This year it will be 10 years anniversary that I had the best time of my life. Yes, it was still the best time of my life even though it’s 10 years ago. Incredible! In July 2009, one of the biggest adventures of my life started. I went to Santiago to do an exchange at University. I spent 6 month there, 4 month in Santiago studying, partying, traveling and enjoying a totally different life and 2 month traveling to other countries in South America. It was my first backpacking experience which I experienced and shared with my dear Australian flatmate and friend.
This article will be a short travel guide for Chile. I don’t want to go into detail too much as it is too long ago.
My flight back then was with Lufthansa and quite expensive, around 1000 Euro. It is still quite difficult to find cheap flights to Chile. Most of the flights have a stop-over in São Paulo, Brazil. It was summer time for us in Europe but winter time in Chile. The seasons are the other way round. When it’s winter for us, it’s summer for them. When it’s winter time for us, there is a time difference of –4 UTC. In our summer time it’s -3 UTC.
I did my exchange at the Universidad Mayor. It is a private University which back then was partnering with my home University in Cologne, Germany. The educational system is a different than ours so it was quite a challenge for me as all courses were in Spanish. Almost every week we were writing a test and at the end of the term, there was either a big exam or in my case, a big assignment to write, of course in Spanish. Anyway, not only because of the University but also because of the people I got to know and live to with, I finally got into to the Spanish language.
The best areas to live in Santiago back then were Providencia and Las Condes whereas Las Condes is the best and most expensive suburb to live in. I was living in a house, we called it „Casa Suecia“ as the house was located on „Avenida Suecia“. As far as I know, the house doesn’t exist anymore as a student’s house as the owner sold it. We were about 30 international people living in that house. Everyone had his/her own room except 2 rooms were double rooms. Shared kitchen and bathroom. When you living abroad and on your own at a young age the people you’re living with become your family. We did a lot of things together: traveling, partying, cinema, shopping, cooking, theatre, festivals…..At this point of my life, I learned a language properly, I made my second experience of living abroad but for the first time outside Europe and I made friends from all over the world and with some of them I’m still more or less in touch and some of them I even met again. If you have the chance, do it, go out into the world, make your experience of living in a foreign country. It will give you life experience and change you into someone even better 🙂
Santiago has a metro. I know, that it was extended over the last 10 years so I won’t give you any detailed information about it. Just check it out on your own once your there or click on the „metro“ link to access the their website. But you should also take the local bus at least once 🙂 Believe me, that’s an experience you don’t want to miss!
If you’re traveling to Chile, I would recommend to spend 3 days in Santiago.
What you shouldn’t miss in Santiago:
- Cerro San Cristóbal (a great view over Santiago, you can hike up approx. 45 minutes or take the funicular)
- Cerro Santa Lucía
- Moneda (Presidential Palace)
- Plaza de Armas (historical centre)
- Parque Metropolitano de Santiago
- Bellavista (a hip and trendy suburb of Santiago with a lot of street art, bars, restaurants and shopping)
- Valle Nevado (outside of Santiago, skiing region in the Andes)
- Santiago Cathedral
If you’re a museum person, there are quite a few of them. Also, there are quite a few markets which you should research before as I don’t remember the name anymore.
Going up north
Isla Negra at the coast of Chile, not far away from Santiago is famous for Pablo Neruda house. Pablo Neruda was a famous chilean poet and was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1971.
On the way you can check out Maipú which is famous for its wine and Pomaire for its beautiful and cheap pottery and traditional chileanean food.
Valparaíso is about an 1,5h drive from Santiago and a perfect day trip or stop over on your way up north. It’s a harbour city famous for it’s great graffiti (street art) scene and colourful houses. Stroll around Valparaíso and enjoy this nice city. You also get to see see lions around the harbour.
Viña del Mar
Viña del Mar is on chileans central pacific coast and is also close to Santiago and Valparaíso. If going up north you should also stop in Viña del Mar and spend a relaxed day at the beach.
San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama is a village within the Atacama desert and the main tourist spot. I did a 3-day tour which includes:
- Moon Valley
- Altiplanic Lagoons
- Cejar Lagoon
- El Tatio Geysers
We did another day tour around the Atacama desert.
Do some stargazing in San Pedro. It is one of the best spots in the world to do that and you shouldn’t miss it. Check the tours out while you’re there. There are plenty of agencies to book your tour with. Valle de la luna and the Geysers are a must see! I admit, the most beautiful night sky I’ve seen so far was not only at the Atacama desert but in general in South America. What’s also fun is to rent bikes and do your own bike tour around that area.
