This is a fabulous ride based in and around the Torres del Paine National Park with its unforgettable landscape. It combines challenging, exciting riding on responsive, fit horses combined with the opportunity to experience the life of Patagonia’s unique estancia culture.
The majority of the ride takes place within the park itself and offers plenty of diversity with rides across open pampas, rides to wild glaciers and iceberg-filled lakes and peaceful rides through valleys and ancient southern beech forests. Throughout these long, exciting days in the saddle, the snow capped mountains are never far away. Accommodation is very comfortable, authentic, cozy and welcoming - all of it having been chosen for its beautiful location, great views and cultural appeal. Here you can relax by the fireside each evening after a soothing bath with a famous pisco sour.
This trip suits experienced riders wishing to combine some local flavour and comfortable accommodation and a high level of service with their outdoor riding adventure.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from SW of London on 06/12/2018
Arrive into Puerto Natales. You will be escorted to dinner by your guide for the trip and given a briefing. Night in Hotel If or Hostal El Establo.
In the morning you will drive approximately 20 minutes to Estancia Consuelo where you get your first encounter with the Criollo horses. This Estancia is the home of the Eberhard family who have a lot of history in Magallanes. From this lovely Estancia you will ride along a fjord and through Magallanic forests. After the ride you transfer to Estancia Perales to enjoy a welcoming meal and relax next to the waters of ‘The Sound of Last Hope, an inlet in the fjord.
After breakfast, you say goodbye to Estancia Perales and hop on a boat which docks especially for you to take a great ride up the Last Hope Sound. Here you enter the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. Shared by the regions of Magallanes and Aysen, this is the largest National Park in Chile and one of five of the most expansive in the world (over three million hectares). With access only via the water, the mountains or the southern ice field itself, it remains a remote and pristine corner of our planet. It also contains the third largest mass of ice on earth after Antarctica and Greenland, so the climate is understandably extreme. You will disembark the boat here to enjoy the stunning views which combine old growth forests of evergreen and deciduous southern beech, fire bushes and cypresses - a stunning contrast to the snow capped peaks and glaciers in this region. A short, 5 minute, zodiac boat ride takes you to where you will meet the new horses and have some lunch before setting out on a beautiful trail through thick forests, passing pristine rivers and streams in the shadow of the Chacabuco and Balmaceda range of mountains. A fairly slow ride today gives you the opportunity to get familiar with your horse and the style of riding while enjoying the dazzling scenery on the route into the Torres del Paine National Park. Towards the end of the trail, you cross the Nutria river and come out onto the pampas which marks the end of today’s ride, and approach your hotel for the night, Hotel del Paine. This hotel offers comfortable rooms and great views of the Paine Massif, a large living/dining area with a log fire and a comfortable bar and good restaurant. For early risers, it also offers some of the best sunrises in all of Patagonia!
This morning you will ride across the pampas to Lago Grey. The view will be dominated by the jagged peaks of the Paine massif as you ride out along the Rio Grey to the largest glacier in the park, Glacier Grey. On reaching the trailhead you will tether the horses and walk out across the swinging footbridge through the forest to Grey beach. A memorable sight greets you - the pebbly shores of the beach form an almost surreal contrast to the blue of the floating icebergs that have carved off the nearby glacier. Glacier Grey protrudes off the southern ice field and is quite simply a wonder of nature. Measuring 28km in length and covering a total area of 270 square km with its frozen walls of blue ice towering almost 35 metres high, it never ceases to impress. After some time walking along the beach and enjoying a picnic lunch, you will walk back to the horses for the ride back to Rio Serrano. Return to Hotel del Paine for the night. *Note The Glacier itself is 17 kilometers from the Grey beach, so for those who would like to get up closer to the face of this marvel of ice, a trip out onto the lake in the Grey III boat can be arranged. This is an optional excursion available at the cost of approximately US$140 per person. Those guests who take the excursion will return to the hotel by transfer not by horse.
