Santiago, Viña del Mar and Valparaiso

The Antarctic adventure may have been over but we still had a couple of days of exploring South America to go. We had flown out of Ushuaia, Argentina just after 2.30pm after a rough couple of days in the Drake Passage. The long flight North to Buenos Aires had us in at dinner time, with a 2 hour layover before our flight to Santiago, Chile.

Heading North….

Our bags were checked through so we just needed to find the international terminal and go through immigration and security again. About two-thirds of the plane were passengers from the Ocean Endeavour, so we farewelled a few more familiar faces as we headed through to international.

We were missing our buffet lunch on the ship. Unfortunately, the only place to eat airside was an Aussie Steakhouse, go figure! Apparently they served Kookaburra wings, that great Aussies delicacy 😛 We were highly amused. I managed to get a decent veggie burger, but Di a terrible steak burger, ironic in Argentina, know for their steak.

Farewell Buenos Aires, hello Santiago…

During dinner, we’d received a message that our planned Andes tour was cancelled and we couldn’t be rebooked until the day we were flying home to Australia. The company offered us a winery tour instead. Since flying over the Andes, both in and out of Santiago I’d been hanging out to do the Andes day trip. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be on this trip. As fun as wineries can be, we wanted to see more of Chile, so compromised on doing a tour to the coast and Valparaiso, which was our second choice after the Andes tour.

In the meantime it was time to board our flight to Santiago, the sun was setting as we were boarding the plane.

Our flight to Santiago was uneventful, and as the sun had set on take-off we had very little to look at. We landed a little early, at 10pm, and then had a date with our least favourite people of the trip, Chilean immigration!

The walk to the immigration queue was long, and we were disappointed to see the line was again huge. When we finally reached the front, Di’s visa was inspected and she was stamped and waved through. Then they turned to me and decided that my exact same visa was not OK, as it had been used before. The immigration official had decided to use our visa for this stay in Santiago on the way back, on the way through, when we were just transiting through the airport. At the time we argued it was incorrect but were just glad they were letting us through. Unfortunately now, it was causing a problem. I was about to shout at Di ‘ just run’ and I’d see her back in Australia when they deported me. However, I managed to talk my way in.

Pleased to finally be allowed into Chile, the biosecurity (SAG) staff just looked at us, took pity, and waved us through. We located our bags, and then our driver, and were glad to be on the long walk to the transfer van.

We were very relieved our hotel transfer had actually arrived this time. It had been a long day and it was a good half hour drive into the city and our hotel. Di was thoroughly unimpressed about how much graffiti she could see everywhere and how uninviting Santiago appeared to be. I was happy to reserve judgement until daylight and some exploring the next day. Luckily our hotel, Plaza San Francisco seemed very nice. We arrived just before midnight, and were pleased to be in a room that seemed enormous after our ship cabins, with queen sized beds rather than our ship single beds, and shower that didn’t try to toss out us. Luxury!

I checked in with Anto, to let him know I’d made it into Chile, and we both collapsed into bed. Our early alarm to get us for the tour was not much of a problem as we both woke up well before 7am anyway, and headed downstair to breakfast. Sadly there wasn’t quite the same array of delicious pastries we had in Buenos Aires, but we managed ok!

12 March… off to Valaparaiso

I’m not normally a huge fan of tours but we wanted to see some of Chile, during our short stay. A day tour out to the coast was a pretty good option to get us to many places in a day. We planned to explore Santiago city on foot the next day with a walking tour.

We got our first taste of the ‘security issues’ in Santiago with the hotel doormen not being keen on us hanging around out the front of the hotel on our own. Even 2m from the doors. Our mini-van pulled up on time and our tour guide (or ‘guide tour’, as she called herself) was Malu, and our driver Roberto. The bus was full, but it was only a small group.

We started with a half hour drive out of the city and through the coastal ranges and many large tunnels. The landscape was rather reminiscent of parts of Australia.

Our first stop was for ‘breakfast’. We got to try an array of Chilean pastries, most of which were rather sweet. Admire a lot of copper pans and then try some traditional Chilean ‘Chicha’, a liqueur made from fermented maize. It was nice but given it was 10am we weren’t sure it counted as breakfast!

Viña del Mar

Now with our second breakfast on board it was off to our next stop, Viña del Mar, is a coastal resort city northwest of Santiago. Viña del Mar; meaning “Vineyard of the Sea” is a city on central Chile’s Pacific coast. Often referred to as La Ciudad Jardín (“The Garden City”), Viña del Mar is located within the Valparaíso Region, and it is Chile’s fourth largest city, after the Metropolitan area of Santiago. 

