Overview

Carnivorous lovers of the outdoors, take heed:  Chile is the place for you.  It’s a grab bag of natural landscapes where each new vista is more beautiful than–and completely different from–the one that came before it.  From the deserts and salt flats of the North to the mountain and lake-filled areas in the middle to the rolling pampas and glacier-topped peaks of the South, Chile seems to offer everything a nature lover could want.  It is a spectacular place to hike, to raft and to explore on horseback.

It is also a true mecca of meat.  Seemingly every other restaurant in the towns we visited was a parilla, i.e., a place where lamb is stretched between wooden stakes and roasted next to an open fire, alongside which thick steaks sizzling over hot coals.  Vegetarians may have a tough time finding a good meal in some Chilean towns, where salads sometimes consist of oranges and canned pineapple covered in heavy cream (lettuce costs extra and comes only by request).  The wine, however, almost makes up for the lack of veggies–it’s cheap, delicious and in ready supply.

One of the few downsides to Chile is the fact that it’s fairly pricey, at least compared to the other countries we’ve visited (though not compared to the U.S.).  But the people are friendly, the buses are comfortable and timely and, particularly because we visited at the beginning of the off-season, the tourist attractions are not yet completely overcrowded.

Chile is such an ideal destination for short-term travelers from the U.S. that we keep trying to figure out why we haven’t met more of our own down here.  The flight to Santiago may be long, but there’s almost no time difference and, therefore, no jet lag.  While the country is large (or, really, just long), it’s easy to get around, and a couple of weeks will buy you the chance to see a good part of it.  We strongly suggest that you do!

Blog Entries We Wrote

  • To see all the blog entries we wrote about this country, please click HERE.

Pictures We Took

  • To see some of the pictures we took in this country, please click HERE.

Cities/Areas We Visited

  • Santiago (March 4-8, 2008; March 13-14, 2008)
  • San Pedro de Atacama (March 8-13, 2008)
  • Pucon (March 22-28, 2008)
  • Puerto Montt (March 28-29, 2008)
  • Punta Arenas (March 29-30, 2008)
  • Cape Horn/Magellan Strait (April 2-5, 2008)
  • Puerto Natales (April 5-7, 2008)
  • Torres del Paine National Park (April 7-11, 2008)
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Places We Stayed

Santiago

  • Vilafranca Petit Hotel (March 4-7, 2008): We loved this cozy bed and breakfast (approximately $75 a night).  After too many stays in generic-feeling hotels, it was really nice to be able to relax in its homey-but-elegant common areas.  Owner Gloria was incredibly helpful, and even set up Shanna with a visit to her dentist.  Vilafranca in Providencia, a relatively untouristy area that’s still close to just about everything.  We recommend making reservations; it fills up fast, and it’s definitely worth a stay!
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  • Crowne Plaza (March 8, 2008):  If we had paid $256 (the posted rate here) to stay here, we would’ve been furious.  The room smelled like smoke, the shower was too dirty to even use, and everything was incredibly dingy.  Happily, we stayed here for free after our flight was delayed, so we can’t really complain.
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  • Hotel Espana (March 13-14, 2008):  The rooms here (about $65) are simple, but they’re comfortable, and it’s very close to a lot of Santiago’s most popular tourist attractions.  Oh, and one of the guys at the front desk looks a LOT like Ben Affleck.
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San Pedro de Atacama

  • Hostal Elim (March 8-13, 2008):  This hostel, at about $60, wasn’t cheap (given that it’s a hostel), but nothing in San Pedro is.  The rooms were clean and comfortable (and colorful–lots of magenta and orange in the bedding…), and they’re cleaned on a daily basis (which is fairly unusual for a hostel).  The common areas kind of smelled like sewage, but we’re hoping that’s only due to the construction that was going on in the courtyard at the time.  From Elim, it’s about a five-minute walk to the center of town.
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Pucon

  • Ecole Hosteria (March 22-26, 2008):  Travel guides rave that this place (about $55 a night) is “a destination, not just a hostel.”  We can see that, kind of.  Its cozy, vegetarian restaurant definitely drew people from all over town, the staff was fairly friendly and our small room was comfortable (though Derek could barely fit in the bathroom).  We didn’t get too much of the “incredibly valuable travel advice” the books had raved about, though.  A Lonely Planet writer was there at the same time as we were, and he seemed to be enjoying all kinds of special treatment.  (Whatever happened to those writers having to keep their identities a secret?)  We wonder if that has something to do with the rave reviews…
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  • La Tetera Hostal (March 26-28, 2008):  We moved here (also about $55 a night for a room and bathroom much larger than the one at Ecole) after we could no longer tolerate the fact that Ecole didn’t have hot water (a temporary problem, but one that endured during our entire stay there).  It may not have been a “destination” like Ecole, but we loved it.  The free breakfasts were great, the staff was really friendly and, best of all, they had a family room where we could SIT ON A COUCH (so incredibly rare while traveling) and watch DVDs on a REAL TV SCREEN (not our laptop!). This last fact, alone, made us incredibly happy.
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Puerto Montt

