Often in the United States, I’ve heard people ask: would you rather retire on the beach or in the mountains? This question seems to inquire which view a person wants to spend the most time enjoying, as if the two were mutually exclusive opposites that define your “happy place.” If mountains and beaches are the ideals of picturesque vistas, Chile has them in spades along its eastern border with Argentina and Bolivia and its western border with the Pacific Ocean. But aside from that, the real marvels along this thin ribbon of a country come in the most extreme parts. The Chilean countryside is a battleground where monstrous mountains, parched deserts, frigid glaciers and craggy seaside coasts constantly one-up each other in terms of just how stunning they can be.
When the tallest non-Asia mountain range in the world slopes down to sea level in a distance of only around 150 km, you know you’re going to get wildly shifting altitude. Even besides the towering snow-capped Andes, the Chilean Coastal Range brings mountains right next to the beaches in Valparaiso, meaning flat ground is hard to come by. The trade-off for hiking up and down hills to get anywhere is incredible views, and they are abundant. And while sandy beaches line the coast in some places, there are also stretches where the waves smash against craggy rock faces, giving each diverse landscape its own brand of beautiful.
A little known fact about the northern part of this wonderland is that the driest non-polar desert in the world is actually located in Chile – the Atacama Desert. In some parts, it literally hasn’t rained at all in several decades. After traveling there for a week, I don’t know if I’ll ever un-chap my lips, but the desert expanse has a sort of exhilarating uncharted wasteland feel that makes it seem like you’re exploring the surface of Mars. Oh, and it has some unbelievable views of the mystifying night sky. Contrast that with the grassy parks of Valparaiso or even the evergreen forests and lakes in the much rainier south, and Chile spans the whole spectrum of humidity, too.
Another amazing bit of my Atacama experience was that I felt colder than I’d ever felt in Chile in the same week that I felt the hottest. Visiting jaw-dropping geysers in the mountain heights before the sun rose left me shivering at around freezing temperature, but that same afternoon with the blistering sun beating down back in the valleys I was sweltering. Even besides altitude, the northernmost parts of Chile are nestled inside the tropics (we crossed the tropic of Capricorn by bus), while it also boasts a handful of cities further south than any others in the world.
So if you’re planning your retirement destination and can’t narrow it down between sandy glistening beaches and splendorous rugged mountain peaks, consider Chile – it’s got them both so close together you could see it all in a day trip. Or, better yet, come now, and experience the epic adventure of exploring some of nature’s most intense venues all in the same thin Chilean ribbon.
The world awaits…discover it!