Chile is an active travel mecca. There are few countries where you can trek through primordial rainforests, ascend some of the world's highest peaks, kayak pristine lakes and fjords, raft one of the world's top-rated rivers, mountain bike on hushed country lanes lined with tall poplar trees, ski or snowboard where the powder lasts for days, not hours; climb a smoking volcano, or gallop across the Patagonian pampa like a true gaucho. Further boosting Chile's kudos as a breathtaking land of natural highs, many of Chile's national parks and reserves are so underrated and underappreciated that they are, for the most part, empty.
Adventure and active travel journeys can be pieced together as day excursions or your trip can be planned from start to finish by a tour operator. The latter option is often more expensive, but undoubtedly these planned journeys put far more emphasis on personalized attention and service than a run-of-the-mill day-tour operator. A handful of all-inclusive resorts and lodges also plan daily excursions that are sometimes included in the price of a room. Some of these resorts have their own horses, guides, and/or equipment, while others subcontract a local outfitter.
Tour operators bring with them local knowledge, and more importantly, they provide guides and in most cases equipment. If you are planning to focus your trip to Chile around one specific activity, these tour operators and outfitters are your best bet.
Adventure travel carries risks, and travelers should be well aware of dangers before participating in any activity. The tour operators mentioned in this guide have been chosen for their safety and reputation, but ask questions on your own. For example, if your adventure involves trekking, how strenuous are the trails? What safety gear will be carried along, and what experience do your guides have? Tour operators in Chile have had their share of accidents, either fatal or just serious, and you'll want to know the background details of said accidents and make your decision to book accordingly.
Mountain biking has grown quickly in Chile, with tour companies now offering a variety of programmed trips throughout the country, and with the publication of the magazine Contrapedal (www.contrapedal.cl) available in kiosks. On main roads, stay alert for traffic, as many Chileans have a tendency to speed, pull out of lanes without signaling, and rarely demonstrate driving etiquette when its comes to cyclists. Most country roads are dirt and in varying states of ruggedness; the main traffic you'll encounter on these roads are horseback riders and livestock -- so ride with caution around blind curves. Keep in mind that strong gales make biking difficult in Torres del Paine. Tourism-oriented towns such as Pucón and San Pedro de Atacama have bicycle rental shops and maps and information for bicycle routes in their region.
In Santiago, the most popular and safe bike-riding area is the Cerro San Cristobal/Parque Metropolitano hill, which has winding paved roads -- and pretty spectacular views to boot. Your best bet for bike rental here is Bike 'n Views (tel. 2/226-9231; www.bikeandviews.cl), which rents mountain bikes and city bikes. Bike 'n Views also plans bike outings in and around the city, such as full-day trips through the coastal mountains and biking through the Cajón de Maipo, as well as a 2-day trip in the Reserva Nacional Los Cípreses with an overnight at the Termas de Cauquenes hotel.
An American-owned company based in Futaleufú, Expediciones Chile (tel. 888/488-9082; www.exchile.com) specializes in mountain-biking trips that can be part of a multisport vacation (they are also well-known for their rafting and kayaking trips) on mountain trails around Futaleufú and Palena, and trips around Valle del Elqui in the Norte Chico region. Pared Sur (tel. 2/207-3525; www.paredsur.cl) has three summer trips: from Chile to Argentina, in the Lake District; the Carretera Austral; and a bike-and-trekking journey in Torres del Paine.
In Latin America, countries such as Panama or Brazil overshadow Chile when it comes to bird-watching, but Chile truly delights bird lovers for its nearly 300 species that include unusual birds such as the ostrichlike rhea and the Andean condor, pink flamingos, Magallenic woodpeckers, black-necked swans, torrent ducks, and Chilean flickers. Patagonia, especially Torres del Paine, is the perfect venue for bird-watching and home to the aforementioned birds. Seno Otway and Isla Magdalena, near Punta Arenas, are two sanctuaries for the amusing Magellanic penguins, who gather at both locations from September through March; the best viewing time, however, is November through January. Humboldt penguins can be viewed at the National Humboldt Penguin Reserve near La Serena, at the coast at Maitencillo, and at the penguin reserve at Chiloé. The Chilean Sea is rich with nutrients thanks to the Humboldt Current, attracting sea birds and such pelagic as boobies, albatrosses, and oystercatchers; you can see these birds virtually anywhere along the Central Coast.