  • Residencial La Nave (March 28-29, 2008):  We arrived here on a late-night bus.  Walking through the sketchy, dark neighborhood between the bus station and the hotel, we felt scared for our safety for probably the first time on our trip.  The hotelier who let us in was kind, though, and the room, though sparse (and not all that clean) was cheap (about $30).
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Punta Arenas

  • Hostal del Sur (March 29-30, 2008):  This bed and breakfast (about $50) is a good 10-minute walk (up a hill) from town, but it’s very clean and comfortable.  The owner’s friendly Lab greets you at the door.
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Cape Horn/Magellan Strait

  • Mare Australis ship (April 2-5, 2008): We had a great time on this, err, “expedition cruise.”  Unlike most cruises, the Mare Australis played host to only about 55 guests.  (It can accommodate about 100 more, but we were there in the off-season.)  None of the standard cruise fare here–no casinos, pool decks or  ice sculptures in sight.  (Whew!)  For being on a ship, our room was spacious and very comfortable.  The common areas were elegant (lots of leather couches and stunning views of the water), and the daily expeditions were well organized and incredibly interesting.  We would definitely recommend this, even to those who (like us) are convinced that they’re too young to go on a cruise.  Derek won’t allow Shanna to post the price of this extravagance, but she can mention that we got a 20% discount because we booked our stay just two weeks ahead of time.
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Puerto Natales

  • Casa Cecilia (April 5-7, 2008): This centrally located place ($60 a night) isn’t terribly cheap for a hostel (though the dorm rooms are much cheaper), but it’s one of the best hostels we’ve stayed in so far.  For some reason, its common areas seem to draw all of its guests our of their rooms and into interesting conversation with fellow travelers.  Breakfast is free and features homemade bread that was sometimes still warm from the oven.
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Torres del Paine National Park

  • explora Hotel Salto Chico (April 7-11, 2008): For the rest of our lives, we will remember this place as one of the nicest hotels we’ve ever stayed in.  It’s much more casual in its elegance than, say, Bangkok’s Oriental, but it’s elegant all the same.  Its too-astronomical-to-put-in-print price includes all of your meals and snacks, everything you could ever want to drink and at least five options a day to go on what will then become the best hike/boat trip/horseback ride you’ve ever been on in your life.  How can we explain how luxurious it was?  We’ll sum it up this way:  Our room was cleaned twice a day, the chocolates left on our pillows were the best we’d ever tasted and the hotel-provided soap was that $15-dollar stuff we’d buy in a boutique at home.  Oh, and our room looked out a turquoise lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  Seriously.  This has become one of our go-to recommendations for couples looking to splurge (and we do mean SPLURGE) on a vacation they’ll never forget in a park that is certainly one of the most stunningly beautiful on earth.
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Places We Ate

Santiago

  • Empanada Todos:  We had a quick snack of empanadas that were, quite possibly, the best we had during our entire time in South America.
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  • La Boheme: At this sidewalk cafe in the heart of colorful Bellavista, friendly staff served up decent food late into the night.
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  • Infame RestoBar: We came here late one night in search of dinner, and we’re so glad we did.  Small and inexpensive, we loved their sushi, as well as their “deconstructed” version of the stuff–essentially everything you could ever want in a sushi roll, all disassembled and tossed into a bowl…
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  • El Huerto: This cute cafe with sidewalk seating offers creative, tasty vegetarian food, imaginative salads and fresh juices.  It seemed there were a lot of locals there, which is always a good sign.
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  • Normandie Restaurant: Derek had one of the best steaks of our trip here (and the man has eaten a LOT of steak during our time in South America); the fact that it came wrapped in bacon couldn’t have hurt… They also served up some great ceviche and those pisco sours Leyna likes so much.
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  • Amapola:  This very casual sidewalk in Bellavista turned out some huge, tasty sandwiches and good pizza for relatively few pesos.
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  • Bar Nacional 1 Restauarant: Ahh, a restaurant that’s far from the well beaten tourist track.  We popped into this place with Derek’s parents on a whim, and we had a couple of great sandwiches and some very tasty pastel de choclo (which is a Chilean casserole-type thing that involves grits and whatever else the kitchen seems to have on hand).
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  • Azul Profundo: This place came highly recommended by guidebooks and Shanna’s brother alike, but we couldn’t get over the feeling that we were in an upscale Red Lobster (with food of similar quality).  It’s supposed to be fashioned after Pablo Neruda’s seaside home; we think the atmosphere would’ve been more Neruda-like if we’d sat in the cozier room at the front, rather that the bright-blue, fish net and high chair-filled one in back.
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  • Cafe Turri (in Valparaiso): We have become fairly evangelical about this place since having lunch there with Shanna’s brother and his girlfriend.  It’s set high up in the cliffs of colorful Valpo, and a table on the balcony affords views of the town and the seashore alike. The scallops with coconut sauce were tasty, if a bit too sweet, and the grilled sea bass with garlic butter was seriously amazing.
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  •  Cafe Westfalia (in Valparaiso):  We stopped in here for a coffee break and loved its local-diner atmosphere.
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San Pedro de Atacama

