When you’re traveling, especially outdoor and adventure vacations, It can be hard to know what to expect from your activities. What does ‘difficult’ mean when you’re hiking? How experienced or in shape do you need to be? Don’t worry! Here are the answers to your doubts!
There are plenty of activities to choose from in Chile if you’re not the adventurous type or you want to take it easy for a few days. An ‘easy’ activity generally means 1-2 hours of walking with gentle or short inclines, or a similar level of intensity. If you can couple of miles and climb 3-4 flights of stairs, you should have no problem. There are normally stops on the way, such as to look at points of interests or sample food. Uncover the local gems of Santiago and Valparaíso on a walking city tour with a local guide as you discover the local culture, art, and foods, or spend time with an Easter Island local learning about their traditions and cultures.
Taking the easy alternative doesn’t mean that you will miss out on the sights. Many of the locations are accessible by transport, offering a great alternative for travelers with injuries or disabilities. Ask your sales representative if you can swap a kayaking around the Marble Cathedral or at the Perito Moreno glacier for a boat trip, or a change a hike in the Torres del Paine park for road trip.
On moderate activities, you’ll feel your heart rate increase a little and be much more immersed in nature. These activities often last around 3-4 hours and demand a certain level of fitness. For a moderate level hike, you should be able to walk at least 3 miles and climb 5-6 flights of stairs to make sure you can enjoy the activity safely. You can expect some incline on these treks.
Besides its famous Moai statues and the fascinating cultural activities on Easter Island, you can enjoy some spectacular hikes. Climb to the highest point on Easter Island, the Terevaka volcano, to take in a 360° view of the island that few get to experience or explore the south side of the Rano Kau volcano.
You may find short or flat hikes in the Atacama being labelled as moderate – no, it’s not a mistake! While outings to the Tatio Geysers or the lagoons may have more stops or seem gentler, remember that you are a few kilometres above sea level! Any physical activity at this height may tire you out more than normal here. If you want to do anything strenuous, ensure you are well acclimatized to the altitude.
Other moderate activities include city bike tours, for which you need a similar level of fitness and be reasonably confident on a bicycle. Alternatively, give your legs a break on a moderate kayaking experience to the Marble Cathedral or along the Grey glacier, or enjoy the crystal clear waters around Easter Island as you try scuba diving amongst the corals and turtles.
For the adventurous and more experienced, feel the adrenaline rush of some of the most sought-after hikes and routes in the world. These are full-day activities that require considerable fitness – you should be able to walk 8 miles and climb upto 10 flights of stairs without serious problems. If you’re up for the challenge though, the rewards are certainly worth it!
One of the most iconic treks of Patagonia stands out in this category. The Base of the Torres del Paine trek is not for the faint-hearted. Besides the length of the route (22km/13.6mi) and the climb, hikers often face strong winds and unpredictable weather testing not only your physical capacity but also your mental stamina. However the sense of achievement and the astounding views at the top keep this as one of the most popular treks in Chile.
Although Easter Island is typically viewed as a subtropical paradise and a place to relax, you can enjoy a challenging hike here too. Trek a full day along the north coast of the island, starting at Roiho, passing by Hanga Oteo, before finishing at the idyllic Anakena beach. Along the way you can enjoy some incredible architecture and spectacular views.
If you have any questions about the difficulty level of any activity included in your itinerary, our sales team will be happy to help you! We try and test every activity we offer so we can give you first-hand guidance.
If you’re planning a romantic holiday with your significant other, consider Chile as your destination! From picture-perfect sunsets and glittering night skies to secluded beaches and luxury hotels, this really is the perfect place for couples to celebrate a honeymoon, an anniversary, or just being together. And it was voted South America’s most romantic destination in 2022 by the World Travel Awards! Whatever your idea of romance is, there is something in Chile for you and your half an orange, as Chileans say.
Sunrise on Easter Island
Easter Island has a certain magic about it that you have to experience to understand. With white beaches, crystal-blue sea and palm trees, it’s a Pacific island tropical paradise. But its history, culture, slow pace of life, and the romance that lingers in the fresh sea air make it a popular destination for couples. Besides delicious food and beautiful hotels, you can have a truly unforgettable trip here.
What do we recommend? Watching the magical sunrise over the 15 giant Moai statues in Tongariki is unmissable for any couple visiting the island. Don’t miss out on visiting the Ana Kakenga cave too. It’s rumoured to be the last hiding place of a young couple who fled punishment for their forbidden love.
Stargazing in Atacama
Experiencing the wonders of the Atacama desert is a favorite amongst our travelers and we think it’s a top destination for couples too. Here, you can watch the sunset over the breathtaking Moon Valley or have breakfast as the sunrises over the Tatio geysers. But our favourite activity for couples here is stargazing. Does it get more romantic than watching the glittering stars in one of the clearest skies in the world? Be sure to stay at one of the local boutique hotels to enjoy a more exclusive feel.
Boutique hotels and wines in Valparaíso
Wander through the charming city of Valparaíso and pass through its lively and famously colorful streets. You can dive into the culture as you sample its cafes and restaurants, take a walk through its galleries, or step into the past on a trolley bus to enjoy this UNESCO World Heritage site. Step up the romance by visiting the nearby vineyards to sample world-famous wines. Stay at one of the area’s luxury boutique hotels for intimate evenings overlooking the sea. Make sure to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city to enjoy the mix of enchanting beaches and intriguing pine forests too – the perfect getaway location!
Visiting a penguin colony may not be the obvious choice for a romantic getaway, but trust us on this one! Watching these penguins is sure to warm your heart. When you visit the colony, you can see the penguin couples work together as they bring food and care for their eggs and chicks. It’s even cuter when you know that penguin couples stay together for life?
For a luxurious romantic retreat, staying at Las Majadas hotel on the outskirts of Santiago is a must. Tucked away in the Andes and dating back to the sixteenth century, this is a real romantic treat. Here, you and your significant other can at relax the on-site spa. Alternatively, you could sample the produce of the surrounding vineyards, enjoy the best local food, or take a stroll through the gardens. Why not escape to the nearby mountains for a beautiful backdrop to your special vacation?
The Drake Passage at the southern tip of South America is one of the most tumultuous seas in the world. Between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands, it is the meeting point of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans. Here, waves are 2-3 meters high on a calm day and up to 13 meters on a not-unusual choppy day.
Some travelers choose to sail across the Drake by ship as a challenge or a rite of passage. For some itineraries, like those from Ushuaia or that include the South Georgia Islands, the Drake Passage is unavoidable. But for those with less sturdy sea legs (and stomachs!) heading directly to Antarctica, an air-cruise is definitely the better option!
Flying over the Drake Passage
Choosing an air-cruise means you will take a short and smooth 2-hour flight from Punta Arenas in southern Chile to and/or from King George Island in the South Shetland Islands, skipping the turbulent Drake Passage waters. You can view the beautiful Chilean archipelago from the sky and land in Antarctica in just two hours before taking a short walk to your expedition vessel in the much calmer Antarctic sea.
More time in Antarctica!
Not only is this a much more pleasant option, but it also means you can really maximize your time in Antarctica! Crossing the Drake Passage by ship takes at least two days and, besides the wonders of the open sea, there isn’t much to see during the journey. You may enjoy some great food, take the time to relax and join the optional lectures if you can. But wouldn’t you rather spend those two days kayaking alongside icebergs or whale spotting off the coast of Antarctica instead of gripping the ship’s railings?
Plus, taking off and landing in Punta Arenas means you’re already in Patagonia. Make the most of it and experience life on a Patagonian ranch. Or you can head to Puerto Natales to explore the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park.
Smaller is better
As well as saving your stomach and enjoying a calmer and quicker crossing, an air-cruise will allow you to sail around Antarctica on a smaller ship. This means that when the crew hear that there is a whale sighting nearby, all the passengers can hop on a Zodiac to see the whales for themselves.
International regulations limit the number of people allowed on shore at the same time to 100, meaning that passengers on larger ships built for the Drake Passage must wait their turn to disembark. But on an air-cruise, with a maximum of 71 guests, everyone can explore beautiful Antarctica!
Your trip is still carbon neutral
Unless crossing the Drake Passage is a non-negotiable for the tour you choose (or even for you!), air-cruises are a great option. And you don’t need to worry about the carbon emissions of flying as the provider is a certified CarbonNeutral® company that supports Antarctica-based science projects to protect the environment, including providing green hydrogen for the bases on the continent and collecting scientific data during the expeditions.
(Note that flights returning from Antarctica may be cancelled due to weather conditions. This is a rare occurrence and will only happen if there is no improvement in the weather within two days of the scheduled return date, in which case the ship will sail to your destination.)
Seeing a puma is a life-changing moment; it alters something inside of you. That’s what the puma-tracking guide, Victor, explained when Ecochile spoke to him about all things puma and what you can expect from a puma-tracking experience in Patagonia. With 18 years of experience as a mountain, ski and tour guide, and brimming with passion when he talks about seeing Patagonia’s wildlife, here are Victor’s top tips!
1. Go with a guide
Patagonia’s pumas are wild animals that roam free across their territories. Like any wildlife experience, you need a healthy dose of luck to spot a puma and it’s never guaranteed. However, if you go with a puma tracking guide, you’re going with a specialist who has spent years studying pumas and Patagonia’s other wild residents to understand their behaviours. A specialist guide knows where a puma may normally pass at a certain time of day, or anticipate where one could be based on the behaviour of other animals nearby. The guides are also focused on ensuring the sustainability and safety as much for the tourist as for the nature in the area.
2. You’ll see a lot more of Patagonian wildlife than just pumas
Even specialist guides are not magicians and they cannot guarantee that you will see a puma or, as Victor describes them, the king of Patagonia. But in this unusual case, the experience is more than worthwhile. You will gain a deep understanding of this incredible landscape thanks to your guide and you won’t be short of wildlife to see! On a puma tracking tour, you may also see owls, armadillos, guanacos, gray and red foxes, hares, condors, eagles, hawks, rheas, and even skunks! Keep your eyes peeled and your binoculars and cameras ready to take in this spectacular wildlife!
