Wandering Chile (Part Two)

Punta Arenas (2 nights) >> Puerto Natales (2 nights) >> Torres del Paine (2 nights) >> Puerto Natales (1 night)

After a quick trip to Mendoza over the border in Argentina, we returned to Santiago for our flight on 1st December 2018 down to Patagonia.

As you can see, it’s pretty far south.

We were really excited to see snow-topped mountains, glaciers and penguins. Particularly Jonny, who was starting to melt in the Santiago sun.

Punta Arenas

Our first stop was Punta Arenas, a sleepy town with colourful houses. It took us a moment to adjust to the cold by putting all the clothes we had on, especially in the evenings.

An artsy shot, perfect for a canvas, of the pier in Punta Arenas.

Punta Arenas seemed most famous for King Crab. We tried this in the seafood empanadas in the local market and my absolute favourite was the King Crab lasagne.

Said seafood empanadas.

Sounds a bit weird but King Crab lasagne was one of the best things I’ve tasted! Try it at the restaurant La Cuisine.

Our main reason for staying in Punta Arenas was to visit Magdalena Island, home to a huge population of Magellanic penguins. It was a long 2 hour boat ride to get to the island and the weather was awful. When we arrived we had about an hour to roam the island with the penguins which was really fun, despite the wind and rain.

Queue the pingu theme tune. Just look at them!! 😍

The trip in total was quite pricey and had we realised we were going to get to see penguins two more times during our trip (in much better weather) we may not have splurged. However, they were amazing to see! Even the penguin who backed up to me to have a poo, the cheeky critter.

A penguin backing up to you to defecate is good luck right? The little shitter.

In Punta Arenas, there was a great chocolate shop decked out in Christmas decorations to help us begin feeling festive being away from home.

Sara’s Mecca.

Puerto Natales

Next we took a bus to Puerto Natales, the nearest town to Torres del Paine national park. This town felt much bigger and busier. It was a useful base to prepare for our multi-day hike through the national park.

We went to a talk provided by Erratic Rock which gave lots of tips for hiking in Torres del Paine. One tip was to put all your stuff into plastic bags because the weather changes so frequently you won’t have time to keep putting on a rucksack waterproof cover. They also strongly advised bringing walking poles to help in the wind, mud and for steep climbs. Plus to save your knees. We dutifully went and bought some after.

…and then celebrated our purchase with a pre-hike treat 😋

Using the excuse of a 3 day hike to treat ourselves to a crepe at Creperia Cafe & Te

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine is a national park in Chile and most commonly people opt to take a day-trip, or hike the w-trek or the full o-circuit.

The W and O circuit marked out thanks to Goats on the Road travel blog.

You need about 4-5 days to complete the w-trek and all accomodation needs to be booked in advance. We only realised quite late into our trip just how popular this hike is and how fast the limited options for accommodation get booked up. Even if you bring your own tent, you have to pre-book a pitch.

We managed to book two nights, the first night in a dome and the second in a tent that was provided. Even for this, it was very very expensive!

The most expensive accommodation of our entire trip. To avoid this, book early peeps!

This is what a tent on a ‘platform’ looks like.

We just carried our day packs for the 3 days and managed to complete more of a u-circuit in the time we had. It was completely worth it as the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. In total, we walked 60km, 6-8 hours per day.

Day One – we walked from the boat drop off at Camp Paine Grande up to the first mirador (view point) of Glacier Grey, then back down and around to Camp Frances.

I vividly remember on day one, getting to the view point and seeing Glacier Grey for the first time, the first proper glacier I had ever seen.

In the background you can just about see the huge glacier.

There was only one issue I encountered which was on day one of the hike, the sole of my trekking boots decided to collapse. By the evening, even with blister plasters, I had 8 swollen blisters and my feet were in agony! Thinking off my feet (lying down to be precise), I considered how I was going to walk the next 2 days. We went to the small camping shop to see if they had insoles so I could line my boots for at least some cushioning. No surprises when they did not. Though, a little gem came to me when I saw a pack of sanitary pads on the shelf. The shop keeper realised what I was thinking and burst out laughing, “you’re the first person to suggest lining your boots with sanitary pads”. I swear, it was like memory foam! And that’s how I got my feet through the next 2 days!

These literally saved my feet. Best insoles ever.

Day Two – Camp Frances to Refugio Las Torres Norte (missing the middle of the w-trek to Camp Britanico which everyone said was amazing).

The trail was absolutely stunning, being so varied in landscape. In fact, we would proudly argue it was the nicest hike we’ve ever done! And that’s with multiple blisters on my feet.

Day Three – Refugio Torres del Norte up to the 3 towers and back, which is where the park gets its name ‘Torres del Paine’. This was the longest hike of the 3 days. One part was through windy pass – we were so glad we brought our poles to avoid us being blown off the mountain.

Crossing windy pass!

The view at the three towers. 9.5km uphill to get there and then all the way back. It was totally worth it

The celebratory beer at the end was truly magical.

Aaaa the sigh of relief that my memory foam trainers were only a bus ride away.

We returned to Puerto Natales with a day to recover before crossing the border into Argentina to go to El Calafate.

Up next, wandering Argentina!

Wandering Chile (Part One)

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.

The exceptionally long and thin chilli shape of Chile!

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.

Our top 9 experiences in Chile.

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.

Atacama Desert

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.

Indiana Jones.

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.

Cycling through the ‘Devil’s throat’.

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.

Exploring the Moon or possibly Mars.

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.

Observing the moon.

On our last day, we splurged on a day at the pool and spa at Hotel Cumbres to relax.

Pretty nice, eh?

Pucon

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.

Wandering Pucon.

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.

Hobbit life.

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.

Exhilarating, exhausting and epic. Climbing Volcano Villarrica.

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!

At the summit and on the edge of the crater!

Hike up. Slide down ….weeeeeee

The next day we had an even harder day, deciding which of 16 steaming hot springs to relax in.

Aaaaaa …and relax.

Valparaiso

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).

Colours, creativity, craft beer and good company in Valparaiso.

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!

This was intended for one person! Remind me when I get home to diet and exercise for the rest of my life!

Santiago

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.

Visiting our first vineyard, the home of Casillero del Diablo!

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.

Salud!

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.

A few signs from our walking tour.

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).

Chileans know how to make a sandwich!

View ❤️

On our last day we spent relaxing at the public open-air swimming pool Piscina Antilén which has panormanic views of the city.

Open-air swimming pool with a view in Santiago.

Next stop, a quick few days in Mendoza (famous for Malbec) and then onto Patagonia for part two of Chile.