The Wild Side Of Santiago

7 October 2016
Read Time: 2.4 mins

Most people who fly into Santiago think they need to head south to Patagonia or north to the Atacama Desert for a dose of Chile’s famed wilderness, but with the Andes one hour to the east, the Coastal Range one hour to the west, and the Pacific Ocean 30 minutes beyond that, there’s plenty of wilderness within easy reach of the metropolitan area. Here’s a look at five ways you can explore Chile’s diverse landscapes on your next stopover in this oft-overlooked gateway to South America.

Ski At Valle Nevado

Home to the largest skiable domain on the continent (2,830 hectares), Valle Nevado is truly a winter paradise with 14 lifts, 44 trails and ample offpiste terrain. Bus in and out for a quick daytrip from Santiago or spend the night at 3,000 meters in one of the resort’s three hotels (which cater to all budgets). With awing views of the tallest mountains outside Asia, you’d never guess that this European-style resort high up in the Andes is just 46km from Santiago and its 7 million inhabitants.

Valle Nevado ski slopes The ski slopes of Valle Nevado are just 46km from Santiago. Image: Getty.

Cycle Wine Country

The patchwork hills of Cassablanca Valley, less than an hour west of Santiago, lay claim to some of the newest and most prestigious bodegas (wineries) in Chile, specializing in cool climate grapes like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. One of the best ways to appreciate this burgeoning region is on two wheels with a bike tour from a local outfit like La Bicicleta Verde. Cycle through the vines and sample vintages from the boutique bodega Kingston Family Vineyards. Then set off on your own to explore nearby cellar doors such as Emiliana (for organic wines) and Viña Indomita (for spectacular valley views.)

 vinyards in cassablanca valley chile Cycling and wine tasting is just an hour west of Santiago. Image: Getty.

Raft In Cajon Del Maipo

Just 50km southeast of Santiago in the foothills of the Andes lies the popular adventure travel hub known as Cajon del Maipo. This easily accessible patch of pristine scrubland is a place where towering canyon walls lead to blue lagoons, crackling glaciers and misty geothermal baths. Zoom past it all atop white water rapids on a rafting trip with a respected outfit like Andes Soul or Rutavertical Rafting. New to the sport? Not to worry. You shouldn’t have any problem rafting the Maipo because, outside of Spring when snowmelt raises water levels (and rafting speeds), you’re unlikely to encounter anything more challenging than Class III rapids.

 cajon del maipo rapids chile There is rafting for all levels in this stunning canyon. Image: Getty

More Chilean Adventures Await: Extreme Experiences
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Ride A Wave At Ritoque

Once a sleepy fishing village known for its razor clams and seafood empanadas, humble Ritoque (150km northwest of Santiago) has grown in recent years into one of South America’s most sought-after surf spots where those brave enough to endure the icy slap of the Humboldt Current can tackle 7m beach-breaking waves for epically long rides. At 15km from end to end, Ritoque is the longest beach in the region with consistent conditions for optimal surf. Ever-buzzing Pichilemu (about an hour further from Santiago) is an even better bet for surfers in search of a buzzing surf scene back on solid ground.

 surfers paddling out at pichilemu chile at dusk Surfers paddling out at sunset at Pichilemu, Chile. Image: Getty

Ride Horseback In The Aconcagua Valley

Step into the boots of a Chilean huaso and soak up local cowboy lore on a horseback-riding adventure through the Aconcagua Valley. Nestled in the shadows of the tallest mountain in the Americas (Aconcagua; 6,961 metres), the fertile Aconcagua Valley one hour north of Santiago is home to a number of horseback-riding companies who offer tours ranging from a few hours to a few days. A handful of companies even offer a week-long horseback adventure crossing the Andes by horse into Argentina following the route that was used for centuries before there was a road!

 mountains rising from Aconcagua valley chile Horse riding is the perfect way to experience the spectacular Aconcagua Valley. Image: Getty.

For information on flights and tours to Santiago and South America beyond, contact a Flight Centre Travel Expert today. Call 131 600, visit flightcentre.com.au, or head to your local Flight Centre store.

Mark Johanson

Mark Johanson is a travel writer based in Santiago, Chile, who regularly roves all corners of South America and beyond for magazines in the US, UK and Australia. He’s travelled to more than 40 countries, lived in six of them and can’t seem to find a cure for itchy feet. Be it a trek into an Indonesian volcano, a camel ride into the Outback or a climb up a Patagonian peak, he’s forever in search of a great story in some of earth’s more remote pockets. Follow the adventure at www.markjohanson.com