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Blog 2 - Chile

Blog for Chile

After our 16 hour flight from Sydney we arrived in hazy Chile and took a taxi to our accommodation run by an American surfer. A place I found on the internet. It cost 23,800clp (Chilean pesos) per night with a shared bathroom so had adequate facilities but you needed to stand still when you talked as the floorboards were so noisy you couldn’t hear each other talking. An old, cold two story place that looked fine but no one from the management slept in the place and we were unlucky for a few days, as 8 American (US) “masters” students came to stay and partied till 6 and then 3am for two nights. We also needed to ask for extra blankets and one night got a hot water bottle. Am I getting old or what????

Santiago was hazy all of the 9 days were there. Had our “travellers contact cards” printed here so making it easier for us to pass on our contact details. Only costs A$25 for 100 cards each. We had printed on each card just our names, email, blog and skype addresses and our individual life mottos. Mine was “Live like there is no tomorrow!” and Valerie’s “Just live it!” We find it much easier than needing to find a bit of paper every time to write our contact details on as we meet lots of other travellers.

We did a “walking tour for tips” around most of the main sights, buildings, statues, the plazas, discovered much of the history and sampled a bit of the local food and wines. I recommend the wines. But being on a budget we kept to the reasonably priced bottles. Found a nice Cab Sav – “Santa Digna Reserva” that was reasonably priced and enjoyed a few of these. No BYO here so have to pay the restaurant prices unless you take a bottle back to your accommodation. Basically, I think prices here are not too much cheaper than Australia.

An interesting thing about Chile is that there are lots of town dogs. (Communally taken care of by the local people) They just live in the street. All seem to have there own spot. Some even have doggy coats made for them to keep them warm. Most seem very friendly? I wasn’t prepared to test the theory!

Also of note is that there are military looking uniformed police everywhere, all the time. No problems I guess as their presence is a good deterrent to any would be thief. We found it all very safe and most enjoyable. We did a lot of walking, rode the metro and took as needed taxis but not the city buses, as our Spanish isn’t that good “yet”. Caught up with a friend I hadn’t seen for 5 years. I met him in Spain and we have kept contact. Had a great night with him, his girl friend and some of her other girl friends.

The Lonely Planet Guidebook said it would cost $36 to $55 per person a day to live in Chile. Our expenditure for the first 10 days was $110 so we were pleased with that. We will see if our travelling costs keep to that once we start travelling on the buses and doing a few more tours. Also this guide is a few years old. Plan to buy the new book when it is published in August. Our budget for Chile is $120 per day and the most expensive in South America and we are travelling in the low season. The exchange rate is: A$1 = CH$440 (Chilean pesos) and falling I think.

Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.

We travelled by bus to Valparaiso (120 klms) and stayed for 4 days at the Luna Sonrisa Hostal. A town on the beach (almost - mostly on the side of a hill or should I say 42 hills) well the nearby town of Vina del Mar is on the beach but the day we took a bus there it was all fogged in. Valparaiso is built on the side of many very steep hills and has lots of ascensores (funicular elevators) that creak at an improbable angle up to a very different city above. Many houses are painted in really bright colours and with lots of murals, graffiti and you would shudder at the madly crisscrossing electricity wires above the streets. Maybe that explains the fact that they have 16 fire stations and each is run by volunteers who are held in great respect in the community. All the fire stations are independent and are named after a different country from where most of their original volunteers came.

Valparaiso is the second largest city in Chile and is UNESCO world protected now so it will be much like it is now when you come to visit it…..

We did another walking tour for tips here and again it was great value for money. Just pay what you want. I must add that as we enjoyed these tours both here and in Santiago and both our guides did get a tip. Which is unusual for me!

We enjoyed a harbour tour in a small boat and it amazed me how the seals got up on the floating buoys in the harbour as the top was some distance out of the water.

