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How to Explore Chile’s Epic Outdoors Scene from Santiago

This is the last episode of our six-part series, “Connections: See Both Sides.” In this final installment, photographer Gary Williams Jr. explores the outdoors scene near Chile’s capital.

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Chile is a land of extremes. Its landscape varies drastically from the arid deserts of the far north to Patagonia and the South Pole-facing tundra at the southern tip. With its 3,999 miles of coastline and 2,000-plus volcanoes, there’s no other nation on Earth quite like it.

In this episode of Connections: See Both Sides, photographer Gary Williams Jr. explores Chile’s outdoors from two sides: fire and ice. Starting off in Santiago, Williams’ adventure begins on the snowy slopes of the Portillo, one of the best skiing destinations in the world. Next, he ventures further north to the geysers, sand dunes, and star-soaked skies in the Atacama Desert, just a two-hour flight from Santiago. Not only do these locations offer unique and breathtaking photo opportunities for a photographer like Williams, but they also all make for an unforgettable adventure.

Ski Portillo

The oldest ski area in South America, Portillo began as a railway when the Chilean government contracted English and Norwegian engineers to construct a railroad through the Andes in 1887. It just so happened that the engineers were skiers, and the area offered perfect conditions. The area soon developed into a ski resort and famously hosted the first and only World Ski Championships in Latin America in 1966. It still hosts Olympic teams from around the world for training and is considered the premier ski destination in South America.

Courtesy of Ski Portillo

El Tatio Geysers

Located at about 15,000 feet above sea level, the El Tatio geysers are best seen right at sunrise when they’re most active. Together, they make up the largest geyser field in the Southern Hemisphere and the third-largest in the world.

Death Valley a.k.a. Mars Valley

Named for its aridity and resemblance to the red sand craters of Mars, Death Valley (Valle de la Muerte) is also known as Mars Valley (Valle de Marte). It’s a can’t-miss stop in the Atacama Desert. Williams met up with Max Cruz, a local guide, for a thrilling sandboard ride down the steep sand dunes.


Like most visitors to the Atacama Desert, Williams stayed in the small town of San Pedro de Atacama. Because of its high altitude and dry air, the Atacama Desert is home to most of the world’s largest radio research telescopes. To round out his trip, Williams met up with engineer Del Johnson and researcher Calvin Tsai of the Simons Observatory, one of the research facilities building a telescope in the desert to study the Big Bang. Williams joined Johnson and Tsai about a mile outside of the lights of San Pedro de Atacama to stargaze at the southern sky. Even without a telescope, the Milky Way and other constellations and planets were breathtaking and brightly visible.

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