Santiago de Chile, Spring 2013 Photo by alobos Life via Flickr Creative Commons

Chile is a land of contrasts that lends itself to a variety of outdoor pursuits and things to do. The volcanoes, craggy peaks and glacial valleys of the national parks are ideal for hikers in summer and snow-sport enthusiasts in winter. A long history of farming and viticulture in the lowlands has produced opportunities for relaxed recreation such as horse riding or wine tours. The Pucon area is popular with kayakers and cyclists, while the Atacama Desert is a good spot to stargaze.

Chile’s waterways offer exciting kayaking in summer, particularly around the Pucon area, which has several rivers including the Lower Trancura (preferred for beginners), Upper Trancura, Liucura, the Puesco Run, and Maichin. Companies such as Sol y Nieve offer kayaking adventures for all abilities. Alternatively, experienced paddlers can rent equipment from hotels such as Pucon Kayak Hostel if you’d rather go out on your own.

On land, the Parque Nacional Torres De Paine has two famous multi-day hiking routes: the five day W track and the longer Circuit. Erratic Rock Hostel at Puerto Natales has equipment for rent and an invaluable free briefing session at 3:00 p.m. each day. Parque Nacional Pail Aike is another popular hiking spot, with organizations such as Turismo Pail Aike offering guided treks through the volcanic craters.

Chile’s cold mountains are ideal for skiing, with the high-end La Parva and family friendly, European style Valle Nevado being two of the better known resorts. Operators such as La Parva Ski Centre and Go Chile offer packages.

Chile is well known for cycling, particularly in the Pucon Lake District area. Popular routes include the Ojos de Caburgua loop or the shorter Correntoso or Alto Palguin paths. Many visitors opt to rent a bike for a self-guided ride while serious enthusiasts can join groups such as Amity Tours or Chile Bike Tours for multi-day cycling trips across Chile.

Swimming is one of Chile’s real summer treats, with some of the best beaches at La Serena, especially the stretch between Cuatro Esquinas and Coquimbo. Surf conditions can sometimes be dangerous, so check for signs that say “Playa Apta.” Daytrips from La Serena that include beach breaks and winery tours can be booked through Rutas Chile.

Visitors who like horse-riding can stay in a log cabin near Valdiva with Werk Chile and ride through Alerce Costero National Park to the 3,700-year old Alerce tree. Alternatively, Eagle Touring offers trips through the Maipo Canyon in the Santiago area.

Taking a wine tour is a must for those interested in Chile’s viniculture. Two of the oldest and best known wineries are Cousino Macul and Concha y Toro. Daytrips from Santiago can be booked through Viator or, alternatively Uncorked Wine Tours specialize in small group tours to three wineries in the Maipo, Colchagua, Casablanca, or San Antonio regions.

For something a bit different, try stargazing in the desert at San Pedro de Atacama. Operators such as Servicios Astronomicos Maury y Compania conduct astronomy night lessons that teach visitors how to spot planets and shooting stars through the clear, unpolluted air.

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