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Some things we should all know about Chile. Ski season begins now, in June, and lasts through October and November. There is a dry, arid, desert up north, and cold, big mountains, down south. Bordering Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, Chile is a sliver of a country that snakes down South America's western coast looking a little like a rumpled necktie. Its southern lands, government preserved national parks, are known as Patagonia, and the area is a natural playground used as a stepping stone to the bottom of the world and a scientific research center. You may need time in Chile, or you can hop down for a ski vacation. Either way, adventure sightseeing tours and weeklong vacations are both easy and affordable.

Intratours (tel. 800/334-8069; www.intratours.com/Specials/Specials.asp?SpecialID=34&Destination=SCL&IndexID=1038) has special round-trip prices on airfare to Santiago, the capital of Chile, for $591 from August 17 to December 9, 2006 (mid-season) and $634 from June 22 to August 16, 2006 (high season). Mid-season prices form other cities include $720 from New York, $821 from San Francisco and $831 from Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston and Houston. Prices increase roughly $30 to $40 for high season fares. These fares are for mid-week departures with Saturday stays obligatory.

For a ski trip to Chile, Casa Tours (tel. 888/311-2272; www.casatours.com) offers short and long excursions to Chile's more popular and challenging ski resorts. "The Classic Shortie" is an eight-day ski and snowboard trip covering five different Chilean ski areas. Billed as a ski trip for beginners and advanced skiers, the Shortie offers "off-lift hiking" for advanced skiers and normal resort skiing for those learning or who want to play it safe. Either way, Casa Tour guides pride themselves on knowing the best Chilean ski sites and being able to get you there. Cost of the land-only trip comes to $2,195 with all accommodations at the resorts, lift tickets, breakfast and dinner for the length of the trip, and all ground transportation to ski sites, sights and resorts included in the price of the package. Group sizes are kept small for these tours with a five to one ratio between skier and guide. Departures are twice monthly in July, August and September. Leading ski tours of Argentina and Chile since 1998, Casa Tours also offers specials on heli-skiing for those looking to go where not many have gone before.

Southern Explorations (tel. 877/784-5400; www.southernexplorations.com/chile.htm) has hiking and adventure tours to Chile offering camping, serious trekking, family trips and luxury tours of the Chile's Patagonia regions. "The Circuit" is a ten-day trip with camping and lodging through Torres del Paine National Park, characterized by some of the most remarkable mountain ranges, mountain mesas, lakes, and outdoor vistas in the world. The ten-day trip costing $2,650 per person if you go with three people in your group, includes your professional outdoor guide, most meals, all hotel and camping, entrance fees, tents, and other on trip amenities. You have to bring your own backpack and sleeping bag, pay for airfare and meals in the city areas, and take care of your personal expenses. Departures are good from November through March as this trip does not leave during the colder winter months. An eight person maximum is placed on the group size. This trip is labeled "strenuous," so be sure to be somewhat fit as you'll be trekking over some rocky terrain and over a glacier. Highlights include a view of the Patagonia Ice Cap, fjords, and a hike to the Paine Towers. The lodging breakout for this trip is two nights in a lodge, five nights camping and one night in a mountain bunkhouse.

For less "strenuous" air/land trips to Chile, Latin America for Less (tel. 800/480-0707; ww5.latinamerica4less.com/site/index.taf) has trips out of New York, Los Angeles and Miami. A seven-night trip to the Lake District and Volcanoes costs $1,499 out of Miami and $1,599 out of New York and L.A. spending three nights in Santiago and four nights in Puerto Montt, a gateway to the national parks, the lake crossing into Argentina and Chloe Island. Included in the trip are airfare, standard accommodations (upgrades are available), certain meals, full day and half day tours at select sites, and air transportation from Santiago to Puerto Montt and back. You need to book by June 30, 2006 to lock in the above prices for this trip that can leave daily based on demand. This full-package visits Chilean wineries and spends ample time in the Chilean countryside in the Lake Region around Puerto Montt.

Latin America for Less is also offering an "Andean Circuit" package with a lake crossing into Argentina and two nights in Buenos Aires is also available for an air/land trip starting at $1,548 out of Miami. The travel provider also has a host of land-only deals to many Latin American countries right for most budget-seeking travelers.

For independent trips giving you a base in Santiago, discount travel provider Gate One Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com) has a seven-day air/land special to Santiago, Chile starting at just $789 for departures in September. If you want to leave in July or August, cost of the trip starts at $939. The trip includes five nights at your choice of hotel, round-trip airfare out of Miami, and daily breakfast. The hotel is a very modern, recently built, four-star luxury hotel just five minutes from the city center. Air security fees and departure taxes are not included in the price of the trip. Sightseeing trips are also available starting at $45 for half-day city tours and going up to $208 for horseback rides through the Andes. Tours of wineries are also available or you can always visit on your own.

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