Chile Natural Aspects


Chile Natural Aspects

Chile is one of the most geographically interesting countries on the map. Its unusual shape, very skinny and long, running almost 3000 miles north to south, provides for an enormous variety of climates, landscapes, and natural wonder. Geographically, Chile is generally divided into four regions (north to south): Atacama, Santiago, The Lake District and Patagonia.

The Atacama Desert Region is the most arid desert in the entire world. There are locations within this desert where it has never rained, and others that have absolutely no humidity. Generally speaking this aridity is caused by the Andes Mountains and the flowing of the Humboldt Current.

This type of environment provides optimal conditions for archeological preservation. There are several fantastic museums here, including San Miguel Museum in the Azapa Valley in Arica and the Padre Le Paige Museum in San Pedro de Atacama. And if the desire is to see art in its original location, the Atacama has an incredible collection of rock art, including paintings, petroglyphs, and geoglyphs, one of which is the world’s largest human image ever drawn.

Atacama is also home to many desert ghost towns built during the nitrate boom at the turn of the last century. The geology of this desert will tickle the geology fan. Because of years and years of volcanic and erosive activity in this arid environment, the minerals in this region are extremely rich. Wind blown hills show multicolored rows of minerals, volcanoes dot the eastern horizon, and with them vast salt flats, hot springs, and mineral deposits.

The El Tatio Geysers erupt everyday at dawn, creating beautifully bizarre mineral structures steam rising as high as 10 meters into the air. All this can be seen with tours into the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos and the Lauca National Park.

Santiago lies in the increasingly famous vineyard region of Chile. The climate in this area is perfect for winemaking, and the region boasts 4 distinct valleys and 8 wineries in all. Trips to any of these vineyards are fascinating, as one learns the story of how the original rootstocks were imported from Europe (mostly France) in the 18th century, just before the Phylloxera plague destroyed vineyards across Europe and the world. Chile is the only country to possess the original strain of the rootstock..

The most well-known wineries are Concha y Toro, Cousiño Macul, Santa Carolina and Undurraga, several of which feature beautifully constructed parks and elegant mansions from the turn of the last century.

The introduction to the southern region of Chile, the Lake District, is one rife with rivers and volcanoes which provide for wide valleys and an overall geographical delight for the eyes. National parks and reserves provide much national interest for the traveler, as they protect native forests that include millenarian tree species, such as the larch.

The area from lake Calafaquen to lake Pirihueico is known as the Seven Lakes district, because they share the same river basin and are connected by an intricate system of rivers. The most outstanding lakes have traditionally been selected as follows: Catafquen, Rinihue and Panguipulli.

Near the city Osorno, one can enjoy Osorno National Park with its Rupanco and Lianquihue lakes, the latter of which possess some fantastic destinations (including the beautiful Saltos del Petrohud waterfall) for swimming and enjoying the outdoors. This region offers the adventurer the full palate of outdoor activities: trekking, fishing, mountain biking, rafting, sailing, skiing in Antillanca, relaxing at the Puyehue hotsprings and observing the flora and fauna.

The stark and barren landscape of Patagonia is a marvel of natural wonder. Enormous lakes, thermal springs, fjords, an unexplored ice-field 248 miles long, hanging glaciers, larch forests, national parks and colonists settlements are just some of the amazing natural phenomena to be seen.

All this lies within a territory which is virtually uninhabited, as only 2% of Chileans live in this region. For the rafting and kayaking lovers, the Futaleufu river is a must-do, possessing some of the wildest whitewater in the world, while the area also offers plenty of lagoons (such as the San Rafael) and other glaciers for sailing and cruises. There is also a multitude of options for climbing, sea-kayaking, trekking, and fishing. Of course the most spectacular natural wonders here in Patagonia are its immense glaciers and fjords.

Near the end of the Southern Road lies the Patagonian Ice Fields sprawling across the Andes, and of course one cannot miss the most equatorial glacier in the world, San Rafael. When the glaciers of the Pleistocene era gouged enormous, steep valleys into the Andes, Patagonia's magnificent fjords were born.

When the glaciers finally receded and sea levels rose, these immense valleys filled with water to form the incredible Quintupeu, Cahueimó, Puyuhuapi and Quitralco fjords. After trekking the glaciers, navigating the fjords, or rafting some of the strongest whitewater in the world, one must not miss the opportunity to relax in one of the many hot springs in the region, including the Cahuelmó, Porcelana, Puyuhuapi and the Quitralco hot springs.

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