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Iquique, Chile: Falling for This Port City Nestled Between the Ocean and the Desert

Views from the Malecón, Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile
Coastline of Iquique, Chile

I might as well get it out there: I loved, loved, loved Iquique. Iquique is a uniquely situated city; it rests steps away from the ocean, yet is also only a short climb down the sand dunes from the inland desert, home to the saltpeter mines which boosted Chile’s economy for a century. Once the site of many a territorial dispute and their ensuing battles, Iquique is currently only a few hours away from both the Peruvian and Bolivian borders, meaning it has many immigrants and much cultural influence from its neighbors. On top of that, it is an active port city which has become famous in recent years for its surfing and paragliding, increasing its popularity among tourists who come for its great weather and traditional architecture reflecting the British influence from the mining heyday.

Coastline, Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile
Iquique Coastline

Iquique has been on my radar since 2013, when I spent a few days appreciating Arica. Instead of exploring along the Chilean coast, I headed inland to the Atacama desert to realize one of my travel dreams of finally seeing the landscapes around San Pedro de Atacama. I figured I could head to Iquique on my way back through Chile later in my trip, but I ended up skipping it.

Views from Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, Tarapacá, Chile
Views from a Bus Climbing the Dunes Above Iquique, Chile

However, after suffering through the chilly desert nights in the Valle de Elqui, I was more than ready for some warm beach temperatures during my winter vacation in July. After saying goodbye to Sara, my partner-in-crime for adventures in Santiago, Viña del Mar, and Isla Negra, I headed north to Caldera, where I spent a weekend before moving on to my final destination, Iquique.

After an arduous bus ride through the inland desert, I finally arrived in Iquique. Since it was late afternoon, I headed directly to my hostel, Hostel El Bajo, located just a block from the ocean. A family-run hostel popular with surfers, I felt like I was part of the group immediately upon arrival and decided to stay for the rest of my vacation, giving me time to fully explore the city as well as the sights of Tarapacá: Oficina Salitrera Humberstone, the oasis of Pica, the healing thermal baths of Mamiña, and Parque Nacional Isluga.

I spent most of my time in Iquique wandering the streets and along the coast, taking in the city’s ambiance and thinking about moving here after I finish my year in the Valle de Elqui. Here are some of the places I think are worth checking out in Iquique.

Baquedano and the Plaza de Armas

Baquedano, Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile
Sunny Day on Baquedano, Iquique, Chile

Baquedano is the main pedestrian thoroughfare in downtown Iquique precisely because it is exclusively for foot and bicycle traffic.  Restaurants, hostales, and tourist agencies dot the cobblestone roads and wooden sidewalks, many of them brightly painted in colors that show off their attractive wooden balconies.  Sadly other buildings are falling apart from neglect or leftover damage from the 2014 earthquake.

Plaza de Armas, Iquique, Chile
Torre de Reloj, Plaza de Armas, Iquique, Chile

Since I was staying by the beach, I chose to walk along Baquedano to the commercial center of town, the Plaza de Armas. In the middle of the Plaza de Armas stands the Torre de Reloj, or clock tower, one of the distinctive features of the main square.

Iquique, Tarapacá,Chile
Teatro Municipal, Iquique, Chile

Just next to the Plaza de Armas is the Teatro Municipal, a bright white building reflecting the grandeur of Iquique’s lucrative past.

Plaza de Armas, Iquique, Chile

Plaza de Armas, Iquique, Chile

Due to its popularity among tourists, there are many cafés and restauarants all around this part of Baquedano and the surrounding side streets, providing a nice place to relax and people watch.

Iquique has a large number of Croatian immigrants, who even have a cultural club right on the main plaza.

This part of Iquique is particularly busy with business, as there are banks lining the nearby streets, as well as the municipal buildings and other tourist services.  Chances are, if you need it, you can find it near here!

Baquedano, Iquique, Chile
Baquedano, Iquique, Chile

The colorful buildings are especially pleasant to look at on a sunny day, but unfortunately there was not that much sun during my visit.  Even still, I admired the well-preserved wooden balconies and construction throughout the downtown area.

