Seasoned travellers have heard the phrase ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’ countless times. They know that it usually applies to the most breath-taking areas of natural beauty and the most impressive places of historical interest. But what does this coveted title really mean? And what is there to see in Chile that proudly claims to be in this elite group of the very best tourist spots of the world?
UNESCO is the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization. They aim to encourage travellers and locals alike to appreciate and protect these special places around the world which are considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. They believe that our heritage is “our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations.”
Through their commitment to identifying and preserving the locations which best reflect our world’s rich heritage, we can better appreciate what an incredible planet we live on, and be inspired by the many natural and historic wonders we can find here.
source: Ujjwal Chugh
Some cultural sites are masterpieces of particular creative genius, whilst others represent exceptional cultural traditions or civilizations. Sometimes they exhibit an important interchange of human values or development. Ranging from the historic centre of Rome, including the majestic Colosseum, to the iconic lost city of Machu Picchu, to the Egyptian Pyramids of Giza and all their hidden secrets and mysteries, you can be sure that these sites are worth a visit!
The more natural spectacles often are significant habitats for biodiversity, or represent a particularly impressive geographic phenomenon. In many cases, they are simply just breathtakingly beautiful and find their place on the list for purely aesthetic reasons. Some examples of these are the Great Barrier Reef with its vast abundance of marine life, the captivating Grand Canyon, and the thundering Iguazú Falls, located between Brazil and Argentina.
Many travel bloggers empty their schedules and dedicate their lives to chasing down as many of these stunning sights and once-in-a-lifetime experiences as possible. With 1073 sites globally, a number which is constantly growing, this might seem like an impossible task! Make the impossible possible and start in Chile. Although a relatively small country, it boasts a humble number of 6 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
1. Rapa Nui National Park
No list of Chile’s most interesting cultural curiosities would be complete without a nod to Easter Island. The isle is full of unique architecture and sculptures that are instantly recognisable. Rapa Nui, the indigenous name of Easter Island, is home to an incomparable cultural landscape that fascinates and mystifies its visitors.
In 300 A.D. 300, a Polynesian community made this island their home, and established a completely unique the sculptural tradition. They erected nearly 1000 enormous stone figures around the island. The figures are said to represent ancestors of the settlers and are known as Maoi. As well as the figures, the ancient settlers created a series of stone platforms (or Ahu) which vary in size and layout. These Ahu are believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes.
The original name of the island, ‘Te pito o te henua’, can be translated in various ways. The different possible meanings range from “The Navel of the World,” to “Eyes Looking at the Sky.” To find out more about this unique island’s fascinating history and particular mythology, a visit is well-worth the airfare. Book a Scuba-diving adventure from Tahai for a truly exciting way to explore the waters around this fairy-tale isle.
2. Churches of Chiloé
Another island in Chile full of folkloric tradition and time-honoured legends is Chiloé. Just off the coast of Chile’s stunning Lake District, it is home to beautiful landscapes and many charming towns. However, it is most known for its series of 16 wooden churches which are studded around the main island and its surrounding islets.
These wooden churches date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, with their roots in the tradition of the Jesuit Peripatetic Mission. This tradition was then built on by the Franciscans during the 19th century. These nail-less churches are an impressive example of the cultures of the indigenous people and the European settlers combining and fusion. The result is a perfect medley which gives the island its intangible cultural richness and unique charm.
source: National Geographic
Choose from a wide selection of tours to fully explore this beautiful island and its ecclesiastical architecture. As well as seeing its UNESCO recognised churches, the island is full of other activities and sights to see. You can enjoy boat tours to spot sun-bathing penguins, or hiking through its glorious countryside and coastline. From the moment you first set foot here, you will fall in love with the island’s unique identity and you will never want to leave!
3. Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaíso
Valparaíso is one of Chile’s most popular tourist destinations, and with good reason! Rows upon rows of colourful houses cover the hills that lead up from the port, and you can lose yourself looking at the street art and soaking up the ocean views from the top of the hills.
source: Chile Travel
UNESCO has rewarded this colourful port city with the special title because it is an excellent example of late 19th-century urban and architectural development in Latin America. The picturesque hillsides with their winding roads and tall church spires are the perfect place to stroll. The numerous ‘elevators’ taking visitors up the steep hillsides are an example of interesting early industrial infrastructures.
