See a Rodeo in Rancagua
From September to May, head to Rancagua, a city 87 km (54 mi) south of Santiago, to watch a rodeo. During the event, pairs of huasos (Chilean cowboys) round up steers in a medialuna, or half-moon-shaped ring. Huasos live in the countryside throughout Chile and wear traditional clothing of flat-topped, wide-brimmed hats, short-vested jackets, sashes, and colorful blankets called mantas draped over their shoulders.
Cruise the Fjords in Tierra del Fuego
Beyond Puerto Montt at the far southern end of the Lake District, Chile's coastline fractures into some 1,500 km (932 mi) of jagged inlets, mountains, glaciers, and islands. Access to this isolated, forbidding region is possible only by boat. Transport along this sector of the Southern Coast varies from high end to utilitarian. At the top of the line are the luxury Cruceros Australis boats, with all the buffet tables and social activities any cruise-ship passenger could desire. At the other end are serviceable, no-frills freighters and ferries, where your fellow passengers will be locals.
Ride the Tren del Vino
A steam engine from the turn of the 20th century will take you through one of Chile's principal wine regions, the Colchagua Valley. Idyllic scenery and vineyards roll by as you taste a selection of Chilean wines and local cheeses. For those who want to experience Chile's wine country in a less structured way, there are numerous other options including private, group, and self-guided tours.
Kayak in Parque Pumalín
Parque Pumalín is the private nature reserve near Puerto Montt created by North American Douglas Tompkins and his wife, Kristen. The park contains almost 800,000 acres of temperate rain forests, fjords, waterfalls, and hot springs. The northern section of the park is best visited by kayak. Two kayak tour-guide operators are Al Sur Expeditions (www.alsurexpeditions.com) and Yak Expediciones (www.yakexpediciones.cl). Al Sur accompanies clients with a small boat, which you can board for meals and to relax.
Soak in the Termas Geométricas
After driving 17 km (11 mi) from Coñaripe on a rough road, you really appreciate soaking in these simple yet luxurious Japanese-style hot springs. Coñaripe, a small town in the Lake District, has become a hub for tourists and Chilean senior citizens. Our recommendation: avoid the crowds and head straight to the Termas Geométricas. Although a bit more expensive than the other springs (US$26 per person), it has numerous pools, each with distinctive features and abundant foliage. At night the pools are illuminated by candlelight.
Participate in La Tirana Festival
La Tirana is the most important folklore festival in Chile. It is held every year on July 16, in the town of La Tirana, in the Tarapacá Region. More than 100,000 people gather for the celebrations, which last a week. Since 1910, the festival has honored the Virgin of Carmen, but its origins are mestizo.
Eat Curanto in Chiloé
Preparing a traditional curanto requires the participation of at least five people. A 1½-meter (5-foot)-deep hole is dug in the ground, and its base is then covered with red-hot stones. On top are layered ingredients including shellfish, meat, vegetables, and milcao and chapalele (potato-and-flour patties). Leaves from the pangue plant, common in Chiloé, separate each layer of ingredients, and the entire hole is covered with earth. All of this creates a giant pressure cooker. The curanto is ready to be served in about an hour. The best place to try curanto is in Chiloé, but the dish is also available in many other parts of Chile.
There are several places to see penguins in Chile. Each year from late September to late March, about 2,000 Magellanic penguin couples head to the Otway Sound near Punta Arenas in Patagonia to mate, lay their eggs, and care for their chicks. And Isla Magdalena, also accessible from Punta Arenas by ferry, is home to a whopping 150,000 Magellanic penguins. The National Humbolt Penguin Reserve is on Isla Choros and Isla Damas, about two hours north of La Serena in the Coquimbo Region. The local fishermen-turned-tour-guides will also show you sea lions and dolphins. And off the coast of Puñihuil near Ancud in Chiloé, you can visit one of the few places in the world where these two penguin species—Humbolt and Magellanic—cohabitate.
Ride Valparaíso's Funiculars
Funiculars are an essential means of transportation in the steep port city of Valparaíso, whose historic center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. There are 42 hills in Valparaíso and 15 funiculars. The funiculars, which were imported from England and Germany in the early 20th century, may seem a bit rickety though they are in fact quite safe. Each hill has two cars in motion at any given time—one going up, one going down. Only the brave will risk a look at oncoming cars.
Sandboard in the North
Yes, that's right, you can experience the sister sport of snowboarding on the sand dunes of Chile's Antofagasta Region. While going down may be smoother than snowboarding, getting back up is the hard part! With no ski lifts to help you, be prepared to sweat your way to the top of the hill just to start all over again.
Climb Volcán Villarrica
This (active) volcano, a 20-minute drive from Pucón, has become an obligatory climb for the many nature- and adventure-seeking tourists who come to Chile. In winter, many people like to make the ascent and then ski or snowboard down. Don't forget to warm up in one of the thermal baths around the region.
Go Fly-Fishing Near Coyhaique
Southern Chile's lakes and streams are a major destination for anglers. Cast your line in the Río Simpson, where the trout are abundant and rustic European-style fishing lodges await.
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