are no direct flights from the UK to Chile’s capital of Santiago, most tour operators fly with Iberia and LanChile, with connections via Madrid. LanChile also offers internal flights in Chile. Other airlines servicing the destination include Air France, KLM and Lufthansa. American Airlines flies via Dallas-Fort Worth.

Mixed bag: Chile boasts stunning scenery and a modern infrastructure