After spending more than 5 weeks in Argentina, with of course a couple of days in Puerto Natales, Chile, it is time to say goodbye Argentina. From Mendoza we travelled to Santiago de Chile. A beautiful bus ride of 7 hours over the Andes mountains. Compared by scenery, this bus ride was the moet beautiful one so far. Crossing the border into Chile was at the highest point of the drive. The border crossing Los Libertadores is at 3200m altitude! It took 1.5 hours to pass the control with our bus, luckily without any issues.
Santiago de Chile
We arrived late at night at one of the four bus terminals in Santiago. The streets around the terminal were a huge mess, with big busses being parked everywhere. We exited the terminal and got into a taxi cab to our hostel: Hostal Ají. Although it was not the cheapest option, we were too tired to use the metro. Our taxicab driver was a funny guy. He had just bought a Playstation 4 with Fifa, and he could share his love for football with us. The people of South America always seem to know one or more famous Dutch football players! In the end we even had to help him finding the hostel. There are 17 million people living in Chile, and 7 million of the Chileans live in Santiago! It is more than twice the size of Buenos Aires. After the check-in at the hostel we left our bags behind in the dormitory and headed out to get something to eat. Our hostel was at the edge of the Providencia neighborhood. A 20 minute walk to the city center, and a 15 minute walk to the student neighborhood of Bellavista — just across the river. In the Bellavista neighborhood we found a resto-bar to eat some and had a couple of beers to enjoy our night.
We went to explore the city by ourselves in the morning. We learned about a free walking tour through Santiago at our hostel, which we wanted to do in the afternoon. The city center was easily reachable by walking no more than 30 minutes. On our way to the center we passed the Cerro Santa Lucía. A man made hill in the middle of the city, with a small castle on top. The view on the top gave us a nice idea about what Santiago looks like: mostly flats and high rises as far as the eye can see. And, not to forget, smog everywhere. The air quality in the city was no good. After visiting the Cerro Santa Lucía we slowly made our way to the mercado central: the fish market of Santiago. More than 90% of the market has become restaurants nowadays, mostly catering the tourist crowd. We enjoyed our lunch in one of the small restaurants on the perimeter of the market hall. It was nice to eat some seafood after spending more than six weeks in Argentina eating mostly meat.
From the market we walked to the Plaza de las Armas where the free walking tour started. If you ever plan to visit Santiago, you should definitely join the tour. During the tour we got to see quite a lot of amazing places in the city. We walked for over four hours, and learned lots about the history of Santiago, Chili and its inhabitants. After the tour we briefly returned to our hostel to join the free dinner. For an €11 per night it is quite fascinating how many free services they offered. That night we returned to the Bellavista neighborhood to watch a Copa Libertadores football game of Santiago’s team Colo Colo. After the game was finished we bumped into a familiar face from Mendoza, with whom we shared a couple of drinks.
On our second day we visited the Barrio Brasil as our tour guide suggested yesterday. It was a little bit further than the center, so we used the subway system instead of walking. A 15 minute long air conditioned ride later we arrived in the neighborhood. Barrio Brasil contains some of the oldest buildings in Santiago and has plenty of street art. We strolled around the neighborhood all morning and had a set menu as lunch. Included was a selection of the main course, a dessert, drink and coffee. All for no more than €15 per person! We continued walking to nearby park Quinta Normal. Stopping in between to take a look at some of the street art. In the park we visited a free museum about the natural history of Chile.
We used the subway system to get back to the Plaza de las Armas. We were still in the possession of a lot of Argentine pesos, hence we decided to sell them at a money exchange office. In the end we found one with a good exchange rate in the middle of the financial district. There was only one thing left in Santiago that we wanted to visit: Cerro San Cristóbal. The highest hill within the city limits of Santiago and also the biggest park. We took the funicular to reach the summit of 869 meters, where we could enjoy the view of the city once more. Back at the hostel we met two English girls, with who we joined the BBQ and party that was being organized that night by the hostel. A fun night out to finish our short stay in Santiago!
Getting to Valparaíso from Santiago was easy. Busses leave the terminal every 15 minutes, and take less than two hours to reach the city by the sea. Once we arrived in Valparaíso it was a 30 minute walk to the hostel. The city is build on and around 43 hills, and faces the Pacific Ocean. It used to be the biggest harbor in Chile, however due to fierce competition from the Panama Canal the city ended up in poverty. Whilst the city is slowly recovering, the turbulent past is still visible everywhere.
After an exhausting day yesterday we did get a good night of sleep. The Casa Volante hostel where we stayed was split into a couple of apartments, each with their own common area and kitchen. The breakfast was served every morning in our common area. A pity you don’t meet everyone in the hostel. Near midday we went to explore Valparaíso on our own. The hostel is located on the Cerro Concepcíon, the most famous of the 43 hills. Together with hordes of other tourists we strolled through the streets gazing at all the street art. We walked for a couple of hours and returned to the city center for a lunch. In a small German bar we enjoyed a good salmon sandwich.
After the lunch we walked back uphill to La Sebastiana, the third home of Chile’s poet Pablo Neruda. At the entrance to the museum we bumped into three girls who were with us on our first wine tour in Mendoza. We had a little chat and exchanged contact details to stay in touch. Like pretty much all backpackers we met they were going to travel in the same direction as us. The house of Pablo Neruda is a five story collection of sea related artifacts. Pablo loved to collect. The audio tour told us many interesting facts about the life of Neruda and the artifacts found in his house. We returned to the hostel to join a pizza barbecue that night. The pizzas were prepared on the barbecue and tasted rather good. There we met two German girls with who we socialized during dinner.
Together with the Germans girls we left the hostel early to join a free walking tour of Valparaíso. At 10 AM we gathered on a square in the city for the tour start. The tour took us up to Cerro Concepcíon using one of the ancient funiculars. We were guided through the streets, gazing at street art and the colorful buildings of the city. Our guide highlighted not only the beautiful side of the city, but also the bad side. We had a small break where we could try the best empanadas in town. Compared to the empanadas that I have tasted so far, I prefer the Argentine empanadas. The empanadas in Argentina are baked, in Chile they are fried. The tour ended in the harbor area of town.
With the German girls we went to a local seafood restaurant — Porto Viejo — recommended to us by the tour guide. We enjoyed a late lunch of fish and seafood and enjoyed each other’s company for a couple of hours. After the lunch we hiked up Cerro Artillería for a different viewpoint of the city. We returned to the hostel and parted our ways for a while. We invited the girls to join us for dinner. That night we baked them typical Dutch pancakes, with fresh fruits as toppings. A nice evening to end our stay in Valparaíso!