Wednesday (January 13th) I returned from a fast moving almost-three week trip around the beautiful country of Chile. This was my first taste of Chile, and for that matter, South America. The trip ranged from numerous long flights, beautiful wineries, fireworks on the beaches of Valparaiso, taking it easy enjoying the restaurants, cafes, and parks in Santiago, overnight hiking in Southern Patagonia, and playing with Penguins as far south from home as I’d ever been. Just like any trip, it wasn’t long enough, but I had quite the adventure and am glad to share with you my first taste of Chile.
Some Info On Chile
- Capital: Santiago
- Population: ~18 million, ~6 million in Santiago.
- Currency: Chilean Peso (690 CLP/USD beginning of trip, 730 at the end – sweet!)
- Cost Of Living: 37% cheaper than Portland.
- Official Language: Spanish
- 4,300 kil0meters (2,670 miles) of Pacific Ocean coastline.
- They put avocado on most everything; be sure you like avocado.
- 180,000 stray hounds in Santiago alone (stray dogs in every city I went). Most all are friendly and chile is free of rabies, so the most folks don’t mind. Just watch your bike tires as they sometimes chase.
Lewis, Annamarie, and I began talking early in the year about going on a trip to Chile. Lewis having lived there for a year five some years ago wanted to experience it once again and also share it with us. I met Gerardo at Lewis and Annamarie’s wedding back in early 2014 over in Hawaii. Gerardo is who we stayed with down in Chile and who Lewis lived with the majority of the time Lewis lived down south.
Getting in and out of Chile was actually pretty affordable. All three of us used points to get in and out and saved a boat load. We each used 60,000 points and around $150 in taxes and fees. I checked the normal price on the tickets for the time we went and it would have cost us around $2,000 each had we of paid for it with real money. Thank you points!
We took off December 28th from Portland, had a layover in San Francisco, and another in Houston before our 9 hour flight into Santiago, Chile. Thankfully I had a Lounge Pass card that let all three of us get into the lounges at each of the airports we had our layovers. Awesome!
Eventually we arrived into Chile and that’s when the fun began…
Wineries Around Santiago
I didn’t make it to nearly as many as I would like (there are over 120 in the Chilean wine directory), but I had an experience of a few different wineries in the region and they were all beautiful. They really care about their wineries and if you live in Chile, you get to drink for cheap. Most wines are affordable in the area. Wines I usually pay around $10 to $15 here in Portland are available for a few dollars when bought in Chile. Even the wines purchased at the wineries are fairly affordable. I made it to Veramonte – working on becoming certified organic, Indomita – white and pristine on a hillside overlooking the valley, and Concho Y Toro – the most popular winery I know of from Chile. All their wines are great, but my favorites were definitely the local Carmaneres.
Be sure if you’re down in Chile to experience the wines of the region. Known for amazing carmaneres, cabernet sauvignons, merlots, and pinot noirs; also whites, but I don’t usually go that way, so I didn’t try many.
New Years On The Beaches Of Valparaiso/Viña Del Mar
If you’re looking for huge parties for New Years, then there are two New Years parties you should attend in South America: 1) Rio De Janeiro is by far the largest and loudest, 2) the 3-day New Years party of Valparaiso, Chile is right up there with Rio.
Valparaiso is a major city, seaport, and educational center in Chile. Second to Santiago, Greater Valparaiso is the second largest metropolitan area in the country. Valparaiso is located 112 kilometers (69.5 miles) northwest of Santiago. Find more out here.
I didn’t know much of anything about Valparaiso before going except that it was going to be full of a couple million people for a three-day New Years party like none I had ever been to before. And that’s all I really needed to know…and wasn’t at all disappointed at what I got.
Lewis, Annamarie, Gerardo, and I booked a condo in northern Viña Del Mar near Playa Cochoa. The place was really nice. Three bedrooms and a balcony with a killer view. I think it ran us around $1,400 USD for the 5 nights we were in the area. Jeffrey, a friend from Portland also ended up coming to the Valparaiso area for new years and booked a hostel with his friend Duc (pronounced Duke) from San Francisco. My time was split between the two locations. The late nights were spent partying with Jeffrey, Duc, and another traveler from the hostel, Darryl from New York. The days and new years eve were spent enjoying the sites and local foods with Lewis, Ann and Gerardo.
The evening up to midnight on New Years was spent with Jeffrey, Lewis, Ann, and Gerardo having dinner, enjoying a lot of pisco and champagne, and eventually arriving to the beach in Viña where we counted down the year with a million other people. Chinese lanterns (sky lanterns or Kongming lanterns) covered the skies, people were laughing and celebrating all over, and there we were enjoying a bottle of champagne as we watched the best firework display I had ever seen.
The area of Valparaiso was in a curved bay and every which direction on the water was firework displays going off – some of the biggest I had ever seen. Just one would have blown me away, but there were a dozen duplicate shows going off every which direction. It was mind blowing and one of the best shows ever (I’ve been to some really big ones in Sydney for Australia day, and the full moon party in Thailand), but this show took the cake.