La Serena
Next was a 7 hour bus ride to Serena. This was to break up the trip to San Pedro De Atacama, which our next proposed destination.

We booked into Maria’s Casa from Valparaiso. It was only 15,000clp (about A$34) for a double but did not include any breakfast. Nice place close to the bus terminal and city square. Had WI-FI which is a must for us if and when we can get it. We have had it in all our accommodation so far so have been able to access our emails and Skype friends who are online daily.

No laundry allowed here so I (yes, me by myself) went out and found a laundry that washed and dried our clothes ready for our ongoing adventure. A lot of body language and a few words in both Spanish and English seemed to do the trick. Had to ask 3 times to find the place and then once to get what I wanted done. However, if someone turns up in a laundry with a bag of clothes, I guess it’s not too difficult for the locals to understand what I wanted. I just then had to pay and extract the time I could come back and collect then cleaned clothes….

We did a day tour to the Elqui Valley. In this mystical valley, the birth place of Pisco and Gabriela Mistral, (Chile’s first Nobel peace prize recipient) we visited a museum dedicated to her and to a distillery where pisco is made. Enjoyed a nice traditional lunch and a glass of wine, some pisco sours and saw a rich farming valley. We also visited the Puclaro Dam which is huge but almost empty as they have had little rain for 7 years. However, it rained all night and on the day we left.

San Pedro de Atacama

A long 16 hour overnight bus ride and at the back near the toilet which was visited every 15 to 30 minutes so sleeping was difficult… But it’s all part of the adventure on a budget.

San Pedro de Atacama is located in the 2nd region of Chile, the most arid desert in the world, the Atacama Desert. The Spanish invaded this area in 1540 but had been invaded before by the Incas in 1450. When the Spanish came they beheaded all the native chiefs. The locals then became subjects of Spain and all converted Catholics.

Again we had checked out availability of accommodation in advance on the internet but on arrival we were met by several hostellers offering even cheaper accommodation! So we opted for the cheapest offered and were even offered a free taxi ride there! Was this going to be a mistake? Well we arrived at the Hostal. The La Casa de los Musicos was made of mud, as are most of the buildings, and most of the fittings made by the owners themselves. Everything was very basic but our double room was large and there was a very soft bed. We managed and the back survived. It squeaked a bit when I first sat on it but not too bad, however it sure did sag almost to the floor and you could feel all the wire springs in the mattress! In the morning the cold shower was more of a challenge! Especially as it was only about 8º by this time. We did need to put our two sleeping bags on top during the night as it got down to about – 10º!

We were advised how to get the shower warm, so we agreed to stay and did a tour of the village. We checked out the post office as we needed to get our first post cards on there way before we left Chile and the museum. Seven stamps needed to get a card to Australia!

I had been here just over 19 years ago and then it consisted of the town square with his enormous pepper trees and the San Pedro de Atacama church made of adobe (mud). Both, I remember from my previous visit. However, the rest is all so much larger now. When I was here in 1994 there were no more than 400 people and now over 4,500. The downtown still preserves the structure of the Spanish colonial influence, antique adobe houses with interior yards and roofs made of clay or hay. It rains very little here so a mud or hay roof is normally good enough, except it still gets very hot and very cold so the walls are thick.

There are now well over 15 hotels, 23 hostels, 5 cabanas and apartment hotels listed in one of the guide books so there are stacks of tourist everywhere, even in this off season…

There are now tours for every thing in the area. First we did a tour of the Lagunas Altiplanicas. This tour takes you on a 62 kilometre bus ride and shows you some high altitude lakes (about 4,000 mtrs) where 3 species of Flamingo habitat, plains covered in some green and yellow grasses and snowy peaked mountains which I could also see from San Pedro. Five of the mountains are volcanos. Don’t know when they last erupted but I gather from our poor English speaking guide that one had done so a few years ago and one little village in the area gets earth tremors several times a month? Saw some more vicunas (un-domesticated smaller llama type animals), a couple of viscacha, small rabbit type things with tails longer than a rabbit, as well as a fox running across the snow on the edge of a near frozen lake at some high altitude which name I have forgotten. That’s the name of the lake, not of the fox! The lake looked good and a few good photos were taken but the fox was too far away and I couldn’t get a photo if it that could recognise it as a fox!

