Chile: quick central wrapup
My second visit to Chile on this trip has come to an end: and like my first visit, to northern Chile back in July, it was really short (barely a week). Unlike the barren and slightly Peru-ish Chile of the north, however, this time I saw the real heartland of Chile: the capital, Santiago; and the country's beloved Lake District. Chile's a beautiful country, and once again I've had a great time here: but really, as far as I'm concerned, a week is more than enough. Even for the all-important central regions. Chile has simply become too Western for my liking: it's missing those hard-to-pinpoint but all-important things that make its neighbours so definitively South American.
To recap from my wrapup of northern Chile: the things that I discussed in that wrapup all apply to central Chile as well:
- Expensive (even more so further south)
- More like home (Santiago is the most Western place I've been so far in South America — really makes Lima and Quito seem like the third-world cities that they are)
- You call that Spanish?!? (once again, it's been a week since I could understand a word that anyone said to me)
The only thing that I feel I really need to talk about here (that I didn't cover in the last wrapup, since it doesn't apply to northern Chile), is the scenery in central Chile. No desert down here: no sirree, it's beautiful lush farmland, dazzling mountain lakes, and forested mountains in the centre. And unlike the very uniquely "Andean" scenery up in PEB (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia), the landscape here in central Chile is charmingly European in its beauty. I've heard several people compare the Lake District to Scotland, to Switzerland, and to Norway. Very neat, very green, and largely pristine and well-preserved.
I'll definitely have to come back here some day, and explore central Chile a bit more thoroughly. The countryside in the Santiago area is meant to be lovely (Chile's finest vineyards and wineries are around here); and there's plenty more in the Lake District to see, apart from Pucón and Villarrica. And of course, the magical landscape of southern Chile still remains unchartered territory for me: high on my list for "next trip adventures" is the must-see Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, Chile's most famous hike, on the Chilean side of southern Patagonia.
It's winter in Chile at the moment; and from Arica in the north to Punta Arenas in the south, Chile is 100% a summer holiday destination. Coming in off-season has overall been a very good experience, as everywhere I've travelled to has been nice and quiet, rather than being overrun by fellow tourists. Although Chile is quite cold in the winter, it's still more than pleasant in the central regions; and I hear that even the southern extremities of the country (which Lonely Planet falsely reports as being "virtually inaccessible in winter") are well worth seeing at this time of year. Chile is also stunningly beautiful at the end of winter.
Nevertheless, having said all that, I'll definitely be coming with the tourist hordes next time, in the high season of summer. If for no other reason, Chile has some great river rafting, and I'm not doing that in the middle of winter.