3. There is no typical tour
A puma tracking tour lasts a minimum of three days to maximise your chances of seeing one of these magical creatures and to let you gain a deep understanding of the environment that you will be immersed in. But no matter how long you stay, no day will be the same! Each tracking session starts from scratch – what you see in the morning could be totally different to your afternoon outing, or you may have seen a puma catch its prey one day and see a mother search for its cubs the next. But this is all part of the joy and the experience of witnessing nature at its very best.
4. Think like a puma
You can go puma tracking all year round but you’ll have better chances of seeing the Patagonian big cat in all its glory in the winter. If you’re set on seeing a puma, the best time to go is between May and October. In the summer, these cats sleep in the middle of the day to avoid the heat and wind so your tour will be split into two daily outings: one in the early morning and one in the evening. In the winter, with less light and lower temperatures, you can go out in one full-day session – just wrap up warm!
5. Anyone can go puma tracking!
Puma tracking isn’t limited to a certain kind of person. You don’t need to be particularly fit, or an experienced hiker, or have prior knowledge of pumas. The only requirements are to be over 18 and very patient! Each tour is adapted to the traveller’s needs. If you’re active and up for a hike, you’ll be able to see the wildlife from a closer distance or from better perspectives. But if that’s not possible for you, you can do the tour without leaving the vehicle!
6. Have realistic expectations
A successful puma tracking tour is not about taking that award-winning photo, and definitely not about being within metres of a puma, although both of these can happen. To make the most of this experience, the best advice is to take each day as it comes! Enjoy the adventure and let your senses take you through the very best of Patagonian wilderness. You’ll learn so much about this incredible corner of the world with a specialist guide.
7. Safety is a priority
Puma tracking is safe, provided you follow the safety protocols and listen to your guide – remember, they are the experts! You’ll be sent a safety guide after booking your trip so be sure to read it carefully to have the best experience.
If you’re interested in puma tracking, contact us today!
Valleys of Martian-red rock, snowless white ground, jewel-toned lakes: all over its more than 40,000 square miles, the Atacama is full of stunning landscapes and cultural sites that astound everyone who visits. But there are some that rise above the rest as being truly emblematic of this unique high desert, which has attracted humanity for thousands of years with its timeless beauty, and who then leave their mark on the land. Made by man or made by nature, these are the top must-visit places in the Atacama Desert.
Valle de la Luna – Barely ten minutes from San Pedro de Atacama you’ll find a wonderland of otherworldly rock formations, coated in what appears to be snow. But appearances can be deceiving: that white substance covering the ground and craggy walls is actually salt! The Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) is a truly lunar place, with sandy dunes and salt-covered ground hemmed in by rock walls of bright red. There are plenty of hiking paths that lead to amazing viewpoints, as well as driving roads. Best time to visit for views and to escape the heat is at sunset.
El Tatio Geysers – Roughly an hour and a half from San Pedro is one of the highest and biggest geyser fields in the entire world: the El Tatio Geysers. Meaning either “oven” or “grandfather” in the extinct Kunza language of the Atacameño people, the field is covered in eighty active geysers, as well as hot springs, fumaroles, and sinter deposits (a kind of chemical sediment that forms the strange rock formations found around geysers all over the world). Pathways cross the field allow you to walk past the different geysers and immerse yourself in their plumes of mist and steam at safe distances. It’s like something out of a sci-fi movie and, as it’s best to visit in the early morning, a great way to start the day.
The Hand of the Desert – To reach this giant sculpture of a hand rising out of the desert floor requires a more than four-hour drive from San Pedro, but if you’re planning on visiting the nearby port city of Antofagasta or want to go for a long drive, it’s worth the trip. Surrounded by stark white desert on all sides, the 11-meter tall hand is a striking contrast to the barren landscape and makes for a fantastic photo op.
Tara Salt Flats – The Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia are by far the most famous salt flats in South America, and while the Tara salt flats may not be as vast, they are equally beautiful. Located within the Los Flamencos National Reserve at more than 14,000 feet above sea level, the Tara salt flats are comprised of flat plains of crusty salt, as well as high desert lagoons frequented by local wildlife like flamingos and vicunas, grasslands, and bizarre rock formations like the Pacana Monks, which are vertical rock stands said to resemble the posture of monks.
Piedras Rojas – One of the most striking aspects of the Atacama desert is the richness and contrast of colors, from rocks to salt to water, and nowhere is this contrast more apparent and stunning than at the Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks). The expanse of bright-red rocks, which get their tint from iron oxidation, border on the soft turquoise blue of the Salar de Aguas Calientes lake with colored mountains bordering on the horizon. It’s a deeply beautiful landscape and is an ideal spot for nature and landscape photographers.
Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons – Sitting at over 13,000 feet high, nestled in the shadows of colorful hills and snowy mountains, these high-altitude lagoons are about as picturesque as it can get. The blue lakes, whose colors shift in the sunshine, are surrounded by shrubs and desert grass, and they’re great sites for bird and wildlife viewing. With no other human dwellings nearby except for the ranger station, here the peace and quiet is total and you can allow yourself to be immersed in this high desert beauty.
Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works – While many people come to the Atacama to experience its wealth of beautiful natural landscapes, it also has a vast, multicultural history, which started with indigenous tribes who either lived in the region or migrated through before the Spanish arrived and then colonists came for the saltpeter boom. Saltpeter, which is another term for sodium nitrate, was mined all over the Atacama throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, but when a synthetic version was created in Germany, the industry collapsed, leaving the region dotted with the abandoned factories and mining towns that sprung up for workers and their families to live in. One of the biggest and best preserved is Humberstone and the Santa Laura plant. Nearly a five-hour drive from San Pedro, it’s only forty-five minutes from the coastal resort town of Iquique, which is a great spot for swimming, surfing, and paragliding off the massive sanddunes behind the city.
ALMA Observatory – One of the most famous of the Atacama’s many scientific observatories, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array consists of 66 radio telescopes that use millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths to probe deep space for answers to the mysteries of the universe. The telescope field and Operations Support Facility are located a short drive from San Pedro on the Chajnantor plateau at over 16,000 feet high. Scientists come from all over the world and wait years for just a few nights at the helm of these telescopes. The facility is closed to the public for night tours but there are day tours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Yerbas Buenas Petroglyphs – Time and nature are ruthless in destroying what humanity builds, but at this pile of red rocks roughly 45 minutes from San Pedro, something of ancient mankind has managed to endure. The rocks are covered in an astonishing array of well-preserved petroglyphs and rock carvings. There are over a thousand in total, many of llamas and other creatures that were important in the lives of the Atacameno people. Dating back 10,000 years, it’s a truly awe-inspiring spot that offers a glimpse into the lives and beliefs of a tribe who called this desert home thousands of years ago.
Puritama Hot Springs – Need a day of rest and relaxation? Head out of San Pedro for a day at these secluded hot springs, shaded by desert grass along the bottom of a rocky canyon. A series of geothermically-heated pools are connected by a series of red walkways, and there are bathrooms and changing rooms onsite. Pretty and peaceful, it’s a lovely place to escape for a day and relax.
With the advent of the Internet and the popularity of travel guides and travel blogs, it’s easier than ever to find out information about places you want to visit. It can help you plan your trip better, make arrangements in advance, and decide on what you want to see and do. But even with all that info floating around, there are still things that can surprise you when you reach your destination (which can be an exciting or stressful part of traveling, depending on how you look at it).
Having done some research in advance is especially important if you’re traveling to an isolated place like Easter Island. Located 2,182 miles from the mainland, here you are literally in the middle of nowhere, so it helps to be prepared and know what to expect. What kind of money should you bring? Are there ATMs? How can you get around the island? Not to fear, we’ve got you covered! Here are 9 things I wish I knew before visiting Easter Island.
1. You won’t always have Internet
Easter Island is extremely isolated and, in many ways, cut off from the rest of the world. While it has modern infrastructure and amenities, the distance means that sometimes the Internet doesn’t want to cooperate. WiFi is only available in the main town of Hanga Roa at hotels and Internet cafes (most restaurants don’t offer WiFi) but even then, the connection can be patchy. In 2016, the Chilean government implemented its WiFi ChileGob program on the island, a public service project that provides free WiFi in public places. However, this too is only available in Hanga Roa and doesn’t always work. But being on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific seems like the perfect place for a digital detox, so feel free to ditch the devices and focus on enjoying your stay!
2. It’s not always sunny and tropical
Yes, Easter Island is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and part of Polynesia. But that doesn’t mean it’s always a South Pacific idyll. Technically, Easter Island falls under the category of having subtropical weather, meaning that, in general, the weather is warm and humid, but during winter temperatures can drop into the 50s. Easter Island also gets a lot of rain (which is spread out throughout the year but usually peaks during the winter months of June to August), which can make the island feel unseasonably chilly, so don’t forget to bring raingear as well!
3. Anakena Beach is cash-only
Anakena Beach, located on the opposite end of the island from Hanga Roa, is the only swimmable beach on the island and so is extremely popular among visitors and locals alike. With a large, half-moon beach of white coral sand, tranquil waters that are protected by the cove, and gently waving palm trees, it’s a slice of Polynesian paradise in the middle of nowhere. With no hotels or accommodations in the vicinity, most people travel to the beach for the day from Hanga Roa, and local vendors have set up food stalls and stores; picnic sites, bathroom facilities, and a parking lot are also available to cater to these day trippers. But the one thing you won’t find is a credit card machine: everything on Anakena Beach operates on a cash-only basis. ATM machines can be found in Hanga Roa, so be sure to withdraw enough for the whole day!
4.You’re not allowed to touch the Moai
I get it; the Moai are amazing examples of art, design, and engineering that boggle the mind. Who wouldn’t want to touch a piece of history like that, especially because many of them are located close by the trails and paths? But still: keep your hands off! The Moai are protected by local law and touching one even comes with a fine; one tourist was fined more than $17,000 USD! This is mainly because, due to time and exposure to the elements, the Moai are naturally deteriorating, but having tourists constantly touching them speeds up the process. So, remember to keep your hands to yourself and instead pick up a Moai figurine as a souvenir.
5. Getting here is expensive and requires some advance planning
To combat over-tourism and because the island is so small, flights to Easter Island are limited and pretty pricey: round-trip fare from Santiago in high season can be upwards of $500 per person or even get into the thousands of dollars. There are several ways to snag cheaper flights, though: visit during the low and shoulder season, book well in advance, or plan out a longer trip (flight fares go down if you’re staying on the island longer instead of just visiting for a few days).
