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The Central Valley Travel Guide

  • Photo: MARCELODLT / Shutterstock

Plan Your Central Valley Vacation

The Central Valley is Chile's heartland. The combination of rich soils, long, warm, and dry summers offset by cold and rainy winters, and abundant supplies of Andean meltwater for irrigation, makes this ideal farm land. It is also the perfect place to grow wine grapes, and as such, wine has been a very big deal in much of the Central Valley for four centuries.

The Central Valley is a straight

shot down the Pan-American Highway between the volcanic cones of the Andes on the west and the lower Coastal Mountains to the east. As you head south, the relatively dry foliage of the short, scrubby indigenous bushes gives way to more verdant pastures and eventually to thick pine and eucalyptus forests.

It's about a five-hour drive straight south from Santiago to Chillán and nearly another hour east to Concepción, but do plan to stop and explore along the way. The valley holds something for everyone. Head west into the mountains to visit mining towns, relax at a hot-springs spa, climb rock walls, ski, or hike through a nature reserve. Veer off to the coast for lovely beaches and swimming (if you can stand the cold Pacific waters), excellent surfing, and outstanding seafood. And, of course, no matter which way you turn, you can't help but see thousands of acres of vineyards and the wineries that produce some of Chile's finest wines. Most of the valleys have Wine Route (Ruta del Vino) associations that are happy to help visitors plan tours of the wineries.

Unfortunately, much of the Central Valley was hit hard by the February 2010 earthquake. Chileans are working to get back their country back on its feet, but don't be surprised to come across evidence of the earthquake, especially in this region.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Wine tasting The Central Valley is the heart of Chile's wine country. Vineyards for both table and wine grapes abound and are pretty hard to miss—in fact, the Pan-American Highway runs through some of the longest continuous vineyards in the world.
  2. Rowdy rodeos The Central Valley is also home to the huaso, a cousin of the Argentine gaucho. Huasos, in their typical flat-topped, wide-brimmed hats, are a common sight around Rancagua, where they flock to the national Medialuna (rodeo arena) for their favorite sport.
  3. Scenic train rides Chile's train service has dwindled over the years—like everywhere else, it seems—but a special treat for train lovers remains in the Central Valley. The Wine Train is a restored steam engine that dates to 1907 accompanied by wood-paneled passenger cars from the 1920s. It runs between San Fernando and Santa Cruz.

When To Go

When to Go

Timing your visit to the Central Valley really depends on what you want to do there. January and February are peak summer vacation months in Chi...

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Check historic weather for your trip dates:

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