  • Les Bistro Copain Pizzeria:  We arrived here after an incredibly long commute from Santiago, so we can’t say we were focused on the food as much as we were on filling our bellies and getting some sleep.  All the same, they had good sandwiches, we think…
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  • Tahira Restaurant: This place was relatively cheap for San Pedro, but its food was really basic.  It was here where we learned that “al pobre” means “comes topped with a fried egg, even if you don’t think an egg really belongs on your grilled chicken.”
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  • Babalu Heladeria: This place serves up some of the best ice cream Shanna has ever had.  (Derek, not being a dessert guy, didn’t try it.)  Their lemon pie ice cream alone is probably worth traveling to San Pedro for.
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  • La Casona: We sat next to their big fireplace and listened to their touristy-but-cool band while eating some pretty good food, including salmon in a creamy sauce that probably had enough calories to last Shanna for days.
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  • La Estaka Restaurante: This place’s salmon was even better than La Casona’s, and they had great lasagna, too.  And a fire pit, which is always a bonus…
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  • Milagro Restaurant: The pasta at this centrally located restaurant was really good.  Derek loved their carbonara sauce.
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  • Cafe Sol: This place is more of an Internet cafe than it is a restaurant, but it actually served up some of the best lunches we had during our time in San Pedro.  It had huge, delicious salads and sandwiches that were even bigger and better.
  • Shack selling empanadas: We stumbled upon this little (and, we think, nameless) empanada stand in the middle of one of San Pedro’s shopping areas.  The empanadas here are fried, not baked, and as a result, they’re fantastic (if bad for the waistline).  They also come stuffed with pretty much anything anyone could ever want.
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Pucon

  • Focaccia Pizzas y Pastas:  We came here to carbo-load on the night before we climbed the volcano.  Its portions were a bit too small for Derek, but the food was tasty all the same.
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  • El Fogon:  The breakfast here was just ok.  We hear that it does a better job with lunches and dinners.
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  • Arabian Restaurant:  The hummus and pita we had here wasn’t as good as the stuff we’d get at home, but it was a nice change of pace from meat and pasta!
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  • El Barroso Parrilla: We’d heard that the two best places to get steak in Pucon were La Maga and La Grilla.  Both were closed one night, so we headed to El Barroso and left convinced that it’s the true champion.  Its steaks were amazing, as were its mashed potatoes and its vegetable stir-fry (which very likely contained honey…strange, but delicious).
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  • Restaurant at Ecole Hosteria: Ah, finally a place in Chile that caters to vegetarians!  Most of the stuff on its menu is vegetarian, and it’s all pretty darn good.  One drawback: they often run out of the most popular items on their menu, so people looking for something in particular may benefit from reserving their favorites a few hours before they sit down to eat.
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  • La Maga Parrilla:  The famous La Maga turned out to be good, but not as good as El Barroso.
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  • Rap Hamburguer:  Rap serves hamburgers as big as your head, seriously.  And they’re pretty good, too!
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Puerto Montt

  • Tablon del Ancla: The food at this place, which was packed with both tourists and locals alike, was simple but good (rotisserie chicken; great mashed potatoes) and came in huge portions.  Best of all, they inexplicably played American music videos from the 90s on a continuous loop.
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Punta Arenas

  • Puerto Cafe:  This cafe was one of the few places in town that was open on a weekday afternoon.  We stopped in for a quick sandwich and a coffee, and they won an everlasting place in Shanna’s heart when they gave her some free cookies.
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  • Sole Mio: We came here for dinner at 9:30 on a Friday night (usually prime dinner time in Chile) and it was completely empty.   We have no idea why–the pasta we had was great and pretty cheap, too!
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Cape Horn/Magellan Strait

