In its November-December issue, National Geographic Traveler presents its sixth annual “133 Places Rated” scorecard, evaluating destinations around the world in terms of their “authenticity and stewardship,” as evaluated by more than 400 experts in a variety of disciplines. The highest rated is the Norwegian fjords, for its scenery and traditional rural life, while the lowest rated is Spain’s Costa del Sol, sardonically known as the “Costa del Concrete.”
Several Southern Cone destinations appear in the survey, which has more detailed commentary in the online version than in the print magazine. The highest ranked is Torres del Paine (whose iconic "Cuernos" or horns are pictured above), tied for sixth with a score of 77, despite some worries about overuse, as one commentator remarked that it was a "Great area, but the isolation and distance are more of a deterrent to a massive influx of tourism than any regulations.” The next highest, tied for 12th with a score of 71, is Easter Island (Rapa Nui) where, remarked another panelist in a similar vein, its "Relative sustainability is due mostly to the site's remoteness.” The cancellation of a proposed casino was a positive development, but some expressed concern about the new Explora Rapa Nui hotel (pictured here), relatively close to major archaeological sites on the island.
Still, both destinations were considered be in good to excellent condition, even though it’s common to hear complaints about crowding on Paine’s trails and the impact of 40,000 annual visitors to a truly remote island, with a popular of fewer than 4,000 and severe water shortages. The Explora project, for what it’s worth, is surprisingly inconspicuous and built in a style that mimics the island’s historical construction techniques. In at least one instance, they altered the project to avoid damaging a cave with potential archaeological value. The Economist, however, has taken a darker view of the island’s ecological challenges.
Chile’s UNESCO World Heritage Site of Valparaíso, by contrast, ties for 24th with a score of 59 as a “place in the balance,” described as “the poster child of lack of interest in developing a beautiful and traditional urban landscape" but, at the same time “a living, breathing city with tremendous visual appeal.” In reality, Valparaíso (pictured here) has the shortcomings of any port city, and it’s arguably unfair to consider it by the standards of, say, the California coast from Santa Barbara to Monterey, which gets a higher rating in the survey. Elsewhere in the magazine, Valparaíso is the subject of an outstanding walking tour, which can be downloaded as a PDF, and suggests how much the “San Francisco of South America” really has to offer.
The only other Southern Cone destination rated is Argentina’s Patagonian Andes, which ties for 17th with a score of 66, comparable to the Colorado Rockies. The panelists criticized the lack of environmental planning, but also praised it for "High ecological quality, extraordinary aesthetic appeal, wonderful hiking” (pictured here is Lago Nahuel Huapi, near the city of Bariloche). The strongest criticism, though came from panelists who noted the lack of effort to include Argentina’s Mapuche population in tourism development. In fact, anyone who visits the area will note their marginality - if indeed they see them at all. The Mapuche are a far more visible presence on the Chilean side of the border.