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7 Life-Changing Adventures in Chile

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

Epic Chilean adventures that will take you from the mouth of a volcano, to the longest zipline in the world.

Pinterest image for 7 Life-Changing Adventures in Chile.

Known as one of the best destinations in the world for adventure travel, Chile is an obvious bucket list dot-on-the-map for those wanting epic thrills + discovery to be major players in their vacation. As this mega-skinny, super-long country spans so many climates, it provides a dynamic tapestry of terrain that offers travelers a seemingly endless platter of locations to climb, hike, surf, slide, zip and paddle. Essentially, Chile is a thrill-seeker’s wonderland.

Tip: If you’d rather skip the navigation and booking of this adrenaline-soaked trip, look into one of the many adventure tours offered in Chile.

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Sandboarding in the San Pedro de Atacama Desert

Dunes for sandboarding in the San Pedro de Atacama Desert.

Enter Mars-on-Earth when you reach the Atacama Desert - the driest desert on the planet. With jagged rock formations that seem to be trying to jab the sky, otherworldly dawns and dusks, and mountains of reddish gold sand, Atacama is like a playground for those that enjoy a good ole unconventional adventure, like sliding down a sand dune on a board.

As there’s seemingly endless dunes of all sizes to choose from, everyone from kids wanting to slide down with their belly on the board, to adults wanting to fly across the sands at high speeds, will be set. If you’re in the latter camp, head to Dragon Hill, a 1,148-foot tall dune considered the highest in the world. And to be sure you have the footage to prove your courage, bring that GoPro.

Sandboard San Pedro can help you out with the gear and navigation.

Backpacking in Torres Del Paine National Park

Teal lake in the Torres Del Paine National Park.

The jewel of Patagonia, Torres Del Paine National Park is the one location you can’t leave Chile without exploring. It’s a blow-your-mind, have-a-spiritual-experience, change-your-life kinda place.

Within this 561,663 acre park is a multi-layered canvas of pristine forests, vast mountainscapes with sculpturesque peaks and cathedrals of granite, lakes that make you feel like you’re peering into the turquoise eyes of Mother Nature, and sun rises and sets filled with colors you didn’t think nature could produce. It’s so spectacular it makes people who usually loathe the thought of backpacking yearn for the opportunity, as it will mean they get to spend more time in this wild landscape.

There are numerous hiking options in the park, all of which are stunning, but the most popular (and challenging) are the W and O circuits. The W circuit, named after the shape of the route when viewed on a map, typically takes five to seven days to complete and takes you past many of the most compelling valleys, rivers, glaciers, lakes and peaks in Patagonia.

The 68-mile O circuit (also called the “full circuit”), is the longer and more demanding route. The O includes the W circuit, plus a trek around the less crowded backside of the Paine Massif - on a map, this looks like an O a three-year-old would draw. This route typically takes eight to ten days.

As Patagonia is home to over 126 species of mammals and birds, you might run into guanacos (llama-like animal), pumas, South Andean deer and Andean condor during your trek. In addition, the full loop will have you encountering a fascinating range of flora, from Patagonia Steppe and Pre-Andean Shrubland, to Magellanic Decidyous Forest and Andean Desert.

Click here for information on fees, reservations and hiking tours of the park.

Kayaking in Patagonia’s Grey Lake

Massive blue glaciers in Patagonia’s Grey Lake.

While kayaking in Patagonia sounds lovely, it gets wild when you realize that you won’t just be kayaking, but will be navigating a glacier and icebergs in Grey Lake, home to the Grey Glacier, which totally looks like it could be housing some White Walkers.

Located in Torres Del Paine National Park (that must make the other parts of Chile jealous), this lake is bordered by an icy blue behemoth, chunks of which are sprinkled throughout the lake, and offers enough surface that you could easily spend a full day exploring it.

Just as visiting Torres Del Paine is a must if you’re in Chile, kayaking Grey Lake is a must if you’re in the park, as a paddle through this body of water is a mystical journey you’ll never forget - especially because you’ll take hundreds of photos while there.

White Water Rafting In Pucon

People in white helmets white water rafting in Pucon, Chile.

This Chilean mountain town is a popular stop for both Chileans and foreigners, especially those that like to get into a tangle with class three and four level rapids. The Trancura River is the site of this aquatic, heart pounding revelry and has attracted innumerable river guides who are happy to lead your way through the white water - like the folks at Kayak Pucon (they have more than kayaks.)

Beyond the rollercoaster-like thrills, Pucon is flush with natural beauty, enhancing the experience with views of wild ravines, lush valleys, and commanding volcanoes. When you’re ready for smoother waters, head to nearby Villarrica Lake for a paddle. Or, if you want to keep the high-octane times going, you can parasail.

Zip Lining “El Condor” in Pucón

After handing in your oars, stick around Pucon to score many adventurers’ greatest joy (a thrill and bragging rights) by zipping along “El Condor,” South America’s longest zip line at more than 11,483 feet in length. The six stations of this coveted aerial course span the Villarrica, Quetrupillán and Lanín volcanoes, providing one-of-a-kind views of Pucon’s epic wonders.

Summiting, then Sledding Down, Volcan Villarrica

Volcan Villarrica at sunrise with steam coming out of it.

Not for the faint of heart, a trek to the top of this 9,344-foot high, active volcano will result in pee-your-pants astonishing views of a sizzling, steam-filled crater that just might blow at any time. This volcano is so active you need to wear a gas mask for the last portion of the hike, and because a section is covered in a glacier there will be crampons. Essentially, this is an adrenaline-junkie’s dream.

If you can tear your eyes off the ominous crater, turn around and take in spectacular views of Lake Villarrica, Pucon and the other volcanoes in the area. After you’ve snapped your selfies and felt your stomach clench every time your mind tricks you into thinking the ground just trembled, you toboggan down this (usually) snow-covered volcano on a piece of plastic.

Skiing Valle Nevado

Lodge at the Valle Nevado ski resort at night.

Western Hemisphere-ers who yearn for the sensation of carving a sleek path through fresh powder in the summer, will be blissed-out when they hit the Andean slopes of Valle Nevado (because of the whole our-summer-is-their-winter thing.) This favored ski resort outside of Santiago is perched 10,000 feet in the Andes and provides a multitude of groomed runs and snow quality that is largely considered the best in Chile.

Those used to the tree-lined runs at many ski resorts will be in for a unique experience at Valle Nevado, as all runs, and the resort itself, is perched well above the tree line, creating the impression that you’re gliding through the sky. One could easily picture Zeus or other gods, shredding through its freshies.

The terrain here is amenable to all with runs almost perfectly divided between beginner, intermediate and advanced. In addition, the mountain include gullies, rolling terrain, a terrain park, a bordercross run and side country that can be hiked. The “Inca Valley” portion of the resort peaks at 12,040 feet and consists of a stunning valley.

For those wanting a full-on ski getaway, there are three hotels, condos and numerous restaurants at the resort. And if you really want to outdo yourself - and you’re a professional level skier or snowboarder - consider the world class heli-skiing available in the area.


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