THINGS TO DO IN CHILE IN TWO WEEKS
Santiago, Valparaiso and Vina del Mar
How do you decide what to do or where to begin when you only have two weeks in Chile? Long and thin, Chile has a lot to offer all types of traveller. From the baron deserts in the north to the spectacular glacier laced south, there is so much to see and do. Limited on time and coming straight from our adventures in Argentina, we decided to see what central Chile had to offer.
Having just concluded our epic Patagonia road trip in Argentina we found ourselves back in Mendoza. Usually the most cost-effective way of crossing borders is to take a bus to the border, cross and then take another bus on the other side. However, due to it's remote location, this is not an option when crossing from Mendoza into Santiago meaning you need to take a direct bus between the two. For this pleasure we paid 700 CLP (£30) each with O'Higgins Intl.
Chile's capital, Santiago, was to be our starting point. Our thoughts before arriving - "just another big city, we'll be out in two days max." Our thoughts after leaving 7 days later - "this is probably the best city we've ever been to." In summary, Santiago is amazing! Reminiscent of London in many ways, it's nightlife, cuisine, shopping and attractions will always leave you with something new to experience.
Our base for our stay in Santiago was the amazing Hostel Providencia just outside the nightclub district, Bellavista. Stretching two city blocks the streets of Bellavista are lined with lively bars and clubs pumping music and trying to out do one another with their promotions and offers. Hundreds of tables and thousands of chairs cover the footpaths with revellers enjoying a much more relaxed environment than you might be accustomed to in Europe. Although these venues are open until daylight breaks, the drinking culture here is very calm and sociable and there is no better spot in Santiago for night on the tiles.
After a night on the sauce, what better way to clear your head than a gentle hike? Cerro San Cristobal, the base of which is found just beyond the bars of Bellavista, is a 40 min hike up a gentle hill. At the top you'll be met with wonderful views of the city. Grab a coffee from one of the cafes there and just take in the sights. There is also a religious monument which is worth climbing a few extra steps for.
Santiago is famous for it's mercados (markets). From Cerro San Cristobal head back down to the Rio Mapocho, turn right and follow the avenue down for about 20-25 mins. Just across from the bridge you'll see the massive Vega Central. Thousands of stalls selling everything you need and a bunch of stuff you don't fill the market. This is one of the busiest, most fast-paced and craziest markets we've been to and one not to be missed.
If you make it out in one piece cross over the bridge to the Mercado Central. Here you'll find dozens upon dozens of restaurants serving up their famous seafood dishes and a wide range of other dishes. If you fancy something a little more greasy then the bridge between the two markets is covered with fast food vendors serving up papi pollo (chicken and chips), completos (hot dogs) and chow mien out of converted supermarket trolleys. If you fancy trying something super local, grab yourself a cup of Mote con huesillo. You'll see all the locals drinking this. It's made up of stewed corn and wheat topped with peach syrup and half a peach. Definitely an acquired taste but, you know, when in Rome...
No doubt after the hike and all the hustle and bustle of the markets, a slightly more relaxing day is on the cards. In that case Parque Forestal is the place for you. Green, scenic and peaceful, it's the perfect place to pack a picnic and chill out for the day.
Barrio Lastarria is the scene for the perfect end to your stay in Santiago. European style restaurants and bars fill the neighbourhood and the atmosphere and good vibes will have you reluctant to leave.
With one of our two weeks in Chile remaining, it was time to move on. Located only an hour and a half away by bus from Pajaritos (last stop on Santiago's metro) is the port city of Valparaiso. Well-known for it's colourful houses, endless stairways and some of the best street art Latin America has to offer, this free-spirited bohemian is a mixing pot of artists, street performers and creatives.
One of the first things you'll notice in Valparaiso is the street art. It's everywhere. Forget the tacky, tasteless tagging associated with graffiti. This is actual ART. So amazing is it that certain areas have been awarded UNESCO world heritage site status. One such area is Cerro Bellavista which is where you'll also find the house of Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet who won the Nobel prize for literature. For 5,000 CLP (£6) you can enter the actual home and, from it's position atop of La Sebastiana, it has truly inspirational views of Valparaiso and the port below.
We spent countless hours getting lost in the mazes of stairways and alleys that run like veins through cerros which tower the lower parts of the city. Cerros Florida, Concepcion, Alegre and Artilleria are amongst the most entertaining. There are hidden gems around every corner - artisanal shops and bars, cafes and viewing points. Exploring these street art laden hills was probably our highlight of Valparaiso. Here are some of our favourite pieces.
Back on flat ground in the city centre you can take a 30 min boat tour from the bustling harbour for around 3,500 CLP (£4) and as with most cities in Latin America there are free walking tours available a few times a day. For the museum fans amongst you, Valparaiso does not disappoint. There are a number of museums throughout the city and the outskirts including the massive Museo Naval y Maritimo (Naval & Maritime museum).
I don't know about you but after all that urban adventuring, we like to unwind with a little beach time. Within an hour of Valparaiso there are 5 really good beaches, each accompanied by their own quirky and interesting little town/strip. Vina Del Mar and Renaca are the closest and, in our opinion, the best. But just beyond those you have Playas Canelo, Las Docas and Las Torpederas. Whilst there are accommodation options there, they are not particularly pleasant (as we found out first hand). The number 601 bus, amongst others, runs from Valparaiso through all these destinations frequently throughout the day and cost no more than 8-900 CLP (£1) for a return ticket.
So there you have it, two weeks in Chile over in the blink of an eye. As much as we wish we'd of had more time, we're thankful we were able to have such incredible experiences in such a short time period.
Chile, you've been awesome. Next stop - Machu Picchu, Peru.