Museo Regional de Iquique, Chile
View of Baquedano from the Museo Regional, Iquique, Chile

Traditional Old Neighborhood, Iqique, Tarapacá, Chile
Traditional Wooden Buildings Near the Downtown Area of Iquique, Chile

Just a couple of blocks from Baquedano is this traditional neighborhood, boasting wooden construction which still looks pretty awesome after all these years.

Museo Corbeta Esmeralda and the Industrial Port

Esmeralda, Iquique, Chile
Museo Corbeta Esmeralda, Iquique, Chile

Near the busy bus terminal lies one of Iquique’s most popular museums, a reconstruction of the famous ship called Esmeralda. This ship was sunk by the Peruvian navy during the Battle of Iquique and as such serves as a national symbol of Chile’s military pride.

The museum was packed with visitors as it was during winter vacation, and it is generally best to reserve a time slot in order to tour the ship.  Although I was curious, I was more interested in exploring the rest of the city so I decided not to wait in the long line.

Coastal Views, Iquique, Chile
Port Views from Iquique, Chile

Behind the Museo Esmeralda and the bus terminal, you can check out the commercial port, albeit from a distance. It gives you a sense of the massive amount of commerce that passes through Iquique and has made it such an important city in the Chilean economy.

Museo Regional Iquique

Museo Regional de Iquique, Chile
Museo Regional de Iquique and Photos of the La Tirana Festival

After wandering around downtown a bit, my curiosity in the history of Iquique was definitely piqued, so I headed to the Museo Regional de Iquique, located on Baquedano.  The museum is completely free and has permanent exhibits on the indigenous populations that resided or still live around Tarapacá and on the saltpeter mining industry which dominated the nearby desert for over a century.

At the time of my visit, the museum also had an interesting photography exhibit and video presentation representing the Fiesta de La Tirana, a major cultural and religious event that had taken place in nearby La Tirana in mid-July. It is known especially for its traditional dances and costumes representing the Diablada, or the Devil’s dance.

Museo Regional de Iquique, Chile
Relics of the Saltpeter Mining Industry in the Museo Regional de Iquique 

Museo Regional de Iquique, Chile
Photos and Facts From the Many Oficinas Salitreras (Saltpeter Mines) in Northern Chile

Museo Regional, Nitrate/Saltpeter Mines Exhibit, Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile
Special Currency Used by the Saltpeter Mines, Museo Regional de Iquique

I was particularly interested in the exhibits on the salitreras, or saltpeter mines, as I was also planning on heading to Oficina Humberstone, one of the best preserved and biggest former mines.  Mining is such a major industry in Chile, and the exhibit gave me insight into how the saltpeter and nitrate industry has impacted generations of families in the north.

I was also excited to see the exhibit on textiles from Isluga, where the Aymara still live and weave in the traditional styles used for centuries.  This was a nice preview for my visit to the altiplano, or highlands, later that week.

Walking Along Iquique’s Malecón, or Boardwalk

Views from the Coastline of Iquique, Chile

Bike Path and Boardwalk in Iquique, Chile

Naturally, as I was staying just a block from the beach, I had to spend some time wandering along the malecón, enjoying the sound of the waves and the views of the coastline. Iquique’s wooden boardwalk is a pleasant place to walk, and a nice bike path runs parallel along the whole length of the coast.

Views from the Coastline of Iquique, Chile
Monument to Croatian Immigrants, Iquique, Chile

Views from the Coastline of Iquique, ChileViews of the Ocean in Iquique, Chile

Views from the Malecón, Iquique, Chile

Wooden Boardwalk along the Malecón, Iquique, Chile

Further from Baquedano, towards the casino, the boardwalk turns more touristy, near the most popular beach, Playa Cavancha.  Since I went in the off season, most everything was closed up, with the exception of some souvenir stands.