Our next stop was the Reloj del Flores, the flower clock. The clock was built when Viña del Mar was chosen to host the 1962 soccer World Cup. The working clock comprises 16,000 plants, and the flowers are changed twice a year.

We loved the tsunami evacuation sign! Hopefully nothing we had to worry about on such a lovely day…..

After the flower clock we had a little drive through the coastal town. It is rather pretty and would have been nice to walk around, but we were off to our next stop, the moai or Easter Island statue.

The original moai from Easter Island. The island, also known as Rapa Nui, is one of the world’s most isolated inhabited islands and lies 3,510 km west of continental Chile. This is one of 3 original moai’s that can be found outside of Easter Island. Easter Island is a Chilean territory. Something I did not know until then!

There was a small market set up near the statue, as many tourists visit. We found some lovely jewelery and there were plenty of colourful rugs and other bits and pieces.

After this stop it was back through Viña del Mar city centre and towards Valparaiso.

Valparaiso Port

Our next stop was a smelly one. The port at Valparaiso. This is a famous section of beach where many come to holiday. We stopped for a wander around the fish market and check out the pier, which had many sea lions.

The stench of fish was rather overwhelming as there were many being gutted throughout the market. I made a bee-line for the pier to check out the sea lions. The fishmongers would wheel huge trolleys of fish guts down the pier and the sea lions would track them, ready for their snacks to be delivered.

The seagulls were also well aware of the availablity of fish and there were hundreds circling. With the blue skies and turquoise it was scenic, if you could ignore the smell!

It was fascinating watching the giant groups of sealions coming in and trying to scoop up their fish tidbits.

Malu informed us this was a popular holiday spot. Although the sea was considered rough and dangerous so most people didn’t swim, they just came and hung out on the beach and enjoyed the fish aroma!

There were a number of seaside restaurants, selling mostly seafood. This wasn’t our designated lunch stop, but there were plenty of tourists and locals who come here for a seafood meal.

As we headed towards Valparaiso, we learnt why it is known for it’s many hills. Valparaíso has the shape of a natural amphitheater facing the sea; almost the entire city hangs from the hills. Our guide told us that there are at least 53 different hills and each has given rise to it’s own neighbourhood. The ones further up the very steep hills, with the fabulous views over the ocean were actually the cheaper suburbs, as many of the houses regularly fell down! As we drove past we could see that they weren’t in great shape. Poor building standards, frequent earthquakes and regular fires meant this was a dangerous place to live.

The more expensive houses were on the waterfront. As the next part of our tour we would be walking many of the more scenic areas of Valaparaiso.

Valparaiso street art

Valparaíso is commonly called the Jewel of the Pacific. It’s known as loud, colourful and bohemian and is very well knows for it’s many beautiful murals. Valparaíso attracts thousands of visitors every year to take pictures with the murals. We started on Concepción Hill, one of the most popular areas for street art.

There were so many bright buildings and interesting murals dotted around the winding cobbled streets.

Our guide led us past many of the famous buildings and gave us rundowns on the history of the area.

The views across to neighbouring hills were impressive and you could see there were so many houses perched, often precariously, on the mountainside and not a huge amount of vegetation.

There were stories behind some of the murals and others just seemed to be pictures someone had painted. Most were very colourful.

Many of the houses had tiny gardens at street level and we came across quite a few friendly cats sitting in front gardens, as well as beautiful flowers to match the bright street art.

Malu gave us great explanations of many of the murals, but we were mostly glad she seemed to know where she was going. We wound our way around the maze of tiny streets and up and down, what seemed like a lot of hills and many stairs. Many of the buildings were only one room wide, in order to fit into the limited space available.

We were taken to viewpoints on both Allegra and Asunción hills, where you could see over the roofs of the many buildings to the port areas.

Many of the alley’s had steep sets of stone stairs that took us past ‘expensive’ apartments and into central courtyards with shops and restaurants. There were definitely things we would not have noticed at all without the guide pointing them out.

These concrete ‘slides’ were in a few locations. They are infact drains for the huge deluges of rain but great for tourists and locals to slide up and down.

