I started Chile with San Pedro de Atacama. Chile is a very long and narrow country and in the north, it shares borders with Bolivia so I arrived from the salt flats and flamingo filled lakes to the desert of Atacama. Crossing the border is fairly easy and a lot of Chileans actually holiday in San Pedro de Atacama (SPDA)
On the day I arrived, I chose to do the hot springs, Puritana Termas, and I didn’t regret it. It was a beautiful sanctuary and has 8 natural pools amidst the hills and lush greenery. There are clean toilets, changing rooms and lockers but no food so you’ll have to bring your own. Entrance fee is more on weekends so if you could go on a weekday, do so.
SPDA is actually a very touristy town. In the main square, you find 3 types of establishments, restaurants, tour companies and shops selling things. The whole street is filled with that. I arrived to SPDA with no itinerary and it got quickly filled up because my hostel was also a tour agency. I stayed at Hostel Campo Base and it was in a quiet street away from the main square and the service was great. One of the best hostels I stayed at this trip. You can book through booking.com and get a discount here!
The next day, I chose to do the valley of rainbows tour and it was a very nice drive across the desert and we learnt about the geology of the area and also saw primitive drawings from very old times. It was very enjoyable.
In the evening, I did the most popular tour, moon valley. It is super crowded and you probably need to book in advance but it’s great trip to enjoy the beautiful sunset in the desert. I wish I brought a face mask because walking along the desert was very sandy 😂There are many other tours to choose from including sand boarding, salt lakes and other hikes that you can do. The tours are aplenty and you can easily spend a week here just doing different trips daily.
The town has a good restaurant called Adobe and I had the Lomo Al Pil Pil which is spicy beef served in a hot pot. It’s yummy. I personally liked the Plaza restaurant at the main plaza of SPDA. The steak was wonderful. Have the artisanal ice cream at Tierra de Sol and try the very unique flavors made of desert herbs. The roast chicken at Tchiuchi is delicious and cheap!
When in SPAD, please be careful with your bags. A fellow tourist got her bag taken away from her in the restaurant without her even knowing. So always sling it across your body and make sure it’s in front of you, even when you’re seated at the restaurant. The police here speak very little English so it was rather difficult to make the police report without help from the restaurant staff. Having said that, we walked along the streets at 11pm without any trouble.
Flying from SPDA to Santiago was an easy 2 hours flight. Being a city girl, I missed being in a city with tall buildings, efficient metros, buses, museums and the crowds! So what did I do? I hung out at the CBD where all the nice restaurants are and the sunset at sky Costanera at Costenera Centre was rather amazing.
I walked along Vitacura street at night and it was a very safe and beautiful neighbourhood with lots of bars and restaurants and upscale shopping.
Restaurants that I love there include
1) La Mar at Avenida Neuva Costasera – the ceviche and the grilled hake with risotto was amazing, so is the Pisco sour.
3) Borago is 42 out of the 50 top restaurants in the world but they are over priced and food is only So-so. But you can try it if you’re into these things. It’s a great place to impress your date as the decor is real nice.
I stayed at Guest House Mery near Cumming Metro Station and I loved it. It’s an old house that has 9 rooms and the owner is a very sweet lady who is helpful. I loved that is is quiet, convenient with restaurants all around and the beds are comfortable and he house it’s just beautiful. It’s very well maintained. Only thing is you have to be back before 1am as the owner will have to open the doors for you. If you like hostels, stay at Hostel Rado in Bellavista, great staff and atmosphere, nice sunset from the roof and THE party scene just below. I stayed there for 2 nights but gave up on the party noise Book via booking.com too and get a discount code here!
Museums worth visiting are Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Bella Artes and GAM- Centre cultural Gabriela Mistral. Museo Bella Artes and GAM is free! I love the exhibits there. If you’re a fan of Pablo Neruda, the man of love quotes and a nobel prize winner, don’t forget to visit his house La Chasona, near the San Cristobal hill.
