Part 6. Santiago, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar and Chillan – Chile

BChile 58Chile

Capital: Santiago

Official Language: Spanish

CLP$ 680 = $1

In August I joined my friends on a trip to Chile. They were flying straight from Peru but I was travelling by bus from Paraguay. There is only one bus company that does this route which is Pullman del Sur. Its a very tiring almost 30 hours trip and specially during winter season you have the risk of not being able to cross the border in Medoza due to bad weather and will have to go back all the way to Paraguay. Luckily that didn’t happen to me. During low season the bus only goes once a week and during high season twice a week. I left for Chile on a Tuesday at 9 am. A couple of hours later we crossed the border at Clorinda and then continued through Argentina. When we arrived at the border in Mendoza we were told that it had been closed due to heavy snow for about a week. So there were many buses and trucks waiting in line. The ride had not been that bad, from Asuncion to Mendoza took around 27 hours. They offered drinks and snacks and also movies during the trip. The issue was the 6 hours we had to wait at customs because of the long lines. Chile has strict regulations regarding cow products and fruits due to their big wine industry. A couple of years ago someone brought an infected grapevine that destroyed an entire vineyard.

I think usually the bus doesn’t make any stops during the trip but this time the water boiler was not working so we made a short stop at a gas station and they had a machine that refills hot water for ARS$ 8 (for drinking mate). I found this really funny and the fact that Argentinian and Paraguayan people look like they are almost addicted to drinking mate and they can’t just spend a day without it.

I arrived at around 9pm to Santiago and took the metro towards Santa Lucia station and then a taxi towards my airbnb lodging. I arrived 4 days earlier than my friends so I stayed by myself for 4 nights and payed around $102. The BIP metro card costs CLP$1500. And it will charge you the trip according to what time you are taking the metro.

The following day I headed towards Cerro Santa Lucia. Its a little hike up but the stairs can be very steep and narrow. Nevertheless the view on top is very nice and if you go on a sunny clear day you can also see the Andes mountains. Afterwards I went to Museo Bellas Artes. Since it was a Sunday the entrance was free. In front of it you can find Parque Forestal where many Chileans take a stroll on weekends.

I then headed towards Plaza de Armas. There you can find a tourist information center where you can get a very nice map of the main touristic places. Right next to it is the Museo de Historia Nacional which is also free on Sundays. A tip for travelers who enjoy going to museums: On Sundays some museums are for free and on Mondays most of them are closed. In front of the plaza you can see the Cathedral and if you keep walking through Paseo Puente you can reach Mercado Central. This is mainly a fish market and there are also many seafood restaurants around. We went to El Galeon which was actually a little expensive and tip is always included on the bill. It said suggested tip (10%) but if you pay with big bills then they will charge you with the tip included.

 

The area between Paseo puente and Plaza de Armas is mainly a shopping area and you can find all kinds of stores around and it’s also very crowded. If you keep walking pass Mercado Central through Puente Cal y Canto then you will reach Mercado Vega. A huge market where you can find mostly fruits, vegetables and cheese.

Barrio Lastarria is a neighborhood with more of a bohemian feel and full of fancy restaurants. There I found Emporio la Rosa which is a famous handmade ice cream store. They had interesting flavors like lucuma, rose and lemon-mint-basil. It can be quite expensive compared to other stores but I like it for it’s exotic flavors. Around that area you can also find GAM cultural center and a little antique fair in front of it.

To go to Cerro San Cristobal, which is the second highest point in Santiago, you have to walk from Plaza Italia through Puente Pio Nono straight until you reach the entrance to Cerro San Cristobal. At that time the funicular was under maintenance so there was a bus instead offered for the same fee of CLP$2000. When you reach the top there is a little church area and the Virgen Mary on the top.

Outside of Cerro San Cristobal and on Constitucion street you can find La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda‘s house/ museum. The other ones are La Sebastiana in Valparaiso and in Isla Negra. He was a famous Chilean poet who received the Nobel prize for literature in 1971.

Bellavista neighborhood is known for its active night life and you can find many bars and restaurants around. You will see many young people in this area since there are a couple of Universities located in this area. This neighborhood is also famous for having many handcraft stores for lapislázuli which is a blue volcanic rock native from Chile. Moreover Patio Bellavista is another popular place where you can find handcraft stores, souvenirs and many nice restaurants. If you are looking for more affordable souvenirs there is an outdoor market in front of Puente Pia Nono as well.

There are many Peruvians living in Chile so you will find many Peruvian restaurants, some on the more affordable side, others in a more gourmet way and many being fusion with Japanese. Specially around Plaza de Armas and Lastarria neighborhood you will find many Peruvian and Japanese restaurants.

