San Pedro De Atacama (5 nights) >> Santiago (1 night) >> Pucon (3 nights) >> Valparaiso (2 nights) >> Santiago (5 nights)
Apologies for the long delay in blog posts, we’ve been determined to continue writing after non-stop travelling, exploring, eating, drinking and being merry. It was Christmas and New Year after all.
After our salt flat tour back in November, we were kindly dropped off in San Pedro de Atacama in the very north of Chile. It is also one of the driest deserts in the world. Before heading to Patagonia, we decided to spend a bit of time exploring more of Chile. It’s funny as besides Patagonia, the rest of Chile was never on our bucket list of places to visit but we are so so glad we took more time to take in more of what Chile has to offer.
Home to one of the world’s driest deserts, more volcanoes than you can name, geysers, glaciers, hot springs, snow-topped mountain ranges, colourful seaside towns and stunning national parks, Chile packs a lot.
One thing we had couldn’t get used to, was seeing evacuation signs for volcano eruptions, earthquakes and/or tsunamis everywhere we went!
We spent a month travelling through the country from the Atacama desert in the North to Torres del Paine national park in the South.
We arrived in San Pedro in the Atacama desert in mid-November. The heat of the midday sun was a welcome relief from our chilly last night in the salt flat tour. We quickly shredded our warmer clothes and embraced the sunshine.
We had 5 nights in San Pedro and took it leisurely, exploring the nearby parts of the desert by bike. First, we explored the Pukará de Quitor ruins. They aren’t quite as impressive as the Sacred Valley in Peru but to be fair these ruins are much older, pre-dating the Inca’s.
The best part was the gate to a small cave, thankfully Jonny brought a head torch as it got narrower and darker the further we ventured in. Finally, we exited the cave only to find it was a dead-end opening and had to clamber back through. It was still cool to explore, especially without a tour group or guide.
We also cycled through a nearby canyon called Devil’s throat which seems to be a popular name in South America as it is also the name of a view point at Iguazu Falls. You can only go into the canyon by bike or on foot which made it pretty epic.
Valle de Luna is part of the national reserve in the Atacama desert. We took an afternoon trip to see this moon-like landscape. It was about $20 each for the tour which was maybe a little on the pricey side but we appreciated the transport as the reserve is big and we went to lots of view points.
A few eating places we liked in San Pedro included El Huerto which served homemade Chilean food in a lovely garden setting. The burgers at Burger Garden were exceptionally good, served up from a food truck. For lunch, the small cafe on the intersection of Carcoles and Domingo Atienza served the best Empanadas, honesty they were the size of calzones! The Rustica one had goats cheese, tomato and fresh basil in 😋
We’d both highly recommend doing star gazing. The Atacama desert is both one of the driest and highest (in terms of altitude) deserts, making it one of the best places in the world to observe the stars. In San Pedro there are lots of tour companies selling star gazing tours but we opted to go with Space for their excellent reviews.
The observatory we went to had 9 telescopes and an expert who talked us through the star constellations, the life of star, navigating using the stars and the differences in the northern and southern hemispheres. Through the telescopes we saw nebulas, the rings of Saturn and the moon up close. The observatory also had pods for giant telescopes to be installed which could be controlled remotely.
On our last day, we splurged on a day at the pool and spa at Hotel Cumbres to relax.
To get from the Atacama desert to Pucon we had to first fly to Santiago from Calama airport, and then take a 12-hour bus. Pucon is in the heart of the Lake District and the town itself has a village or ski resort feel.
We stayed in Chili Kiwi hostel which is one of the best hostels we have stayed in. They have a tree house, camper vans or hobbit rooms you can sleep in. We couldn’t recommend this hostel enough and we met some great people there too.
The highlight of our trip to Pucon, and one of the main reasons we came, was to summit Vulcan Villarrica. This is one of Chile’s most active volcanoes. It took about 4-5 hours to reach the top and it wasn’t easy walking in thick snow and battling strong winds.
At the summit, we had to wear gas masks from all the sulphurous smoke pouring out from the crater. You’re only granted a few minutes to let your achievement soak in, before the best part – sledging down!
The next day we had an even harder day, deciding which of 16 steaming hot springs to relax in.
We took the overnight bus from Pucon direct to Valparaiso. Valparaiso is a coastal town, famed for its street art and colourful buildings. We met with an old colleague and friend, Teo, and spent the next few days wandering the streets, admiring the street art, going in ascensors (funiculars) and drinking beer (and gin).
One of the funny moments of my trip was when I thought I ordered fondue and received a mountain of cheesy chips! Not what I was expected but they did taste good!
We actually went to Santiago three times going between Pucon, Valparaiso and Mendoza but it wasn’t until the third time we really got time to explore the city.
On our very first stop we only had an afternoon. We have this strange habit when arriving in a big city, to visit a big shopping centre. Possibly for some Western comfort or for the air-con, but we really enjoyed going to the Costanera Centre, a giant shopping centre. We devoured a meal at Hard Rock Cafe, watched a film at the cinema and bought a few new clothes.
On our second short stop we managed to squeeze in a visit to Concha y Torro, by just going to the end of the metro line. The wine brand famous for one wine in particular Casillero del Diablo. Although this vineyard was geared up for tourists we still found it interesting. Even the over hyped devil’s cellar experience (Casillero del Diablo means Cellar of the Devil) was fun.
In the evening we managed to meet up with two travellers, Sanne and Charlotte, from our Jungle Trek in Peru. We went to the Kross bar in Bella Vista where Jonny became quickly became acquainted with the endless craft beers on offer.
Finally, after we came back a third time to Santiago did we begin exploring the city. We strolled around the artsy shops of Italia and had a vegan meal (mainly for some veggie goodness).
The next morning, we took the free walking tour in the morning to get to know the city.
Meeting some other travellers on the tour, we had lunch and spent the afternoon with them going up the funicular to the view point and a mini version of Christ the Redeemer statue (Cerro San Cristobal).
On our last day we spent relaxing at the public open-air swimming pool Piscina Antilén which has panormanic views of the city.
Next stop and part 2 of our Chile blog – Patagonia…