If you arrive in Chile overland from Mendoza, the fertile Aconcagua Valley is the first scenery you see. It's watered by the Río Aconcagua, which flows west from the highest mountain in the Americas, Cerro Aconcagua (6962m), just over the Argentine border. Scenic highway CH-60 runs the length of the valley and across the Andes to Mendoza.
Wave gods and goddesses brave the icy waters of Chile's unofficial surf capital year-round, while mere beach-going mortals fill its long black sands December through March. Just outside the town center, the streets are still unpaved, lending an atavistic air to this peaced-out surfer village.
Parque Nacional Rapa Nui
Since 1935, much of Rapa Nui's land and all of the archaeological sites have been a national park administered by Conaf, which charges admission at Orongo and Rano Raraku that is valid for the whole park for five days as of the first day of entrance. You're allowed one visit to Orongo and one visit to Rano Raraku.
The Futaleufú's wild, frosty-mint waters have made this modest mountain town famous. Not just a mecca for kayaking and rafting, it also boasts fly-fishing, hiking and horseback riding. Improved roads and growing numbers of package-tour visitors mean it isn't off the map anymore – just note the ratio of down puffs to woolen mantas. That said, it's still a fun place to be.
'Nice plaza' is about as much as most locals have to say about Curicó. They're right: some 60 towering palm trees ring the square, while the inside is decorated with cedars, monkey puzzles, a striking early-20th-century wrought-iron bandstand and a wooden statue of the Mapuche chief Toqui Lautaro. (Fun fact: Curicó means 'black water' in Mapuche.
Your jumping-off point for journeys into wine country is a rather sleepy place with a pretty main square, an excellent private museum, a smattering of fine restaurants, and, of course, a casino. Other than a cruise around the plaza and an afternoon in the museum, there's not much else to be seen or done here.
Colchagua Valley Wineries
Wine production started here shortly after the conquest in the mid-16th century with the introduction of vineyards by Jesuit missionaries. The mining boom of the late 19th century brought wealth and noble grapes of French origin. An extremely helpful resource, with a friendly office on Santa Cruz's main square, is Ruta del Vino.
Cajón del Maipo
Rich greenery lines the steep, rocky walls of this stunning gorge of the Río Maipo. Starting only 25km southeast of Santiago, it's popular on weekends with Santiaguinos, who come here to camp, hike, climb, cycle, raft and ski. Lots of traditional restaurants and teahouses, and a big winery, mean that overindulgence is also on the menu.
Rustic Ensenada, 45km along a picturesque shore-hugging road from Puerto Varas, is really nothing more than a few restaurants, hospedajes and adventure outfitters, but it's a nice natural setting in full view of three majestic beasts: Volcán Osorno, Volcán Calbuco and Volcán Puntiagudo.
Renamed to publicize the area's most famous product, the former village of La Unión is a laid-back hideaway in the upper drainage area of the Río Claro, a tributary of the Elqui. It has become the area's most popular backpacker draw in recent years, and while it can get overcrowded, it's well worth a couple of days' stay.