After breakfast in the hotel you start the ride eastwards towards the heart of the park. You will now be riding directly towards the Paine Massif mountain range so the views are dramatic and beautiful. Your trail skirts the southern edge of the mountains on a rarely trodden path as you pass azure and turquoise lakes with the huge granite mountain peaks standing behind. After a picnic lunch taken in one of the pretty valleys you continue east onto the beautiful soft pampas of the Patagonian steppe. Here there is a chance for some cantering as the light fades and the shadows lengthen until you arrive at Laguna Amarga. With the low light, a car will take you the last few kilometers to the intimate and authentic Estancia Tercera Barranca. Typical of the estancias of the area, Estancia Tercera Barranca is a working sheep ranch situated in an enviable position on the park border offering fantastic views of the granite mountains and of the Paine Massif. With land extending to 6,454 hectares it offers quality accommodation close to Torres del Paine National Park in addition to its original business of sheep farming. Sleeping just 21 guests in 7 rooms, the ranch house has a lovely intimate feel. There is a comfortable living area warmed by the welcoming log fire where you can read and relax before dinner which is served in the nearby wooden quincho. A hot tub also awaits to soak away any aches! All rooms have private bathrooms.
Today you ride from Estancia Tercera to the north-east, close to the border with Argentina. The area is full of guanacos and the hills ring with their alarm calls as you ride by. There will be chances for canters until reaching the uninhabited Estancia Gemitas for a short break. Afterwards you follow Las Chinas Valley downhill to reach the dramatic Las Chinas waterfall where you stop for lunch. After lunch, you cross Las Chinas river and pass by the Estancia Laguna Azul before returning to Tercera Baranca for the night.
The day starts with a 20 minute transfer to Estancia Cerro Guido, a large working estancia with aproximately 110,000 hectares, 37,000 sheep, 2,500 cattle and 400 horses. After checking in to your room, you get to meet your new horse. From the estancia stables you ride up the mountain side behind the estancia and into the surrounding hills. The Sierra Baguales mountians are a stark contrast beside the rolling landscape of the pampas below. After a stop for lunch you continue to an Indian burial site. Although no artifacts remain at the site, later, in the estancia you will be able to see photos and learn about the burial site. After your ride, you return to the estancia for a welcome dinner and the comfortable beds.
After breakfast you will once again be saddling up for a full day’s ride. This time, you will be heading south to Estancia Entro Lagos. This is a beautiful open ride across grassy meadows and welcoming pampas. Riding south with the dramatic Paine mountains to your right enables you to fully appreciate the distances that the original pioneers encountered and which the estancieros still encounter to this day. There will also be opportunities for lots of canters on your responsive and comfortable horse. With the wind in your hair and a smile on your face you will experience the sheer joy that is riding in Patagonia! During the afternoon after a leisurely picnic lunch and an afternoon’s riding you will get to see the blue waters of Lake Sarmiento and have some time to photograph the Torres del Paine mountains from the lake’s edge. Once everyone has had a chance to take in the view you will ride back, via Flemingo Lake, to Estancia Cerro Guido. The comfortable estancia is a place where you will feel warm and at home. The huge roaring fire and big soft sofas will invite you to relax and reflect on your holiday experiences so far.
After breakfast it is back in the saddle to begin your last full day of riding, this time to the Sierra Baguales mountain range. Today will give you a view of the vast glacial valleys carved by the glaciers thousands of years ago, leaving you mesmerised by the huge skies and long stretches of pampas. You start by traversing the mountain behind Cerro Guido, along the track called ‘Paso Guitarra’. You will pass the lovely, but deserted, Estancia Las Flores which includes the only original adobe building left in the area. At lunch time you stop to let the horses rest and have a nice picnic in the middle of the valley where you may be able to see condors soaring overhead. After taking in the view and having a break it is time to continue on to Vega Nash where there will be opportunities to canter and enjoy this large flat ‘vega’, a typical pampa in this area. This will bring you back to Estancia Cerro Guido, where a delicious Patagonian asado dinner will be cooking and you can enjoy your last night in Patagonia with complimentary wine.
As your holiday comes to an end, you drive back to Puerto Natales and say farewell to your new friends.
Cattle Drive Sample Itinerary:
The Cattle Drive ride follows the same itinerary until Day 7.
This morning you will be driven 20 minutes to Estancia Cerro Guido, a large working estancia with over 25,000 hectares and approximately 10,000 sheep. After checking in to your room, you will meet your new horse and the gauchos that will be accompanying you for the cattle-drive. Each year, around this date the cattle are moved from the higher pastures, which are likely to be snowy at this time, and are bought down to lower pastures. You will be going out to the higher pastures and rounding up the cattle to move them down to their winter feeding grounds. After the ride, you will return to the estancia for a welcome dinner and the comfortable beds.
