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When it comes to landscapes, Chile has it all. Considering the country’s rather slim dimensions (just 217 miles at its widest point, and 40 at its narrowest) it might come as a surprise that this South American country boasts glaciers, mountains, altiplano deserts, tropical islands, and urban cityscapes.
1. Stargaze in San Pedro de Atacama
There are impeccably clear skies all over Chile, but there are few night skies in the world that compare to those above the remote Atacama Desert. Home to ALMA, an international observatory with the most expensive ground-based telescope in the world (costing a cool US $1.4 billion), the magic of the Atacama skies is the combination of altitude, dry weather, and minimal light pollution to spectacular –effects, even with the naked eye. Stargaze anywhere in Chile and you’ll be mesmerized; stargaze in the Atacama with a very large telescope and your mind will be blown.
INSIDER TIP: Luxury hotels tend to have their own telescopes on-site, but if you are desperate for a night viewing on a budget visit Space Obs which has a nightly stargazing session using several large telescopes.
2. Tour the Street Art of Valpo
Known as Valpo to locals, Valparaíso is the bad boy of Chile’s coastal cities. A rough and ready port settlement, there’s a verve to this city that is best explored through the myriad narrow lanes adorned in street art–occasionally political, sometimes social commentary, and often completely abstract. This is some of the best street art in Latin America.
It isn’t just the graffiti that makes Valpo colorful, but also the brightly painted houses. The maze of dilapidated mansions and bohemian barrios create a colorful haze over the city which can be enjoyed from the many viewpoints offered by rooftop bars and artful patios.
INSIDER TIP: Wear a good pair of walking shoes (Valparaíso is steep) and bring plenty of spare change so you can hop on one of the many funiculars which take you up or down the hills.
3. Visit the Old Town of Santiago
Santiago is a modern metropolis but make sure to also wander the backstreets of the old town, tucked away in the Bellas Artes and Bellavista neighborhoods either side of the river. This is the heart of the city, where Santiago’s bohemian intelligentsia chose to reside during the city’s literary heyday. Today, it is still home to some of the best museums and galleries in Santiago and arty hangouts. Live music, comedy shows, and theatres amass in the narrow streets of these traditional barrios, and an evening hopping between bars and restaurants here is one of the best spent in Santiago.
INSIDER TIP: When the rest of the city all but sleeps on the weekend, the Lastarria neighborhood of Bellas Artes jumps into life with a popular outdoor market and book stands. This is also one of the best streets to buy decent coffee in Chile, so grab a cup and slowly meander through the picturesque streets finishing up with an energetic walk up Cerro Santa Lucia.
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