Chile is one of the most under-appreciated travel destinations in the world. You are typically welcomed with a Pisco Sour, which is made of Pisco (a clear hard alcohol, a la aguardiente), local lime, syrup, and ice. It is a great aperitif, with a distinct, unique flavor.
Visiting Santiago de Chile during spring or fall is spectacular. You have pleasant weather in the capital and within one hour's drive east or west, a different paradise awaits. Let’s go East first. You will drive into the Andes to one of the ski resorts that are surrounded by incredible snow and glacier capped mountains. Interestingly, your ski resort is only halfway up the mountain and the lifts do not go much higher, which seems such a waste of great territory. Go on a couple of runs and try to catch your breath (now it dawns why the runs are not any higher). Your ski resort is probably 3,500 meters high and the mountains next to you are possibly over 5,000 meters (higher than any mountain in Europe or in North America). For example, Valle Nevado skiing tops out at 3,670 meters!!! With El Plomo right behind it at 3,660 meters – that’s almost another 2,000 meters higher. After a night of partying in Santiago which is almost sea level, I could not master the 10 steps up to the lodge after those two runs, because I was so out of breath. It’s an incredibly humbling experience and increases the appreciation for the magnificence of the Andes.
There did not seem to be any special food to be found in the ski areas. However, that changes going West. An hour west of Santiago is Valparaíso, and right next to it the beach town of Viña del Mar. This is the gateway to probably the best and freshest seafood in the world. That’s where I fell in love with Chilean razor clams. Some of them were longer than a dinnerplate. They look very elegant, especially if they are covered by a lime, garlic, hot chili pepper, cilantro vinaigrette (take a look - http://www.add1tbsp.com/recipes/razor-clams-chile-lime-vinaigrette/). After that appetizer, any shell fish, fish, or other water creature is just amazing. The cold Humboldt current (named after the German Darwin) that flows from Antarctica along Chile to the north is so nutrient rich that it’s paradise for seafood. And the short distance from the coast to the current ensures incredible freshness. And of course, the better the seafood quality, the simpler the preparation can be. Grill or pan-sear with lime, oil, garlic, herbs, and a pepper is all it needs.
Since Chile is a very large country, there are significant differences between the North and the South, as well as the inland parts of the country (including the amazing Atacama desert). In addition to the cuisine, Chilean wines are also of great variety based on where they are grown and pair really well with Chilean food. In other words, visit!