Views from the Malecón, Iquique, Chile
Casino, Iquique, Chile

Views from the Malecón, Iquique, Chile
Looking Back at Iquique’s Coastline

All in all, I enjoyed my lengthy walk along the coastline, even though it was cloudy, windy, and chilly on this particular afternoon.  I would love to return in summer and really soak in the beachy vibes.

Mercado Centenario

Mercado Centenario, Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile
Mercado Centenario, Iquique, Chile

The center of all commercial activity stems from the Mercado Centenario, located in the middle of downtown Iquique. The market sells fruit, vegetables, dried goods, fish, and lots of other food options, and has a number of restaurants both in and outside the market.

Fresh Juice at the Mercado Centenario, Iquique, Chile
Fresh Juice at the Mercado Centenario, Iquique, Chile

I couldn’t resist a fresh juice at the market, made from the varieties of fruit that grow in the area, like oranges, mangoes, and guavas.  Sitting down at an outdoor café with juice in front of me reminded me a lot of the many similar markets I’ve been to in Peru!

Near the market, there are several commercial streets selling just about everything you can imagine, and regional buses leave from a couple of offices just a block away.


Fábrica de Chumbeques, Iquique, Chile
Fábrica de Chumbeques, Iquique, Chile

In my research about Iquique, I came across recommendations to buy chumbeques, super sweet bar cookies produced in Iquique with regional fruit.  I headed straight to the factory at Ramírez 795 and tried the crumbly cookie sandwich stuffed with mango.

Chumbeques from Iquique, Chile
Chumbeque Souvenirs from Iquique, Chile

I ended up returning to buy a pack of mango chumbeques as well as the traditional one filled with the local limón de pica.   These are great snacks for a hike or long trip as they store well and provide a burst of energy.

As you can see, I was charmed by Iquique, because of its beautiful coastline, interesting architecture, multi-faceted heritage, and ambiance that reminds me of my beloved Peru. My adventures around the Tarapacá region continue to inspire me to learn more about Chile’s fascinating history.

Recommendations for Iquique, Chile:

  • I really enjoyed my stay at Hostel El Bajo, located at Obispo Labbé 1659, just one block from the ocean.  It is a family run hostel with a Marley Coffee café inside, and they are avid surfers.  The beds are comfortable with high quality mattresses even if the rooms are a bit cramped, and each room has lockers to store your stuff.  The kitchen is also well-stocked, which is a great way to save money.  In July 2015, a bed in the dorm cost $10000, including a simple but nice breakfast.
  • The Museo Regional de Iquique, located at Baquedano 951, has a number of exhibits which help you get a sense of the particular aspects which characterize the Tarapacá region, in particularly the saltpeter mines, the La Tirana festival, and the customs of the Aymara living in the high Andes.  Entry is free.
  • The other popular museum in Iquique is the Museo Corbeta Esmeralda, a reconstruction of the famous ship named Esmeralda.  You can reserve your visit online, except on Sundays, which is first-come, first serve.  The cost of admission for foreigners is $3000CLP.
  • It is absolutely essential to walk along Baquedano to the Plaza de Armas to get a sense of the old Iquique and its unique architecture.  Near the Plaza de Armas, there are a few side streets and markets selling souvenirs and artesanía.  It is also possible to take the tourist trolley up and down Baquedano, if it’s running.
  • No visit to Iquique is complete without a walk along the beach. Iquique has a wooden boardwalk as well as a nice bike path that runs parallel.  Playa Cavancha is the most popular beach among tourists, and closer to the casino there are other tourist attractions, although none were operational on my visit.
  • Iquique is famous for its Zofri, or tax free zone, where people buy all kinds of electronics and perfumes at low prices.  I wasn’t that interested in shopping, but if you are, make sure you take a taxi or a bus there as it passes through some undesirable neighborhoods.
  • The Mercado Centenario at Barros Araña 850 is a great place to have fresh juice or inexpensive sandwiches, empanadas, or fixed price lunches.  There are also stands selling fruit, vegetables, and dried goods, and you can also find a lot of products from Peru, like ají amarillo and my favorite Sublime chocolate.
  • If you’re interested in trying the chumbeque, the locally popular treat that sticks to your ribs, you can buy them at the factory at Ramírez 795, or in many other spots around town. I suggest the mango flavor.
  • Buses to Humberstone, La Tirana, Pica, Mamiña, and other local destinations leave from the 700 block of Barros Araña, just a block from the Mercado Centenario.  Buses to national destinations leave from the bus terminal, near the Esmeralda and the Plaza de Armas.