You can also book a 7-day tour towards Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia to visit the desert of salt. You can do it both ways, starting in Chile or starting in Bolivia and ending in San Pedro or Bolivia. I did start my tour in Bolivia so I’ll write about it in another post.
How to get from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama?
To go from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama you can either go by bus, which takes approx. 24h or take the plane. There are more places to explore in north Chile I didn’t go but San Pedro must be on your list.
Going down south
Famous for its beaches in summer and for the beautiful Valle del Elqui. A beautiful landscape famous for its vineyards and for the wine production. Yes, Chile is producing one of the best wines in the world.
Chiloé is the second largest island in Chile. You can easily travel around the island and explore. The islands landmark are the small churches which you can find in every city around Chiloé.
The most famous places to visit there are:
But still, I would recommend to visit Ancud and Castro. The other places are quite small and there’s not much to see except the church.
Pucón is famous for its outdoor activities and of course the volcano Villarica.
It is a beautiful, small town and you can do rafting, mountain biking, kayaking, canopying and much more.
What you shouldn’t miss is hiking up the volcano Villarica. It was off season when we did it, so we had to walk all the way. Usually, from September on, the ski lift takes you half way up so you only need to hike up half way 😀 It was really exhausting hiking all the way up through snow and unfortunately I didn’t make it to the top to see the caldera. Nevertheless, it was a good experience doing it. Make sure to take some chocolate bars with you 😉
Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt
On your way down south towards Patagonia you pass Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt when going by bus all the way. You can do a short stop-over if you like. Puerto Montt though, is not a very beautiful city and there isn’t much to do and see. Make sure to go for a walk at the lake Llanquihue. It is free and very beautiful. You also get to see the volcano Osorno from there. The volcano is another nice day trip around Puerto Varas. In winter time you can go skiing or snowboarding there and in summer you can do some trekking or zip lining.
Punta Arenas – the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park
Without doubt, for me a must do when you’re down in Patagonia. Breathtaking views and landscapes. You have different options to visit the national park. One option list to do a day tour (you would need to research it as there are different options for a day tour) or doing the W circuit, which is the small circuit and lasts 4 days or the O circuit. The O circuit is the big circuit and lasts about 8 days. Accommodation you’ll find in the park but the cheaper option is to take a tent with you and to camp. You need to take food and drinks with but don’t make your backpack too heavy as you need to walk 5-8 hours with it on your back.
I cannot tell you anything about the prices. You need to check them here. This website gives you also information about guided tours and packages. We did the W circuit on our own. You get a map and just need to follow the signs or even other people. You cannot really get lost doing it on your own 🙂 There are different prices for Chileanean and for foreigners. As I had a Chileanean ID for foreigners (due to my exchange at University) I was lucky and had to pay the local entrance fee. In every South American country you usually have different entrance fees for locals and for tourists.
After you’ve visited the national park make sure to visit Isla Magdalena and to see the penguins. You can organise your trip in Punta Arenas. Keep in mind that you can visit the Patagonia region not only in Chile but also in Argentina. Unfortunately, I didn’t go to fire land. If you have time, do it! I’m sure it’s amazing!
It is very easy and common to travel by bus. The buses are very comfortable and you can book different classes, e.g. cama or semi-cama. Cama means that you get almost a bed seat and semi-cama is just a normal bus seat. If it’s a long bus ride you also get a lunch package. Buses are the cheapest way to travel around Chile and South America. The most famous bus company is Pullmann. But check your initiary out here.
You can also take a flight. If you’re lucky you can find really good deals. The domestic flights are usually with LATAM Chile. For me, one of the best airlines. As usual, check your flights on skyscanner.
Hostels and Guesthouses are quite cheap and good. If you’re tired of being in hostels, you can also find good and cheap hotels with breakfast included.
Some last words about Chile
Chile is an amazing country. Some might say, it’s at the end of the world. Somehow it is. There’s much more to explore than what I’ve written about but that’s what I’ve done in Chile. If you have any questions or feedback don’t hesitate to get in touch with me 🙂 I also went to the Eastern Island which is politically part of Chile but geographically is located at the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern most point of Polynesia. I’ll do a separate blog post about it. Wait for it 🙂