The Carlos Anwandter Nature Sanctuary near Valdivia, renown for its wetlands that teem with birds such as grebes, ducks, and wigeons, took a major hit in 2005 when a pulp mill devastated its formidable black-necked swan population; you can still see these elegant birds and dozens of other marsh species at the nearby Río Cruces Nature Sanctuary, wetlands that remain prime marsh bird-viewing sites. In the nothofagus forests of the Lake District, especially in parks such as Puyehue and Pumalin, bird-watchers may spot (or hear the distinctive cluck) of a tapaculo called the chucao, and even clap eyes on a Magellanic woodpecker. The Lake District and Chiloé draw splendid ringed kingfishers and flocks of noisy ibis and wigeons. Other birding hot spots include the pink flamingo sanctuary at the Atacama Salt Flat, near San Pedro de Atacama, and Lauca National Park.
Few hotels, even those that are geared toward nature, offer bird-watching as a regular activity, but with some advance planning they should be able to hire a bird-watching guide for you. You might want to contact a Chile-based bird-watching tour operator for a professional guide and short trips. The American-owned company Alto Andino Nature Tours (tel. 9/282-6195; www.birdingaltoandino.com) covers the northern region including Lauca National Park with day trips from San Pedro de Atacama and even ornithology courses. Farther south, try Hualamo (www.hualamo.cl; no phone) for day trips and custom multiday trips that center around the Central Andes and coast, the Río Cruces Nature Sanctuary, and the Lake District. The U.S.-based Field Guides (tel. 800/728-4953 or 512/263-7295; www.fieldguides.com) is a specialty bird-watching travel operator with highly esteemed and friendly guides. They offer an all-inclusive program, "The Heart and Sole of Chile," which covers Santiago to Chiloé, while the more comprehensive 2-day program spans northern Chile to Patagonia and costs $6,375 (£4,250) per person, not including internal flights, and the group maximum is 14. Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (tel. 800/328-8368 or 512/328-5221 in the U.S.; www.ventbird.com) is a well-respected tour operator and the largest company in the world specializing in bird tours. VENT offers a 13-day October trip to Torres del Paine, and around Tierra del Fuego aboard the Mare Australis cruise; the cost is $5,995 (£3,997).
Cruising & Yachting
No single activity has taken off in Chile like cruising, with scores of travelers hopping aboard for a circumnavigation of the southern cone. Most large cruise lines begin in Valparaíso or farther north in Peru and end in Buenos Aires or even Río de Janeiro. In Chile, stops can include Arica, Valparaíso, Puerto Montt, Puerto Chacabuco, and Punta Arenas.
Of course, as a cruise-ship passenger you won't spend a lot of time getting to know Chile, but there is something to be said for experiencing the lush Chilean fjords, and some cruises visit the Laguna San Rafael glacier and sail around Cape Horn. Also, if you begin or end your trip in Valparaíso, you can tack on a couple of extra days and visit Santiago, the coast, or wine country.
Mainstream Cruise Lines -- These cruise lines offer something for everyone: Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/722-5941; www.celebritycruises.com); Holland America (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com); Norwegian Cruise Lines (tel. 866/234-7350; www.ncl.com); Oceania Cruises (tel. 800/531-5619; www.oceaniacruises.com); Orient Lines (tel. 800/333-7300; www.orientlines.com); Princess Cruises (tel. 800/421-0522; www.princess.com); and Royal Caribbean (tel. 800/398-9819; www.rccl.com).