Graffiti, Iquique, Tarapacá, ChileGraffiti in Iquique, Chile:  “You were a sad and beautiful dream”

[Iquique, Chile: July 20-25, 2015]

Caldera, Chile: Taking in the Quiet Fishing Village and Jewel-Colored Bahía Inglesa

Views from Caldera, Chile
Pelicans and Other Seabirds in Caldera, Chile

There’s no way around it: northern Chile is vast. Chile is a long, skinny country with miles upon endless miles of coastline, dotted here and there with important port cities or crossroads towns connecting to an inland highway. When heading north from Santiago by land, you may ask yourself one of two questions: can I endure spending 24+ hours on a bus? or, where can I stop?

Views from Caldera, Chile
Quiet Little Beach and Houses Overlooking the Bay of Caldera, Chile

While I spent 32 hours on a bus once before, I vowed never to do that again. When I decided to visit Iquique for the second half of my winter vacation, I knew I wanted to break the journey somewhere along the way.

Views from Caldera, Chile
Plaza de Armas in Caldera, Chile

Enter Caldera. Caldera is about 12 hours north of Santiago and 12 hours south of Iquique and located right off the Panamerican highway, making it an easily accessible and convenient stop on a bus journey along the coast. After hearing rave reviews of the town from two of my volunteers, I decided to see it for myself.

Views from Caldera, Chile
Fishing Boats Docked in Caldera, Chile

Caldera is a town known for its artisanal fishing methods, for being the site of the first railroad in Chile, for its colonial arquitecture, and for its pleasant beaches. By coincidence, I decided to visit Caldera on the weekend it was celebrating the anniversary of the first railroad, which gave the usually quiet town lots of fun energy and life.

Views from Caldera, Chile
Relaxing at the Beach in Caldera, Chile

To be fair, there isn’t much to do in Caldera except relax. I spent some time sitting by the ocean, looking out at the fishing boats docked in the bay. I took in the colorful plaza, which on one side is your typical Plaza de Armas, and on the other is a mini amusement park. I wandered the streets looking at the colonial buildings. And of course, I ate artesanal ice cream from a local shop.

Views from Caldera, Chile
Converted Train Cars Sell Souvenirs in Caldera, Chile

I poked around the old railroad station, which is now a Centro Cultural. Because of the anniversary weekend, there were a lot of food stands selling regional treats like my much-loved churrasca.

Churrasca in Caldera, Chile
Can’t Resist a Churrasca in Caldera, Chile

Views from Caldera, Chile
Old Caldera Railway Sign

After getting a sense of the town, I wandered over to the fishing docks and watched the pelicans, my favorite seabird. I also watched the sea lions lumbering around on the rocks, going about their business.

Views from Caldera, Chile
Watching the Seabirds Along the Coastal Desert in Caldera, Chile

Views from Caldera, Chile
Sea Lion Doing His Thing in Caldera, Chile

As a vegetarian, I wasn’t tempted by the seafood restaurants or museum on fishing methods, but I did appreciate the murals celebrating traditional fisherman, who also form part of my own family tree, many generations back.

Views from Caldera, Chile
Mural of a Traditional Fisherman, Caldera, Chile

The next morning, the hostal lent me a bike and I headed back into town to watch the main ceremony recreating the first departure of Chile’s first railroad.

