A love affair with chile: 2 week itinerary
Personal blog, 2018
I’m not going to lie. I fell in love with Chile first and foremost because of the dogs.
On our first stop in Santiago, we noticed hundreds of dogs roaming the streets. However, they were significantly different to the street dogs we had seen in other parts of South America.
Namely, they were healthy.
They looked sparkling clean, well-fed and happy. I even renounced my fear of rabies to pet a couple of them. We learnt on our walking tour of Santiago that in the eighties, street dogs were so rampant that authorities started to round them up, put them in inhospitable shelters and in many cases euthanised them.
The community of Santiago would not stand for this and began to voluntarily take care of the dogs. They vaccinated them, fed and watered them. They loved them and in turn the dogs became a part of the community. And thanks to this not only is Chile bustling with happy and healthy street dogs but there has not been an outbreak of rabies in nearly thirty years.
And so my love affair with Chile began. It was only on our excursion to Elqui Valley that I discovered another reason why I was so enamoured by Chile.
While cycling through the gorgeous countryside surrounding Vicuna, I realised that I must have said “hola!’” close to one hundred times that day alone. Every single person we came across greeted us like old friends and not in the creepy way you sometimes get in certain parts of South America.
I felt welcome and people were proud and grateful that you had decided to visit their country. And yes, backpackers complain that Chile is pricey and it certainly is compared to Bolivia and Peru, but you can’t let that affect your experience of this great country.
So without further adieu, here is a fool proof guide to seeing the best of Chile in two weeks:
Start off with three days in Santiago
Chile’s bustling capital of Santiago is the perfect place to get a sense of the country.
Stay in a hostel in Bella Vista for cheap accommodation and bustling bars and restaurants. This area is littered with street art and quirky shops so definitely put aside some time to explore.
Make sure to do a walking tour to take in Chile’s fascinating history. I recommend Tours 4 Tips and take the downtown tour for a good insight into recent history in the country. For more insight into the history of Chile, head to the Human Rights Museum, about five stops from the centre by metro.
Head to Valparaiso for three days of aimless exploring
There’s not loads to do touristy wise but this city is made for roaming the streets, taking in the beautiful coloured buildings and street art and of course sampling all the trendy bars and restaurants on offer.
Again, Tips for Tours do a great walking tour of the city which is always a great place to start. If you go on the tour, prepare to take in the main stops of the city including the best street art and even sample some of Chile’s local delicacies.
There are hundreds of places to eat in Valparaiso so look out for local, small restaurants for a sample of Chile’s authentic food. It may not be high brow cuisine but it is certainly something worth sampling.
First try a Michelada, a beer mixed with sweet lime juice and sugar. For mains order a plate of the Chorillana, a huge plate of chips topped with fried meat and onions topped with a subtle sweet apple sauce (tip! try the vegetarian version of this also, it is equally if not even more delicious!).
Lastly for a stunning location for food head to Fauna. Sitting high up in the city's skyline, enjoy a plate of delicious food or drinks at a reasonable price all while enjoying the panoramic views.
Take in nature for three days in the Elqui Valley.
Situated just 40 minutes from La Serena, Elqui Valley is a stunning mountainous region dotted with wineries and pisco breweries.
Many people do day trips from La Serena to Elqui Valley, but for better value and more time in the area, why not stay in Vicuna just minutes outside the valley?
From here you can rent bikes and enjoy many stunning routes through the valley. There are many slightly longer and more difficult routes but for an easy option, I recommend the four hour cycle through the countryside of Vicuna. Not only will you take in all the views of the valley without having to spend hours cycling uphill, there are also some great stops along the way.
First you will come to the pisco brewery where you can enjoy a brief tour and wine tasting. You can also try out the beer brewery for another tasting and a pizza if you are in the mood.
Next stop, lies the Hare Krishna commune, a small community living up in the mountains. Head in, be friendly and interested in their way of life and they will offer you full insight into their community as well as delicious food all for a tiny donation. We had literally one of the best vegetarian meals of our entire trip in this beautiful place.
Lastly, you can take the slightly more difficult route up to the solar kitchens on the way back to Vicuna.
You can organise bike rental and tours of the region at Elqui Magic, a great agency run by a young family who are more than helpful.
Four days of adventuring in San Pedro de Atacama
Atacama lies 2000 metres above sea level so prepare for potential altitude sickness. However, we can guarantee that it will be worth it.
In Atacama you tend to spend money as a lot of the things to do there are organised by tour companies. Definitely shop around and read reviews to get good value before booking.
The top things to do in Atacama include a trip to Moon Valley, the Geiser tour, star gazing and various lagoon tours (I wouldn’t recommend doing a lagoon tour if you plan to do a salt flats tour in Bolivia as you will see lots of them).
Moon Valley: There are two ways to see Moon Valley, by tour or by bike. While it is undoubtedly cheaper to see the area by bike, the cycle is not easy. Think blaring sun, endless sand and an uphill slog.
You can get a tour at a good price and it is definitely worth it. Take in all the views of the various valleys in the area, see moon valley from different angles, enjoy a short one hour hike across desert plains, visit a salt cave and lastly watch the sunset descend over the valley.
Star Gazing: the Atacama is one of the top destinations in Chile and it does not disappoint. Enjoy all of the popular constellations and insight into astrology with various telescopes.
Geiser Tour: Enjoy a day trip up to geysers in Atacama. Tours leave around 5 in the morning so you can enjoy the geysers before the sun has fully risen. Take in the geysers before enjoying breakfast on the mountain.
Also enjoy various wildlife and views before heading back to Atacama.