Today after breakfast, you will once again be saddling up for a full day’s ride. You will be heading back out to check on the cattle, finish off any of yesterday’s jobs and start looking at the sheep. Please be aware that this is not an activity that can work with a tight itinerary. Each day of the three-day drives may be changed and amended depending on the estancia, gauchos and climate. Each of the three days will be a minimum of 5 hours in the saddle.
After breakfast you will mount up again to begin your last full day of riding. After our rounding up cattle and sheep you will return to the lovely Estancia where a delicious Patagonian asado dinner will be cooking and you can enjoy your last night in Patagonia with complimentary wine.
As your holiday comes to an end, you drive back to Puerto Natales and say farewell to your new friends.
In addition to these itineraries we can arrange a number of four day trip extensions which can be easily tagged on. They include hiking, kayaking, yoga/ multisport, whale watching and more... Please contact us for details.
We're avid readers here at Unicorn Trails and have selected several books connected to this ride. If you're interested in reading more about the area before you travel, or want to get into the cultural background, here are some suggestions that may inspire you. Click on the links for more information.
The Heights of Macchu Picchu – Neruda,
House of Spirits – Isabel Allende (the late President’s niece),
Victor; An Unfinished Song –Joan Jara,
Crisis in Allende's Chile: New Perspectives – Edy Kaufman,
The Whispering Land – Gerald Durrell
In Patagonia (Vintage classics) – Bruce Chatwin
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
Southern Patagonia is perfect riding country. Unhindered by fences, roads or urban development, riders can canter for miles and miles across pampas beneath towering granite peaks surrounded by the immense beauty of the southern ice cap. They can rest beside flower-filled meadows, clear mountain lakes and glaciers, and drink from iceberg-choked rivers. You will ride deep into this riders' paradise away from the main trails and into the wilderness. The pace is moderate to fast. The pace however is dictated by the terrain and the distance we need to travel on any given day, but where possible there is a lot of trotting and cantering. Distances vary between 20 and 40 kilometres in a day. Horses: The horses are Criollo-cross and vary in size with the majority being between 14.0 and 15.2 hands. They are strong, fit, willing and sure-footed. We are able to provide good horses for both experienced riders and for riders who are more ‘rusty’. The pace of the ride will be adjusted by the guide to suit the majority of riders but as we always travel with more than one horseman, there is flexibility and riders soon find their own pace for the trip. Riders are not responsible for grooming or tack. Horses are constantly checked for injury and/or lameness and tiredness. Where necessary and where it is possible, horses will be changed. Most clients will experience at least one horse change during the course of their riding days. Tack: The tack is Chilean and comprises of metal framed saddles onto which is layered felt, sheepskin and leather. Rope, rawhide and leather form the bridles, girths, straps etc. The saddles provide adequate comfort for the long days riding and the stirrups consist of a leather cup through which the foot cannot pass. Most of the horses are ridden in simple snaffles. Halters are worn throughout the ride with rope tied around the horse’s neck to tie up at lunch stops/rest stops etc.
Many of the riding days are long - between 25 and 40 kilometres. The pace is moderate to fast. Riders should be able to control a horse on open ground at the canter and be fit enough to ride all day.
The minimum age is 12 years old, young riders must be experienced and be accompanied by an experienced adult. It is requested that clients over 70 years old complete a medical / suitability questionnaire before their booking is confirmed.
The weight limit for this ride is 210 lb/95 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
The accommodation is a mix of authentic estancias and where this is not possible, comfortable hotels. Rooms have twin beds and en-suite facilities with a restaurant/dining room. Double beds are very hard to secure; please give advance notice if you would like the ride to try and book you a double bed (this cannot be guaranteed). Please note that single rooms are limited on this ride. Meals will be eaten in the restaurant or with the family. Food will consist of lamb, beef, chicken or salmon with fresh vegetables or salad accompanied by rice or potatoes. Wine and beer is available at a reasonable cost throughout the trip. Gourmet picnic lunches will be served each day and may include the following: roast chicken with potatoes (mayo or roasted pesto), regional hams and cheeses, seafood and king crab, roasted peppers and artichokes with cream cheese, goats cheese and jam, salamis with cherry tomatoes, poached salmon with yoghurt and cucumber, roast Patagonian beef with merlot onion jam. Each day there will be fresh seasonable vegetables, fresh vegetable soup, bread or crackers, homemade cereal bars, fruit, and cake. Tea, fresh coffee and hot chocolate will also be available. Meals can be adapted to dietary requirements with advanced notice. Breakfast will include toast, coffee, cereal, ham/cheese, bread rolls and juice and occasionally eggs. All meals while in the park, excluding wine and beverages, are normally included in the trip price. In hotels this will be the ‘menu’ consisting typically of a soup or salad to start, a main course of beef, chicken or fish and a sweet (usually fruit). In home-stay accommodations such as Estancia Tercera Barranca, the meal will be a Chilean homecooked meal or an outside gaucho barbeque (asado). Breakfast and lunch is included daily during the ride. Meals in Punta Arenas and lunches in Natales on transfer days are generally not included. Hospitality is very important in Chile so food will be plentiful. Special diets can be catered for with prior arrangement. Water: during the trip we use local water supplies from rivers, streams and lakes. Clients should bring a water bottle to fill for their daily drinking supply. Water is always available at camp and there are further rivers and streams to replenish supplies en route. The water is clean and pure and about as close to the source as is possible. There are no communities in the Park to contaminate the water supply and no tropical waterborne diseases such as guiardia. However, if any client feels uncomfortable with this arrangement, they should bring iodine drops with them (and the appropriate taste inhibitors sold with them). A note of interest to Vegetarians: Please note that Patagonia is a culture largely founded on the farming of sheep. Meat, especially lamb, is a staple for most people in the area. On our riding, hiking and estancia based trips, it is very likely the group will get to enjoy a lamb or meat asado (BBQ) during their trip. Whilst alternative food is available for the non-meat eaters, it is worth informing that vegetarians may witness meat being prepared. It can be challenging for vegetarians to travel in what is a very meat based culture.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visa’s are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
Visa are not required for U.K. or other European nationals staying for less than 90 days. In the UK the British Foreign Office gives travel advice on 0207 008 0232/0233 or at www.fco.gov.uk.
The Chilean Embassy in the UK is at 12 Devonshire Street, London W1G 7DS.
The British Consulate in Santiago is at Avda. El Bosque Norte 0125, Las Condes, Santiago. Telephone: +56 (2) 370 4100.
Torres del Paine has a milder and drier microclimate than the surrounding areas of Patagonia because of some unique geological features. The weather however is famously unpredictable and it is possible to experience four seasons in the course of a few hours! Average daily temperatures vary but in summer one can expect 10 - 20 degrees celsius with the occasional hot day of 25 degrees. Temperatures can drop to zero at night and high winds are common in this area. Although you can never be sure of how Paine will treat its guests, we ask that clients are prepared (both mentally and physically) for unpredictable and sometimes challenging weather conditions and that you pack accordingly. Good waterproofs (top to toe) are essential.
No special health precautions are required for visits to Chile but please see your local doctor for advice and further details. We do advise taking plenty of sunscreen! If you are visiting wetter regions, such as Patagonia, insect repellent could be useful for warm days after rain.
For up to date information on specific health concerns please contact the Medical Advisors For Travellers Abroad. Their website can be found at www.masta.org or visit the Department of Health's web site on www.dh.gov.uk
No mandatory vaccinations are required to enter Chile. However, we recommend that routine immunizations such as Tetanus and diphtheria are up to date. Polio is recommended if you have never had it. Children’s immunizations should be up to date and include all the above plus pertussis, hib, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella. Hepatitis A is also strongly recommended both for adults and for children. There is no malaria in Chile.
Voltage is 220V, so check this input is appropriate for your appliance before leaving. You will also require a plug adaptor, which you may purchase at most airports and travel shops.
A few lightweight, easily washable items (layering is always best)
Midweight fleece or wool sweater
Midweight fleece or wool trousers
Long-sleeved shirts or tees for layering
Underwear and personal items (for women we recommend a good sports bra for riding)
Wool cap or other warm hat (choose one that can be used under your riding helmet)
Scarf or neck warmer
Comfortable footwear for general walking
Set of thermals for cold nights
Sun hat or visor that can be worn with your riding hat
Water bottle (one litre bottle or a Camel-bak)
Camera, spare batteries and a spare memory card
Waterproof camera bag
Flashlight/torch with spare batteries (Maglite or similar)
Sunglasses (preferably with a neck string)
Sunscreen and lip salve
Any personal medication
Riding trousers (Half or full chaps can be provided if required)
Pair of insulating and quick-drying riding gloves
Riding helmet: We strongly recommend riders bring their own BHS/ISO approved hard hat. Hard hats save lives and can prevent serious head injury. Riders who do not wear a helmet do so at their own risk and will be asked to sign a waiver.
