13 months
Apr 29:
help! lost again
chile gallery
all galleries
next location

Andes Mountains (on the road to El Volcan)
near San Alfonso, Chile; Apr 29, 2005

the low down

on the way to San Jose de Maipo

Overall: Frankly, we shortchanged Chile. We added it to our itinerary at the last minute (our flight to Rio required a stopover there so we decided to stay awhile), and we only gave ourselves a week. If we could plan our trip again we would definitely spend more time here. The terrain is so diverse since it covers such a long north-south span (about 4,000 km). But of course this also means it takes a long time to explore. There is also wide variation in the cities and towns, from sleepy seaside villages to crowded, gritty cities. We're here in their low-tourist season and some small towns we visited seem almost deserted. The weather was fine and it was nice to get vistas and beaches to ourselves (although sometimes finding a place to eat was a bit difficult).

What we did: We flew into Santiago and spent a few days driving north to visit the beautiful beaches and small coastal towns (Vina del Mar up to Papudo). Then we spent the last few days driving southeast to get a taste of the impressive Andes Mountains (Cajon de Maipo to San Alfonso).

Essentials: Good maps. It's easy to get lost in Santiago and the surrounding areas since the signage isn't very good. Some major streets are referred to by several names. Stop by a tourist office and pick up some maps. Santiago is a big city so you can probably find everything you need there, but once you get out of the city into the small towns, even groceries can be hard to find. You may have to drive into the next city (20 minutes away) to get supplies.

the Acsensor Arilleria (one of many) in Valparaiso

Food: In general, the food in Chile is not supposed to be very good and frankly, it lives up (or down) to that reputation. There isn't much variety and the quality is only okay. What we did eat: Ensalada Mixta – overly-boiled, or canned green beans, tomatoes, guacamole (no lettuce). Ordering a hamburguesa completa gets you a very large bun, big hamburger pattie, guacamole, and spicy onion garlic salsa. It’s the tastiest of the food we tried.

People: So friendly! We got lost frequently while driving around and all of our maps were terrible so we stopped to ask directions a lot. Every time, fortunately, people were super helpful (see chile: help! lost again).

Standard of living: One of the highest in South America

Daily budget: In keeping with its high standard of living, it’s one of the most expensive countries in South America, but it’s still cheaper than cities in the US. Not including the car (which was about $200 US for the week), we spent about $75 US/day. We also had to pay $100 US each reciprocity tax to enter the country.

Exchange rate: US $1 = $580 Chilean pesos

What's fabulous: One great reason to come to Chile is to explore the outdoors. The country is bordered almost everywhere by beach on one side and mountains on the other, so the vistas are sensational. Another great reason to come is the people.

Weather: We're here in their winter time and have been lucky to get sunshine on 6 of they 7 days that we were here. The temperature is mild all day.

our cabin at San Alfonso

Getting around: Although you can get to a lot of interesting things near Santiago by bus (1 to 3 hours), we recommend renting a car so that you can leisurely enjoy the views and stop in any of the small cities along the coast and in the mountains. Our reservation at Alamo was US $230 for the week plus taxes, but we changed our minds on arrival and went with a local company that approached us in the airport for US $200 all-inclusive for the week (try to get a car that's full of gas, however; ours was empty - it's difficult to return a car empty, not to mention the fact that you have to get gas straight away). The highways are clean, mostly well-maintained and not crowded. Otherwise, there are small local flights available to get far north or south. Getting around Santiago on foot or in taxis is easy.

Difficulties: Lack of hot water – in every place we stayed and in every bathroom, there was only cold water – chile, we mean chilly!

Specific places we visited/things we did:
  - Valparaiso: This is a crowded, strange and delightful town. It’s charming, but kinda' dirty, and as you go up the hill away from the beach the roads are crazy steep and skinny. It seems like your car will just slide off the hill or flip onto its back. We slid while pointed down a couple of times. The upper city is connected to the lower city by a multitude of interesting ascensors (train-car elevators).

>> Recommended accomodation: Garivalpo <<
website; email; phone: +56 32-213402 or +56 32-490920;
address: Garibaldi 191, Cerro La Cruz, Valparaiso; owner: Uberlinda Valencia
A clean, family run B&B with super nice owner and staff with great advice on what to do and see. Our stay in Valparaiso was made much more memorable because of these folks. They served us the best breakfast we ate in all of South America.

  - Vina del Mar: Chile's best-known beach resort and an amazing contrast from Valparaiso, only an hour’s drive away. It’s a nice and relaxing beach town with modern conveniences, beautiful beaches and freezing-cold ocean. Also home to Grace’s favorite hot dog, the "Cubano."
  - Horcon: Lovely to see, it’s a true fishing village that doesn’t get visited much by tourists. Watch horses here pull small fishing boats up onto the beach (1500 pesos a pull). Walk out to the pier and you can see fish swimming in their very clean water. One of Susan's favorite places.
  - Zapallar: Where Chile's elite live. It has a beautiful coastline and many beautiful houses that must have gorgeous views. We couldn’t find any place to stay here, so we just strolled around pretending to be aristocrats for a while, then jumped in our cheapo rental car and headed on.
  - Papudo: Has a beautiful long beach, but the whole town is deserted (we’re in low season). No, seriously, as in really, actually deserted. We ate lunch in the only restaurant open in the city. It looks like it might be a great place when there are more folks around, but it was a bit weird as a ghost town.
  - San Alfonso: Most people (including a lot of backpackers) stop at San Jose de Maipo, but we decided to keep going another 20 kilometers south to San Alfonso. We rented a cabin for a few days and enjoyed that “middle of nowhere” feel in the Andes Mountains.

>> Recommended accomodation: Parque Almendro <<
These spiffy cabins (see picture above) located just past San Alfonso are a great place to get away from it all. The only person we saw was the guy who gave us our key.


>> Recommended restaurant: La Petit France <<
website; address: Camino al Volcan 16096, San Jose de Maipo
This cute little place is hard to find, but worth the effort if you're neaby. It's before San Jose de Maipo proper, on the left up a long driveway.

  - Santiago: A confusing city in which to drive, but the locals are quick to help you find your way. We recommend lunch (cheap, fun, and easy) at one of many restaurants in the Mercado Central (basically a big fish and produce market). Another highlight is taking the Cerro San Cristobal Funicular up to Virgen de la Immaculada to see the view (the highest point for miles around, 860M - on a spur of the Andes sticking into the city). One bummer about Santiago, however, is the smog; it is often thick and pretty gross (and it certainly detracts from the views which is ironic considering the clean majesty of most of the country).

>> Not Recommended: Hotel Monte Carlo <<
This hotel is near the small Pargue Forestal in Santiago. It costs too much, and the service was abysmal. Choose somewhere else.

Check out the chile gallery for pix of all the above!

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved