Hotspot Chile! (And not just for football)

If you happen to find yourself Chile-bound over the next three weeks or so and are ignorant of football, you might be in for a little shock.

If you happen to find yourself Chile-bound over the next three weeks or so and are ignorant of football, you might be in for a little shock.

That’s because the country is host to South America’s chief international soccer tournament, the Copa América. And like we saw for last year’s Fifa World Cup in Brazil, with a growing middle-class in this part of the world, more football fans are making their presence felt at such tournaments held in the region.

Generally, the advice for travellers who have no interest in what for many here is a religion is to avoid the host nation. That’s not specifically because of security reasons – indeed of all Latin American countries Chile is probably the most reliable to ensure the event runs safely and smoothly – but more due to the fact that it will be busier than usual.

Thus, and as happens across the globe, prices of many things will go up and if you just ‘wander in’ to Chile without having made prior plans, finding accommodation may be difficult, if not impossible (depending on what you’re looking for and where).
However, the place doesn’t have to be completely avoided and it could be rewarding to see the continent ‘united’ (if only for a brief time) in football.

For one, it’s difficult to find more passionate soccer supporters than here in Latin America. The excitement and colour all the rival fans will bring to winter-time Chile should leave a warm glow – figuratively if not literally.

That aside, you could just sit out the tournament in the many cities and towns that are not home to games. For the record, the host locations are, from north to south, Antofagasta, La Serena, Valparaíso, Viña del Mar (those two are practically the same), Santiago, Rancagua, Concepción and Temuco.

If you’re looking for some mild sun, sea and sand, Chile’s northernmost city of Arica, with average temperatures of 19 degrees Celsius at this time of year and next to no rainfall, is a decent option. Stunning desert scenery abounds. Lake Chungará, at a lofty 4,517 metres-above-sea-level, is a must see.

Further south but staying in desert surrounds is another port city, Iquique. It’s also home to a large duty-free zone where the likes of electrical items, liquor and perfumes can be bought at very competitive prices.

Arguably the country’s main tourist hotspot is Pucón, spectacularly located next to Lake Caburga and the active Villarica volcano, 780 km south of the capital Santiago. There are plenty of adventure activities to do here all year round. At this time of year skiing and snowboarding on the slopes of Villarica and other mountains in the region are popular. You can also warm up your veins (you’ll probably need to) in one of the most natural ways possible: in thermal baths in the middle of the forest.

For the more adventurous, especially in a Chilean winter, there’s the southernmost city of Punta Arenas in the rugged and wild Patagonian region, well removed from the football fest in the centre of the country. Getting there is a trek, but a rewarding one; do bring the woollies though (indeed you might prefer to hold off for a few months!). From mainland Chile the only ways to get there are via sea or air, however there is a land route by crossing into neighbouring Argentina.

We could go on, the country is home to plenty of gems; heck, we didn’t even mention a trip to a vineyard to see (and taste) one of Chile’s most famous exports in the making.

So if football doesn’t ‘float your boat’, that’s not a reason to give Chile a wide berth right now. It has pretty much something for all tastes, all year round.


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