6. There are no buses on the island
Easter Island is pretty small: only 63 square miles. With everything concentrated in Hanga Roa, that means that there are no local buses running routes around the island, except for tour buses. However, since the island is so small, that makes it easy to get around on your own. You can rent a car (there are several car-rental agencies), or go cycling (which is especially popular as the island is mainly flat and makes for easy riding). You can also hire a taxi to take you to certain sites (sorry, no Uber).
7. Everything is charged in Chilean Pesos
Since Easter Island is legally a part of Chile, the primary currency accepted on the island is the Chilean Peso. But since so many visitors come from the United States, US dollars are also widely accepted. There are several money exchange offices in Hanga Roa, or you can convert your dollars to pesos in the Santiago airport before leaving the mainland.
8. That Moai at the bottom of the ocean? Yep, it’s not real
You’ve likely seen pictures of a Moai resting on the bottom of the ocean near the island, with people scuba diving nearby. Sounds like an amazing experience, right? Well, yes, but you should know that the Moai is actually a fake. It’s a leftover prop from the 1994 movie Rapa Nui. But still, makes for a great scuba diving adventure!
9.It’s not just the flight that’s expensive
Any way you swing it, Easter Island is a pricey destination. In addition to the flights, food and lodging can also be costly, especially since lots of things on the island need to be flown there from the mainland. But there are ways to save money and stretch out your budget, like bringing customs-approved snacks and food from the mainland, making reservations well in advance, and visiting outside of peak tourist season. Plus, taking extra care to make sure you’ve packed everything you’ll need while on the mainland will help in avoiding any last-minute, “oh no, I forgot to bring…” purchases while on the island, where they’re guaranteed to be more expensive. But everything that Easter Island has to offer more than justifies the hefty price tag.
Once it’s safe to travel again, we know that you’ll want to get back out there traveling and exploring as soon as possible to make up for time lost; we want to do the same thing too! But the travel landscape is bound to be a bit different after the pandemic, making it more important than ever to plan ahead in order to protect your health, safety, and money.
Here’s how planning a trip a year or so in advance will benefit you:
Booking farther in advance will give you more options for activities and accommodations. Furthermore, many 2020 travel bookings that had to be canceled because of COVID-19 were pushed into 2021, meaning that there might not be as much availability as you’d expect during certain seasons and at popular destinations. Plan and book well in advance to guarantee finding the best hotels, excursions, and transport available.
In the wake of COVID-19, the travel industry has implemented extremely flexible booking, postponement, and cancellation policies to help protect clients and operators like tour companies, hotels, and airlines. We at EcoChile have also outfitted our tours with the most flexible, accommodating policies possible, working with leading travel insurance companies, so that if something comes up and you need to cancel or change anything, we’ve got your back.
Like many in the travel industry, we’ll be offering special promos and early-bird specials to entice future travelers. So take advantage of those deals while they’re available: you’ll be saving money yourself and helping support an industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic. And when you book late, there will likely not be special rates, so book well in advance!
Not only are all these logistic reasons important, but it can also be fun to have something to look forward to. Instead of rushing to plan and organize a trip a few months in advance, you’ll be able to relax and look forward to your perfectly organized trip!
Without a doubt, Easter Island is a bucket-list destination: seeing those giant Moai statues with your own eyes, hiking up volcanoes, learning traditional dances, dining on island cuisine, and lounging on coral sand beaches while listening to the waves. Even though Easter Island is only 63 square miles, there’s a ton of things to do packed into such a small space. Here are the Off the beaten track activities on Easter Island!
Hanga Roa – Before the Europeans came to Easter Island, the Rapa Nui islanders lived spread out all over the island. But now, everything is centralized in the main town of Hanga Roa. Located on the island’s western coast, here is where you’ll be based during your visit: the airport is just outside of town, all the hotels and accommodations are here, tours depart from here, and most of the best restaurants and stores are located here as well. Hanga Roa is also the only place on the island you can get WiFi.
Meaning “wide bay” in the native language, it’s a charming town of just over 3,000 that’s easy to navigate on your own and a great place to experience how historic and modern Rapa Nui have come together to coexist (check out the graveyard to see how Christian and Rapa Nui beliefs and iconography blended; looking out over the ocean, the graveyard is a fascinating blend of crosses and Moai).
In addition to exploring the rest of the island, it’s a good idea to set aside a day or two just to get to know Hanga Roa, as there’s plenty to do and see. By the oceanfront, you can walk along Pea Beach, a scenic strip of white beach where you can soak up the sunshine, look at native flora, and even catch a few waves in the sheltered harbor.
Further along the coast, you’ll also find the stately Ahu Tahai and Ahu Ko Te Riku, two beautifully preserved examples of classic ahus (a large stone platform with Moai arranged in a row along the top) and Moai (you’ve likely seen pictures of Ko Te Riku, with its singular Moai staring with its wide, white-painted eyes). You can also visit the fishing port, enjoy some of the island’s best food at spots like La Kaleta, Te Moai Sunset, and Haka Honu, and be wowed by traditional Rapa Nui dances and music at Kari Kari,
Sebastian Englert Museum – Even though you can see evidence of Easter Island’s ancient civilization all over the island, most of the remnants of the island’s past are now protected inside museums and archives, and one of the best collections of Easter Island artifacts in the world is housed right on the island at the Sebastian Englert Museum in Hanga Roa.
The only museum on the island, it’s named after Sebastian Englert, a German priest who came to Easter Island in 1935 and then dedicated the rest of his life to understanding, documenting and preserving Easter Island’s culture. The museum represents his life’s work: a collection of more than 15,000 artifacts including tablets of Rongo Rongo writing, a rare example of a female Moai, a reconstructed Moai eye, stone tools, and more. Information about the collection and overall Rapa Nui history and culture is available in English, French, German, and Japanese. For a more in-depth look into the island’s history and customs, this is a must-visit.
Ana Kakenga – Known as “the cave of two windows”, this ocean-front cave is famous for its rock-framed views of the Pacific Ocean, but the cave itself – a volcanic tube that was once used as a shelter by different Easter Island tribes – actually is rumored to have a tragic past. It’s said that the cave was the final refuge for a pair of young lovers who, fearing retribution for their forbidden love by their respective tribes, hid there as a last resort.
But it’s easy to see why they would choose this cave as their final place to be together: after climbing down through the opening in the ground that leads into the subterranean cave, you can see the ocean through two rock “windows”, each located down a different passage. With the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks and the picturesque ocean view, it’s quite romantic and makes for a great snapshot.
While open to the public, it’s recommended that you visit Ana Kakenga with a guide, because the entrance (a small hole in the ground) can be difficult to find on one’s own as there’s no signage. A narrow opening that requires a tight squeeze to get through, it’s easier with a guide to direct you and also help you navigate the cave.
Ahu Vinapu – Most of the Moai and Ahu around the island are male in appearance, but Ahu Vinapu is home to one of the few examples of female Moai. Made of red scoria rock, which is the same type of stone used to make the pukao “top hats” seen on male Moai around the island, the female Moai resembles a column and most details have been erased by time, but archaeologists still believe it is feminine in nature. The most notable female Moai, now housed in the museum, was found near this site.
The ahu, which is part of a large ceremonial complex consisting of several ahus with downed Moai, is also important because of how the ahu was constructed. Large pieces of stone were carved and fitted together in a manner similar to how the Incans of Peru constructed their incredibly complex stone cities in places like Machu Picchu and Cuzco. Archaeologists believe these similarly “fitted stones” suggest that there was communication between the Rapa Nui people and the Incans, or, as another theory goes, that the ahu was built by the Incan emperor Tupac Yupanqui when he went on an exploratory trip of the Pacific Ocean around 1480. Several other theories exist, but as no solid evidence has yet come to light, how Ahu Vinapu was built remains one of the unsolved mysteries of Easter Island’s past.
Ahu Vinapu is just a short drive from Hanga Roa, and you can easily navigate and walk the site on your own. It’s a good idea to go with a local guide, though, to provide more background information.
Puna Pau – While visiting sites like Ahu Tongariki, you’ll likely notice that some of the Moai are wearing hats: rounded squares of red stone with a smaller cylindrical piece on the top. These stone hats are called “pukaos” and the stone to make them came from a special place: the quarry at Puna Pau.
Located inside a small crater near Hanga Roa, Puna Pau was a rich resource of scoria, a low-density, reddish rock. Whereas most of the Moai figures were carved from tuff (a darker but also relatively soft type of volcanic rock) taken from the Rona Raraku quarry further up the island, scoria was only used to make the pukaos, Tukuturis (a different kind of sculpture from the Moai), and petroglyphs. Nowadays, the site itself is lovely, with rolling green hills dotted by burgundy-red boulders; a pathway through the hills taken you to the quarry itself.
Ahu Huri A Urenga – Ancient civilizations seemed to have quite a knack for knowing the stars (perhaps even better than we do with all our modern technology), and the Rapa Nui were no exception. At the entrance of Ahu Huri A Urenga, a water well and small indentations made in the stones would collect rainwater to reflect back the stars for observation and study. It is believed that this site was vital for the Rapa Nui calendar, as solar observations taken at the site helped mark the start of seasons and even regulations (like fishing). The ahu platform and the Moai on it (which is one of the few examples of Moai with hands) also directly face the sunrise on the winter solstice. The site was also used for funerals, as there’s a crematorium located at the back of the complex.
Trekking or cycling at Terevaka – Terevaka is the largest of Easter Island’s three volcanoes, and the summit offers wonderful views of the island and ocean. As such, it’s a popular place to go for a hike or for cycling. Despite being the biggest, it’s a fairly easy hike for everyone: the surrounding landscape of undulating hills with ocean views is pretty flat, and the gently-rising slopes aren’t too strenuous.
The summit can be a bit windy, but the views are worth it. Rent a bike in Hanga Roa for the day to go cycling on the trails, or just lace up your hiking shoes and start walking!
Ovahe Beach – Most people don’t go to Easter Island for adventure; aside from some light hiking, cycling, and scuba diving, the majority of visitors are here to experience the culture. But even with such a lightweight schedule, a relaxing day at the beach is always a good idea! While Anakena, the most popular beach on the island, is absolutely lovely, if you’re looking for solitude and to see a lesser-known part of the island, head to Ovahe Beach.