Socks (including knee-high pairs for riding)
Riding boots (well broken in) or ankle-high multi-purpose boots which work well when worn with half chaps and can comfortably be worn for walking too
Waterproof and windproof jacket (Gortex or other suitable fabric) with a hood and no leaks. Some clients wear long Australian stock coats. No plastic ponchos please!
Waterproof trousers (make sure they have an under-foot stirrup to stop them riding up the leg)
Waterproof saddlebags are provided for cameras etc.
Other useful items:
Spanish phrasebook or dictionary
Travel alarm clock
Swiss army knife
Wet Ones or similar travel wipes
Tracksuit trousers or comfortable walking trousers for optional hikes and for relaxing at the Hotel
Spare contact lenses or glasses if necessary
Swimsuit (for the hardy and also Estancia Tercera Barranca have a hot tub!)
Ear plugs for light sleepers
Water: During the trip we use local water supplies from rivers, streams and lakes. Clients should bring a water bottle to fill for their personal daily drinking supply. Water is always available at camp and there are further rivers and streams to replenish supplies en-route. This water is clean and pure and is about as close to the source as is possible. There are no communities in the Park to contaminate the water supply and no tropical water bourne diseases in the area such as guiardia HOWEVER if any client feels uncomfortable with this arrangement, they should bring iodine drops with them (and the appropriate taste inhibitors sold with them) or ask the guide to boil water for their water bottle during breakfast (where tap water isn’t available).
Note on luggage: Please note that whilst we will transport what we consider is a reasonable amount of luggage on pack horses, boats etc carried by clients, we cannot be responsible for any extra costs due to clients carrying excessive luggage. The Guide will make an assessment of the luggage carried by clients during the trip briefing and if he/she feels there is an excessive amount, will advise them as to alternatives (such as leaving some of it at our offices in Natales). For clients who do not wish to leave some of the luggage behind, we will reserve extra pack horses and will advise them locally of the extra cost for this.
This is a 10 day/9 night programme with 8 days riding. The ride can also run custom made rides for any size of group - please enquire for more details.
2019: 1 December.
2020: 5, 19 January; 2, 19 February; 4 March.
|Riding days||Product item description||£|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||double pp 6+ riders in group||4,649|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||single supplement||779|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 4-5||315|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 2-3||709|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||double pp 6+ riders in group||4,729|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 4-5||395|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 2-3||789|
|Riding days||Product item description||€|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||double pp 6+ riders in group||5,395|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||single supplement||905|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 4-5||365|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 2-3||825|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||double pp 6+ riders in group||5,485|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 4-5||459|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 2-3||915|
|Riding days||Product item description||$|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||double pp 6+ riders in group||6,085|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||single supplement||1,019|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 4-5||415|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 2-3||929|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||double pp 6+ riders in group||6,185|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 4-5||515|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 2-3||1,029|
|Riding days||Product item description||SEK|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||double pp 6+ riders in group||58,129|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||single supplement||9,755|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 4-5||3,945|
|2019 Jan - March||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 2-3||8,869|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||double pp 6+ riders in group||59,119|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 4-5||4,929|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||supplement for group of 2-3||9,855|
‘The Heights of Macchu Picchu’ – Neruda, ‘House of Spirits’ – Isabel Allende (the late President’s niece), ‘Victor; An Unfinished Song’ –Joan Jara, ‘Crisis in Allende’s Chile’ – Edy Kaufman, ‘The Whispering Land’ – Gerald Durrell and ‘In Patagonia’ –Bruce Chatwin
If you are not riding there is plenty to do. There is world class rafting, kayaking, surfing big waves, skiing, camping, hiking, boat rides, visiting spas and wine tasting. A true multi-activity holiday is possible here. Please contact us with requests.
The 934 square miles of Torres del Paine contains many distinct ecosystems. Each ecosystem contains widely diverse landscapes, which themselves enable different flora and fauna to flourish, some found nowhere else on earth. Patagonia is home to over 40 species of mammal and 100 species of birds.