Luxury Liners -- Options include: Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/722-0021; www.crystalcruises.com); Regent Seven Seas Cruises (formerly Radisson; tel. 877/505-5370; www.rssc.com); Seabourn Cruise Line (tel. 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com); and Silversea Cruises (tel. 800/722-9955; www.silversea.com).
Specialty Cruises -- Lindblad Expeditions (tel. 800/397-3348; www.lindbladexpeditions.com) has educational cruises that focus on culture and the environment.
Travel agencies and tour operators that specialize in cruises buy in bulk and are often capable of offering lower rates than those advertised by cruise lines, and they stay on top of special deals and promotions. Try the Cruise Company (tel. 800/289-5505; www.thecruisecompany.com) or World Wide Cruises (tel. 800/882-9000; www.wwcruises.com).
Charter Yachts -- This is the newest way to cruise the Chilean fjords, and Sausalito-based Ocean Voyages (tel. 800/299-4444; www.oceanvoyages.com) is the company to call for customized yacht vacations for groups of up to 10 people aboard one of its 24m, 27m, or 30m (80-, 90-, or 100-ft.) yachts. Their Tiffara is based in the Strait of Magellan from December to March and sails from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia.
Chile-based Small Cruises & Yachting -- Travelers experience a more intimate journey aboard cruise lines based in Chile rather than aboard one of the long-haul cruise lines mentioned above. Smaller ships foster more personalized attention, and smaller crowds allow guests to interact more closely with their natural surroundings.
Navimag Ferries is the cheapest option for sailing the Patagonia fjords, with comfortable but no-frills accommodations popular with backpackers and budget travelers. The Chilean company's M/N Magallanes passenger and freight ferry offers a 3-day journey from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales and vice versa, which I recommend to travelers with a lot of time on their hands.
Small cruise operations based in the Chilean fjords include Patagonia Express, which works in conjunction with the Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa (formerly known as Termas de Puyuhuapi), leaving from Puerto Chacabuco and including a 2-night stay at the hotel and 1 night in Puerto Chacabuco. Contrasted with Navimag, it's a premium excursion, by it's not as luxurious as they might suggest. Skorpios Cruises is a deluxe (but not luxury) operation with three routes in Patagonia: the Aysen region, with visits to Chiloé and the fjords; Laguna San Rafael; and the Pio XI glacier, leaving from Puerto Natales. Cruises run from 4 to 7 days. Catamaranes del Sur is a catamaran service to Laguna San Rafael that works in conjunction with the Hostería Loberías del Sur hotel in Puerto Chacabuco. They offer packages that include a stay here, or 1-day journeys for travelers not lodging at the hotel. Catamaranes has their own private park, Aikén del Sur, which they visit for a half-day tour included in their 2- to 3-night packages.
The Nomads of the Seas cruise puts a different spin on luxury adventure cruising in the Chilean fjords -- and in the world. It's not cheap, but given the tony interiors, degreed guides, onboard helicopter to reach out-of-the-way trout rivers and take fly-overs, and gourmet cuisine, it's worth every penny. Though the cruise focuses on fly-fishing, they cater to all outdoor pursuits.
Chile is a world-class fly-fishing destination renowned for its trout-rich rivers, with shores that are blissfully empty of other anglers. Famous actors, such as Robert Redford and Harrison Ford, are fly-fishing fans who've thrown lines in here in Chile, and with so many outstanding fly-fishing lodges and quality tour operators, it's an easy trip to plan. Rivers and lakes suitable for fly-fishing can be found in the southern Lake District and Patagonia, centering around the Carretera Austral area. Lodges are not cheap, but they are attuned to the most demanding of tastes, offering highly qualified guides, deluxe lodging, and gourmet meals.
Fishing Lodges -- Chucao Fishing Lodge (tel. 2/201-8571; www.chucaolodge.cl) is a newer lodge just 45 minutes from Chaiten, on the shore of the Yelcho Lake, and it is owned by Chilean Gonzalo Cortéz who authored the book Fly Fishing in Chilean Patagonia. The rough-hewn wood lodge offers comfort and views, and outstanding fly-fishing opportunities, given its location at the mouth of the Yelcho River. It costs $3,990 (£2,660) per week, including all meals and drinks.