Like Anakena, Ovahe beach was also the site of an islander settlement but now it’s primarily known for its rugged beauty. The small, pink sand beach is surrounded by rocky sea cliffs, making it a perfect place for sunbathing. The warm turquoise waters are a popular spot for snorkeling, as the offshore coral reefs and rocky outcrops are frequented by native sea creatures like sea turtles and fish. However, the currents are stronger here than at Anakena and as the beach is isolated, there’s no lifeguard on duty so caution when swimming is urged. Ovahe is also one of the last refuges for native coastal flora on Easter Island, so you can see local flowers and plants.
Santiago is a big city. Stretching out from the base of the Andes mountains and sprawling across the valley, its many barrios could take weeks to explore properly, full of museums, art galleries, great restaurants, historic sites, and modern innovations. But there are some absolute must-do and see sights when you’re in the capital for even just a few days, so here’s how to do Santiago in just a weekend!
Climb up San Cristobal Hill to take in the view – A can’t-miss stop when spending even just a day in Santiago is San Cristobal Hill, a tall cerro rising up from the Bellavista neighborhood and overlooking the city center and surrounding neighborhoods. You can walk up the hill or (the more popular option) take the funicular train up to the top, where viewing platforms and a tall statue of the Virgin Mary offer breathtaking views of the city, which you can enjoy with refreshments like empanadas and a glass of mote con huesillo. You can also visit the Santiago Zoo and a Japanese-style garden, which are located near the base of the hill, and after taking in the views from the top, take the aerial cable car back down.
Wander around Lastarria and Bellavista – These are two of Santiago’s most famous barrios, and for good reason. They’re easily walkable and can make for hours of meandering entertainment. In Lastarria, museums and art galleries vye for space with vinyl stores, vintage clothing boutiques, trendy eateries, and street art sellers. The architecture of Lastarria is one of its highlights: it’s very European and you’ll feel like you’re in a corner of London or Paris as you wander the cobblestone streets. Then, cross over the river to explore Bellavista, the capital’s bohemian neighborhood. Here you can find great street art, hip clubs, hippie hangouts, and La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s quirky Santiago home. There’s more than enough to see and entertain visitors for hours on end.
See the historic buildings in El Centro – The city center has some of the capital’s oldest and most refined historic buildings, all located within a few blocks of each other and so easy to explore over the course of a few hours. Start by taking in La Moneda, the stately Presidential Palace, before heading over to the Plaza de Armas where, in between getting your caricature drawn and enjoying snacks from street vendors, you can be awed by both the exterior and interior of the National Cathedral, as well as admiring the classic architecture around the square.
Visit the observation deck at the top of the Gran Torre – The best view in Santiago can be found from the observation decks on the top two floors of the Gran Torre at the Costanera Center, the tallest skyscraper in South America. Located alongside the Mapocho River between the barrios of Providencia and Las Condes, the decks have expansive, sweeping views of the surrounding mountains; views that are not to be missed.
Learn about Chilean (and South American) history and culture at the capital’s top notch museums – You could easily spend whole days at Santiago’s highly informative and engaging museums, but an afternoon or a few hours will do. The Museum of Pre-Columbian Art is not to be missed, filled with thousands of timeless relics from the great civilizations of Chilean and South American history. The Fine Arts museum showcases Chilean as well as international talent, and the Natural History Museum offers a fascinating look at Chilean flora and fauna. But the Museum of Memory and Human Rights may be the city’s best : a reflective, honest look at the history and atrocities of the Pinochet dictatorship.
Try authentic Chilean cuisine – Santiago is in the midst of a culinary renaissance, taking advantage of Chile’s incredible wealth of fresh, local fruits, vegetables, and meats to create bold, experimental new dishes, as well as elevate timeless classics. Some of the best places to try include: Liguria, which makes fantastic Chilean sandwiches; Fuente Alemana for German-Chilean fare and hearty beer; BocaNariz for the city’s finest wine bar; Chipe Libre for knock-you-to-your-knees pisco flights and cocktails; and for a very special night, Borago, considered one of the world’s best.
Take a break from all the crazy with a walk in the park – Running around trying to see all the top sights in just a weekend can be overwhelming, so plan time to take a break and wander through Santiago’s lovely parks. The Parque Forestal stretches along the side of the Mapocho River, and is just minutes away from Bellavista and Lastarria. Quinta Normal is also a great place to meander, with its many paths, leafy trees, and fountains and ponds; it also houses several museums.
Get out of town for a few hours – If you’re not really a big city person and want to spend your time in Santiago also seeing a bit of the surrounding countryside, you’re in luck: there are many fantastic day or afternoon trips located close by the city. If you want to see the mountains, pay a visit to Cajon de Maipo, a gorge just outside town where people go for outdoor sports like rafting and hiking, as well as to see the El Yeso Dam and Reservoir, soak in high mountain thermal hot springs, and hike to a distant glacier. Or, if you prefer something a bit more relaxing, go for an afternoon of wine tastings at the vineyards in the nearby wine valleys of Casablanca or Colchagua. You can also visit the seaside city of Valparaiso, home to colorful houses, funiculars, and street art. All these destinations can be reached in just an hour or a bit more, and offer a great respite from city life.
End the day with a bit of fun – Santiago has a thrilling nightlife scene: plenty of hopping clubs, bars, and even speakeasies where you can drink, dance, and make merry until the wee hours of the morning (Chileans are notorious partiers). So after a long day of exploring, hit the dance floor and have some fun!
A trip to Chile is not complete without a little street art and graffiti sighting. Most of the art can be found in cities, Valparaiso and Santiago. Here’s a look at some of the best spots to find it:
1. Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso
Bring your walking shoes to Valparaiso! This city is full of hills and packed with colorful street art. The most popular hills are Cerro Concepcion and Cerro Alegre, which can both be accessed by foot or old-fashioned funicular. The hills sit side by side, which makes it easy to wander between the two.
Each time you visit, you will find something new and different. Artists, both well-known and undiscovered, frequently come to the hills and create new work.
But even with new art popping up, there are some pieces that never change. The piano stairs, for instance, is a Valparaiso classic. Rightfully so, you can find these steps on Beethoven Street.
Nestled in the heart of San Miguel commune is a place called Museo a Cielo Abierto, or in other words, “Open Air Museum.” It’s not a typical museum, but more of a designated area that displays a number of giant murals.
The project started several years ago as an initiative to restore deteriorating buildings in this working-class neighborhood. In order to improve the quality of the neighborhood, the community came together to create a free, public space for people to view large-scale artworks.
The space features more than 4,000 square meters of colorful, creative murals. Museo a Cielo Abierto has been both nationally and internationally recognized for its art and impact in the San Miguel community.
3. Bellavista, Santiago
Bellavista is a popular spot for both tourists and locals in Santiago. Besides nightclubs and lively restaurants, the neighborhood has plenty of unique street art. It’s a young area due to its funky atmosphere and the nearby universities. However, the neighborhood can easily be enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. Close to Bellavista is La Vega Market and a popular hiking spot called Cerro San Cristobal. Wander to these touristic hotspots and check out the street art as you go.
You can spot cartoonish characters, abstract shapes and different surreal scenes painted on the colorful buildings. The murals vary in content, but always offer something interesting to look at.
4. Cerro Bellavista and Florida, Valparaiso
Don’t limit yourself to just Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion when visiting Valparaiso. There are many other hills and neighborhoods to explore, many which offer a more “off-the-beaten-trail” experience. One spot to visit is Cerro Florida and Bellavista.
Cerro Florida is the hill where a famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda’s “La Sebastiana” house is located. Not far from the house is the Valparaiso Museo a Cielo Abierto (Open Air Museum) in Cerro Bellavista.
This project was directed and led by artist and university professor, Francisco Raúl Méndez Labbé in the 1990s. Renowned painters sketched the murals and university students worked together to execute the vision.
There are 20 different murals in the space and the art takes up several blocks, coloring sides buildings and stairways. Each mural has a sign with the name of the artist who envisioned it.
5. Barrio Yungay, Santiago
Among Santiago’s many neighborhoods is Barrio Yungay. It’s an old, yet charming community close to Quinta Normal Park. The neighborhood prides itself on being one of the oldest, most historical spots in the city, with some buildings dating back to the eighteenth century.
The neighborhood represents great economic prosperity and cultural development in both Santiago and Chile. Many successful artists, politicians, and intellectuals once resided in this community.
In addition to its historical roots, Barrio Yungay also has a lot of interesting street art. The combination of history, colonial buildings, and modern street art definitely give this neighborhood a unique feel.
Full of rivers, high mountain passes, lakes, and forests, the mountain valleys of Cajon del Maipo are some of Chile’s best kept secrets. Located a mere hour from the capital city of Santiago, these beautiful gorges are a popular place for rafting, hiking, mountaineering, or just appreciating the mountain views. But even though Cajon del Maipo is primarily famous as a destination for outdoor sports, there are plenty of other ways to get to know the region, like visiting the towns and trying local flavors. Here are six reasons why you should escape to Cajon del Maipo for a day!
1. Get away from the city – Santiago is the most cosmopolitan city in Chile, full of museums, parks, nightlife spots, and arts and cultural centers, but even with all that it can still be a good idea to leave the city behind once in a while and go out into nature. Cajon del Maipo is only an hour away from the city, making a great option for a day trip or a weekend getaway!
2. See the El Yeso reservoir – Located deep within the mountainous gorge of Cajon de Maipo, the El Yeso reservoir – formed by the damming of the Yeso River – is truly a sight to behold. Snowy mountains rise out of a tranquil, turquoise expanse of water, making it the perfect site for a photo opp. It’s also a popular place for fishing, or packing a picnic and taking scenic hikes along the side of the reservoir.
3. Visit quaint mountain villages – Cajon del Maipo is home to many charming mountain towns full of culture, local cuisine, and beautiful views. San Jose, the capital of the municipality, is a popular place to spend the afternoon, where you can admire the adobe buildings, try some of the specialty empanadas, and even visit nearby high-altitude vineyards or local microbreweries. The nearby town of San Alfonso is also a popular stop, especially because of its chocolate store, a fantastically designed building that looks like it’s come straight from The Shire.
4. Learn more about the local flora and fauna – The isolated valleys of Cajon del Maipo are home to an astonishing array of unique plants and wildlife, which you can see and learn about during hikes, especially in the El Morado National Monument. Here you can see animals like foxes and vizcachas, and it’s an especially great place to see birds like the Andean condor and eagles.
