“Undiscovered Chile” – top travel destinations in 2012

This is Chile talks about some of the lesser-known of Chile’s outdoor destinations with professional landscape photographer and tour guide, David Gysel.  

Perhaps it’s his upbringing that gives Chilean photographer and entrepreneur David Gysel such a unique vision of his home country.

The son of a Swiss Lutheran pastor and German mother, Gysel attended a German school in his home city of Santiago.

“I’m Chilean,” said Gysel, “which means that I was born here. But I grew up in a German environment.”

From an early age, Gysel’s distinct way of seeing things attracted him to what would become his two lifelong passions – photography and the great outdoors.

As a child he started taking landscape and nature photographs by “taking dad’s camera out of his hands” on family vacations.

He took his first photography lessons at the age of 13, as an extra-curricular school course. “We used only black-and-white then,” Gysel reminisced, “and we did by all the work in the lab by ourselves – digital wasn’t even close to being on the horizon.”

In order to turn his passions into a career, Gysel went first to business school in Chile and was later accepted to study at the prestigious New York Institute of Photography.

Shortly upon graduating in 2005, Gysel returned to Chile, married his sweetheart Camila Madrid, and released his first calender of landscape photographs, “Chile DesConocido,” featuring undiscovered landscapes and new views of well-known places.

This popular series, which can be found in most major bookstores and airports in Chile, has not only gone on to be the cornerstone of Gysel’s photographic career, but has taken him all over the country and allowed him to indulge his love of the outdoors.

Gysel’s 2012 Chilean travel picks:

Jesuit Trail, Puerto Varas: In the 16th Century, Jesuits in search of Césares – the mythical city of gold – discovered a path through the imposing wall of the Andes that separates Chile from Argentina.

Connecting the Argentine city of Bariloche with Puerto Varas through the Esperanza Valley, the route passes virgin forest, volcanoes, waterfalls and rustic Andean villages.

Lago Salar de Tara:  At an altitude of 14,763 feet (4,500 mt) in Chile’s Atacama desert, close to the border with Bolivia, this salt like is an important migratory point and breeding ground for the three flamingo species found in the Andes – including the “dancing” Chilean Flamingo.

According to Gysel, it is also a photographer’s dream: “there are amazing rock formations which in the afternoon light start to take on different form and shape.”

Radal Siete Tazas National Park: Gysel recommendation for this stunning series of 22 waterfalls is simple: go in Autumn.

“There is nobody there then and you can hear and see the many Magellanic Woodpeckers,” he said.

The falls  plunge from heights of up to 165 feet (50 mt) and have formed seven deep cup-shaped basins.

Biking The Carretera Austral: According to Gysel, Chile’s world-famous southern highway, that winds through breathtaking fjords and virgin forests, can be best appreciated by bicycle.

Traveling at a slower pace allows the adventurous tourist to experience more of the Patagonian landscape than can be appreciated in a bus whizzing by on the highway.

Valley of the Dead: Valle de la Muerte (“Valley of the Dead”) is often overlooked because its more famous neighbor, Valle de la Luna (“Valley of the Moon”), gets most of the fame, but this unique landscape could equally be called Mars Valley – its similarity is so striking that Nasa has used the location for testing equipment destined for the Red Planet.

The valley gets its name from its sterile nature, meaning that nothing will decompose here, not even organic material like dead animals. Tourists can hike, horse ride and even sand-dune in the valley.

Santiago surroundings: Chile’s capital is fortunate to be surrounded by mountain retreats, renowned vineyards, and hiking opportunities, but the outdoor activities around Santiago are often overlooked by tourists heading straight to the more famous natural regions, such as Patagonia.

Llanquihue Lake: Llanquihue, the second largest lake in Chile, was a frequent family vacation site for Gysel as a child, and for the outdoor addict, it’s still among his favorite places.

Gysel recommends exploring the German heritage of the villages surrounding this lake – which offers spectacular views of Osorno Volcano – in the Los Lagos Region of southern Chile.

Chiloé: For Gysel, the archipelago of Chiloé, isolated from the mainland and at the mercy of nature has developed a “rich mixture of nature and culture difficult to see somewhere else in Chile.”

Chile DesConocido can be found at the Libreria Antartica, Feria Chilena del Libro, Rumbo Sur, as well as bookstores and airports. You can get a copy delivered by contacting Calendar@chiledesconocido.cl or visiting Gysel’s website.

By Joe Hinchliffe