Palacio la moneda is the government palace and they offer some free guided tours. They also have the change of guards on certain days of the week and it happens usually between 11 and noon. It depends on the day of the week so if you want to see it then you have to look at their calendar on their website. Centro cultural la moneda is located at the back of Palacio la moneda and entrance is free before noon. Sometimes on weekends they have some expos or fairs.

At the end of the metro line 1 you will find Pueblito los Dominicos which is a village full of handcrafted goods. There you will find many wonderful handmade souvenirs. Of course is a little more pricey but definitively worth it. They have a great variety of products and they are all very nice. Centro Artesanal Santa Lucia is also another gallery where you can find many souvenirs for a more affordable price.

 

Mall Parque Arauco was one of the first malls and is full of brand shops. Also you can find a nice open door food court. We ate at La perla del pacifico which had a nice marine environment and many artsy decorations. We had Chupe de Centolla y camarones which felt like a seafood lasagna. It had big pieces of centolla (looks like a half-lobster half-crab) and shrimps and there was a strong flavor of oven cheese on top for CLP$8900. Then we had a dessert platter for CLP$4500 which was actually not that good and too sweet for our taste.

Costanera Center is one of the newest malls in Santiago. Also next to it is Gran Torre Santiago with 300 meters high and now considered the tallest building in Latin America. They recently opened the observation deck and they are charging from Monday to Thursday CLP$5000 and from Friday to Sunday CLP$8000. I also heard that if you are looking for another 360 degree view of Santiago you can have a meal at El giratorio (a revolving restaurant) but don’t forget to make a reservation first.

 

When my friends arrived we stayed at another airbnb for 3 nights for $108. We went to Viña Concha y Toro which is one of the most recognized wine brands from Chile mostly known as Casillero del Diablo. There are some tours like Turistik that offer trips for CLP$29000 pesos. But we went by ourselves and turned out wayyy cheaper. We took the metro until the last stop of the line which is Plaza de Puente Alto and then took a bus at Avenida Concha y Toro for CLP$500 or if you want you can take a taxi for CLP$3000 pesos. Entrance is CLP$10000 for the traditional tour (tour of the vineyard with wine tasting) and CLP$20000 for a special one (more wine tasting and cheese). Its better to reserve beforehand on the website to see availability for languages. They are offered in English, Spanish and Portuguese. On the traditional tour we tasted 3 kinds of wines (1 white and 2 red) and got the glass as a gift. They said the best time to go is during the last week of march so you can taste their 26 types of grapes as well.

The next day we went to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. Turistik also offers this Valparaiso-Viña tour for CLP$34000 pesos. Before taking the bus in Santiago and when we go off the bus at Valparaiso there were also other tours being offered for CLP$10000 pesos. The only good thing about these tours is the transportation because they take you everywhere by bus. But if you can walk and go by yourself then you can save so much money. To go to Valparaiso we took turbus for CLP$2500 at 9:25am for 2 hours. That day it was cold and a little rainy during the morning. Valparaiso is a port city and I found it rather dirty, similar to Porto Alegre in Brazil. What’s famous there is the overviews from the different cerros (hills). We went to Cerro Artilleria and it cost CLP$300 and then walked down around the graffiti area. The view is nice because of all the little painted houses on the hills. Then we took a local bus towards Viña del Mar for CLP$470 pesos. There is usually a train but the heavy rain from the week before got it flooded. It took around 20 minutes to get to Viña and we got off at the first stop in front of Reloj de Flores and from there we walked along the coast line. The view was very different from Valparaiso. It was a more touristic view with nice tall buildings and restaurants. And of course this place is famous for its beaches. We found a Mexican restaurant called Hot Chili Peppers that offered a menu for CLP$6800 pesos. Which included aperitif, appetizer, main dish, beverage and dessert. The food had nothing Mexican on it but it was one of the most affordable sets we found there. Then we went to the Easter Island Museum for CLP$2500 pesos and learned about the history of the Moai. Then we took the bus back to Santiago at 4:36 for 2 hours and it cost CLP$3900 pesos. But due to rush hour in Santiago we were stuck in traffic for like an hour. Also these buses tend to make several stops along the way to pick up and drop off people which makes the ride longer.

If you are travelling on a schedule then you have to be very aware of the time if you want to take the metro. Most of our buses left early morning and we took the metro to reach the bus and train terminal. But we found that from 8am to around 10am its pretty crowded.The metro arrives completely full and no one gets out so no one can get in and there is people already waiting in line. So specially if you are travelling with luggages then its better to either take a taxi or take the metro from 7am.