5. Relax in high mountain hot springs – After a long hike in the mountains, soaking in the amazing views and fresh air, the only way to finish the day is by soaking in some hot water. A trip to Cajon del Maipo isn’t complete without a visit to the Colina hot springs, a series of mineral, thermal hot springs staggered along the side of the Colina Valley. Here you can lounge for hours in different springs that are reputed to having healing abilities, and during certain seasons you can even visit in the evening so you can see the stars over the mountains.
6. See a glacier – Bet you didn’t know that you could see a glacier just a short drive and a hike from Santiago! The El Morado Glacier can be found in El Morado National Mountain and is reached via a scenic hike deep into the heart of the valley. You can either hike on your own or go horseback riding, allowing you to take in the spectacular views and flora and fauna before reaching the glacier, which descends out of the mountain pass and ends in a lake studded with tiny icebergs broken off of the glacier. It’s amazing that you can find such beautiful forces of nature right here in Santiago’s backyard!
When it comes to visiting Chile, it’s hard to know where to start. With so many different things to do and places to see, it can be hard to plan a trip that fits in all the highlights of a specific region or area, like the central valleys. Home to the capital city of Santiago, the Andean Cordillera mountains, vineyards, and miles of scenic oceanfront and port towns, just trying to pack all that into a short trip can be difficult. But there is an easy way to see and experience all the best activities and sights in just one week!. Our 7 Day Ski Portillo, Santiago, and Valparaiso tour hits all the highlights without feeling overwhelming or rushed, giving you a chance to truly get to know central Chile. Here’s how we do it!
Start by exploring the historic barrios and modern marvels of Santiago – Founded in 1541 by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, Santiago is one of the most historic cities in South America, and in recent years has turned into a booming center for IT and technology innovation, art, gastronomy, culture, nightlife, and shopping. To really get to know Santiago, start by exploring the center of the city, where the La Moneda Presidential Palace, Plaza de Armas, and National Cathedrals are located and where you can see classic examples of Santiago architecture and learn about the foundations of the city. Santiago is a great city for walking, so after spending time in the city center, branch outward to other neighborhoods like the bohemian Bellavista, home to street art, quirky cafes, and Pablo Neruda’s Santiago home; or Lastarria, with its European-inspired buildings, art galleries, and fine dining. Every neighborhood reveals something different about the city’s character, from the business district Las Condes (also known as “Sanhattan”) to the artsy vibes of Bellavista or Barrio Italia. Then, stop for a bite of lunch at the Central and La Vega markets with their wealth of fresh seafood and produce, and afterward take a funicular up San Cristobal Hill to see the city from above, as well as get a better view of the Andean Cordillera. If you want to go even higher, head to the Gran Torre, the tallest building in South America, and take the elevator to the top floors for jaw dropping views.
Then head out of town to go wine tasting at one of central Chile’s top organic vineyards – Now that you’ve gotten to know the capital of Chile, it’s time to see what else the central valleys have to offer. Santiago is located roughly an hour and a half from the coast, and en route to the Pacific Ocean, the road passes through the beautiful Casablanca Valley, home to some of Chile’s most prestigious and high-end wineries. Chile is famous for its dark reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, crisp whites like Sauvignon Blancs, and blends, and most vineyards allow you to drop by for tours to see the grounds, learn about the process, and taste their different varietals. One must-visit vineyard in the Casablanca Valley is Emiliana, an organic vineyard that foregoes the use of pesticides, plants, and harvests by the biodynamic calendar, and uses animals like chickens to get rid of pests and provide manure for fertilizer. After touring the vineyard and learning all about the amazing ways the vineyard operates sustainably and in harmony with nature, you’ll be able to have tastings of the vineyard’s best wines.
Spend a day getting to know the quirky port city of Valparaiso – Then, after the wine tour and tasting, drive just a bit further to reach the Pacific Ocean and the city of Valparaiso. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Valparaiso is affectionately known as the San Francisco of South America or the Jewel of the Pacific because of its vibrant street art, colorfully painted houses, rolling coastal hills, steep stairways, and fascinating history as one of South America’s most important ports. Hop on a trolleybus streetcar to see the historic port neighborhood and other landmarks like the Turri Clock and Plaza Victoria before getting on a funicular to see what Valpo’s famous hills look like. The most popular ones to visit are Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion, as they feature the best street art and murals, some of the best-preserved examples of classic Valparaiso houses, which are covered with corrugated iron that’s been painted bright colors, stunning views of the ocean and the other hills of the city, and endless stairways and alleys down which you can find stores, art galleries, cafes, restaurants, and so much more. Then, be sure to finish the day with a meal of fresh seafood at a local restaurant!
Finish with a few days skiing in the Andes mountains – Now that you’ve gotten to know the cultural and culinary treasures of the central valleys, it’s time to experience some of the adrenaline-pumping action to be found in the Andes mountains just outside of Santiago. There are several top ski resorts that can be reached within an hour or so from the capital, but one of the best is Ski Portillo. Perched on the edge of a high-altitude lake and surrounded by towering peaks, Portillo is world-renowned for its downhill skiing, with 35 runs, 14 lifts, off-and-groomed pistes, hills ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced, ski-in-ski-out, and plenty of other activities and services to keep you occupied when you’re not hitting the slopes like spa packages, heated outdoor pool, jacuzzis, saunas, yoga, gym, entertainment center, restaurant, and more. You can even go heli-skiing! With ski rental options and classes available, Portillo has everything you need to spend a few days enjoying the fresh powder and spending hours skiing down the Andes, before retiring for apres-ski drinks and food in the cozy lodge.
So with exploring Santiago, going wine tasting, visiting Valparaiso, and then skiing in the Andes, you’ve now seen and experienced the best of central Chile in just a week! Learn more about our 7 Day Ski Portillo, Santiago, and Valparaiso tour here!
Sprawled over coastal hills just an hour and a half from Santiago, the city of Valparaiso is known as the San Francisco of South America thanks to its colorful houses, bohemian lifestyle, world-class street art, and steep, winding roads and stairways that lead up into the hills. Its past as an important port city, unique culture, and architecture, and reputation as a haven for visual and performing artists earned it the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, and it’s one of the top places to visit in Chile. Although it’s recommended to stay for a few days to allow you plenty of time to explore the city at your leisure, with our Valparaiso and Wines Day Tour it’s easy to see the best of this Jewel of the Pacific in just a day!
1. Go for a ride on a trolley bus – While wandering the streets of the city, you’re bound to see these low-slung, cream and green electric cable cars lumbering along as their connector cables crackle and twang with electricity, the interior of the cars lined with worn leather seats and lit by warm, amber lights. They look like something straight out of the 1950s, a relic of a bygone time. They’re Valparaiso’s famous troles (trolleybuses). The second oldest streetcar system in South America, the majority of the streetcars were made by the Pullman-Standard Company and their historical significance helped gain the city its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. Hop on board at the bus depot on Avenida Alemania, pay 270 pesos (about 50 cents USD), and then enjoy the ride through the streets, passing by city landmarks like the Turri Clock, Plaza Victoria, and Plaza Sotomayor with the Naval Building.
2. Walk around to see the street art – Valparaiso is the capital of Chilean street art, and the best examples can be found covering the walls of Cerros Alegre and Concepcion. Wander along the cobblestone streets for an afternoon and you’ll see everything from giant hummingbirds, to a staircase, painted like piano keys, to the famous “We are not hippies, we are happies” mural, to a stylistic tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. Artists come from all over Chile and the world to contribute murals in a wide variety of styles done with bright, exuberant colors, and there are always new pieces to discover. You can also go explore the Open Air Museum of Cerro Bellavista, just down the hill from Pablo Neruda’s house, where you can see 20 outsize and vibrant murals created by artists from Chile and other countries in South America.
3. Explore Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion – These two hills are the most popular to visit in Valparaiso because they’re home to some of the best examples of Valparaiso architecture. The houses – which are covered in corrugated iron that’s been painted in bright colors – are built in a German/European style that becomes popular in the city after the huge influx of immigrants from Europe in the 1800s. All the houses are intersected by hidden alleyways and staircases full of cafes, galleries, shops, and street art, and you can wander the hills for hours and still not see every part of them. From the lookouts at Paseo Gervasoni and Paseo Atkinson, you can also see stunning views of the ocean and the surrounding hills. If you are looking for a place to experience every part of Valparaiso – the art, the bohemian culture, the colorful houses – this is the place to explore.
4. Ride up and down the hills on a funicular – One of the icons of Valparaiso are its funicular elevators. The cars, which are pulled up and down the hills on their tracks by pulleys, are often painted in flashy colors to match the houses of the city, or done up with street art instead. For about 100 pesos (16 cents USD), you can take the short ride up or down one of the hills, with the elevation opening up beautiful views of the surroundings. In the past, the city has had as many as 26 working funiculars operating throughout the city, but nowadays, only the ones on the most popular hills are maintained. Two of the most popular, La Reina and La Peral, can be found on Cerro Alegre.
5. Visit Pablo Neruda’s house – “Valparaiso, what nonsense you are, what a crazy, insane port.” Thus starts Pablo Neruda’s ode to his beloved port city, where he chose to keep one of his three homes. Known as La Sebastiana, the multi-story house teeters on Cerro Florida overlooking the bay, its many floors chock-full of whimsical items Neruda acquired during his travels, like a wooden horse taken from a carousel in Paris and an ancient map of the world. You can wander from floor to floor learning about the different artifacts and how Neruda lived, seeing his bedroom, living room, and writing study, all of which offer expansive views of the ocean and city. Each room and item offers insight into the unique life of one of Chile’s foremost writers, who, in addition to his poetry, had an impressive career as a diplomat.
6. Enjoy some fresh Chilean seafood in the port district – With more than 4,300 kilometers of coastline, Chileans know how to do seafood especially well. As a famous historic port city, Valparaiso is chock-full of restaurants and diners – many dating back to the city’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s like Bar Cizano – that serve up fresh, delicious Chilean classics year-round: machas con parmesan (clams with parmesan); chupe con centolla (savory crab pie, made with crab, cheese, cream, and bread); paila marina (Chilean seafood stew); sea urchins, and catch of the day fish prepared every which way. Just into any restaurant in the port neighborhood and pair your meal with a glass of white wine: you won’t be disappointed.
