"You have to be thin in Chile," the American journalist John Gunther once said, "otherwise you fall off". But this long, thin country - 4,350 kilometres long but never more than 180 kilometres wide - is also a land of tremendous contrasts and adventures. [See Chile holidays tailor-made itinerary ideas]
Chile tours provide the chance to take in some of the country's many travel highlights, which range from superb wine-growing lands and breathtaking desert terrain, to beautiful mountain lakes and some of South America's most captivating cities.
Chile's eastern flank is dominated by the South American continent's rugged spine, the Andes mountains, where alpacas and trekkers roam amid stunning scenery. To the west is the Pacific Ocean, in which the far-off speck of Easter Island - Rapa Nui - is Chile's most remote outpost. Towards Chile's northern tip, meanwhile, is another geographical extreme, the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth, a hotbed of mining but also of adventure travel.
Finally, travel to Chile's southern extreme and you'll be confronted with the vastly different, but equally dramatic landscapes of Chilean Patagonia - with its enormous glaciers, deep fjords and wind-swept channels where vast penguin colonies and large numbers of whales, seals and seabirds can be sighted on expedition cruises. The Torres del Paine National Park and the Lake District are two of the most popular attractions on a luxury cruise route that continues to the continent's wild, southernmost tip, Tierra del Fuego.
When to go
The climate in Chile varies dependent on location. The country stretches from glaciers to tropics, coast to mountaintops; impossible to ignore when considering when to travel.
The south is best visited in the summer months (late-November to March) when temperatures are more pleasant and longer days add a magical feel to the lakes and plains. Long days also allow travellers extra time for outdoor pursuits. The shoulder seasons, spring and autumn, are also pleasant, but heavy weather in the winter isolates some towns and villages and makes some roads impassable.
By contrast, the north and the Atacama Desert are best during winter, spring and autumn and though summer is also fine, be wary of high temperatures, which often break into the 40s. Night time temperatures in the Atacama Desert are bitterly cold year round. In the far north, a regular afternoon downpour occurs in the summer months and though this rarely scuppers plans, it's easy to avoid by travelling in the shoulder seasons.
Predictably perhaps, Middle Chile is best during those middle seasons - spring and autumn, September to late-November, February to early-May respectively.
Capital - Santiago
Size - 756,002 sq km
Language - Spanish
Population - 17.3 million
Religion - Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Jehovah's Witnesses
Currency - Chilean peso
Time zone - GMT -3
Flight time from the UK -14.5 hrs
20 January - San Sebastian, feast day to commemorate San Sebastian
Easter - Semana Santa, Holy Week
03 May - Santa Cruz de Mayo, celebration of the cult of the Holy Cross
13 June - Noche de San Juan Bautista, feast night with a giant stew known as Estofado de San Juan
29 June - Fiesta de San Pedro, celebrations for the patron saint of the sea
mid-July - Virgen de la Tirana, the country's largest religious festival
16 July - Virgen del Carmen, military processions across Chile to honour the patron saint of the armed forces
01 November - All Saints' Day
Please note that entry requirements and visa regulations can change often and at short notice. We can provide general information about the passport and visa requirements for your trip and this information may be included after the itinerary section of your quotation. Your specific passport and visa requirements and other immigration requirements are your responsibility and you should confirm these with the relevant Embassies and/or Consulates. Neither we nor the principal(s) or supplier(s) accept any responsibility if you cannot travel because you have not complied with any passport, visa or immigration requirements. Please call your WEXAS specialist if you wish to discuss entry requirements.
Passports must be valid for the full duration of your stay. If you are visiting another country or countries en route to or from Chile, be sure to check any further entry requirements.
The Chilean peso (Ch$) is the official currency of Chile. Coins come in denominations 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 pesos; notes in denominations of 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000 pesos.
Using ATMs is the easiest way to deal with your money when in Chile and are widespread across the country. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted and most ATMs have instructions in Spanish and English. There's likely to be a small charge for foreign transactions, though exchange rates at ATMs are generally as good as you'll find anywhere else. Santiago is the best pace to exchange hard currency.
Be sure to notify your bank of your travels to avoid them from blocking your card when an international transaction is made.