After spending a few days trekking through the Torres del Paine National Park, we flew back up to Santiago. Ready to say goodbye to the cool evenings of Patagonia and exchange them for the long warm days of arid Mendoza, we hopped on a east bound bus and waved goodbye to Chile for the last time. Our time in the odd shaped country had been filled with new experiences, new food, and new friends.
Months later, sitting here on a cloudy, late summer day in Melbourne, the time has come to collect our thoughts on our time in Chilito. So here’s our take, highs and lows and a few tips for your next trip to Chile.
Some of our favourite places
1. Torres del Paine and Patagonia: Distant mountain peaks, glistening lakes, and grassy plains stretching for as far as the eye can see. Patagonia has long been synonymous with outdoor adventure. Sarah and I went down to Torres del Paine for just that… and what we found proved to be our favourite experience in Chile. And probably not just because we didn’t get rained on.
2. La Serena and the Elqui Valley – After spending a few days in the Bolivian and Chilean deserts, it was a nice change of pace landing in this sea side town. Modern but with an old world charm, La Serena was a beautiful place to spend a few days relaxing. For a total change of pace, we took a day trip to the Elqui Valley to sample papaya and pisco and rub shoulders with a few older Chilean tourists. Our time in La Serena definitely felt more like a holiday than backpacking.
3. Valparaiso – Sarah and I left the capital of Santiago bound for this city of hills and murals to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. What we found was a charming haunt, with all the air of art, poetry, and music. We loosened up the purse strings and threw caution to the wind to mark this milestone in our journey together.
Some of our favourite hostels
1. Felipe’s House, Santiago – Not so much a hostel as a home… and a wonderful place to lay our heads for a few days. Thanks again, Felipe!
2. Hotel Cirilo Armstrong, Valparaiso – We graded up a bit during our visit to Valparaiso. With beautiful, bright, and airy rooms overlooking the rolling hills of the seaside town, this hotel was probably the nicest one we stayed in since leaving Melbourne months before. The staff were helpful and the breakfast divine. It’s a little hard to find on Cerro Alegre… but all the cab drivers know where it is.
3. Tin House Hostel, Puerto Natales – We stayed at this quaint little hostel before setting off to hike the W Circuit in the Torres del Paine National Park and the night of our return to civilisation. The place felt more like a comfortable, warm little cabin home than a travelers hostel. The staff was immeasurably helpful with information about Puerton Natales and the nearby park. And Sarah still sometimes dreams about the breakfast… yum!
Some of our favourite activities
1. Hiking the W Circuit – It had been a while since we had done any trekking, and last time we had a guide a cook and a team of helpful Chaskis. This time it was just us two and a jumbo pack of beef jerky. Thank goodness we got to experience all the beauty of this trek with fair winds and not a drop of rain!
2. Tasting the delights of the Elqui Valley – We felt much more like Chilean day trippers on our outing to the Elqui Valley… complete with a guide, mini-bus, and a stop for lunch. But exploring the valley in this manner allowed us to cover a lot of ground and enjoy an Epicurean afternoon, sampling a few delights… including Chilean Pisco.
3. Checking out the Penguins on Chiloe – Sure enough, the little tuxedo wearing guys love the enchanted island of Chiloe. So we spent a beautiful afternoon making our way out to visit them waddle in the sunny day.
1. Dolla Dolla Bills, Y’all – Coming off of a few months spent between Bolivia and Peru, arriving in Chile felt like we left the dollar store and stumbled into Tiffany’s. Okay, maybe that’s not a really fair example (no diamonds were harmed in the previous statement) but the truth is, compared to the countries north of it, Chile is expensive. For us, we chose to travel from North to South on the continent, leaving the more developed countries (read: expensive) towards the end of the trip. We’d end up spending less time in Chile and Argentina, largely due to the cost difference. This isn’t much of a lowlight really and we knew it before going. But, there’s something to be said about being able to spoiling yourself… on a shoestring. The cost differences we noticed immediately were transportation and lodging. Though, especially in terms of bus transportation, the quality in Chile was higher than Bolivia.
2. Achao - Okay, it’s not that this little fishing town on the island of Chiloe is a bad place. It just takes a bus and a ferry and a bus to get there… and when you do… you realise that there’s really nothing going on.
Shock: Sir, can you please remove the marbles from your mouth – By the time we had arrived in Chile, Sarah and I had started to become a little more comfortable with Spanish. We had about 8 weeks of lessons under our belts along with self study and a lot of practice in the language lab that is South America. But none of this prepared us for communicating in Chile. The guidebooks will tell you that they speak Spanish in Chile, but don’t be fooled. Chilean “Spanish” is something more akin to rapid fire quips and grunts and words that sort of resemble Castellano but never quite match it.
Solution: Sometimes it just takes one - Once I was on a bus in Chile when the attendant came back to tell us that we’d have to get off the bus for 45 minutes. How did I know that’s what he said? Well, somewhere in the long explanation I caught the Spanish words for exit and 45 minutes. I’m sure there was more information in the attendants delivery, so I asked him to clarify why we needed to leave the bus. He launched into another lengthy explanation, during which I caught exactly one word… combustible. This is a Spanish word for gasoline. Ah…
1. Welcome to Chile… here you can book plane flights online, the buses run generally on time, and there’s even Walmart. If you’re coming from Bolivia, it’ll feel like you just traveled a few hundred years in time. But, as I lamented above, all of this comes with a price. So pack half as much stuff, and bring twice as much money.
2. Heading to Patagonia? Check out our tips here.