With its museums, parks, restaurants, and shopping, Santiago has plenty to keep visitors occupied during their stay. But everyone likes to get out of the city once in a while, and Santiago’s prime location close to the Andes mountains, Chilean wine country, and the ocean, makes it easy to escape for a day. Whether your pleasure is hiking, spending a day at the beach, going wine-tasting, or exploring abandoned mining towns (a niche interest, to be sure, but a worthwhile one!), these six easy day trips from Santiago are great ways to get to know the landscapes, culture, gastronomy, and history of central Chile.
1. Valparaiso and Vina del Mar – The Pacific Ocean is a convenient hour and a half from the capital, so if you’re looking for fresh seafood, beautiful harbor views, and a chance to mix beach fun with learning about Chile’s history, check out these two seaside towns. In Vina, one of central Chile’s most famous resort towns, it’s all about the party: spend the day sunning at the beach, visiting the famous Flower Clock, exploring museums like Castillo Wulff and the Fonck Museum, or trying your luck at the casino. Then, grab a colectivo (local taxi) to go ten minutes away to Valparaiso, the jewel of the Pacific and Vina’s gritty, bohemian counterpart. Here, historic funicular elevators carry you up the hills to see the city’s famous houses, which are painted vibrant colors and splashed with some of South America’s best street art. A great city for meandering, explore Cerro Alegre and Concepcion for the best examples of classic Valpo architecture and street art, as well as cafes and shops, and then head to La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s quirky home on Cerro Florida. Then finish the day with a meal at one of the city’s many excellent seafood restaurants; the paila marina (seafood stew), chupe de jaiba (crab pie), or the fresh catch of the day (fish or otherwise) are always great picks.
2. Chilean wine country – If you’re a wine lover, lucky you: Santiago is just a quick drive from several of Chile’s finest wine valleys, namely Casablanca and Colchagua. Here, surrounded by undulating mountains and valley floors covered in row upon row of bounteous grapevines, some of the country’s finest wines are grown and made, such as Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Spend a leisurely day visiting local wineries like Clos de Apalta in Colchagua or Bodegas RE in Casablanca, where you’ll learn about the history of winemaking in Chile, as well as each vineyard’s unique wine-making processes, explained on behind-the-scenes tours led by expert vintners. Each tour is then followed by tastings of some of the vineyard’s most exemplary vinos. Salud!
3. Skiing in the Andes – With epic pistes and stunning views across the rooftop of South America, some of the world’s best downhill skiing is found right outside Santiago in the Andes Mountains at Valle Nevado and Portillo ski resorts. Although both resorts have great onsite accommodations and amenities like restaurants and ski in/ski out service, their proximity to Santiago (Portillo is located about 2 hours away, Valle Nevado roughly 90 minutes) makes it super easy for you to stay in the city but spend your days hitting the slopes. Both resorts annually get around 24 inches of snow and have a combined total of 79 runs (groomed and off-piste), as well as lifts, a variety of slopes suited to everyone from beginners to advanced, rental stores, and sites for heli-skiing, snowboarding, and freestyle.
4. Cajon de Maipo – Where can you go hiking, rafting, fly-fishing, rock climbing, horseback riding, or just enjoy pure nature within an hour’s drive of Santiago? The answer is Cajon de Maipo. This mountainous valley to the southeast of the city is a paradise of peaks, rivers, lakes, forests, volcanoes, and glaciers, making it the ultimate outdoor adventure playground. Popular activities include treks to the El Morado and San Franciso glaciers, visiting the El Yeso reservoir, relaxing at the Plomo or Morales natural hot springs, rafting on the Maipo river, hiking to the Yeso waterfall, and exploring small towns like Pirque, where some of Chile’s best Cabernet Sauvignon is grown and produced. The area is also famous for its homemade goods, like chocolates, pastries, and empanadas, and is a great place for souvenir shopping thanks to its fine artisan shops.
5. La Campana National Park – For an easy day trek near Santiago that isn’t in the Cordillera, La Campana is the best option for its epic views and wealth of flora and fauna, like the Chilean Wine Palm, an endangered species of palm tree that used to grown all over the country but now only exists in small pockets. Famous for being the site of Cerro La Campana (Bell Mountain) which was scaled by Charles Darwin in 1834, this national park and UNESCO Biosphere is flush with local wildlife including foxes, pumas, birds, chingues (skunks), and butterflies. The hike up features beautiful views of the countryside, plus a chance to visit a nearly hundred-foot tall waterfall and a plaque dedicated to Darwin’s hike. If you want to make it to the summit at more than 6,000 feet above sea level, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys and mountains, and on clear days, you can see as far as the Pacific Ocean in one direction and Aconcagua Mountain in Argentina in the other.
6. Sewell Mining Town – Known as the City of Stairs, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a fascinating glimpse into Chile’s long-standing tradition of copper mining. Founded in 1905 by the Braden Copper Company which owned and operated the El Teniente Copper Mine (the largest in the world), this city, which at its peak housed 15,000 mine workers and their families, was built into the steep slopes of the Andes at more than 7,000 feet above sea level. This made it inaccessible by vehicles, and so the brightly painted buildings of the town, terraced up and down the rugged slope, are all connected via stairways. Closed in the 1970s, it was saved from demolition by the Chilean government and then UNESCO, and now can only be visited on private tours. Located about two and a half hours from Santiago, it’s a bit more of a hike than most other day trips, but is well worth it for the fascinating glimpse it offers into historic Chilean mining towns.
Visiting the driest desert on Earth – San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro lies in the north of Chile, acting as a gateway to the driest desert in the world, the infamous Atacama. In San Pedro and its surrounding there are a lot of activities related with adventures, gastronomy, amazing landscapes and local culture, you simply must go if you’re ever in Chile.
Using San Pedro as a base, you can easily explore the otherworldly valleys, high-altitude lagoons, and ancient hillside ruins. You can also gawp at the night sky – possibly the clearest in the world – by taking an astronomy tour, or simply walking a little away from the light of the town. A starry night here is something you will never forget.
Ideally, you will need 4 days to make the most of your time here. The town is small and easily walkable. There are tour agencies and empanada shops (the best kind). More time will allow you some relaxation and wiggle room, less means you will need to select your activities wisely. Without further ado, here are the best things to see and do around San Pedro de Atacama.
Where to Visit
1. Valle de la Luna
Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, is a spectacular valley located just 13km from San Pedro.
The information desk at the entrance provides maps of the valley, taking you all the way to Las Tres Marias, three unusual rocky formations that jut out of the desert floor.
The first stop, around 3km from the entrance, is the salt caverns. They’re a winding and narrow cave system, containing unearthly geological structures. You can walk the snaking trail in around 20 minutes and either carry on along the main road, or take a right as you exit the caves and explore a less visited part of the valley.
There are more surreal cliffs and caves, but the further you head in this direction, the less people you will encounter, and the more it begins to feel like you are truly isolated in the desert. The midday sun beats down on your face and neck, no matter which way you look.
The main view that everybody comes to see in the Valley of the Moon is the sunset, particularly from the top of the giant sand dune. The path is sandy but well worn; it shouldn’t pose a problem to anybody. The view from the top makes you understand the logic behind the valley’s name. It was also here where NASA tested the prototype for the Mars rover, due to its strikingly similar terrain.
Watching the sun drop behind the ridge is beautiful on its own, but it doesn’t compete with the red-gold afterglow that engulfs the desert. At the top of the dune, you can walk along the ridge in either direction. The right allows you a view of the sun setting behind the sand dune, and if you turn around, you have the full chain of the Andes mountains, complete with several large volcanoes in the distance. The left has a view of the craggy hills and the interminable desert. The path goes on further, too, meaning there is more space to find your own spot, away from the crowds. This is the busiest time on the sand dune, but the view is remarkable all-day long. A sunset here is one you will remember for the rest of your life.
How to get there Getting to Valle de la Luna can be done in a several ways, depending on your preferences. The best option is to take a tour, which will pick you up from your hotel or hostel and transport you to the entrance, visiting each of the locations with a knowledgeable guide, before dropping you back off at your accommodation. They usually start at 2 or 3 pm so that you can catch the sunset, but an earlier one is possible.
Cycling is easy as well. In your free time you can rent a bike in town and start your trip. The ride from the centre of town to the entrance takes about 25 minutes. However, upon entry into the actual valley, the road becomes rickety and there are steep sections, too. A helmet and visibility jacket are essential for you to take the bike into the valley. I made the mistake of cycling there without either, and was told upon arrival that they would not let me take the bike inside without them.
2. Valle de la Muerte / Valle de la Marte
The Valley of the dead, also known as the Valley of Mars, is closer to San Pedro than the Valley of the Moon. Its surreal landscapes are just as astonishing, but they have the bonus of being less crowded than their bigger and more popular neighbour. That’s not to say that nobody visits the Valley of the Dead, but it doesn’t get as many as the Valley of the Moon.
The entrance is on the right-hand side of the road to Calama, approx 2km from the centre of town.
This valley is the perfect place to sandboard. The Valley of the Moon also has a huge sand dune but you are not allowed to sandboard on it. As well as climbing the dune to ride back down, it is also worth going up for the view alone. The desert rolls out before your eyes, stretching all the way to the jagged Andes mountains, cowboys ride through the rugged valleys, kicking up dust in their wake, and bizarre outcrops defy logic at every turn.
I made the mistake of climbing the dune in a straight line, from the base to the highest point. Don’t make the same mistake as me. I had to use both my hands and my feet, as the surface was almost vertical. My feet sunk into the sand a good 30cm with each step, making the whole ordeal unnecessarily demanding. I had half the desert in my shoes by the time I made it to the top. Luckily, I had enough water to make sure I didn’t pass out from the midday heat. Despite taking the most difficult route (there is a well-trodden track for sandboarders, which takes you up diagonally), it was well worth the effort.
You can also continue on the path further into the valley, which winds its way up to the opposite side of the sand dune, giving you a view of what lies beyond the towering ridge. It looks like an extreme Motocross track, built for giants. I still struggle to get my head around how these valleys were formed.
How to get there
You can travel here using the same methods stated for the Valley of the Moon.