El Patagon Lodge (tel. 65/212030; www.southernchilexp.com) is the "backcountry" version of the Yankee Way Lodge, located in a remote area south of Futaleufú, that puts anglers closer to the goods for longer fly-fishing days. High-quality service and more rustic accommodations in wooden cabins, with a yurt dining room and outdoor hot tub, are the hallmarks of this lodge. El Patagon also offers a 10-day camping adventure program that includes hiking, horseback riding, and rafting; it costs $3,000 (£2,000).
Heart of Patagonia Lodge (tel. 67/334906; www.heartofpatagonia.com) caters to foreigners, and is owned by an ex-editor of Angling Report. The lodge, a remodeled 1930s home built by an Austrian, is close enough to the Río Simpson to take advantage of the morning and evening hatch, but still close enough to Coyhaique, making this a good bet for fishermen with nonfishing companions. It costs $4,250 (£2,833) for 7 nights, all-inclusive.
Isla Monita (tel. 800/245-1950 in the U.S.; www.islamonita.cl) is an English-run lodge that caters to distinguished clientele. It has access to some of the most diverse fly-fishing conditions found in Chile, and it's located on an exclusive island in the beautiful Yelcho Lake. Check the website for great deals during their off-season.
Mincho's Lodge (tel. 67/233273; www.michoslodge.com) offers guided fly-fishing from their lodge near Coyhaique, but they offer plenty of other excursions for nonfishing visitors (such as geological tours), and even charge by the night, not by the package. It's good for visitors whose focus is not exclusively on fly-fishing.
Yankee Way Lodge (tel. 65/212030; www.yankeewaylodge.com) is the most luxurious choice, and its location at the foot of conical, snowcapped Volcán Osorno can't be beat. The lodge offers more creature comforts than its peers and soothes the senses with chalets and bungalows, a small spa, and gourmet dining. In addition to the renowned fly-fishing, accessed by boat or horseback, the lodge offers multisport packages.
The beauty of playing golf in Chile lies in its Andean backdrop; the golf courses Coya and Pucón undoubtedly offer some of the most stunning views from any golf course in the world. However, golf in Chile is an exclusive sport played by the country's elite on private courses. There are, however, a few courses open to the public, and also the tour operator Discover Chile (tel. 888/887-8869; www.discoverchile.com), whose parent company is the Chilean-based Cocha, can provide travelers with a guide who has access to private courses.
Public courses include the often mosquito-infested Golf Mapocho (tel. 2/7476-4800; www.golfmapocho.cl), just outside of Santiago, near the airport; Marbella Resort (tel. 32/772020; www.marbella.cl), at the coast near Maitencillo, which has ocean views; La Serena Golf (tel. 2/496-7200; www.laserenagolf.com), which is also a coastal resort farther away from Santiago than Marbella, but with a better and more beautiful course; and Pucon's La Peninsula 8-hole course (tel. 45/443965), which is open to the public and a good way to gain access to the sweeping views from the privately owned peninsula.
Chile was settled on horseback, and horseback riding's romantic lore includes even the tale of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who rode trusty steeds through the Andes when on the run from the law. Huasos from the Central Region, and baquedanos or gauchos in Patagonia, are Chile's answer to the cowboy, and much of these regions' culture is centered on these two groups of wild and weathered Chileans. Two outfitters, Cascada de las Animas and Altué Expediciones, offer day horseback-riding trips in the Andes just outside of Santiago that are easy-going lopes up to lookout points with sweeping views of the Santiago Valley.
