Chile in 2 –3 days

With Chile covering such a vast area, you’ll not want to spend too much time travelling if you only have a day or two, so stick to the highlights around the capital. Santiago is a modern city overlooked by snowcapped Andean peaks.

Of all the South American capitals, this is probably the least exciting, though the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino is excellent, covering 4500 years of the continent’s pre-columbian history. while the Mercado Central is the place to go for a fresh seafood lunch.

Head to Valparaiso for a taste of vintage Chile – grand old buildings looming over the old port, rambling streets and bohemian pavement cafes.

Foodies should head south towards the fertile central valleys, the heart of Chile’s wine-producing region and enjoy some traditional Chilean hospitality with a night at a hacienda.

If you fancy some time on the beach, head for Viña del Mar, Chile’s premier beach resort, that buzzes during the summer months.

In 7-9 days

Spend a day or two in Santiago and Valparaiso, then pack your hiking boots and hop on a plane for Puerto Natales, the gateway to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.

Spend a few days hiking around this impressive massif. Marvel at the rock formations, watch glaciers calving into deep blue lakes and breathe in that fresh Patagonian air. Either camp or stay in one of the excellent refugios en route.

Head north from Puerto Natales on the Navimag, weaving your way between the shattered islands of southern chile –look out for glaciers, seabirds and whales.

Next head for Pucon, Chile’s adventure capital, and spend a few days rafting, horseriding, trekking or climbing the local volcano – Villarica. The view from the snow-capped summit cone is sublime.

Now it’s time to head North, either hop on a long distance bus or catch a internal flight up to Iquique, right up on the Peruvian border. It’s hard to believe that this sleepy place was once one of the world’s major ports, serving the tin and nitrate mines up in the desert. 

Next, head into the Atacama Desert – one of the driest places in the world. Stop off at the ghost town of Humberstone, and eerie place where the mine machinery and workers’ houses lie abandoned to the encroaching dunes.

Then press on to San Pedro de Atacama, a relaxed base from which to explore the beauties of the driest palce in the world – luar landscapes, high-altitude geyser fields, ands boarding and ancient petroglyphs are all within reach.

Two weeks +

More time on your hands means time to stop off in the lesser-visited gems of the country.

Explore some of the breathtakingly beautiful, and yet untouristed nature reserves and national parks in Southern Chile – Cerro Castillo, Coyhaique, Queulat, Los Alerces, Pumalin and Hornopiren may be harder to get to, but worth the trip.

Or spend a few nights on Chiloe, a rural island just off the southern coast famous for its ornate wooden churches.

Break your journey up to Iqueque at the verdant Elqui Valley, a desert oasis famous for its white wines and Pisco – prime ingredient in Pisco Sour, the national drink.

If you have the time – and the budget – hop on a plane for Easter Island, and puzzle over the giant stone heads and unique local culture.