Anniversary of the First Railroad in Chile, Caldera, Chile
Caldera Residents Dressed in Period Costumes

I appreciated that so many of Caldera’s residents went all out in wearing traditional clothing from the 1800’s. It was nice to see a celebration that was not religious, but rather historical, in nature. After welcoming trekkers who hiked overnight to arrive in Caldera, it was time to cut the ribbon and board the train.

Anniversary of the First Railroad in Chile, Caldera, Chile

Anniversary of the First Railroad in Chile, Caldera, Chile
Time to Get on the Train in Caldera, Chile

From the center of town, I biked over to the other major destination in Caldera, the Gruta del Padre Negro, a small church sanctuary honoring a priest from Colombia who is known for granting miracles.

Gruta del Padre Negro, Caldera, Chile
Gruta del Padre Negro, Caldera, Chile

The small building has colorful murals painted all over its interior and the inviting plaza is also a good place to break for a snack.

Gruta del Padre Negro, Caldera, Chile

Gruta del Padre Negro, Caldera, Chile
Murals in the Gruta del Padre Negro, Caldera, Chile

Gruta del Padre Negro, Caldera, Chile
Lighting Candles for Miracles in the Gruta del Padre Negro, Caldera, Chile

I continued along my way the 6km bike path to Bahía Inglesa, a popular tourist destination due to its white sand beaches and jewel-toned waters.

Views from Bahía Inglesa, Caldera, Chile
White Sand Beaches and Jewel-Toned Waters in Bahía Inglesa, Caldera, Chile

Views from Bahía Inglesa, Caldera, Chile
Bahía Inglesa, Caldera, Chile

Bahía Inglesa is even smaller than Caldera, consisting mainly of beachfront restaurants and cabañas for rent during the tourist season. Although I had planned to spend a leisurely afternoon reading on the beach, the winter winds coming off the water were quite chilly so I decided to head back to Caldera.

Views from Bahía Inglesa, Caldera, Chile
Selfie with a Photobomb by a Street Dog, Bahía Inglesa, Caldera, Chile

On the way, I stopped at a viewpoint overlooking Bahía Inglesa, where I took in the surrounding landscape. It surprises me how similar coastal Chile is to coastal Peru, considering the distance, with barren deserts inland and lovely beaches and bays on the water.

Views from Viewpoint near Bahía Inglesa, Caldera, Chile
Looking Over Bahía Inglesa, Caldera, Chile

Views from Viewpoint near Bahía Inglesa, Caldera, Chile
Empty Desert Landscape Near Bahiá Inglesa, Caldera, Chile

After returning to Caldera, I took another spin around the town. One thing I thought I would love about Caldera is that it hosts a moai from Easter Island.

Moai from Easter Island in Caldera, Chile
Moai from Easter Island in Caldera, Chile

Easter Island is located at about the same latitude as Caldera, so the moai was donated to mark this relationship.

Moai from Easter Island in Caldera, Chile
Moai from Easter Island, Looking Out to the Sea in Caldera, Chile

Unfortunately, as with many moai on mainland Chile, this moai has been treated poorly by visitors and is sadly covered with disgusting graffiti.

Moai in Caldera, Chile
Much-Abused But Still Dignified Moai in Caldera, Chile

As the sun went down, I headed back to my hostal to wait out the remaining hours until my bus to Iquique, where I would spend the remainder of my winter vacation, enjoying the warmer temperatures of the north!

Recommendations for Caldera, Chile:

