More than 35 years ago, we began our missionary career in the evergreen south of Chile. Now we’re experiencing our grand finale in the desert north. Every travel opportunity offers further education and additional story settings. Today I’m going to share my top 10 favorite places in Chile.
Along with ministry, I intend never to stop learning—or writing. So I absorb everything with my story antennae pricked up—the evening news, the homes that line my street, even my many collections. For me, it’s natural that every time I set out my front door, I discover new plots and notice new characters.
North to south, here’s where you’ll find my Seaglass Sagas happening:
North of Santiago
1. San Pedro de Atacama – is a historic adobe town in the Altiplano (high plateau area) of the world’s driest desert. For our 25th anniversary, my husband and I wandered the narrow streets (no cars allowed!), enjoying the excellent archeology museum and top-notch cuisine—squash soup, llama kabobs, “forbidden fruit” crepes, and hot chocolate at the hot springs (Tatio Geysers). A unique experience, this spot deviates from anything in the rest of Chile.
2. The Elqui Valley – comprises the many hamlets, towns, and vineyards of a semi-arid zone, including the colonial city of La Serena, the port of Coquimbo where we live now, and some of the best beaches in the country and clearest skies on earth. Think southern California and Arizona. Some call it the Enchanted Valley, due to its supposed esoteric powers.
3. The Port of Valparaíso – is built on a series of picturesque world-heritage hills vaguely reminiscent of Cinque Terre, Italy. Home to the Chilean Armada and a historic port of call for commercial and cruise ships from around the world, Valpo and her more elegant twin sister, Viña del Mar, make up the epicenter of the summer holiday hotspot for Santiaguinos like us (for many years). A plethora of surfers’ meccas lie both north and south.
4. Liberators’ Pass through the Andes Range – marks the iconic highway of the Inca Empire. If you cross from Chile to Argentina via Los Andes, you’ll encounter 30 hairpin curves to the top as well as the Christ the Redeemer statue commemorating the (not-always-so-solid) peace between the two countries. Or admire the turquoise blue of the Laguna del Inca over lunch at the ski resort of Portillo, instead.
South of Santiago
5. The Maule Region – and the area around Chillán, in the Central Valley south of Santiago, form the fruit farm belt of Chile. We lived here for four years in the ’90’s, and our whole family’s nostalgia for those days amazes me. Picture months of dry, sunny weather, entire meals of tomatoes and melons, long evenings of conversation under the grape arbor of a brookside adobe cottage—traditional-hacienda Chile at its best. A little farther south, the Laja Falls present a spectacle worth detouring from the main highway.
6. The Lake District – especially the towns of Villarrica, Licán Ray, and Pucón, are among my own top picks, although the increased traffic has become a deterrent now that everybody’s figured out it’s a summer paradise. Nestled among stunning views of volcanoes, forests, and lakes, Licán has hosted our missionary “working vacation” for decades. Somehow we find time for ice cream on the boardwalk most evenings, while the kids enjoy extreme sports and taste indigenous culture.
7. Puerto Varas and Frutillar – showcase picturesque mountain towns with a flavor of German cuisine and architecture. Some call the area Little Bavaria. We’ve fast-tracked through here occasionally through the years, but still want to stop and savor the “chocolate box” longer sometime.
8. The Chiloé Islands – are reached via ferries named after mythological characters. Once you cross the channel, you’ll realize you’re not in Kansas—er, the continent—anymore. Here it rains 8 days a week, 13 months a year, they say—and that’s not far from the truth. But come sit by the wood stove, try a milcao (it’s delicious, so what if it looks like a mini cow patty?) and share your tea with the witches, according to a folksong our daughters learned in kindergarten. Truly, one of Chile’s most colorful corners.
To the End of the World
9. Northern Patagonia – possesses a rugged terrain of mountains and temperate rain forest plunging off the coast into a whirlpool of islands and glaciers. If you imagine only windswept sheep ranches, you’re thinking of the other side of the Andes. While we’ve visited parts of the Chilean Patagonia several times, I still don’t feel like we’ve seen half the amazing sights this region offers—the Hanging Glacier, the Marble Caves, the San Rafael Glacier. Hmmm, but we do have a 40th anniversary coming up…
10. Southern Patagonia – in the region of Magellan and the island of Tierra del Fuego. At the bottom of the world, this is quite possibly the last frontier on earth. Okay, I admit I’ve never made it here yet, nor have I skipped down to Antarctica for the weekend. But who wouldn’t like to see the tribe Charles Darwin sent missionaries to? And Angie and David Serrano are exiled here in Peace Work…
There you have it—my favorite places in Chile, and a few items for your Bucket List, and mine. I bet you can see how I dig story gold out of these intriguing places. Live and Learn…and live to tell about it!