Few regions in the world launch visitors into outdoor pursuits like Chile’s Maipo Province. A rich mix of culture and commerce, the capital, Santiago, bears more than a passing mention given its artistic, culinary and literary underpinnings. After at least two nights in the capital – roaming from marketplace to sidewalk cafes to clubs – moving on becomes a matter of personal preferences. Go high, pushing into tropical forests for hidden views or to snow-enrobed Andes for vertical endeavors? Go low, embracing the verdant vineyards and restive orchards known throughout the world? Get wet, allowing the Pacific Ocean to swallow your day-to-day worries? In every direction, rich regional history infuses the language, customs, music and food offered in nearly overwhelming varieties. There is, however, no reason for trepidation. Your visit here will find the pace – and places – to fit your active life.
Active Junky's Director of Content, traveling the globe in search of stories with soul.
Active Junky’s assistant editor, Drew brought on-snow acumen and gear insights to the Andes.
No stranger to Active Junky adventures, TJ's a drone whiz and all-around camera guru.
Thanks to his eye for angles, Rhett's constantly traveling the world on assignment.
A laidback travel partner—and a world-renowned adventure photographer.
Speedflier, freeskier, former US Ski Team member, ski coach and the most optimistic guy we’ve ever ridden with.
A ski patroller, guide and avalanche safety instructor with a knack for steep terrain.
There's no reason not to touch down here and get to know Chile before even leaving the terminal. Active Junky’s no stranger to international air connections in sketchy places with uncertain services. Not so at SCL, where the country’s largest aviation facility launches travelers into adventure near and far. With LAN Airlines accounting for well over 80% of all operation, frequent flights and reasonable transit times are the rule.
Inside the terminal are requisite franchise gift and dining options as well as the local flavor; expect alluring french fries to accompany nearly everything in addition to sipping your way through regional wines and beers. Over 40% of Chile’s population resides in the greater Santiago area where international influences are never far away. The Duty Free shops display a rich diversity of handcrafted memories and fashion runway styles consistent with a globally recognized city.
While challenged with urban growth, the city’s core asserts a diverse, energized attitude reinforced in public parks and markets as well as restaurants and hotels. Active Junky’s team, always anxious to push into backcountry adventure, found itself attracted to historic landmarks and the nightlife of Barrio Bellavista. Even as the new Gran Torre Santiago asserts itself as a beacon for progress, the pull of savory roasting meat and small artisan shops argues for a more introspective pace.
While the Aeropuerto Internacional is located west of the city’s primary ring road, Santiago spreads nearly 250sq. miles in all compass directions. At 1,706ft elevation, there’s plenty of room to head higher into the Andes or down to coastal plains. With over 5 million residents – and close to 40% of the entire Chile population – the city is where culture and commerce converge. Founded in 1541, it’s more than simply a transit crossing or one-night staging point for nearby destinations.
This resort and surrounding terrain hold an admittedly dear place in the hearts of Active Junky’s snowsports athletes. For five years, summer in the U.S. has meant winter in Chile – and the chance to test legs and gear on Andean slopes. Valle Nevado Resort is where gracious hospitality and serious snow meet; national teams from around the world join ski and ride brands (often with blacked-out topsheets) from August into October.
Most recently, AJ brought two athletes to V.N. to push their limits off drops, steeper runs and even the ridges rimming the Resort. Backflips and countless rotations were thrown; one tester even suited up and flew a speed wing off hundred-foot cliffs. Brand sponsors joined in to keep the team warm and safe even as massage, yoga classes and varied cuisine kept everyone feeling strong and capable. Up next season: Getting airborne and reaching even farther with heli-skiing launching only a few hundred yards from the relaxed elegance of this much-lauded South American winter destination.
Even as the throb of Santiago’s late night scene still echoed, this edge-of-nowhere experience lured everyone into the van. Guided by mountain-wise members of the Upscape Travel team, the Parque is easy to miss less than 100km from Santiago. Wheeling off of 1828m Cerro La Campana, the terrain gained national park status in 1967 and Unesco Biosphere Reserve protection in 1985.
