When thinking of Chile, travelers dream of the vast Atacama desert or the massive ice fields of Patagonia; Pablo Neruda’s rugged coast or beloved central valley, where wine grapes huddle their plump ripe husks together under the hot Andean sun. Most travelers arrive to the country via Santiago, a sprawling metropolitan area stretched at the foothills of the Andes, with packed streets and endless sidewalk cafes, pubs and stores as far as the eye can see. The most common excursions take travelers into the nearby mountains or out to the coastal cities of Viña del Mar and Valaparaíso.
Yet the Chilean government is hoping to change that as they encourage tourism in the nearby BioBío region. BioBío is located approximately 310 miles (500 km) to the south of Santiago. Regular and relatively inexpensive buses leave several times a day from Santiago and service the entire region. For travelers on a stricter schedule, reasonably-priced flights can be found from Santiago to Concepción, the region’s capital.
The National Tourism Service, Sernatur, seeks to promote the region’s image as an international tourist destination.
As the country’s second most populated region, BioBío has long been a popular place for Chileans looking to get away in both summer and winter. As of April 2012, Chileans made up 91.2% of all visitors to the region, while foreign visitors were only 8.8%. That figure, as it turns out, is no small sum. It meant nearly 2,500 more foreign visitors traveled to the region and that there was a 7% boost in tourism related jobs.
With numbers like that, both the public and private sector are taking notice. In a recent summit of local business owners and members of the public sector, Karen Echaíz of Sernatur outlined the region’s commitment to growing its tourism potential.
“It’s not enough for a tourist destination to just have good services, restaurants, hotels and transportation, etc. that are efficient from a business standpoint; but from a contemporary perspective, the place must be thought of and administered as a tourist product.”
With a rich diversity of landscapes, flora and fauna, and native culture, it’s almost a wonder that the region has been kept a secret from travelers for so long. Chillán, well known for its spicy, smoky sausages and its sprawling market is a good stepping off point for Valle Las Trancas, a hot springs turned resort and ski lodge known for its family-oriented style.
Just an hour south is the capital of the region Concepción, a bustling commercial center and university town, with the iconic University of Concepción ranking as the third most important in the country. Nearby Lake Lleu Lleu is a popular camping spot and Dichato Beach is perfect for a long summer day in the sun. Not far from “Conce”, as it’s locally known, is Caleta Tumbes, a sleepy fishing village with an amazing selection of fresh seafood for sale.
The sector around Los Ángeles is a veritable feast of outdoor activities. From the quaint Andean community of Antuco it’s possible to access two of the most interesting stops: Volcano Antuco and Parque Nacional del Laguna del Laja. Crowning the region is the Salto de Laja, a four tiered waterfall nearly 115 feet (35 m) high.
With such a diverse offering of activities, the BioBío region promises to be an exciting destination for the savvy international traveler. What’s more, as Sernatur and local business work together to develop regional tourism, travelers can rest assured they will be participating in a sustainable, homegrown industry that will directly contribute to bettering jobs and education for local residents.