Gap Years in Chile
Chile is less travelled by backpackers compared to some of its other South American neighbours which, frankly, is ridiculous. It should be an essential part of any journey around Latin America, not only because of its vibrant cities and stunning scenery, but also because you'll find its trails less crowded than neighbouring Argentina and Brazil.
Your first point of call is likely to be Santiago, the capital city, nestled in a valley surrounded by the snow-capped Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range - it's an incredible place to be even before you've begun to explore. There are plenty of colonial landmarks, including the beautiful Royal Court Palace, and quaint cafes to wile away the days, before heading to Barrio Bellavista after dark for some intense nightlife.
Vina del Mar and Valparaiso both offer long stretches of pristine coastline and beaches, and if you're venturing into the Atacama you'll probably stop in San Pedro de Atacama in the north, where the sky shimmers with stars as night falls.
Chile has a coastline that stretches the same distance as Scotland to Nigeria. So its landscape includes mountains, desert, glaciers, beaches, and more. You really are spoiled for choice in what kind of scenery it offers.
Torres del Paine is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the world, with endless mountain vistas and blocks of ice as big as your house. Punta de Choros benefits from the Humboldt current rolling up from Antarctica, offering glimpses of penguins, whales, and dolphins, and if you keep heading south you'll reach the Tierra del Fuego, characterised by vast, silent forests and grizzled ranchland. It's a land that feels truly wild and removed from civilisation.
Don't forget Easter Island! It's one of the world's most isolated spots, and can eat up a huge amount of your trip as it's a long flight from Santiago, but it's worth it to see the mysterious stone heads and the incredible night skies.