Two excellent lodges specialize in horseback riding. One is Hacienda los Andes (tel. 53/691822; www.haciendalosandes.com), located near La Serena and run by Austrian Manuela Paradeiser and German Clark Stede, offering visitors a chance to envelop themselves in Chilean culture and a hacienda lifestyle. You can choose from 4- or 8-day riding adventure packages or just book a room in the lovely hacienda on a nightly basis. Manuela also operates Ride Chile (tel. 53/691822; www.ridechile.com), which specializes in 2- to 10-night horseback-riding trips in the Central Region and Patagonia. The second lodge is Estancia Cerro Guido (tel. 2/196-4807; www.cerroguido.cl), located outside Torres del Paine National Park and within a converted estancia (ranch), with unique 4-day programs that include 2 days in the park and rides to Indian cemeteries at Sierra Baguales. The two explora Hotels in the Atacama and Torres del Paine have stables and include horseback riding as part of their activities.
Horseback riding hot spots include the Atacama Desert, Central Andean Region, Colchagua Valley, Lake District, and Patagonia. You'll find horseback operations in nearly every destination within Chile, so check each chapter for contact information. The following are a few of the best picks (the quality of the horses varies considerably; experienced riders may be frustrated), and they usually can put together multiday trips for riding fanatics. In San Pedro de Atacama, contact Rancho Cactus (tel. 51/851506; www.rancho-cactus.cl), which offers day and overnight trips through stunning desertscapes. In Pucón, the two companies to contact are: Campo Antilco (tel. 9/713-9758; www.antilco.com), a German-run business with day rides and 5- to 7-night trips to hot springs and Andean heights; and the Huifquenco Fundo (tel. 45/415040; www.fundohuifquenco.cl), a working ranch with family-friendly farm tours and day rides paired with a Chilean-style barbecue. In Puerto Varas, visit the stunning Campo Aventura (tel. 65/232910; www.campo-aventura.com), offering day rides and overnight trips, from 2 to 10 nights, based out of their modest lodge nestled in the rainforest near Vincente Pérez Rosales National Park. The trips also offer opportunities for rafting and canyoning.
Kayaking & White-Water Rafting
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Chile has world-class rafting and kayaking, given the hundreds of pristine rivers that descend from the Andes and the country's Pacific Coast border. One of the most captivating and wildest rivers to raft in the world is the renowned Futaleufú, which means "Big River" in local indigenous Aracauria and sports Class III to Class V rapids with such daunting names as the Terminator and Hell Canyon. (Unfortunately, the Futaleufú is being threatened by an electro hydraulic dam slated for construction after 2012.) Local and international tour operators organize multiday rafting journeys based around mountain refuges and camping. Just 45 minutes from Santiago at the Cajón de Maipo, the Maipo River is a quick city escape for moderate, Class III rafting from November to February, and tamer floats suitable for families the rest of the year. The Petrohue River with Class III and IV rapids is equally spellbinding for its impossibly emerald waters and the majestic Volcán Osorno that rises high in the distance. To raft this river, contact Alsur Expeditions (tel. 65/232300; www.alsurexpeditons.com).
While cruising the hushed Chilean fjords is a memorable experience, kayaking puts you closer to nature and the feeling of being enveloped in an emerald wonderland. Paddling journeys take travelers past cascading falls, along picturesque coves at Chiloé, and past sea lion rookeries, often stopping at a natural hot springs along the way. Altué Expediciones (tel. 2/232-1103; www.altue.com) pioneered sea kayaking in this region; their modest but cozy lodge based at Chiloé has dynamite views, and their support vessel takes travelers wherever they want to paddle. Yak Expeditions (tel. 9/299-6487; www.yakexpediciones.cl) specializes in low-impact trips with overnights in tents in natural settings, and they can also plan day trips around the lakes near Puerto Varas. The "official" tour operator for Pumalín Park is Alsur Expeditions (tel. 65/232300; www.alsurexpeditons.com), which has a support vessel, a traditional Chiloé boat, and kayak tours around the park, with overnights in tents. Note that while tent camping is a dream for nature lovers, a downpour, common in this region, can be uncomfortable, and support vessels are not usually large enough to accommodate groups indoors. If you're not specifically seeking out kayaking but would like to include the sport in your trip, check out Austral Adventures (tel. 65/625977; www.australadventures.com) and their cruises, which sleep guests inside their boat and bring along a few kayaks for fun.
