I was recently lucky enough to have been invited to Chile, courtesy of #Mags Worldwide, #ESA Latin America and #All About Flights, to celebrate the addition of Chile’s capital Santiago to the British Airways schedules and to check the viability of Chile for future incentives in particular.
The flight to Santiago is actually BA’s longest non-stop flight at 14 hours but this route uses BA’s brand new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, with four cabins.
Landing in Santiago was a little chaotic, not helped by the redevelopment this airport is currently undergoing, but in common with many destinations these days, it seems that several international flights using large aircraft are scheduled to land at very similar times, causing massive queues at immigration and again customs, where luggage is also scanned. If these arrivals were staggered across a wider timescale, or if the airport could offer a “Fast Track” service, this protracted arrival process could be avoided.
Fortunately, the onwards flight to Calama, gateway to the Atacama Desert was seamless and the 1 hour 50 minute flight passed over some pretty spectacular landscapes. At Calama, luggage was waiting for us on the conveyor belt and we completed our journey to the 5 star Alto Atacama Desert Lodge and Spa in under 90 minutes. This property is located in the lush Catarpe Valley of the Salt Mountain Range and conceived to blend seamlessly into its environment and appear as a part of the terracotta-coloured ridge that rises behind it. Accommodation here is on an all-inclusive basis and this includes a variety of different tours and excursions where guests can connect with the landscape, through carefully devised walks, hikes, and biking routes. There is also the opportunity to use the hotel’s large and comfortable minivans and travel further afield to various salt flats littered with hundreds of flamingos, Mars Valley and following some acclimatisation to the altitude, a trip at dawn to the Tatio Geysers at 4300m is well worth the early start!
Meanwhile, the sprawling cosmopolitan city of Santiago and surrounding areas have much to offer the incentive traveller. We stayed at the very chic Singular Hotel in the cultural heart of the city - fabulous rooms and gorgeous rooftop bar. There’s plenty to see and do in the city to fill out a morning or afternoon – interesting markets like the Mercado Central, changing of the guard spectacle at the Palacio de la Moneda, as well as a “flying visit” by cable car and funicular to the lush Santa Lucia Park, perched on a steep hill. There are abundant wineries – we visited the Veramonte in the nearby Casablanca Valley, to taste their delicious reds and enjoy a great activity to blend and bottle the best wines. In the same valley you should not miss the fabulous Huaso Show – a masterclass in horsemanship, complete with cowboy/cowgirl dancing Chilean style, a delicious lunch washed down with the ubiquitous Pisco Sours! Less than an hour away is the coastal city of Valparaiso – a wonderful jumbled mess of a town, where expertly graffitied and brightly painted houses vie for attention on the terrifyingly steep hillsides. Well worth a few hours of your time.
In summary, I found Chile to be a hugely friendly nation, with simply wonderful ingredients to create the perfect incentive – fine food and wine, great hospitality, sublime and unworldly landscapes to fill your camera with, diverse activities to fill the time and dazzling night skies in the Atacama – an altogether unforgettable experience – and definitely added to our long haul destination list!