I had heard great things about Valparaiso for celebrating New Years, however, all my expectations were blown out of the water.
The last day after enjoying the magic of New Years in Valparaiso, I met up with Lewis, Ann, and Gerardo and enjoyed the city following the chaos. Relaxed on the beaches, saw amazing architecture, and even checked out one of the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda‘s houses. The whole area of Valparaiso and Viña Del Mar was recovering at the end of the weekend, and getting ready for the the next evening. We, however, took off early on Sunday the 3rd to get to avoid the traffic and get to Santiago once again.
Taking It Easy In Santiago
My time in Santiago was much easier going than in Valparaiso. Though I did go out a couple of the nights I was back in town before heading to Patagonia, most of my time was spent relaxing at cafes in the arts district, going on a wine tour, and eventually getting things together for the hiking to come.
We made it to the Gran Torre Santiago, tallest building in the country, which had a shopping center at the bottom since the building is owned by a German guy who owns some of the largest shopping centers in the country. Here we ended up picking up a battery pack to charge my phone (barely worked, thanks Sony), and eventually some hiking boots for down south.
Spent time with Jeffrey, Duc, and other travelers (even a girl who really knows her wine from Portland traveling South America), at La Chimba hostel (I recommend the La Chimba hostel if you get into Santiago. Lots of travelers, good facilities, and in the center of the Barrio Bellavista – a great area for bars, dancing, and karaoke.). We went out a couple times in this area which had good prices on drinks and food.
Enjoyed the arts districts for the views, the wine, and the many cafes. There were also well enjoyed restaurants in Santiago though some bad ones also. Yelp is used regularly in the area to rate places just like in the states.
Getting around Santiago was done by foot, the metro, taxis and Uber. Uber works really well in Santiago and usually fairly in expensive, but saves a lot of time.
A word of warning: watch your stuff and make sure it is securely on your person.
Sadly, during this whole time of getting things together, Lewis had his phone stolen out of his pocket on the metro when we were rushing to get on. It wasn’t pushed all the way in the pocket and someone saw an opportunity. We never found the guy and Lewis was left phone/camera-less the rest of the trip. Damn pick pockets!
I spent my final hours before heading south with Ann and Lewis packing our things up, and enjoying a final dinner together. That evening, me, Gerardo, and Lewis were getting on a plane down south to Punta Arenas, while Ann was getting on hers and saying goodbye to head back to Portland.
The South Of Chile
Before we left on this trip to Chile, Gerardo booked us some flights to Punta Arenas (7,500 miles from Portland; $200 USD round-trip) because Lewis and I wanted to check out Patagonia. We had no idea what we would be doing once we got to Punta Arenas, just that we would be checking out Patagonia some how. Thanks to other travelers on the way, we were able to put together an awesome experience.
We arrived late into the night on the 5th and taxied to our hostel, Hospedaje Costanera, where we got a little sleep before having to check out. It was that following morning where we put together a game plan. After talking with some other travelers we decided that we needed to go to Torres Del Paine national park – and also go see penguins at some point.
We left our stuff at the hostel and explored the city a bit to eventually get to the bus stations.
The first stop was to their highly rated cemetery. With 4.5 stars on Google, we decided to check this place out. Cemeteries aren’t usually my thing as it reminds me that I won’t live forever, but this one was huge and amazing – also helped it was close to our hostel.
Once we left the grave, we made it to the buses. There are five or six different bus companies in Punta Arenas taking tourists all day, every day, to other parts of the south. We weren’t totally sure what we were doing, so we ended up going into Terminal Bus Sur where we ended up chatting with Nibaldo Cvitanic who worked for El Viajero. They book tours and such, but the best part was his advice. A guy from Kansas, we told him our time frame and our interests, and since he had been over 50 times into Torres Del Paine, he gave us a 3-day trek we could do in our time. If you get to Punta Arenas and not sure what to do, go talk to him!
We put a game plan together, booked bus tickets to Puerto Natales (the town before the bus ride to the park), booked our hostel, got camping supplies (didn’t want to rent everything and Lewis and I bought Gerardo a tent), and groceries for the three days we’d be hiking.
Punta Arenas was a lot larger than I was expecting. A big port city with a large number of locals and tourists. It’s right on the Straight of Magellan and connects boats from the Pacific and the Atlantic and is about as far south as you can get and still be in Chile.
The bus to Puerto Natales was super comfy and gave me a chance to get some sleep since we didn’t get much the night before. We arrived into town, booked our bus tickets to the park, and walked our way over to our hostel, Hostal Coloane. We dropped off our stuff, rented some sleeping bags and pads, and grabbed a tasty meal (and tasty beer) in town before some sleep as we had an early morning the following day.
Hiking and Camping In Southern Patagonia
The next morning came quick, as we had to get our stuff together, and get to the bus terminal before our 7am departure. Again, a comfy bus, took us the two or so hours to the park entrance. Everyone had to get off and fill out the registration and pay for the park (18,000 pesos for foreigners (~$26), 8,000 for locals). One registered, we hopped back on the bus and it took us to the location of our catamaran to the first stop in the park.
The main trek the majority of hikers take is called “The W.” You have two options on how to do The W, start at Hotel Las Torres and start hiking to Torres Del Paine lookout, or take the catamaran (CLP$15,000 one-way) to Refugio Paine Grande and start with Glacier Gray. Either way, it takes around 4 days for the full W and you get to see the three lookouts for Glacier Gray, Valles Frances, and Torres Del Paine or Base Las Torres. Easiest to hardest is starting with the catamaran, hiking to Glacier Gray, hiking back to Refugio Paine Grande, hike to and through Valles Frances, and back, then hike to Base Las Torres for Torres Del Paine before hiking out to the Hotel Las Torres.
Since we only had a few days (48 hours to be specific), we fast tracked our path. We started the trek by taking the catamaran (CLP$19,000 round-trip) to Refugio Paine Grande. We setup our tent (CLP$7,000 per person) and got to hiking around 2pm. We made the gorgeous hike all the way to Glacier Gray (4 hours). We had to rush once we got there because we were told that if we weren’t back on the trail by 6pm, that we’d have to stay at Refugio Glacier Gray, mind you without our gear. We hastly saw the glacier and booked it back to the trail head which we made right before it was closed. We then hoofed it back to our tent (another 4 hours) and arrived just before the trail was closing (night fall; 10ish).
The following day we got up, ate a bit of food, and caught the noon catamaran and eventually a bus to Hotel Las Torres. Rather than resting that day, we decided to hike up to Camp Chileno (3 hours). This was the big camp before the final trek to Base Las Torres. The camp was another CLP$7,000 each. Along with camping, we decided a tasty hot meal was deserved, so we booked dinner with the cook ($20-25 USD). We placed our tent along side the river, relaxed a bit, and enjoyed one tasty meal (we were mostly eating nuts and canned tuna the day before).
The following day we got up early, and began the couple hours to Base Las Torres. It was pretty steep in elevation, but we got to the top and enjoyed the stunning views (sadly there were some clouds, but no biggy).
After spending an hour or so there and having lunch, we began the long hike back to Hotel Las Torres (3+ hours). We rushed back to try to get the afternoon bus back into town, but missed it by about thirty minutes. Because of that, we had to wait around for a few hours to catch the evening bus. Eventually it came and we made our way back to Puerto Natales for a night in a new hostel that we lucked out on finding as it was around 10:30pm when we got into town.
Playing With Penguins On Isla Magdalena
The last day in southern Chile, we arrived into Punta Arenas and booked a ferry to Isla Magdalena for penguins! The whole trip was around 5 hours. A couple hours there, an hour on the island with the penguins and a couple hours back. In all, it was around $35 USD. The island was pretty small and other than the 60,000+ penguins, seagulls, a trail, and a light house, there wasn’t much on the island.
There was a rope trail the we had to walk along and on each side of the rope were tons of penguins. Just chilling out not doing much other than either standing around or waddling to different places. They were so stinking cute and I took a ton of pictures. Definitely a highlight and a great finish to southern Chile.
Last of Santiago
We had a couple days left in Santiago after leaving Punta Arenas so I did what I could to make the most of it. There was a tip-based walking tour that took me around some highlights of central Santiago. The guide, I forgot his name sadly, was awesome and I recommend taking one of their tours while in Santiago.
Along with this, Lewis and I went on our last day to Santa Lucia Artesanal Center to get some gifts for those back home. I was able to bring back a good amount, but while shopping, I misplaced one of my bags without realizing it. So sad cause I had some real great gifts in there. The shops were awesome and they had some beautiful crafts that are very affordable. Just watch your stuff as we did see someone steal someones bag and take off. Thing is, a whole bunch of people ran after the guy and caught him. Pretty cool to see the locals help out. While you’re there, don’t forget to haggle down the price. Most people are pretty good about it, except for this one lady who just wouldn’t budge on her price. Oh well.
Lewis and I ended our time in Santiago going to the local grocery store and picking out around fifteen bottles of their top shelf wine and pisco that we loaded into a third bag loaned to us by Gerardo since we were way over packed as is.
With our three bags, we moved things around at the airport borrowing one of the scales to see just how much weight we had. We were just under on all three which meant no extra fees.
We checked our bags, and got our 9-hour flight back into the states. When we arrived into the states, I went to go through customs before I realized that I had made the a mature mistake of leaving my passport in the pouch at my seat. I ran back just before they closed the cabin, got my passport, and booked it back to customs. Oops…don’t do that!
The whole trip was a blast. We did so much and though I did go over budget (planned $1,200; spent $2,000), I was so glad to have done everything I did. I will definitely be going back to Chile some day soon and I recommend you do the same! The people are kind, the economy is growing, and there are so many more places to visit in the country. A great escape from the rainy winter weather of Portland. Thanks to Lewis for planting the idea to go to Chile, and thanks to Gerardo for being a fantastic host and guide while in your country.
For more photos – check out my Facebook album.