The company Kayak Australis (tel. 2/650-8264; www.kayakaustralis.com) offers river and sea kayak courses and trips throughout the length of Chile, even across the Inca Lake at Portillo.
The romantic tale of Che Guevara and his epic journey through South America has enticed legions of travelers to Chile, seeking to follow Guevara's famous route. But, don't be swept away by the romance of the movie and book The Motorcycle Diaries: many of the roads in Patagonia are unpaved and rife with potholes. Lengthy motorcycle trips are for those with a true spirit for adventure and who are mentally and physically up to the demand, and reservations must be made far in advance for organized journeys. The Texas-based company MotoDiscovery (tel. 800/233-0564 in the U.S.; www.motodiscovery.com) has a 32-day, January/February ride leaving from Viña del Mar and heading to Tierra del Fuego and back through Argentina, crossing over at Mendoza to finish in Santiago; the cost is $10,879 (£7,253) for a rider and $8,795 (£5,863) for a passenger.
Chile's awesome Andean terrain and world-class resorts are no longer just a summer refuge for ski fanatics and foreign ski teams -- it's now a hot destination for even recreational skiers, especially in August.. With the exception of the Snowcat-serviced resort Ski Arpa, the resorts listed on these pages are the country's largest, and pull in the lion's share of foreign skiers. But adventurous skiers and snowboarders are finding that heliskiing lets them put tracks down where no one has before, and others are striking out and visiting the country's unsung, smaller resorts such as Corralco, where they find intimate settings and a more "Chilean" experience. PowderQuest Tours (tel. 888/565-7158 toll-free in the U.S., or 206/203-6065; www.powderquest.com) offers complete ski and snowboard tour packages that take guests on an 8- to 16-day tour of Chilean and Argentine ski resorts, and they offer snowboard and heliski camps. The group maximum is eight, and they focus on off-piste and backcountry terrain with qualified, responsible guides. Their 9-day guided ski trip staying in upscale accommodations at the major ski resorts costs $3,525 (£2,350). Of the handful of ski tours out there, I trust PowderQuest more than any other.
For trip planning, call Moguls Mountain Vacations (tel. 888/767-0679; www.southamerica.skitrips.com) or Ski Organizers (tel. 800/283-2SKI [283-2754]; www.skiorganizers.com); both are specialists in ski and snowboard vacations in Chile and Argentina, and they can put together an entire package, including flights and transfers. These guys offer the best prices and the most knowledgeable information about what resort is right for you.
Chile's geographic faults produce geothermal activity and mineralized, naturally hot water that has given birth to a long tradition of facilities offering baños termales (thermal baths). Some of the country's century-old facilities have been renovated to appeal to modern spa tastes, others offer a historical traipse back in time, with their marble tubs and vigorous massages. Count on nearly every world-class hotel to provide guests with services such as massage, a gym, a sauna, and sometimes a steam room. In Santiago, try the sleek spa Balthus, in Vitacura (tel. 2/410-1423; www.balthus.cl), a spa within the city's toniest gym. For a Santiago getaway, try the Viña's luxury hotels, the Sheraton Miramar (which has a Balthus spa) or the Hotel del Mar. In Pucón, the Hotel del Lago Resort Spa offers a variety of massage and body treatments. Here are a few highlights of spas in Chile.
Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa (formerly known as Termas de Puyuhuapi; tel./fax 2/225-6489; www.patagonia-connection.com) is the best-known spa in Chile, and its breathtaking location on the Puyuhuapi fjord is part of the draw, too. It takes time to get here, but the remote location is close enough to cruise to the Laguna San Rafael glacier, which the spa features as part of its package. A massive indoor pool and three fern-fringed outdoor pools complement a full range of spa services such as massage, facials, and body treatments. A 4-day "body and soul" package costs from $1,670 to 1,820 (£1,113-£1,213).