A way to get to the Valley of the Dead is with a tour departing from your hotel. Your van will stick to the main road towards Calama. The sandy hill, directly in front of you as you leave the town, is the entrance. It should not take longer than a few minutes to get there. If you have enough time it is possible to reach very good viewpoints. Take plenty of water and some snacks.
There are tours combined with the Valley of the Moon, if you prefer to visit both at once.
Finally, you can cycle. It’s easy to get here, despite a little up-hill section. Cycling in the actual valley can be quite difficult however, as the sand can be thick. I walked to the top with my bike, then rode down (without peddling), but my wheels jammed in the sand and I flew over my handle bars, almost rolling off the steep road and into the Valley of the Dead below. It would have been a fitting place to die, but it was not to be. You can also cycle from here to Pukara de Quitor in a relatively fast time, as there is a path directly from entrance to entrance.
3. Pukara de Quitor
This fascinating hill-side ruin was once a mighty fortress, perched in a great defensive location, destroying the element of surprise for invaders. You can find it 3km north-west of San Pedro. Like most of the attractions here, there is an entrance fee of a few thousand Pesos. If you have a bike, there is a place to lock it at the entrance.
You can choose between climbing the ridge that runs along the 700-year-old ruins, or the hills in the distance. The hills contain several view points and shelters to rest, as well as a few interesting structures at the top. From the peak, you can look down on the Valley of the Dead to see it from a different perspective. You can also gaze into the valley that leads to Catarpe – an interesting and adventurous bike ride away.
The view from the top of the hills is worth seeing. You see everything from an inferior angle, and whilst you can get a lot closer to the ruins, you can’t go inside them. Having said that, the path is short and is probably worth the 15 minutes it will take to walk.
Near to the entrance of Pukara de Quitor, is another path. Instead of taking the ramp up to the bike storage and ticket office, go the opposite way, sticking to the wall of the rock, and follow the path up to a cave and some amazing archaeological carvings. The cave is pitch black at certain points, so make sure you have a torch handy. Be careful with your head, too, especially for tall people like me. You’ll be bending a lot. On the other side of the cave is a small open area, where you can witness the unusual rock formations up close, and add your own cairn to the masses already there, before heading back the way you came. It might be a good idea to take something to cover your nose and mouth, as you will inhale a lot of dust. Outside, you can marvel at the two giant heads, that have been carved from the cliff face.
How to get there
All the above options apply for here. You can take a tour, walk or cycle.
Arguably the best activity to do here, based on the area’s pristine skies, is look upwards. Within the next year, over 70% of the world’s astronomical observatories will be based here. From this desert, you can see the Large Magellanic Cloud with the naked eye, a foreign galaxy that orbits the Milky Way, over 150,000 light years away. You can also see the Small Magellanic Cloud, fainter and even further away. It’s the farthest visible object in the southern hemisphere, without the aid of telescopes. You can also stare into the heart of our own galaxy. Do you know that strip of cloud-like substance you see in films and the best astrophotography? You can see it with your own eyes.
It takes a brilliant camera to be able to pick any of it up, but luckily for us, almost all astronomy tours will take a group photo on their own cameras. You can ask for one on your own, too.
I went on a tour and couldn’t recommend it enough. They took me on a 2-hour tour, pointing out all the visible constellations of the zodiac and explaining the reasons behind them. They also showed us a short documentary and allowed us to feast on little sausages and snacks.
It obviously helps if you have an experienced guide who can point to Saturn as soon as you ask him and tells you everything about all the stars you see.
I visited in August, the tail-end of their winter, and Saturn was the easiest to see. Early at night, it is possible to spot Mars and Jupiter, too. At different times throughout the year, it’s possible to see all the first six planets with the naked eye.
5. High Plain Lagoons and the Atacama Salt Flats
The high-altitude lakes are definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area. You have the opportunity to watch pink Flamingos in Chaxa National Reserve, walk on a frozen lake at Red Stone, and see Vicuñas (a relative of llamas and alpacas) in their natural habitat – the hills above 3,000m.
It’s best to start early for these places, as they’re a bit further away than the majority of the attractions. I drifted in and out of sleep on the ride there, catching dreamlike glimpses of snowy peaks, sprawling desert and grazing vicuñas, half-listening to the guide talk about how vicuñas are still hunted for their fur, despite it being illegal.
I woke up when the smooth road swiftly changed to a jolting sandy track. I bounced up and down, bashing flailing limbs off parts of the jeep that I didn’t even know existed. Then I was hit by the cold. Mornings at high altitude aren’t pleasant for the half-dressed. Luckily, I was prepared.
How to get there The best way to go to these places is by taking a tour. It’s worth it. We visited all the aforementioned places, as well as Toconao, a traditional village. The main square has large cacti that grow 1cm per year. These cacti were over 2 metres tall, meaning they were planted in the early 1800s! You can explore the handcraft shops and go souvenir hunting, check out the old church, or taste local homemade ice cream. They have Rica Rica flavour, which is a mint-like herb that grows in the shrubby area of the desert. The driver makes a short stop here, too, for you to harvest your own supply.
Other things to do in the area include:
Tatio Geysers – Expect an early start if you visit these. They’re most active around 4.30 am.
Hot Springs / Aguas Calientes – There are lots of hot springs near San Pedro de Atacama. I visited hot springs in Peru and Bolivia – there is nothing quite like bathing in hotter-than-bath water in the middle of the freezing cold Andes. (As Termas Puritama and Tatio Geysers.)
Hot Air Balloon over the Atacama – Ballooning over the Atacama Desert is a breathtaking and unique experience. You will start the tour right before sunrise to see all the colors and rocks of the desert in the morning light. Every tour is different because you don’t know where the wind will take you but you can be sure that you will have an impressive view over the stunning landscape of the Atacama Desert. This is definitely a memory you will never forget!
The Flowering Desert – A lot further south from San Pedro, but still in the Atacama, near to La Serena, there is a natural phenomenon taking place in the desert, causing flowers to blossom everywhere. It only happens once per year and this year is supposed to be the largest ever.
How to Budget Generally, San Pedro is slightly more expensive than other towns of similar size in Chile. The customers are predominantly tourists, which means the prices are inflated. It’s possible to find all type of vegetables, meat, fish and local food. There are many options of restaurants, accommodation and activities for your stay in San Pedro de Atacama.
When to Go The Atacama is dry, with clear skies all year round. You can count the number of clouds you see in your time here on one hand – most likely, you won’t need any hands. On the astronomy tour, the guide said that only 30 nights of the year are cloudy, and even then, they’re not terribly intrusive.
Chilean summer runs from December to February, and their winter, from June to August. However, the climate here doesn’t change that much. Due to the altitude (2,408 metres above sea level), San Pedro experiences cold nights all year round, with the lowest being in July and August, at -1° C, and the highest, around 5-6° C, in January. In the day, the winters can reach 20° C, and the summer, 25° C. The altitude makes the days seem hotter though, because the sun’s rays have less of an atmosphere to cut through before reaching you. Combine this with the unusual clarity of the sky, and basically, you will frazzle.
If you want to avoid the crowds, then the best time to visit is just before winter (northern summer holidays), but after southern summer. April – June is classed as low season here. There will be less people, but never expect it to be empty. San Pedro is a tourist hot spot.
What to Bring
Altitude Sickness Tablets – Depending on your attitude toward altitude, you may wish to bring some medicine. Some people simply don’t agree with being at higher elevations. While 2,408 metres isn’t ridiculously high, some of the activities can go well over 4,000m. You can also buy local remedies for altitude sickness all over town. Coca leaves are helpful for long uphill hikes. Just don’t swallow them.
Vaseline or Lip Balm – This one is fairly self-explanatory. You’re in the driest desert in the world. Without it, your lips will crack, bleed and split. I speak from experience.
Sun Lotion – The altitude makes you burn a lot faster than if you were at sea level.
Map App – While there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned paper map, it won’t help you if you don’t know where you are in the first place. MAPS.ME is a good choice as it allows you to download the maps for offline use (like most apps), but it also shows walking trails and footpaths that are mostly invisible on Google Maps, for instance.
Water and Snacks – Again, it’s self-explanatory. You need lots of water in the driest desert on Earth. If you’re stranded, don’t count on rain to save you. Certain areas here receive less than half an inch per year. Some native people have never seen rain in their entire life, particularly closer to Antofagasta. A little snack is helpful, too, as there aren’t any shops outside of the towns.
Camera – This is an unforgettable place, but it doesn’t hurt to keep photos.
We started our tour by picking up an American couple and headed towards Valparaiso. Javiera, our guide, told us the rough plan for the day and warned us it would probably rain at some point.
We entered Valparaiso city centre after 1 hour and a half, driving past the congress of Chile, as well as South America’s first ever public library. We parked in one of the large squares, next to South America’s first fire station. Valparaiso is a city with a rich history. It was once the biggest port in South America, and was one of the most important cities when the Spanish first colonised the area. It was actually founded before Santiago, in 1536. Today, it is home to 300,000 people, but the port is no longer the most important in the region, let alone the continent. It’s a source of constant inspiration, being the city with the most graffiti in South America.
It’s one of the most colourful cities I’ve ever been to. Everywhere you turn there is a row of coloured houses, or a majestic mural on the side of an otherwise unimportant half-crumbled building. It’s also made more beautiful by the 44 hills that are found there.
Many of these have lifts, known as funiculars, to the top. Most of them are over 100 years old, and like the majority of the buildings in the city, you can tell. Only 8 of these funiculars actually function, but there is a movement to re-open all the closed ones (more than 20) and return Valparaiso to its former glory.
In Plaza Sotomayor, where we stopped, there is a huge monument in the centre.
This monument is to commemorate the war heroes from the Pacific War, where Chile fought against Peru and Bolivia in the north, in 1879-1883. They won, and managed to sever Bolivia’s access to the sea, taking the Atacama region for Chile. However, during the war, with all of Chile’s forces in the north, Argentina took the opportunity to invade and take control of eastern Patagonia. This is what gives Chile its long snake-like shape.
In 1906, a giant earthquake hit Valparaiso and only 2 buildings were left standing on this square. The architecture here is noticably unique, there are modern office buildings, right next to 18th century buildings in their original decor.
As we walked out of Plaza Sotomayor, Javiera told us how the Starbucks in the square is failing, just as McDonalds did. Valparaiso is one of the only cities in the world where McDonalds failed to make profit and had to be shut down. Yet a 10 minute drive to Viña del Mar and you can find 3 different branches.