I liked walking around the Bellas Arte, Bellavista and Lastarria neighbourhood. There’s street art and a lot of cool bars and cafes around. If you are walking in Lasterria, remember to eat the best ice cream in Chile at Emporio La Rosa. Buffalo waffles always has a queue when I walked past it and when I caved in and had the ham one, it was very delicious!
Bellavista is the place to get drunk, said my hostel. 😂 I also liked walking along the street of Neuva Costenera as there are many nice restaurants and cafes and shops there. It’s the uppity area of town near the CBD.
If you love old buildings, head to Neuva York which is New York street and have a sandwich at Union Bar. It’s one of the oldest bar in town that still serves lunches to people who work there. It’s very old school. It’s also the old financial Centre.
If you love markets like I do, you cannot miss Mercado central and La Vega market. There you can find the freshest things and they’re as cheap as chips. You have to eat Seafood at the smaller stalls in Mercado central. I had fresh Uni and Abalone (only USD25 for both!) at La Juanita 1 and the Seafood soup opposite and they were cheaper than the bigger stalls in the middle.
Follow your gut and the crowded ones where the locals eat at and you won’t be wrong. There cheap and delicious. They open everyday from morning til about 5pm. Around that area, there is a famous empanada place which is like our curry puff. The Pina is beef with egg, an olive and potatoes in a puff pastry. It’s baked fresh because the queue is always moving so it’s delicious when warm.
If you want to try Chilean food, the recommended one is Galindo by hostel, tour guide and lonely planet. Maybe I ordered the wrong things, but I didn’t really find the food great. Try the Corn pie which is like Shepard’s pie. It’s the Chilean specialty there. The salmon was not bad but the pork leg was not Great. I actually like the Peruvian restaurants better 😂
After all the eating, make your way up a 30 minute hike uphill to see Cerro San Cristobal. There’s a zoo at the foot of the hill and this is the largest urban park in South America.
If you don’t fancy the hike up, you can take the funicular. The hike is free and the views are rather spectacular of the whole city! Rio has their Cristo Rentor, Santiago has their giant Mary up the hill, and she looks great in the evening sun. After the hike up, reward yourself with a local drink of Mote Con Huesillos, which is a refreshing drink of Caramel juice, dehydrated peach and wheat. It’s very sweet and everyone seems to love it!
Another hill that you can scale and it’s lower and easier is Santa Lucía Hill. It’s near the historic Centre so its easy to get to. Do climb up to the tower. It’s small, crowded but you get a very nice view from there.
Getting around Santiago is very easy, the metro connects most of the attractions mentioned and it’s 660 Pesos for a ride for no matter how long. During peak hours on weekdays, it’s 720 pesos.
A great day trip from Santiago is the wine tour. I did a bike and wine tour at Cousiño Macul Vineyard with La Vicicleta Verde and it was a really fun way to know about wine in Chile and do some tasting. The wines there are delicious, especially the 2012 cab sav!
Another day trip I did was to Valparaíso. It’s very easy to get there. Take the metro to Pajaritos and then bus for 2 hours (the green Turbus) and you’re there. You’ll have to then take a smaller bus to the main town or walk 25 minutes. It’s the sea facing town of Chile near Santiago and it’s Unesco and full of street art. When I went there it was foggy so I didn’t have good pictures of the sea but I’ve seen photos of fellow travelers and they look really nice. If you fancy, take the 10am or 3pm tour by Tours4tips there. It’s a good way to spend 3 hours and know more about the town.
I had lunch at Taberna de Oscar and the Seafood soup was great and cheap! If you love street art, you will love this place. Almost every wall is filled with wall art and there are many colourful houses and buildings without roofs because to be Unesco, you have to not rebuild anything that is destroyed unless you’re restoring it to the original plan. So you’ll see lots of old buildings perched on the many hills of this town, surrounded by a busy sea port. Feel free to walk the streets and take the funicular up or down. It’s really quite fun and because it’s rather small, I did almost everything in a day.
And there you go, my desert and city escapade in Chile! My next stop is another city Buenos Aires and I’ll be headed down south from there so stay tuned!