With 2,500 miles of coastline, altitudes ranging from sea level to nearly 16,000ft and remote territories such as Easter Island and the Juan Fernandez archipelago, Chile offers a diversity of breathtaking – and extremely fragile – nature.
Robinson Crusoe Island
Yes, this really is the island where Robinson Crusoe survived after his shipwreck. The archipelago, which includes the Robinson Crusoe, Alejandro Selkirk and Santa Clara islands, bears the name of the navigator who officially discovered it, Juan Fernandez, and his novel, 'Robinson Crusoe '. Author Daniel Defoe was inspired by the life of Alejandro Selkirk, who survived five years on the island while trying to attract the attention of the occasional passing ship. He was eventually rescued in 1709. The wildlife on Robinson Crusoe Island, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, is predominantly endemic and at great risk due to soil erosion, the disappearance of animal and plant species and the devastation caused by invasive species, such as rats and rabbits, introduced by humans.
Pablo Neruda didn't beat around the bush: 'anyone who hasn't been to the Chilean forest doesn't know this planet ,' he said. And it's true that when you venture into the forests of the south, Patagonia or the region of Araucania, the pure, intense green is truly breathtaking ; but the Chilean forest is as endangered as it is beautiful. It's threatened by the timber industry and by reckless use of resources . It once seemed so vast and dense, so inexhaustible and indestructible . Not any more. Large-scale logging began in the early part of the 20th century. Then, to make pulp and paper, the native araucaria or monkey puzzle trees , larches and century-old oaks were replaced by pines that grew quickly. Some measures were put in place at the end of the 20th century to stop the devastation and the native forest now appears to have stopped regressing. However, it's a very fragile ecosystem and needs robust protection.
Radal Siete Tazas National Park
Spot a Darwin fox
Chile's unique position, sandwiched between the ocean and the mountains, and the incredible kaleidoscope of its climates, has fostered the development of an unmatched flora and fauna, which is largely endemic. Alpine forests, high tundra, glaciers, arid deserts, fertile fields and pampas are home to giant cacti, colourful mosses, one-off reptiles and strange insects. Deforestation, hunting and the animal trade are significantly affecting the biodiversity and one third of the country's vertebrates are now considered threatened : the Darwin fox, the short-tailed chinchilla and the Galapagos albatross are sadly on the brink of extinction...
Marine flora and fauna in the Chiloe Archipelago
These islands, off the Chilean coast, are one of the country's most magical places and a must-see in Chile. Chiloe comes from the word chillwe, which in the Mapuche language means 'place of Chelles' , 'chelles' being the black-headed white gulls found everywhere on the islands' beaches. Admire the palafitos (multicoloured overwater bungalows), the 18th and 19th century wooden churches, listed as a World Heritage Site, and the indigenous traditions – preserved by the islands' sheer remoteness – and the natural beauty of this chain of green islands set against the deep blue Pacific. The threat to the islands is usually hidden underwater, connected to the dumping of waste at sea and the presence of numerous salmon farms, which dramatically increase antibiotic and chemical levels in the archipelago's waters. The consequences are a profound disruption of the entire underwater ecosystem – sometimes felt on the surface, with dead creatures washed up on the beaches of the beautiful archipelago.
Watch majestic blue whales
Southern Chile, between Chanaral and Antarctica, is home to the largest mammals on Earth: blue whales. Here, they are able to feed on their primary food source of plankton (on average, one whale needs to consume more than three tonnes of plankton a day). The species is threatened, but it seems that their numbers are slowly recovering... so you're more likely to see one now than you were a couple of years ago. The blue whale's cousins, right whales, also known as southern whales, are just as impressive for their size and gentle harmony and are also easier to spot.