We found many little market stalls hidden in alleys and locals busking in the streets. There was definitely plenty of atmosphere. This is a well trodden tourist path but we weren’t harassed by the vendors at all. Despite the constant warnings about the security of our belongings we generally weren’t followed at all, unlike in Santiago city. Our tour guide was not happy about my camera gear and warned me to keep it hidden as much as possible. Generally I had few problems during the group tour, luckily.

We were allowed to do some quick shopping in some of the souvenir shops we came across. I’d luckily remembered the prices on items from the airport and we picked up a few bargains in our allocated 5 minutes of shopping time…..

We’d managed to wind our way up to the quite a height on some of the hills, so we had a few great viewing spots on our walk.

With all the hills there were several funiculars that were used to get between them. I am not a huge fan of funiculars or cable cars. These ones seemed particularly fraught with danger given the lax building standards in Chile. The all wood construction and the fact that many of them aren’t functional was not reassuring. The city apparently has 30 funiculars or elevators, of which 16 are still in form of order but only 9 are currently functional.

We had now been wandering the streets for a couple of hours and Malu had promised there was going to be a lunch stop. First she wanted to take us to the piano staircase and take a group photo. It was another example of interesting street art and it did amuse a bunch of Asian tourists who were taking photos of us having our photo taken……

Finally, at around 2pm we were set free on our lunch stop. Malu took us to a street full of restaurants and told us we were free to go wherever we liked. A pleasant change from being directed a specific restaurant, which often happens when you are on a tour. The restaurant we picked had more great art and we made sure we had some pisco sours with our lunch. They hit the spot after a hot day of walking. I had a pretty great brocoli quiche, and Di a local pork loin dish. I had converted Di to the virtues of pisco sours well and truly now….

After our great lunch in the cute little restaurant we still had some time to kill before needing to meet back up with the tour group, so we figured we needed to try the gelato in a nearby store that had a line going down the street. It was pretty good!

Once we were back with the group it was time to wander around for some final views over Valparaiso and then Malu had informed us we were getting a funicular ride to the bottom of the hill to meet the van… great 😉 😛

I would have preferred to walk down the hill, but we didn’t die in the funicular so it was all good. Roberto and the van were there to meet us and it was out of the ‘nice’ area and back past many of the precarious houses up on the hills, and some far less inviting graffiti.

Casablanca valley….

The Casablanca Valley is about 20 minutes drive out of Valparaiso and back towards Santiago. Our final stop was a winery in the valley where we got to enjoy some air-conditioning and plenty of wine……

The Casablanca Valley sits between the coastal mountains and the Pacific in the valleys of Chile’s central area. This fertile valley is known for it’s ability to produce white wine in its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc varieties, as well as some fine Pinot Noir.

Casa Valle Viñamar was the winery chosen for our visit. The buildings and outlook were beautiful. There was a restaurant on the terrace that looked rather inviting and would have been a wonderful place for lunch if it wasn’t 4pm and we were already full.

We explored the buildings and the terraces and then had a talk about the wines of the region and then it was time to taste test.

It was the strangest wine tasting we’ve ever been to. We got to try a sparkling, white and red and then they just left all the bottles open for us and told us to have as much as we liked and kept opening bottles if people wanted them. As much wine as you wanted on a sunny afternoon when there wasn’t any need to drive home!

Full of wine, we had a little wander of the grounds and checked out the grapes. There are many famous wineries in the Casablanca Valley so there were plenty of tour buses doing the rounds but it wasn’t particularly crowded so we had a pleasant wander and enjoyed the sunshine. It was different being warm after lots of cold in Patagonia and Antarctica…..

The 100km trip from the Casablanca Valley to Santiago meant we had plenty of time to feel sleepy in the van after a lot of walking and a lot of wine (and not much sleep from lots of flying). We enjoyed watching the scenery whizz by and were pleased to arrive back at our hotel around 6pm, after a long day but plenty of great sights.

Hotel cocktails and snacks….

Once we arrived back and collapsed in our room, I did a quick video chat with the kids back home in Australia. Di and I then decided we were too tired to be bothered going out to dinner. It was not recommended you walked at night in most areas, so after a big and late lunch in Valparaiso, cocktails and bar snacks at the hotel did very nicely….

We checked out the view of Santiago from our hotel window, content not to worry about getting mugged until the next day! It had been a great day of seeing a little more of Chile. The next day we were hoping to see more of Santiago itself.

Up next…..

The final part of the trip, exploring Santiago, with plenty of interesting buildings, beautiful views of the Andes.

Leave a Reply