Chile: From the Andes to Pacific Coast

9th Jun 2016

Photo of Chile: From the Andes to Pacific Coast 1/4 by Tanushree Das

Photo of Chile: From the Andes to Pacific Coast 2/4 by Tanushree Das
Photo of Chile: From the Andes to Pacific Coast 3/4 by Tanushree Das
Photo of Chile: From the Andes to Pacific Coast 4/4 by Tanushree Das

Chile can't stop amazing me with its majestic splendor of gigantic Andes on one side and roaring Pacific waves hitting the coastline on the other end - both of them just a few a hours of drive away. While the Andes' surreal charm enthralls moments of visual glee, the small alluring towns lined up around coastline welcome you with cozy yet fancy restaurants, long walks by the beach, and the perfect Chilean charm and food. Even moments before you land into Santiago, the aerial view of Andes can totally take your breath away.

I decided to visit Santiago and places around because of three reasons - my love for mountains, age-old desire to trek a volcano, and a budget-friendly vacation. I spent four days in Santiago and went on day tours to visit places around. Here is my detailed itinerary:

Hotel: Santiago has several apartment hotels (popularly known as apart hotels). These are quite budget friendly and convenient but it is imperative to inquire if they have a travel desk to assist with tour bookings, otherwise, it becomes very difficult to gather tour-related information because the agencies are scattered all around the city. We stayed at Amistar apartments - I highly recommend this hotel because they have an excellent travel desk service and you can make all tour bookings here. The room was very clean, quite spacious for two people with nice heating (much needed in Santiago). Also, is it located in downtown Santiago and you can walk to most sight-seeing places.

Day 1

Day 1 - We reached our hotel at around 3 PM and immediately booked our tour for next day. We had to buy warm clothing so we hit the Costanera mall - the largest mall in South America. If you want to shop for any US or European brands then this is the place you must visit.

Day 2

Day 2 - 'Panoramic Tour: CLP 50,000 for 2 person' We decided to take a 'Panoramic tour', visiting all ski resorts but not entering them. This was a better option for us rather than entering the resorts because we aren't trained to ski. I would recommend non-skiers not to enter the resorts, as they charge heavily for the entry tickets and equipment, which will go a waste if you can't ski. Even if you don't enter the resort, there is enough snow outside to enjoy and play around. You can also opt for tubing without actually entering the resorts. For such activities you are required to rent pant, boots, and gloves. Incase you have sufficient warm clothes, you don't need a jacket. For us the jacket was a waste because it was very sunny so cold was quite tolerable.

Call it a holiday spirit or sudden spur of vacation energy, even after the tiring day we decided to visit the very popular Bellavista neighborhood in the evening. 'Bellavista Patio' is the main quarter filled with countless fancy restaurants, cozy coffee shops, and chic bars. This is the party destination for Santiago city over weekends. The quarter looks simply stunning and vivacious during the evenings, which are filled with live music, karaoke, and jazzy lights. All said, the restaurants of Bellavista are definitely expensive but the Patio is totally worth a visit. This is the only place in Santiago, where I spotted souvenir shops . I am an enthusiastic souvenir collector and a restaurant fanatic, so this place was simply heaven for me.

Day 3

Day 3 - 'Valparisio and Vina del Maar: CLP 40,000 for 2 person' You can totally do this sight seeing on your own without booking with a travel agency but we wanted a hassle free tour so opted for an agency. Valparisio is the port city of Chile with beautiful views of the city and port from the view points. There is not much to do in Valparisio but it is an absolute delight for all graffiti fans. Valaprisio has stunning wall-size graffitis painted across multiple street/lane walls. Although not maintained but still the graffitis are perfect spots for beautiful pictures or just admiring and applauding the artists. There is no specific lane/street to find the graffitis because they are mostly spread across the town, but from what I read, the best ones are in the open air museum or top of the hills (reachable by funiculars). Besides that there is a naval museum (a good view point) and restaurants to enjoy the Chilean wine, Pisco sour (a chilean alcoholic cocktail), and food.

Vina Del Maar is my personal favorite for the spectacular blue waters, intriguing serene walks by the beach, cozy restaurants, and stellar view of the skyline by the beach. Definitely an expensive place to dine or stay but it is totally worth a visit to spend a couple of hours admiring the snug yet fancy town. It is like one of those expensive beautiful beach towns that you can't miss yet might not be able to afford if travelling on a budget vacation. We had lunch in Vina Del Maar in a restaurant by the beach with views of the ferocious waves hitting the coastline, making it even more perfect to raise a toast and dine in glee.

Day 4

Day 4 - 'Cajon Del Maipu: CLP 43,000 for 1 person' Just thinking about this day arouses a sense of euphoria. Oh what an unforgettable experience it was to be so close to nature in one of its most mysteriously beautiful forms. Cajon Del Maipu has it all from the grandeur of mountains to trekking volcanoes to hot water springs amidst the snow covered mountains and not to forget the picturesque drive up the hills. I would recommend hiring a travel agency for this tour, as the roads are very risky and narrow to drive by yourself.

We could not visit the hot spring because of snow blocking the roads instead we went to the El Yeso Dam - a pristine blue colored lake surrounded by impeccable snow covered peaks. Even the drive till El Yeso is so beautiful that you will have a hard time figuring out the best stops for photography. The car doesn't reach till the end spot so you have to trek about 2 kms, which will be an experience in itself. We reached early so had a chance to trek all by ourselves enjoying the blissful, tranquil walk up the hills, a place where 'white' was the only color that prevailed. I remember how awestruck I was to see only and only flashy white colored mountains surrounding me, as if they outstretched the horizon. After walking for a while, we reached the lake. I just stood there for moments admiring the fact that how nature's perfections bring so much peace to my mind. It was such a silent and blissful moment that all I could hear was the whooshing sound of wind and all I could see was the blue color of the lake against white backdrop of gigantic mountains.

I saw many people carry wine and some finger food to sit across the lake and enjoy a meal in nature's bounty. We were lucky to get the perfect weather so didn't have to rent jackets but boots are a must because there are spots where your feet will be completely submerged in chunks of snow.

For the evening, we went Lastarria - the much talked about beautiful neighborhood. Typically, all Latin American cities have a few decked up, fancy neighborhoods and for Santiago it is Lastarria and Bellavista. It is more of a lane filled with casual/fine dining restaurants, coffee houses, and bars, all of them brilliantly lit up amidst the hustle bustle of night life. There is also a small patch of the lane where you can see artists display their work or painting beautiful portraits. Besides, the grandeur of the street and restaurants will give you a hard time deciding on the place to dine. It has both budget-friendly and fancy restaurants. Make sure to walk down till the end of the lane where there is snazzy, gorgeous little square surrounded by fancy restaurants. It might be a little crowded but you can't truly enjoy night life without a spirited crowd, good food, and ambiance. We had the famous Chilean Salmon in Lastarria, which was drizzled with honey making it even more delectable.

Travel Tips: Beware of the taxi drivers in Santiago because they can easily dupe you if they come to know that you are a tourist, especially the one who doesn't know Spanish. A taxi driver tried to cheat us charging fours times the usual rate, saying that he took the fast lane. Luckily, we knew basic Spanish so managed to get away with that. Sometimes, you may also get abnormally high meter reading in taxis, so one of the locals advised us to bargain the price before getting inside the taxi.

Alternatively, you can buy a card from the metro station, which can be used for both bus and metros.