Chile - Nature's Action Star
World-renowned Chilean poet Pablo Neruda once claimed, "Anyone who hasn't been in the Chilean forest doesn't know this planet. I have come out of that landscape, that mud, that silence, to roam, to go singing through the world." Mr. Neruda could have written about his entire country with the same thrust and passion, for once anyone experiences Chile, he or she will surely go and sing its praises to the world.

Chile stretches 2,604 miles from the northern plains of the Atacama Desert, the world's driest, through the central region of the Lake District and down to the southernmost tip where the mountains of Patagonia—baring its savage smile of thousand-year-old glaciers—make other mountain chains cringe in fear. Teeming with varied and dramatic landscapes, Chile is a jaw-dropping reminder of the artistry and brawn of nature, jamming inside its tiny sliver of land enough mountains, rivers, beaches, forests, glaciers and volcanoes to keep adventure nuts drooling on their crampons forever.

The exceptional contrast of the geography creates a country so unique that is becomes nearly impossible to travel any distance without having to change from all-terrain vehicle to a whitewater raft, from a mountain bike to a surfboard, from hiking glaciers to scampering up sand dunes. This is a country tailor-made for adventure, a country where you will constantly be confronted with hundreds of invigorating ways to sweat.

Because Chile beckons all adventurers, you should let a trusted travel agent be your guide in planning the ultimate Chilean action movie with you as the star. With a travel agent as your director, your scenes will be action packed, running the gamut from the top to the bottom of this exciting country without missing a thing. You may not get the girl in the end, but you will come away with an amazing vacation experience.

As your plane lands in the capital city of Santiago, your first order of adventure will be to get to Maipo Canyon. This meandering alpine valley climbs toward the crest of the Andes, attracting scores of rafters and kayakers heading straight to the head of the Class V rapids of Rio Maipo, while hikers and horseback riders explore the routes up to the unmistakable peak of El Morado Natural Monument, the highest mountain in the valley.

Also close to Santiago is Portillo, the oldest ski area in South America that has been escalating heartbeats since day one. This is where speed-skiing records were broken and where ski lovers from around the globe come in search of an endless winter. The Andean slopes reach their peak in August, and the altitude and stunning peaks make for some breathtaking skiing. Of course, this is breathtaking in the literal sense, for the slopes are fast, the snow swift and the excitement level pegged on exhilarating.

For those who prefer mountaintops sprinkled with 2000-degree danger, Chile is home to many volcanoes. Active Villarrica, near the resort town of Pucón, rewards those who ascend to its gaseous crater with a fun slide back down on their rump courtesy of a human toboggan chute. Travel agents suggest calling ahead before you go, for the Chilean park service cancels the trip and grabs the marshmallows when the crater roars a little too loudly.

Still, the liquid flow of lava may not been be as dangerous as some of the Class V rapids in the Futaleufú River. Flowing through Chilean Patagonia, far beneath the intimidating spires and snow-packed crowns of the Andes, the churning waters of the Fu provide massive whitewater for white-knuckled rafting. The Fu is legendary in rafting circles, revered by enthusiasts around the world for the quality and quantity of heart-pounding rapids and heart-stopping scenery.

But sometimes water freezes, and sometimes this frozen water creates a continent of moving ice that laughs at the mere existence of man. The world calls them glaciers, but Chileans call them fun. Trekking across the Perito Moreno Glacier near Patagonia's Lago Argentino is an experience not easily forgotten, while further south in the Monte Balmaceda National Park, watching gigantic slabs of ice calve from Serrano Glacier and plummet into the lake below has become a spectator sport to curious kayakers who venture close.

Another popular sport—albeit a less dangerous one—is stone hunting on Easter Island. Known to the natives as the "Bellybutton of the World," Easter Island's unparalleled scenery is studded with more than 600 ancient stone statues, called moai, some of which stand 20-feet high. Hikers often tramp the lands in search of these colossal carved idols, mesmerized with each new find at the creativity and ingenuity of the ancient island dwellers.

The list of Chilean adventures is long, and so is the list of possibilities your travel agent can create for your perfect itinerary. Travel agents know the best organized tours to enlist, as well as which tour groups have the best reputations when it comes to adventure, service and safety. If you're going solo, a trusted travel agent is essential to planning the how, when and where of your journey, leaving you to focus on your gear.


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