The last twenty years have seen Chile win a steady stream of accolades and praise from
international press and travel organisations alike, lauding its merits as one of the best countries in the world to visit.
Having spent much time in Chile I can certainly vouch for all the adulation. Most recently The Telegraph published a list of the best 20 destinations to visit in 2017. Chile took the first place, above Canada, Spain and New Zealand.
Spearheading Chile's charge up the rankings of the travel industry's must visit destinations are the big three heavy weight attractions: Torres del Paine, San Pedro de Atacama and The Lake District. The dramatic scenery of these wild regions will captivate even the most demanding of worldly travellers.
Whilst these three giants of Chilean tourism fully deserve their status and are understandably at the top of the list for anyone arriving in Chile for the first time, there are other destinations equally deserving of your attention.
Looking to cast some of the limelight on to less renowned parts of the country the Chilean tourist board (Sernatur) set about identifying one area of interest per region (there are 15 administrative regions in Chile) that fulfilled the criteria of being "unique, extraordinary and fascinating".
This is what they came up with, listed here from north to south:
• Parque Nacional Lauca (Arica y Parinacota)
• San Andrés de Pica (Tarapacá)
• Reserva Nacional de Los Flamencos (Antofagasta)
• Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces (Atacama)
• Punta de Choros-Reserva Pingüino de Humboldt (Coquimbo)
• Isla Robinson Crusoe (Valparaíso)
• Monumento Natural El Morado (Región Metropolitana)
• Navidad-Matanzas (O'Higgins)
• Rocas y Dunas de Constitución (Maule)
• Isla Mocha (Biobío)
• Parque Nacional Conguillío (Araucanía)
• Reserva de la Biósfera Huilo Huilo (Los Ríos)
• Mapu Lahual (Los Lagos)
• Parque Nacional Queulat (Aysén)
• Tierra del Fuego (Magallanes)
It is worth pointing out that by limiting the search to one place per region some really worthy destinations don't feature. Nevertheless, all the destinations listed above are without doubt unique, extraordinary and fascinating.
From the shortlist above, these are my three favourites:
The Lauca National Park is tucked away high on the Altiplano in the region of Arica y Parinacota, bordering Bolivia. If the scenery doesn't leave you breathless the altitude will. The altitude in the park ranges from the lowest point, a mere 3,200m, reaching up to the snowy peak of the Parinacota volcano at 6,342m (20,807ft).
The park forms part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves not only in recognition of its diverse natural wealth - including more than 130 bird species - but also for it cultural significance for the pre-Hispanic inhabitants of the region, the Aymara people.
Punta de Choros is a fishing village that serves as the point of departure to the islands that make up the Humboldt Penguin wildlife reserve. It is easily visited as a day trip from the city of La Serena 75 miles away.
From Punta de Choros the fishermen run well organised boat trips out to the islands. The round trip takes about 2 hours. The star of the show is the charming little desert-dwelling penguin that gives the reserve its name, but you can expect to see a lot of other marine wildlife too: dolphins, the occasional killer whale, fur seals, elephant seals and sea otters.
Back on dry land the wider region of Coquimbo is a real gem too. It is well worth spending a few days in the region to explore the picturesque valleys of Elqui and Limari, the vineyards and Pisco distilleries and enjoy the wonderful seafood.
The Qeulat National Park is hidden away in Aysen, Chile's least accessible region, and as a result receives fewer visitors that its magnificent scenery merits.
The park's steep slopes, covered in dense Evergreen Forest, rise abruptly from sea level by the shores of the Ventisquero fiord to snowy peaks over 2,000m high. The area is subject to heavy rain at any time of year, receiving between three and four metres annually. Camping is permitted in the park in designated areas and there are a handful of short walk on marked trails to the parks highlights like the famous hanging glacier.