The winding approach to the humble park entrance offered a chance to decompress after leaving the highway for the scent of flowering fruit trees. Once again, Charles Darwin beat the Active Junky team here by topping Cerro in 1834. No matter as the 5.5km Puemos-Portezuelo de Ocoa trail led us into valley views – and a waterfall overlook – worth every minute on the road. While the trails are few, they immerse day-hikers into thick forests of ancient Chilean palm trees and distinctive regional vegetation concealing a prolific bird population.
Not far past the Zapata tunnel, a marvel of engineering that cuts through the mountains on Ruta 68, an Eden-like valley spreads out to the north and south. With DOC (Denomination of Origin) status, the vines are surprisingly new. Converted from crop and dairy operations as recently as the mid-1980s, the climate here is a cool maritime environment similar to California’s Central Coast. Chilly, foggy mornings give way to warm afternoons as clay and sandy soils dominate the Valley.
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon occupy a special place, even as some wineries expand their offerings with grapes harvested from nearby valleys. Active Junky walked through biodynamic rows fed by roving chickens before mounting bikes for a dash to more remote vineyards. While harvest time is an exceptional period to visit, the year-round hospitality of winemakers showcases Chile’s rapid progress from early years of merely passable wines. Once again, Upscape Travel paved the way to outstanding sights – and refreshing tastes.
Emiliana is more than a biodynamic vineyard that captures the best of soil, sun and balanced viniculture. On land reclaimed from dairy farms less than forty years ago, the team feeds the wine drinking public’s thirst for wines born in this singular place. The Casablanca Valley fuels their passion for variety and unique bottles, some of which are available back in the United States. Prices are reasonable while the vineyard’s well within reach during a guided day trip.
Loma Larga commanded Active Junky’s attention. Below one of the sloping vineyards, the barrel aging room echoed the operation’s quirky-but-premium approach. Capturing the best of multiple microclimates on Loma Largo’s property (another former dairy farm), the 100% Cabernet Franc won the day. Reached by touring bike with the Upscale Travel guide, a tree-lined road led the way to scenic orchards, buzzing bees and some of the best wine values our testers (tasters?) found in Chile. LL’s Sonoma County warehouse puts their wines within easy reach back home.
Only 70 miles west from Santiago, this port city rises from the Pacific Ocean like a climbing vine bursting with colorful blossoms. Homes and buildings splash color with reckless abandon in a city influenced heavily by a wave of European immigrants in the 19th century. Art, nightlife and history swirl together to make a long weekend visit go by in a blur; the central Plaza Sotomayor zone is nearly a requirement.
The surf, paddle and skimboard community has plenty to explore and share along a zigzag coastline. Never far from quirky hostels and five-star hotels, the rolling waves beckon aspiring and experienced riders hungry for a chance to see Chile from the water. And feel the day’s last rays on their backs.
Sand. Lots of it. Black and spanning the expanse between tall cliffs and the Pacific Ocean. On the south end of the beach, a left point break peels for hundreds of yards. This corner, “El Rincon,” drew riders beginning in the 80s for days up to months at a time. Quirky but more challenging than many nearby spots, Puertecillo is pure delight about 100 miles from Santiago.
From on-beach surf hostels in nearby Matanzas to posh condos with expansive views, the lodging options are robust. Local baked goods vie for attention against more cosmopolitan fare now, some 30 years since vans, tents and lean-to structures speckled the rugged landscape. You’ll find kite surfing, body surfing and SUP aficionados working their way into the line-up or pushing beyond the break. Caves, hilltop vistas and profound sunsets add to the magic even for non-aquatic day visitors.
In "downtown" Matanzas, about 45 minutes from Puertecillo, Roca Cuadrada opens the doors to chill, surf-focused stays. Somewhere between hostel and hotel, Roca's got lessons, rentals and sip-at-sunset beverages along with a fire pit for the roasting. Morning breakfasts are Spartan apart from amazing fresh-made bread; Active Junky stocked up on AM essentials for the self-service kitchen. A renovated, all-glass beach house is coming soon while paddle-out breaks are only 200yds down the coast.