As we started to walk further into the colourful city, Javiera explained that sailors painted their houses brightly so that they could find them easily after returning to the port. In the early days, the town would be made from wood and clay and pirates such as Francis Drake would come and burn it to the ground, pillaging it like vikings.
We walked for around two hours from here, around all the graffiti-laden streets. It’s almost as if the entire city is one giant art museum. Everywhere you turn, there is some kind of street art. One of my favourite places is atop the Reina Victoria funicular. There is a hill with painted steps, the ones at the top read “We are not Hippies. We are Happies”.
Towards the end of our walk in the narrow, steep streets, it began to rain. We headed back to the bus and drove up Artillery Hill to have lunch with a view over the docks. It was a bit cloudy, but you could still see the entire bay of Valparaiso.
Having tried Reineta last time I was in Valparaiso, I ordered a good old Salmon with Hungarian sauce. I’m not entirely sure why the sauce was called Hungarian, it was mushroom and prawn, but tasted absolutely amazing. The food was brilliant and the view overlooked the bay.
After we finished, we said goodbye to Valparaiso, and drove to the Emiliana Vineyard, the largest organic vineyard in the world.
By this point, it was raining heavily. Christian, our guide for the vineyard, was very passionate about his job, which made the tour really enjoyable.
He showed us the different things they use to make the compost, including dandelions, Alpaca manure, and other weeds and plants.
We would have seen more but the rain became too strong and the others asked to go back. Inside, we had a wine tasting. I don’t like wine in general, so they gave me a smaller glass of the 4 testers but the Americans really liked it. They bought a bottle afterwards.
For me the cheese was better than the wine. The final cheese – I forgot the name – was like heaven.
After we’d finished we drove back to Santiago. Javiera told us of many places to see in the city and offered to send us more via whatsapp. She also told interesting tales of her adventures around the world. She’s been all around Latin America, Africa and Europe and is full of crazy stories.
We arrived back in Santiago for around 6 and were dropped off. I couldn’t recommend this tour more. It’s made me want to visit Valparaiso again before I leave. The tour was amazing and the city is one of a kind.
At 8.25 in the morning we started our tour to Cajon del Maipo. Everybody was aboard and Felipe, our guide, suggested we get some rest during the drive from the city. He spoke in Spanish first (3 of the passengers were from Argentina, 4 from Brazil, 1 from China, 1 from USA, and me, from England), then repeated in English.
It took around one hour to get to the small café at the entrance to the canyon, where we stopped for morning beverages. We had a small slice of cake each. The group talked amongst themselves, learning about where everybody was from and where they were going.
I was still sleepy-eyed when we entered the café, but during the drive afterwards, the scenery crystallised. We were driving into a verdant valley, mountainous walls rising either side of the road, snowy peaks growing in size, the closer we got. This was Cajon del Maipo. This is what I’d seen in all the photographs beforehand.
The guide spoke excellent English. He was friendly and eager to answer any questions, not just about the tour, but Chile in general. We drove through the small village of San Jose de Maipo, established in 1792. To officially become a village, it had to build a little church, a hospital, and a town hall. It was originally home to the miners of the region, who mined silver and gold. Nowadays, they sell handmade goods, made from the precious minerals.
The guide continued to talk as we passed through the village and the surrounding canyons. The river Maipo that runs through this valley, winding its way through the jagged terrain, is of great importance to Santiago. It provides electricity for the capital, but also acts as a gateway to nature, with lots of choices when it comes to adventure sports. You can kayak and raft on the river, and many Santiago dwellers come here on weekends to get out of the smog of the city. The crisp mountain air refreshes your body and clears your mind.
We continued further into the canyon. We drove past a small train track, with a few stationary trains. Felipe explained they used to take Copper out from the mines, to Santiago. In 1985, they removed most of the track. Also Pinochet, Chile’s old dictator, used to live here. We drove past his old house, but I was taking in so much information, so quickly, that I didn’t actually see it. It’s somewhere in the valley. I’m pretty sure it’s there.
Before I could contemplate what Pinochet had done, we whizzed through another small village, learning about the Almond trees of the area – Cajon del Maipo’s biggest export.
Finally, after almost 2 hours driving, we were able to stretch our legs and take a few pictures. It was possible to see the glacier atop the summit of the mountain – a giant slab of ice, perched precariously on the edge.
The place appeared to be full of large bomb shelters. They looked like something plucked straight from a war film, but Felipe told us that they were occupied between 1953 and 1964 by the builders of the nearby dam. They have curved roofs to deflect wind and allow snow to fall off. However, they don’t have windows, and the builders had to live in freezing cold temperatures for the entirety of the project.
After 20 minutes strolling around here, we drove onto the dam, a short hop down the road, where we left the bus again to explore the beautiful 4 winds corner. It’s not hard to see how it got its name. Before you know which way to turn, you’re blown in several directions, dust stinging your eyes and trapping itself behind your eyelids. Mini tornados swoop over the water in the distance.
A crowd of fellow tourists huddle on the corner, struggling to stand up straight while taking selfies, asking me to take photos of them.
When I was free from my role as an unpaid photographer, I took some photos of my own. The reservoir was just stunning. The snow-tipped mountains enhanced the appearance of the man-made lake.
After a short drive back the way we came, we pulled over to the side of the road, and Felipe told us he’d arranged a picnic. A table was arranged on a little hill, with a trickling waterfall in the rocks behind it. There were olives, little bits of carrot, and bread. The dip for the bread was a mixture of soy sauce, sesame seeds and philadelphia. It was a bizarre mix – one I’d seen another Chilean eat, earlier that week. It wasn’t three things I’d have chosen to put together personally, but it was surprisingly good. Maybe this is eaten everywhere and I’ve just never heard of it, or maybe it’s a modern delicacy of Chile. Either way, it’s definitely worth a try.
There were a few bottles of wine to share between the group, too but I’m not much of a wine drinker.
Experience the unique terrain of the Atacama desert like the ancient people of the Atacama did on the Ancestral Caravan tour. Trek the desert using traditional Andean llamas alongside local communities and indigenous people sharing their customs and culture along the way. The tour is a great way to learn more about the traditional cultures of the desert and connect with local people.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
See the desert from another angle on a magical hot air balloon ride above the Atacama. Eastern Safari’s “Balloons Over Atacama” offers daily flights over the Atacama Desert and close to San Pedro de Atacama, with views of the endless salt flats, impressive volcanoes and ancient rock formations. Every ride can hold up to 16 passengers, and a premium option is also available, which includes a toast of sparkling wine at the end and a photo of the flight.
Half Day Fishing Tour of Easter Island
Explore Easter Island and learn more about the native tradition of fishing and cooking on this half day tour of the island. With the help of a native Easter Islander fisherman, you will learn the core techniques behind fishing on the island and then fish in its waters yourself. The catch of the day is then prepared and cooked over the island’s natural hot volcanic rocks to create the traditional dish “Tuni Ahi”, which is served on banana leaves.
Horseback riding in Easter Island
Travelling the island on horseback is one of the best ways to see the hidden natural beauty of the region and reduce your carbon footprint. A typical Rapa Nui experience takes you to some of the more remote areas of the island that can only be reached by taking this traditional mode of transport. What’s more, you don’t have to be an experienced rider to make the journey and travel into the past, it’s a peaceful and engaging experience that takes all-levels of riders through regions such as Rano Raraku, Orongo and Mount Terevaka.
Santiago and Central Chile
Penguin Watching Cachagua Tour
Leave the hustle and bustle of Santiago and head to the beautiful beaches and islands off the villages of Cachagua and Zapallar. Known for their delicious seafood and stunning shoreline, the villages offer access to the remote and protected Humboldt Island, also known as Penguin’s Island. Enjoy the magical Chilean countryside on route to the coast, made up of Avocado farms and vineyards, and a boat ride to greet the colony of penguins located on Humboldt Island. There will also be time to swim and sunbathe at hidden bays and sample local seafood.
Snow Hike tour from Santiago
Put on your snow shoes and trek through the heart of the Andes, on this expertly-led hiking experience like now other. Led by an expert mountaineer guide the trek leaves from Santiago to the valley of Cajon del Maipo. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains ranges and snow-topped peaks as you climb, and when you finally reach Aguas Penimavida. Knowledgable local guides will enhance the experience with stories of the mountain ranges and volcanoes before heading back down to the town of San Jose del Maipo, and a delicious Chilean empanada.
Chilean Lake District
Alerce Andino National Park
The Southern Chilean Lake District is one of the country’s most dramatic landscapes, and this tour takes you to one of the region’s most prized natural emblems, the ancient Alerce tree. The tree was made a national monument in 1976 and is a massive 45 meters high and 4 meters wide. Located in the Alerce Andino National Park, this tour takes you through ancients forests and offers views of the Calbuco volcano and the Andean-Patagonia mountain range. Take on three beautiful trails, including a wet waterfall hike and plenty of time to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Located in the Los Lagos region of Chile, the Chiloe Island tour departs from Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt. Take the ferry across the Pacific to the island, which is the fifth largest island in South America. Visit the island’s oldest village, Chacao, and its distinctive UNESCO World Heritage Listed native timber churches and architecture, dating back to 1567. The tour also includes a visit to Castro, the capital and third oldest city in all of Chile. Visitors will have a chance to shop in the towns and city and sample food at a typical Chiloe Island restaurant.
Whale watching from Punta Arenas
Journey through the first ever Marine National Park in Chile, Francisco Coloane, and spot some of the most majestic creatures in the world, humpback whales. Get up-close to the marvellous creatures surrounded by impressive untouched landscape, including hanging glaciers on the Darwin mountain range, as you journey by boat through the park and regions around it. There will also be a chance to spot some of the other inhabitants of the park, including Magellan penguins, sea lions, austral dolphins, albatross and sea elephants.
Ice Hike at Glacier Grey
There is nothing quite as impressive as walking on a glacier. With Big Foot Patagonia you can ice hike on Glacier Grey, and be on the only tourists there! With the assistance of an experienced guide, you will be supplied with the relevant equipment to climb and take the 2.5 hour trek through cracks, rivers, lagoons and tunnels of the pristine Grey Glacier. Visitors with knee problems should consult guides before booking.