Then there are the lakes, salty (Laguna Cejar almost as salty as the Dead Sea where it is very easy to float effortlessly) and a fresh water spring, Tebinquiche Lagoon, where you can swim and wash off the salt from your body and then at sunset have a picnic with chips, a juice or a Pisco Sour to brighten up the evening. The flamingos tour (3 types), the Geyser del Tatio tour, with the hot pool (this tour required us to get out of bed at 3:30am for a 4am pick-up when it was about -10º and I froze so much that I was unable to thaw out enough to take get undressed to have a swim in the hot pool). This attraction is 90 kilometres north of San Pedro de Atacama and at 4,320 metres above sea level. The fumaroles come up to the surface through fissures reaching temperatures of 85 °C and they claim 10 metres in height. Maybe they were but I wasn’t that impressed. Maybe I was still feeling too cold… They claimed it could be seen at its best between 6:00 to 7:00am even with the temperatures below zero… We also saw a few vicunas and Guanacos and a range of different birds but I can’t remember their names.

The Valley of the Moon Tour is a barren landscape that resembles the moon and includes their version of Death Valley. On this tour you see the various sandy and rocky panoramic views. On the horizon you see the blue sky join the snowy peaks of the Andes Mountains and several of the 5 volcanos in the area. There are other tours too, but you can’t do all the tours, can you, especially when travelling on budget…

The guide book showed 13 tourist offices, but I would say there was more than double that number hawking the same tours. Anyway, we did 4 tours and saw most of there was to see as it is very unlikely that we would ever be back again.


Our bus left San Pedro de Atacama at 8:25pm on the Sunday the 2nd of June and we were meant to arrive in Arica at 5:30am. However, it broke down. I think maybe a “timing gear” but who knows. Two buses came to our aid and we shifted our gear onto another and continued after an hour and a half delay. We couldn’t get into our hostel until 8am so with the delay we ended up arriving at a much better time. A short walk and we found us at our Hostal. The Hostal Sunny Days is run by a Kiwi and his Chilean wife but they were away and the place was being managed by a young Kiwi nurse over from Christchurch. The place was good with all the facilities needed. Two good kitchens, roof top area for sunset drinks and close to the bus terminal and free WiFi and plenty of hot water. Probably the best place we have stayed in Chile. It included an all you can eat breakfast. However, it was 24,000clp (A$54.55) per night for a double with en-suite. You paid extra for a laundry service but it was done in-house.

Arica is called the city of eternal spring as the climate and beaches attract thousands of visitors each year. A relaxed, safe beach resort city with a population of 170,000.The sands of Chinchorro Beach continue for more than 20 kilometres to the border of Peru. Summer days seldom exceed 28 degrees so not too hot but winters get down to 10 degrees so a bit too cold for my swimming. They also claim that they have sunshine every day of the year. There is also a spectacular “Parque Nacional Lunca”, a unique area of native lands (137,888ha) with Lago Chungara – a lake 4,500 metres above sea level and 21.5 sq, km in area as it’s focal point. The area is surrounded by volcanoes that are mostly over 6,000 metres high. It is also renowned for having had a civilization that dates back 9,600 years, made mummies of their dead over 3,000 years before the Egyptians. However, we just relaxed, checked out the town and socialised with some other travellers. I think we did too much in San Pedro De Atacama. We may be back next year so don’t feel we lost an opportunity and you can’t see everything on our budget.

Next day we do our border run into Peru. (See Peruvian Section to follow soon.)

Posted by wherethehellrwe 15:07 Archived in Chile

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