  • Dining room of Mare Australis:  Having access to unlimited amounts of food and wine can be dangerous sometimes, but when the food is this good, it’s worth the fact that our clothes may not have fit as well on our last day on the Mare Australis as they did on our first.
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Puerto Natales

  • Mesita Grande:  This was one of the few places in Puerto Natales that was open during our stay there, most likely because we were there in the off season.  Its pizzas and its atmosphere were so good that Derek went there twice, both times with our new South African friends – Dave and Hayley!
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  • Cafe Cielo de Palo: This place was expensive, and its mediocre kale soup and disappointing falafel were not worth the investment!
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Torres del Paine National Park

  • explora Restaurant: Another all-you-can-eat-and-drink extravaganza, the food here was pretty good (and a couple of the meals were very good), although perhaps not as amazing as it should have been given the price of a stay at explora.  The desserts were always fantastic, but the meals themselves often lacked inspiration.   The dirty martinis produced by bartender Juan Carlos, however, were a work of genius.
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  • explora’s Quincho:  Quinchos are Chilean barbeque stands that are kind of like parillas, only private, much smaller and even more casual.  At explora’s version of this traditional Chilean establishment, gauchos carved huge chunks of meat off of pieces of lamb roasting next to the fire, and waiters passed around smoked salmon, blue cheese, empanadas and wine.  Our lunch there may have been too luxurious to actually be authentic, but it was fantastic, all the same.
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Things We Did

Santiago

  • Rented a car and took a day trip to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar
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  • Watched an amazing sunset from the shores of Vina del Mar
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  • Toured the Concha Y Toro vineyards
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  • Took a walking tour of Santiago
  • Rode the San Cristobal funicular (i.e., trolley-like elevator) to the Terraza Bellavista
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San Pedro de Atacama

  • Visited astronomer Alain Maury’s house for his fantastic astronomy tour
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  • Visited the Valley of Death and ran down its sand dunes
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  • Watched the sun set over the Valley of the Moon
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  • Walked around the salt flats of the altiplano, trying to catch a glimpse of its resident flamingos (and succeeding)
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  • Hiked around Lake Miscanti and Lake Miniques, where we met vicunas and a desert fox
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  • Took an early-morning walk around the the Geisers del Tatio (i.e., the Tatio Geyser Field)
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  • Braved the cold to soak in the geyser-created hot springs
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  • Hiked through the Quebrada del Jeria, a well-watered canyon that is flanked by a cactus forest
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Pucon

  • Climbed Volcan Villarica with the help of crampons and ice axes
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  • Rafted down the Class IV rapids of the Rio Trancura
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  • Rode horses through the Cani Sanctuary with expert guide Rodolfo
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  • Walked around the city and its nearby lake
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  • Took language classes at Language Pucon with instructors Gloria and Carolina
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Puerto Montt

  • Walked around the downtown area (which, surely, is nicer by daylight…)

Punta Arenas

  • Took a walking tour of the city, including its main plaza
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Cape Horn/Magellan Strait

  • Took an early morning hike on Hornos Island, Cape Horn, the southernmost land mass before Antarctica
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  • Hiked up a hill in Wulaia Bay
Hike on Wulaia IslandHike on Wulaia Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Road zodiacs through the Chico fiord to see the Gunther Pluschow Glacier
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  • Saw the penguins of Magdalena Island
Magdelana Island - home of many penguinsMagdelana Island - home of many penguins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puerto Natales

  • Walked around the small town
  • Went jogging in the middle of a storm (Shanna)

Torres del Paine National Park

  • Hiked to the Grey Glacier and the French Valley
Cuernos (Horns) of Paine - as seen from our hotel roomHike to the Grey Glacier

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Took a boat cruise alongside the Grey Glacier
Hike to the Grey GlacierHike to the Grey Glacier

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Hiked though the pampas, where we saw guanacos, foxes and condors
Wildlife of Torres del PaineWildlife of Torres del Paine

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Rode horses through the beautiful countryside
Horseback riding in Torres del Paine National ParkHorseback riding in Torres del Paine National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Country Facts

  • Capital City – Santiago
  • Currency – Peso
  • Exchange Rate – 445 to $1

Special Thanks

  • We would like to thank the following individuals who gave us a wedding gift that we used in this country: Michael Collier & Kelly Cunningham, Courtney Kezlarian & Mike Abela, Mandy & Ric Schneider, Marisa Gerrity & Steve Huber, Angie & Chase Winsman and Kristen & Jason Pursley.  We really appreciate it!