It’s been a rough year for tourism professionals trying to promote Chile’s Patagonia. Last winter’s ash-cloud eruption of Puyehue Volcano tangled flight schedules and undercut the ski season, starting things off with a fizzle. Then, the unusually hot, dry southern summer exploded into wildfires, temporarily closing Torres del Paine National Park.
Though most of the region’s conservation areas have reopened, smaller fires continue to burn, which have in turn ignited simmering political issues in the region. On the upside, bargains abound throughout Patagonia, usually unheard of this time of year.
Don’t expect them to last. Chile has plenty of experience successfully recovering from natural disasters, so you can expect Patagonia to rebound by next summer, no problem. After all, it’s only been two years since a devastating 8.8 earthquake decimated Santiago. But the national capital has already recovered its ranking as one of the world’s top destinations.
The New York Times rated the Chilean capital its number one “Place to Go in 2011,” then visited for 36 festive hours. Lonely Planet included Santiago as one their top ten Destinations for 2012. And last month, Mother Nature Network named Santiago their “Destination of the Week,” gushing about the city’s excellent public transport and plethora of eco-attractions to explore.
In addition to the museums, historic sites, nightlife, and other typically urban attractions that characterize almost any national capital, Santiago makes a very comfortable base for all sorts of day trips to outstanding natural attractions. Epic ski slopes, quaint coastal towns, and acres of sundrenched vineyards all await just beyond the city limits.
Thus, there’s an effort afoot to promote Santiago as a destination for foreign guests, while at the same time convincing Chileños to explore their world-famous backyard. For instance, Chile’s Minister of Economy, Development and Tourism, Pablo Longueira, recently took a highly publicized whitewater rafting trip in Región Metropolitana Mountains, just an hour from the capital. And that’s just the beginning.
So, if you’ve already planned your Chilean adventure and are worried that the wildfires might impede your Patagonia itinerary (which is unlikely; only a fraction of the region is affected), fear not. There’s plenty to enjoy in and around the capital.