Among these, the protected guanaco, Patagonia’s largest land mammal, roams the plains in large breeding groups. Each group comprises a dominant male and a harem of females, each of which gives birth to one chulengo. They make for fascinating watching. The Puma, sometimes called the panther, cougar or mountain lion, also inhabits Torres del Paine in fair numbers. This is the southern-most inhabitant of the 27 recognized puma subspecies and one of the largest. It inhabits huge territories encompassing up to 40 square miles of rocky slopes, forests and open plains. It is a solitary, nocturnal hunter, feeding on small mammals, guanacos and sometimes, sheep owned by local ranchers. It has also been known to attack young or injured horses.
The critically endangered huemul deer is known to breed in the south eastern sectors of the park. This small deer is the national symbol of Chile and CONAF considers its conservation a high priority. For this reason, they have closed the Pingo Trail to horses.
Other mammals include the Patagonian Grey Fox. It feeds on hares, rodents and occasionally the leftovers of puma kills and can also be seen wandering the campsites in the park looking for scraps and unattended trash bags.
Some of the world's rarest bird species – the crested cara cara, and black vulture among them – are found in Torres del Paine. Other bird species include black-necked swans, flamingoes, ibis, pygmy owls, austral parakeets and southern lapwings.
Often seen gliding in the huge skies in search of carrion the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) flies as high as 15,000 feet and at speeds of up to 35 miles an hour. An unforgettable sight, it weighs in at 16 pounds, is four feet long and has a massive ten foot wingspan. Finger-like feathers at the end of these huge wings make for precision flying. It nests in rock cavities high in the mountains. Condors are bald-headed and the male condor is black with some white on its wings and a fleshy red or black crest about four inches long. The female has no crest. Young condors have fluffy brown feathers.
The largest bird in South America, the ostrich-like Rhea is also frequently seen roaming the grasslands. Grey-brown and white in colour and fast runners, they are sometimes called South American Ostriches. These fascinating animals protect themselves by living in groups.
Chile stretches nearly 3,000 miles north to south, always bound by the Andes to the east and the Pacific to the west, yet is on average only 100 miles wide. The scenery is extraordinarily diverse, from the deserts and salt flats in the north to the lakes and sculpted peaks of the Torres del Paine in the south. With one of Latin America's most successful economies and political stability it is a friendly and safe place to explore, with a level of efficiency in services that many will find unusual in Latin America.
In the 1,630 square kilometres of the Torres del Paine National Park, sheer granite walls rise up to heights of 8,000 feet, glaciers and a sea of ice stretch into the distance and turquoise lakes are constantly replenished by water from the Patagonian Ice Cap. The park has a network of well marked trails, the trails are different routes for walkers and riders. Punta Arenas is the departure point for cruises along the southern fjords or flights to Antarctica, and there are several penguin colonies nearby.
Chile's boundaries are geographically well-defined: to the west is the Pacific Ocean; to the east the Andes mountains; to the north is the Atacama Desert, the driest in the World; and to the south are the icefields and glaciers of Chilean Patagonia. There are wide variations of soil and climate between these features. Its 4,500 km coastline includes an amazing assortment of archipelagos and channels south of Puerto Montt. Although Chile is 4,329 km long at no point is it wider than 180 km. Chile's sovereign territory includes some Pacific islands, among them Easter Island, and it has a claim to a sector of Antarctica.
Chilean territory was among the last to be populated in Latin America. Prehispanic Chile was home to over a dozen different groups of indigenous people. The three main cultural groups were Incan, Mapuche and Patagonian.
Northern Chile was an important centre of culture in the medieval and early modern Inca empire. Afterwards, their culture was dominated by the Spanish during the Colonial and early Republican period. Other European influences, primarily English and French, began in the 19th century and have continued until today, as in other Western societies.
The national dance is the cueca. Another form of traditional Chilean song, though not a dance, is the tonada. In the mid-1960s native musical forms were revitalized with the Nueva Canción Chilena, which was associated with political activists and reformers.
Chileans call their country País de Poetas which means land of poets. Gabriela Mistral, was the first Chilean to win a Nobel Prize for literature. Chile's most famous poet, however, is Pablo Neruda, who also won the Nobel Prize and is world-renowned for his extensive library of works on romance, nature, and politics. His three highly individualistic homes, located in Isla Negra, Santiago and Valparaiso are popular tourist destinations.
Chile is four hours behind GMT and they use the metric weights and measures system, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. There is approximately 1.6 kilometres in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.
The international dialling code is +56.