Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Just to clarify – that is the Chilean flag, not Texan!
February is high summer in Chile.
Our planet’s longest, thinnest country is incredible. The entire west is defined by the Pacific Ocean and its chilly Humbolt current. Almost the entire east (often barely 200 km’s away) is framed by the Andes. Indeed it would seem Chile’s sole purpose is to prevent Argentina from seeing the Pacific ;).
Yet Chile is a little less improbable than it may appear. The desert in the north and Icefields to the south mean most Chileans live on a virtual island. This is manifested through their accent, government and style of life.
Glacial lakes in Torres del Paine, southern Patagonia
From ridiculously dry, to ridiculously wet and then to ridiculously windy. More than half of all Chileans live in the central region around Santiago, where wine, fruit and crops prosper.
Of course, tourists generally come to see the wilder areas. Flying in Chile is a requirement for any comprehensive visit – and hating LATAM airlines is becoming an international sport. Chileans too, fly almost everywhere and we are all waiting for the expansion of Santiago’s crowded airport to be completed. This is scheduled for 2021 – barring any earthquakes! Let’s hope.
Enjoying Llanquihue lake and the Osorno volcano
On my most recent trip to beautiful Chile, we were greeted with the realities of global climate change. Scientific models of change are coming true and generally suggests weather will simply become more extreme.
So I left a polar vortex with temperatures dipping to -50 in North America to arrive to +37c (96f) in Santiago. My group arrived later to a sunny 30 degrees (86f).
This comprehensive tour of Chile remains one of my favourite tours anywhere. While it can be very tiring, it simply covers so much territory and both physical and cultural diversity.
Patagonia blows me away
Therefore in this post, I would like to remember this fun group and highlight some of the changes we experienced on this tour – due mostly to weather.
While waiting for everyone’s arrival to Santiago, I was going back and forth about our trip north due to flooding! Yep, flooding in the driest (if one ignores Antarctica) desert on Earth.
Salt seeping out of the Atacama
February in the Southern Hemisphere is considered the Andean Winter.
This means it rains in greener highland areas like Cusco, Peru. Indeed the Inca Trail actually closes in February.
Sometimes heavy rains will sprinkle over into the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama and leave snow painted across the mighty volcanos that define that region of the Andes. This year, however, rain poured down on Calama (the copper mining capital) – officially the driest city on earth.
Rain has been inching into the region in the last few years, but these deluges caused real flooding and extensive damage to the roads. The entire area was on ‘Red Alert’ and the road from Calama to San Pedro actually closed. We were quickly working on plan B, plan C and even D!
Then, as my group arrived on their marathon flight from London, through San Paulo and into Santiago the road opened, the alert lifted and everything fell into place!
After a night in the big city we flew up to Calama and were greeted by magnificent snowy volcanoes and some soggy adobe houses.
We had to change the itinerary slightly – missing some of the high altiplano lakes, but this permitted more time for the town, and some other discoveries. This was the latest I have ever driven up to the geysers (4300 metres / 14000 ft) and therefore it really was not cold. Also the Moon Valley was spectacularly white as salt had wicked up out of the ground.
We also visited fascinating petroglyphs and managed our traditional high-land picnic at 3100 metres (10,000ft).
Forest fires near Santiago
Chile’s dedication to good infrastructure was obvious. Despite major washouts, work crews were busy repairing the massive region.
And south we flew. Heading down to my beloved Lake District, we looked down over forest fires in the lumber-producing regions. It was beautiful and sunny upon arrival to Puerto Varas and abnormally warm. A few days beforehand, the city of Castro – wet Chiloe’s iconic capital – had experienced 38-degree weather (nearly 100f). February is the warmest, driest month, but that was 20 degree above normal.
Toasting a delicious seafood lunch in the Central Market
Out in Chile’s first National Park, the mountains and volcanoes put on a smile for us. This is one day I hope for good weather. It is so beautiful, but often rainy. So the rainy Lake Region was sunny and beautiful.
Then as we prepared to fly far south my phone began buzzing. The Navy closed the ports around Puntas Arenas due to the wind. Two days previously wind was clocked at 172km/h! Even cruise ships were detoured.
World famous Torres del Paine park was also under a Red Alert due to flooding. Again it was time to implement plan B…
The prison in Fort Bulnes – end of the world
Unfortunately, our trip to Magdalena Island to see penguins was cancelled. Despite a calmer than expected morning, the pier was already damaged. On the upside we had a bit of a lay-in (much welcomed on such an intense tour) and then went as far south as one can drive on the continent to Fort Bulnes.
Before the fort, we stopped to visit ‘the middle of Chile’. As odd as this sounds, Chile lays claim to a wedge of Antarctica and therefore at that windy, random spot one is equidistant from the south pole and Arica up north on the border of Peru. Of course no one else accepts Chile’s claim to Antarctica!
The ‘middle’ of Chile
The 1843 Chilean fort controlled the Magellan Straits and asserted Chilean sovereignty over much of Patagonia.
Later the region was used by the Pinochet dictatorship to imprison opposition. It really feels like the end of the world.
As the wind picked up it seems everyone really enjoyed the excursion and a little extra time in lovely Puntas Arenas. I guess we’ll have to plan another trip to meet penguins 🙂
Morning light in Puerto Natales
Then onto Puerto Natales and Torres Del Paine – the park too was under a ‘red alert,’ but in classic lucky fashion it all opened up and was a perfect day!
Back in Santiago we had an excellent day out to Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, yet even in the central valley we could see forest fires.
Lovely days on Rapa Nui
Finally over to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), it rained more than I am used to in the summer, but it was also very green.
Chile in February is busy, but lovely as always. Let’s hope we manage our changing climate with planning and honesty.
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