Termas de Cauquenes (tel. 72/899010; www.termasdecauquenes.cl) draws visitors more for its award-winning restaurant, antique hacienda-style architecture, and lovely alpine setting than its spa facilities and guest rooms. The 200-year-old spa is Chile's oldest, having hosted the likes of Charles Darwin, and it was inspired by France's Vichy Spa. While the spa's Gothic-designed thermal pavilion is striking, the ancient marble tubs do not inspire a soak.
Termas de Chillán (tel. 866/237-4119; www.termasdechillan.cl) is the best all-in-one spa destination for families or a group, and the beech forests and craggy peaks that envelope the area are simply lovely. More than a spa, it is a full-scale destination resort with all the trimmings, including a ski resort, golf course, casino, and three hotels -- plus their state-of-the-art spa was totally renovated in 2006. Along with massage, aromatherapy, facials, and other body treatments, Termas de Chillán boasts outdoor thermal pools and even a natural pool reached by a hike through the peaks.
Termas de Puyehue (tel. 2/283-1010; www.puyehue.cl) draws mostly Chileans for its "tropical" indoor pool; herbal, mud, sulfur, and marine salt baths; massage; and family-friendly activities such as horseback riding and farm tours. The facade reminds visitors of a traditional European spa, and the services are not as modern as those found elsewhere in the country. The real perk here is the nearby Antillanca ski resort.
Termas Geométricas (tel. 2/214-1214; www.termasgeometricas.cl) is not a "spa" but a series of slate-tiled hot springs that descend through a jungle-draped ravine. It's an utterly divine and exotic attraction and well worth the 45-minute drive from Pucón.
The powerful swells and consistent breaks off the Pacific Ocean along Chile's 4,186km (2,600-mile) coast draw surfers from around the world -- but man, it's cold swimming out there, and you'll need a wetsuit (4/3mm during the winter, 3/2mm during the summer), booties, and even a hood when surfing south of the northern region. Surfing is good year-round, and a majority of left-breaking waves makes Chile a goofy-foot paradise. In the north, expect a few beach breaks but mostly board-breaking, Hawaiian-style reef breaks; here the best spots for surfing are Iquique and Arica. The Central Region's best (and most popular) spots for surfing include Chile's surfing mecca Pichilemu, with three surfing areas: La Puntilla, a 2-minute walk from town; Infernillo, which, when conditions are right, can produce a 2.4m-plus (8-ft.-plus) tube; and Punta de Lobos, considered Chile's most consistent break and a long left break with mixed conditions producing tubes and powerful waves. Lastly, Puertocillo is a renowned point break that's fast and has excellent tubes. Though this spot is closed to the public without a permit, you can access this beautiful cove by booking a room at the Pacifika Surf Lodge (www.pacifikasurflodge.cl); they offer surf classes and trips to surf spots around the area, and are open year-round.
While there is a paucity of lodges and spas dedicated to yoga practice in Chile, several adventure tour operators run annual 7- to 10-day-long yoga retreats that include daily yoga sessions complimented with river rafting, horseback riding, and a myriad of other wilderness activities that promise rejuvenation of the body and soul. The acclaimed Bio Bio Expeditions (tel. 800/246-7238; www.bbxrafting.com) offers a comprehensive 9-day "Yoga Adventure Patagonia" program, with eco-camp style accommodations options in both Argentina and Chile. At around $3,200 (£2,133) per person, there is nothing very zen about the price, however. Expediciones Chile (tel. 888/488-9082 in the U.S., 2/570-9885 in Chile; www.exchile.com) offers a more economical 9-day program (for $2,195/£1,463) based on the Futaleufú river, which includes beach yoga, rafting the Terminator section of Futaleufú, sea kayaking, hiking, and horseback riding. These vacations are not advised for yoga devotees who wish to dedicate the majority of their day to yoga practice; rather these vacations offer an excellent compromise for couples and friends who may have varied interests, including yoga.