Discover Valparaíso’s best spots and hidden secrets, or enjoy this special city on a horseback ride along the coast you will never forget. This historic city is as important now as it was back in the 19th and 20th centuries when it was a vital merchant seaport for international trade. Perhaps the only difference is that as well as this, it is now well-known for its tourism and beautiful coastline. Treat yourself, and surround yourself in the colourful street art and views of the Alegre and Concepción hills, covered in a jumbled array of houses and church spires.
4. Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works
In the heart of the Pampa desert, one of the driest places on Earth, in the north of Chile, lie the remains of two abandoned saltpeter works. During the late 19th and early 20th century, workers from Chile, Peru and Bolivia were drawn to this hostile, dusty environment to work on extracting and processing saltpeter (sodium nitrate). Used to produce fertilizers and gunpowder, saltpeter was a hot commodity. There were over 200 saltpeter works across the Chilean desert by the 1890s.
However, during the First World War, Germany developed a way to create synthetic nitrate, which replaced saltpeter as the principal source of nitrogen. By the 1960s, all the saltpeter mines had shut down. The deserted ghost towns at Humberstone and Santa Laura are the best mementos we have of the industry that brought such wealth to Chile.
source: From Here to Nowhere
At Santa Laura, you can see ruins of industrial installations and equipment. The Humberstone site has preserved living quarters, public spaces and communal buildings, where you can contemplate the lives of the workers in times gone by. Both sites are claimed UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but are the only ones in Chile which are listed as “in danger.” A visit here would be a fascinating insight into a livelihood which transformed the lives of many Chilean people.
5. Sewell Mining Town
Another industry that was a significant part of Chile’s cultural heritage is copper mining. Sitting 2,200m (7,200 feet) high up in the Andes, Sewell Mining Town perches above the world’s largest underground copper mine. Known as the “City of Stairs,” this intriguing town is built around a central staircase rising from the railway station, as it was constructed in a landscape too steep for wheeled vehicles.
Despite its precarious position in an unwelcoming environment that suffers from every extreme of climate, this town is a perfect example of a company town, created purely due to the need for local labourers to mine and process the precious natural resources of the area. Established in 1905 and later abandoned in the 1970s, this ghost town is an ideal place to escape the present-day. Feel as though you are walking back in time as you stroll the empty streets. The wooden buildings on the steep streets are cheerfully painted in vivid greens, yellows, reds and blues, and ornamental trees and plants decorate the irregular shaped squares and playgrounds.
6. Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System
Shared with Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, Chile cannot claim total ownership of the ancient road system that crosses the majestic Andes mountain range. A sprawling labyrinth of roads covering 30,000 km (18,640 miles), the Qhapaq Ñan represents the historic Incan communication, trade and defence network. Spreading from the snow-capped Andes all the way to the coast, this road system is the culmination of work carried out by the Incas over several centuries.
source: Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales
The best–known portion of this route is the Inca Trail, leading to Machu Picchu, but you can follow in the footsteps of the Incas in many other locations of South America too. The Incan’s legacy, shrouded in tradition and mysteries, is made up of two principal roads – one on the coast and one through the mountains – and many smaller roads which connect the two. In Chile, you can find the coastal road running form the Peruvian border all the way to Santiago, crossing through the cities of Pica and Copiapo amongst others.
This road system is a reminder of the Andean countries’ shared past, crossing vastly different climates, covering sites of religious importance and reminding us of the Incan’s engineering, architectural and social feats. Although walking the whole distance from Santiago to Quito may not seem tempting, you won’t regret taking a day in a portion of the road close-by, to explore the ancient pathways and tread the same stones as the ancestors of this land.
All of the locations in Chile that can claim this title fall in the “Cultural Heritage” category. You may well wonder why Chile’s many natural wonders, such as the emblematic Torres del Paine in the south, have not made it onto the list. In fact, the Torres del Paine National Park was submitted by Chile for UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1994, and you can find it on the Tentative List section of the website, but the application is still being considered.
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