Chilean Dreamscapes

by Editor
Published: Updated: Cliffs of Valparaiso

Photo Essay by Christopher Ludgate

Drenched in late-day sunlight, in a valley between the Andean peaks of Chile’s Araucanía region, the shimmering waters of a glacial lake stretched before me. I gazed out from the shaded tea room overlook, nestled in the sprawling natural terrain of Lake Villarrica at Hotel Antumalal in remote Pucón.

chile's Lake Villarrica

In the distance, a stream of effusion rose steadily from the crater of a snow-capped volcano. The local Mapuche tribe calls it The Great Spirit’s House. Indeed, this active volcano simmers continuously deep inside and is the object of many a watchful eye. For the curious, a cavernous path leads to a thrilling peek inside the belly of the beast.

Villaricca Volcano

The composition of the natural phenomena throughout Chile and its 4,000-mile coast is a synergistic one. Dynamic, vigorous, and inviting, Mother Earth’s South American laboratory dominates the landscape here as a spectacular hydro-playground with her hot springs, wild roaring rapids, and lofty waterfalls.

A Resonant Rush

Feet up beside the fire with a friend, buzzed by a bottle of bold Carménère in the rightly named Royal Chalet at Antumalal, I melted into the twilight. That morning was spent along the rural dirt roads and towering trees not too far outside of Pucón’s unassuming city centre of artisan shops and lapis lazuli charms that I’d later explore.

On the heels of a guide with a raft in tow, I soon found myself among the abundant flora squeezing into a wet suit on the banks of the Río Trancura. I listened as the wide 48-mile river rambled, immersed in the dramatic lowlands of Northern Patagonia. I could feel the soothing vibrations of the water and the deep resonating rush there in the heart of the Andes.

Was it Class I, II, or III? I don’t know, but the ride on the rapids was pure adrenaline surrounded by the hills and peaks that I had admired from above days earlier flying into Temuco. At an easier pace, soaked in a rush of endorphins, my comrades and I glided towards the river’s edge where a glacial runoff sparkled with sunlight, gurgling down. I drank the crisp pure water from my hands.

Into the Mist

Chile's Termas Geometricas

The vapours rose from beneath the elevated labyrinth of red planks stretching deep into the lush wild vegetation of the canyon. Here at Termas Geometricas in nearby Panguipulli, Chile, Japanese design is fused with Chilean rainforest vibes throughout its sprawling playground of hot springs. Grass-covered changing huts were peppered throughout the spa.

Each of the numerous slate-lined pools was situated along the canyon walls, marked with its own distinct temperature. Cool respites were available, too. I ventured deeper along the planks on a solitary stroll at leisure with the sounds of birds and bubbling streams abound. And in a little nook, I dropped my robe, stepped into the mist of the warm, sun-soaked pool, immersed, palms up and face to the sky.

Seizing the day on the way back to Atumalal for an exceptional dinner, skin tight and invigorated by the springs, I detoured on a hike through the tropical lake region in pursuit of its numerous waterfalls. I wandered and climbed and soon found myself engulfed in the warm spray of the plunging Salto El Leon water, wrapped in rainbows, letting it rain down on me.

A Day with the Mapuches

A hearty welcome ritual of percussion had already begun as I approached to find my host family of the Mapuche Tribe. As the most prominent indigenous people of this region of chile, this native tribe extended an invitation for an immersive cultural experience on their sacred turf just outside the Río Trancura. For travellers exploring the region, it is an encouraged opportunity by the tribe themselves.

The matriarch, now leading the children in the chant, had already started preparing a meal as evidenced by the wafting aroma from the fire pit her husband tended. After the ceremony, the children taught me a game in the yard. I could still hear their laughter from inside as Mother Yamai served her feast at the table.

It was already clear, but she wanted to emphasize the importance of agriculture being at the heart of the Mapuche culture. This scrumptious meal she prepared was seeded and harvested by the tribe and it made the most genuine farm-to-table experience one could imagine.

A song spilled from Yamai’s lips as she spun brightly coloured yarn with ease after inviting me into the family’s traditional ruka dwelling. I watched and listened intently as she demonstrated her skills. I admired the beautiful woven blankets and garments within the orderly straw-covered hut. I could feel the love with which the home was made, and I could see the essence of their firmly established daily lives. I only assumed there was no WIFI.

Off on a stroll of the Mapuche grounds where the tribe has dwelled for thousands of years, I admired the beautiful gardens and crops, tasted honey from their bee hives, and watched a rogue hen gathering her chicks as golden hour set in.

The Edge of Valparaiso

Santiago in northernmost Chile

En route to Valparaiso, in northernmost Chile, the opportunity beckoned for an overnighter to explore urban life in the centrally located capital, Santiago. Dropped into the bustle of Plaza de Armas, bursting with energy from its markets, street performers, cafes, and political protests it was somehow endearingly what I pictured…the Spanish Colonial architecture, hot sun, and tall palm trees. Later I marvelled at author Pablo Neruda’s former house where I picked up a copy of his Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. At night, I headed off to a little music at the beautiful Teatro Municipal.

The midday sun rose as I reached Casablanca Valley, home to some of the finest wine-making in Chile. It’s an enviable sweet spot in terms of terroir. The small haven of boutique vineyards in this region boasts sophisticated wine-pairing experiences in an idyllic setting. A sweet spot, indeed.

biking in Chilean Vineyards

Seizing the day at Casa del Bosque, I found myself in a moment to savour, shifting gears through the patchwork of lush crops on a bike with pure joy at my back, gliding beneath a glorious blue sky.

Further on, the vibrant city of Valparaiso sat on the deep cliffs along the shore of the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t help but sense a real edge-of-the-world feeling. With its steep old funiculars and little houses as animated as its street art, I roamed the tiny streets to an overlook amid an eyeful of culture oozing with stories to tell.

Christopher Ludgate is a writer, photographer, and award-winning filmmaker with a background in hometown NYC’s indie scene.

With tailor-made itineraries beyond the ordinary, his travel stories combine culture, wellness, the outdoors, luxury, and history.

Chris is a longtime advocate for holistic health and animal rights as well as an avid gardener, cook, and cat dad.

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