Sweeping up the southwestern edge of South America, Chile is a study in contrasts. At its southernmost tip lies the rugged wilderness of Patagonia, a breathtaking landscape of rock and ice. Moving north, the vibrant cities of Santiago and Valparaiso are the beating heart of this lively country. Further north again, nature once more takes over in the form of the arid Atacama desert. Gazing out over this stark Martian landscape, it can be hard to believe that one single country could contain such a variety of life and landscape. With so much to do and see, visiting Chile can seem overwhelming; so to help narrow things down, here are five experiences that shouldn’t be missed from your itinerary.

Immerse yourself in vibrant Valparaiso

Chaotic, eclectic, and wonderfully carefree, Valparaiso is a city best approached with an open mind and an appetite for adventure. Lose yourself in the winding streets and crumbling staircases, and stumble upon some of the most impressive street art in South America. A city of poets and philosophers, Valparaiso is the relaxed, romantic alternative to Chile’s more modern capital, Santiago.

Pick up a case or two of Carmenere

Chile’s neighbour, Argentina, may be the current darling of the wine world as Malbec wines have their moment, but connoisseurs will tell you that Chile’s Carmenere is the one to watch. A deep, complex red, Carmenere perfectly embodies the richness and variety of Chile. Take a tour of the wine country around Santiago, and make sure to factor in plenty of time for tastings at some of the many vineyards in the region.

Witness the rugged beauty of Patagonia

Vast, wild and foreboding, Patagonia truly feels like the edge of the world. In many ways, it is; as Chile’s southernmost tip is the furthest south you can travel before reaching Antarctica. The Patagonian landscape is one of towering mountains, dense forests, and stunning fjords. In the most remote regions, the enormous glaciers of the Southern Ice Fields offer a glimpse back in time to an ice age earth. Here, intrepid explorers can happen upon colonies of penguins and frolicking schools of dolphins as they trek across this harshly beautiful landscape.

Experience an eclipse

Chile has plenty on offer for visitors year-round, but for a truly unique experience, you can also time your visit to the region to coincide with a total solar eclipse. These rare events happen only once every year or two, with the next one due to occur on 2 July 2019. For a few minutes that Tuesday afternoon, the Elqui Valley in Chile will be plunged into a temporary twilight, as the Moon’s orbit brings it into perfect alignment with the Earth and the Sun. With an average of 360 clear nights a year, the Elqui Valley, already a favourite among stargazers, is the perfect place to experience the eerie beauty of this breathtaking event. To make the most of it, book an eclipse experience, and see the event with like-minded travellers and eclipse experts.

Contemplate the mysteries of Easter Island

Off the coast of Chile lies Easter Island, a small, rugged island ringed with pristine beaches and guarded by the Moai, the giant stone statue heads that have perplexed visitors for centuries. Nearly 900 of these imposing figures dot the surface of the island, serving as a reminder of the island’s previous inhabitants. Today, the Moai share Easter Island with a few thousand permanent residents, who mostly live in the harbour town of Hanga Roa. It’s not an easy place to get to, but this enigmatic island rewards the dedication of those that manage with an experience as mystical as it is mysterious.