Print this trip dossier

Journey Latin America asks you to accept cookies for performance and social media purposes. We use cookies on our website to personalise content, evaluate website traffic and enhance performance. You can delete or restrict cookies via your web browser. To get more information about these cookies and the processing of your personal data see our Cookie Policy. Do you accept these cookies and the processing of personal data involved? Find out more

2013 and earlier

Travels with my Son in a Thin Country

Way back in 1992 I travelled the length of Chile, from the blanched badlands around the Peruvian border to the channels of Tierra del Fuego and, finally, Cape Horn - the full stop at the end of what must be the most bizarrely shaped country on the planet. The journey took six months. I won’t say it was all sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, but, well, I was young then.

The book that came out of the trip was called 'Travels in a Thin Country'. Fourteen reprints and thirteen years later my publishers suggested that I return to Chile to gather material for a new introduction to a second edition. I knew immediately that I was keen - I had not returned in the intervening years, as there had been other journeys, and other books. I would only go, though, if I could take my eight-year old son Wilf. I wanted to show him Chile. But what would there be for a child to do?

As it turned out, I was amazed at the opportunities for family travel in Chile. After landing in Santiago, Wilf and I took an internal flight up to Calama, and from there we were whisked off to explora, a luxury concept hotel in the Atacama desert (there was nothing like that back in 1992, I can tell you). Since explora specialises in adventure travel, for four days Wilf cycled, rode a horse, hiked through the cordillera, swam in salt lakes and wandered among geysers, entertained and amused throughout by the fabulous Pedro, our twenty-seven-year-old guide.

Surely, I thought to myself as we flew south to the Lake District, nothing could match explora for small boy heaven. But I wasn’t anticipating the thrill of a three-day horse trek into the Andes, following an old trading route into Argentina. We began at Riverside Lodge just outside the village of Cochamó on the Reloncaví estuary - possibly the prettiest place I have ever stayed in Chile - and rode up to La Junta, a wild and furious landscape of alpine meadows, impossibly tall waterfalls and jagged mountain peaks. While our horses recovered from the rigours of the climb we camped in a simple wooden lodge, eating cazuela stew around a fire in a clearing among 3000-year-old alerce trees, emperors of the temperate Chilean forest. (I should add that Chilean saddles are more forgiving than their European counterpart. The rough terrain requires more padding and fewer hard ridges. I rarely ride, and I wasn’t a bit sore, even after two days on horseback.)

Next up was a terrifying wilderness eco-adventure at Petrohué in the lee of the Osorno volcano - terrifying for me, that is - Wilf loved it. Basically this involved walking across steel cables using carabiners and handrails; flying across valleys on zip lines, abseiling down trees and rock climbing. The following day’s white-water rafting session was equally thrilling for Wilf and much less of an ordeal for his ageing parent. Our three-week trip took place in the Christmas holidays, and we celebrated the festivities on the island of Chiloé, staying in a farmhouse on a new scheme whereby tourists lodge in the homes of local people. Farms are natural amusement parks for small boys. Wilf rode Farmer Hardy’s tractor, milked his cows, caught unidentifiable fish from his rowing boat. On Christmas Day we spit-roasted a sheep. For the rest of our time on Chiloé we explored the island with another fantastically impressive guide - the lovely Juan - and highlights for Wilf included a visit to a penguin colony and a day ocean kayaking.

We concluded the holiday at Hacienda Los Lingues, an estate in the fertile central valley which has remained in the same family since the first conquistadors were granted tracts of land in the sixteenth century. Wilf did yet more horse riding - this time on the fabled Aculeo thoroughbreds - and declared himself unwilling to go home. The thin country had enchanted him, just as it had enchanted me all those years ago. Of course, I missed the reckless bad behaviour of the old days. But comfortable beds, excellent food and a brilliantly organised Journey Latin America schedule which never went wrong - well, let’s just say motherhood has its compensations.

 Sarah Wheeler, Author of Travels in a Thin Country.

Post a comment

Other holidays you may be interested in

hiram bingham train

Peru by Rail

Private journey

10 days from £6,143pp


Family Brazil: Waterfalls, rivers and rainforests

Private journey

14 days from £3,733pp

Taxis in Mexico City

Eagle: Aztecs, Mayas and conquistadores

Group tour

15 days from £2,632pp

Rio de Janeiro

Explore and Relax in Argentina and Brazil: Cityscape and beach time

Private journey

15 days from £3,682pp

Other articles you may like

Browse our inspiration area of the site. It's packed with insider travel tips, Top5s, competitions, events, recipes and holiday ideas for Central and South America sure to whet your travel appetite.

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to our twice monthly newsletter and be the first to know about our latest news, offer and competitions.

Sign up with...

Your email


Using a social account is fast and means you don't need to remember a password.

We never share your data either - see our terms & conditions

Facebook Connect

Remember, you can unsubscribe at any time.

To see how we take care of your data please review our Privacy Policy

Thanks for subscribing – we’ll be in touch!

You are not subscribed. Some error happened.

Share this Page

Social share page will open in new window

Send a friend


Page Full Path: /sitecore/content/JLA/Home/travel-inspiration/travel/travels-with-my-son-in-a-thin-country

Page ID: {50BF3B7A-254B-41F5-A520-5C15DE06600F}

Page Name: travels-with-my-son-in-a-thin-country

Page Display Name: Travels with my Son in a Thin Country

Page Template Name: T031-PapagaioBlogPost

Page Template ID: {ECC6A232-9784-4CC7-BA26-18421546B8F5}

Parent ID: {DC65CFB2-D81C-4A04-A7F8-0A1B3D88E7EB}

Parent Name: travel

Parent Display Name: Travel

Parent Template Name: T029-PapagaioCategoryListing

Parent Template ID: {4D163066-ED7E-48E6-AF31-34B6C47536CD}