Atacama you down: Chile treks this autumn

The leaves are turning orange in the northern hemisphere so it’s with a heartfelt sigh that you start rummaging through those sweaters at the back of your closet. But in South America, especially Chile, it’s all so different. There it’s soon to be the dawn of spring, making it the ideal time to don your hiking gear and head south, for a veritable change of detour, as the days get brighter and longer. You will be transported to a miracle world of wondrous sunsets, mystical mountains and fjords, and idyllic lakeside retreats, as well as parched desert.

A Room with a View

Where will you stay? From fancy hotels to simple hostels, you will find a range of accommodation in all major cities and vacation areas. New hotels and bungalow complexes have been built in remote areas and in National Parks. The latter – so-called cabañas – are nearly always well equipped with a kitchenette and are a cheaper alternative for families than hotels.

Alternatively, of course, you can pitch a tent for the night during one of your hikes. Many camp grounds are available in Chilean National Parks. Gas stations sell maps and guides that list sites for the entire country.

JustinJensen / Foter / CC BY


The Lake District…and other wonders

How about a trip to the Lake District this year? I don’t mean the area around Lake Windermere in England!  Neither am I referring to any region of Switzerland, although some have commented on the similarity! I’m referring to the Chilean Lake District, the area in the south of the country defined by its 12 major lakes in the Andean foothills. Between the lakes there are rivers, waterfalls, rain forests, thermal hot springs, bizarre woods of Araucaria trees and beaches of black volcanic sand.

The climate is usually gentle and soothing, ideally suited to all-round trekking. Hikers will delight in this truly unforgettable area. You could drive to the banks of the Tranquil River (Rio Tranquilo) for example, enjoy a dip in the waters and see for yourself that the surroundings are as soothing as the name implies.

If you fancy staying in a hotel at an unusually high altitude, then how about the Hotel Chakana? This lies at the gateway to Lauca National Park, only a stone’s throw away from the ice-covered 6000m high peaks of Parinacota and Pomerape and close to the border with Bolivia and Peru.

Explore the Torres del Paine National Park with its magnificent forests, lakes, rivers and fjords. The famous Torres del Paine Circuit trek, which can take up to 10 days, takes you past Dickson Lake, Los Perros river and the John Gardner Pass. The classic W Trek, on the other hand, features the most beautiful sites along the front of the park, but focuses on the main attractions of Los Cuernos, the Paine Massif, Glacier Grey and, of course, the famous Towers themselves. Those walkers looking for some solitude should head for EcoCamp Patagonia, which is situated right in the heart of the National Park itself.

What about telling your friends that you had a trek through the Atacama desert? This is officially the driest place on earth with average rainfall of 1 millimeter per year in some places and none at all in others.

The desert has experienced extreme hyperaridity for at least 3 million years, making it the oldest continuously arid region on earth. Numerous salt lakes, sand and lava flows litter this 40,600 square miles region as well as hot springs.

Stay close to the capital

Feeling a little nervous about being so far out of town? The El Morado Glacier trek enables you to appreciate the glaciers in the high Andes not far from Santiago. It’s also less crowded than most of the more distant routes. The climb upwards through the Andes takes several hours depending on fitness levels, and you get a great view of the glacier and its lagoon full of floating ice. Giant hummingbirds and mockingbirds also make this a feast for birdwatchers.

For trekking you will need light and comfortable clothing, a warm coat or windbreaker and proper walking shoes.  An additional pair of shoes and socks plus sunglasses are also advisable for snow walks.