The next day we went to Chillan, a city located around 6 hours south of Santiago and famous for it’s hot springs and ski resorts. We took the train at 8:40am and cost CLP$8000. Then from the train terminal to the hotel was a CLP$2000 taxi ride. Our hotel was located in the center of the city called Quinchamali which was rather expensive but the only one we found to book online. It cost CLP$103300 pesos for a triple room for 2 nights. It also offered breakfast buffet included. The city is pretty much like a normal city with a lot of stores around. And the central market and a handcraft market. I had expected it to look something like Bariloche in Argentina. (Full of snow and stores related to ski and snowboarding and tours) But we didn’t find any of it. The only thing we found was that one bus that went to the hot springs/ski resort area for CLP$3000 pesos and it took 2 hours. Its better to buy the tickets beforehand and reserve the seats. The ticket boot won’t be open early morning when the bus leaves so won’t be able to get seats if it’s already full. The bus goes only 2 times in the morning and 2 times in the afternoon. To go at 7:50am and 1:20pm and to come back at 9:30am and 4:30pm. I recommend to buy beforehand and get seats because the bus will be picking up people along the way until it gets completely packed. Once we got there, there were some options like ski, moto-ski, snowboard, caniles (pulled by dogs which was closed at that time), the hot spring/spa and slides. Since we didn’t find any stores to rent cloths at the city we though we could find them at the resort but they only rented the equipment there. We heard that it would have been more probable to find rental places at trancas city located at 8km from there. So instead of ski, we went on the motor ski tour for 1 hour and it cost CLP$ 40000 pesos per person.

I felt that this place was more for locals. There was not much information about the facilities nor maps around. Everyone came by car and brought their own food. There was a little cafeteria there but they didn’t even had many options for hot beverages. Only tea and coffee without milk. Also for food there were only a few options mostly fast food. We had the burger with cheese, tomato and avocado for CLP$4500.

The next day we took the turbus back to Santiago at 10:15am and cost CLP$5400 pesos. We wanted to take the train which is faster but they didn’t have one that left early morning.

We stayed at another airbnb house for around $80 for 2 nights. I was supposed to leave on Tusday at 11am but on our way to the border in Mendoza it got closed due to bad weather so the bus had to turn around and go back so I stayed for an extra night. Luckly for me since my friends had a late check out the apartment was already payed until the next day. The next day the bus left at 8:45am to have better chances to cross the border and we made it. The trip from Santiago to the bottom of the mountains takes like 2 hours but once we start going up the curves traffic gets very slow. There are never ending lines of trucks that barely move and other buses and cars try to go around them to go faster which is also how many accidents happen. So to just get to the top since it moves very slow it can take another 2 hours and also at customs another 2 hours waiting. If you survive all that, the actual trip from Mendoza to Asuncion goes pretty fast and smooth. The scenery of the mountains when you cross the border is pretty awesome and majestic. There are 2 ski resorts that are located right next to customs because like I mentioned before customs is right in the middle of the Andes mountain. One famous mountain trek right there is Aconcagua. I feel that they should have a better system to avoid buses and trucks having to go back and forward when the border closes. Not knowing if you will be able to pass or have to go all the way back can be very stressful for travelers. Specially if you have to carry all the luggage back and forward and having to find a place to sleep for the night.

What’s traditional of Chile are the completos which are burgers or hotdogs with a lot of sauce. They really like their sauces. A lot of mayonnaise and garlic mayonnaise, tartar mayonnaise, etc. Also they use a lot of avocado. I have never had a burger with avocado before. Another thing is huesitos con mote (soaked peach with a kind of corn) really popular specially during hot days. And a lot of hand made ice cream. I recommend lucuma, chirimoya, maracuya and pistachio for more traditional flavors. Empanadas here are bigger than usual. Also I never saw other countries put sea food in their empanadas. Pastel de choclo and humitas are also a must to try here. I found a really nice sushi place for takeout called Mikan. They had many different options for sushi at very affordable prices compared to other places. Bilzpap is a popular soda that comes in 2 colors-flavors? I actually couldn’t figure out what the flavor was. At McDonalds you can find burgers with avocado like McPalta, Cuarto Palta and McWrap Palta. Chilean really love their palta (avocado)! Also sauces, so many of them. Some popular ones like pebre and merkén.

In a way Santiago reminded me a little of the streets of Argentina. But the view of the Andes Mountains behind the city was definitively a plus. As a Peruvian I found that regarding food and culture Chile can be pretty similar. Also the fact that they have so many Peruvian restaurants and seafood and they serve ceviche and pisco everywhere. I felt pretty safe going around Santiago and places were not as crowded as they are in Lima. Other destinations that are popular are: in the north Atacama desert (the driest non-polar desert in the world) with the famous hands and also a perfect destination for those who love astronomy. In the south, apart from Chillan, Portillo and Valle Nevado are also popular places for skiing. In Patagonia you can explore nature in the different National Parks like Torres del Paine National Park. And can’t forget to mention of course the enigmatic Easter Islands. Safe Travels! 

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