  • Caldera would be a perfect weekend trip and seemed to be a big destination for vacationing couples and families. If I had been in the mood to relax on a retreat, I would have enjoyed staying for longer, but I was antsy to move on to the big city.
  • I stayed at Hostal El Faro, which is owned by an extremely sweet woman named Mariela. You can book the hostel through AirBnB or on her website. Mariela is incredibly helpful and will pick you up from the bus terminal if you arrange in advance, give you a brief tour of the town to get you situated, and provide suggestions for your visit. She also went out of her way and drove me to the bus station at midnight, and her son lent me a bike for my trip to Bahía Inglesa. I highly recommend staying here as long as you don’t mind being a little ways out of the downtown area. I like walking and it was certainly walkable, but I do suggest using Google Maps to find your way!
  • The Gruta del Padre Negro is located on the outskirts of town and is worth a stop to see some of the religious heritage of the town.
  • As mentioned, I happened to visit when the town was celebrating the anniversary of the first railroad in Chile. I appreciated the period costumes and celebrations for the anniversary of the railroad, and if you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, plan a visit in July. More info here on the festivities in 2015.
  • Bahia Inglesa is an easy 6km trip on paved bike paths from Caldera, as long as you have a good bike. There are bike rental shops in town, or your hostal may be able to lend you one.
  • There is an artisanal ice cream shop in town, popular among tourists, called Helados Gutierrez.
  • Pullman and Turbus stop at the tiny bus terminal in town, but you want to make sure you book your ticket in advance and store your luggage at your hostal as the offices are not open at all hours.
  • Other sights to see in town are the Centro Cultural Ferrocarril, the fishing dock lined with seafood restaurants, the Museo Tortoni. There is more information here in this Wikipedia article (in Spanish).

Isla Negra, Chile: How to Get to Pablo Neruda's Beautiful Seaside Home from Valparaíso and Santiago

Views from Isla Negra, Chile
Views from Isla Negra, Chile

When I decided to visit Santiago in 2013, I came with few expectations except that I wanted to get a feel for the city and think about moving to Chile (which I eventually did!). My friend Francisca took charge of my initial explorations and brought me to many of the most interesting neighborhoods of Santiago, including Bellavista, where we visited Pablo Neruda’s home, La Chascona, on a rainy day in August. When we headed to Valparaíso, we obviously had to visit the beloved Chilean poet’s other home, La Sebastiana, perched on the hill of Cerro Alegre.

Views from Isla Negra, Chile
Pablo Neruda’s House in Isla Negra, Chile

After taking in the quirky style preserved in these houses-turned-museums, I knew I had to visit Isla Negra, Pablo Neruda’s biggest and most beautiful home, located a couple of house south of Valparaíso on the Pacific coast. This was one of the top items on my Chile bucket list, so when Sara came to visit, I took advantage of our coastal adventures to get to Isla Negra.

Views from Isla Negra, Chile
Neruda’s House in Isla Negra, Chile

Despite its name, Isla Negra is not actually an island. If you know anything about Neruda, you know that he was fascinated with all things nautical, so he built his home in the shape of a boat, with views looking directly out to the ocean. Standing in his bedroom and taking in the views of the crashing waves from his bed was incredibly moving for me.

Views from Isla Negra, Chile
Best Bedroom Windows Ever, Isla Negra, Chile

The Fundacion Pablo Neruda does not permit photography inside any of the poet’s home, so you will have to head there yourself to get a sense of the extensive collections housed within its walls. It is totally worth it just for the views, inspirational in their own right.

Views from Isla Negra, Chile
Inspirational View Outside Neruda’s House, Isla Negra, Chile

I wouldn’t mind sitting at Neruda’s desk and spending a few hours a day writing, looking out towards the ocean every times I needed a break. Nor would I mind sitting in the breakfast nook and having a cup of tea, or sharing several bottles of wine with a large assortment of friends over his massive dining room table.

Views from Isla Negra, Chile
Neruda’s Collection, Isla Negra, Chile

For craft fans like me, the museum also celebrates the embroidery of a women’s embroidery collective that Neruda supported. Their creations are intricate and gorgeous, if beyond my budget, and if you’re interested in their techniques, the museum sells starter embroidery kits.

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

Loving the Ocean in Isla Negra, Chile

Even though Isla Negra is a popular tourist destination, it seems most people arrive by car, and I found it a bit challenging to find information on how to get there. You can get there from either Valparaíso or Santiago, and it is worth the journey for a pleasant day trip. I would suggest going earlier in the day to enjoy some seaside empanadas or spend some time on the beach. Below, I’ve listed my other suggestions as well as tips on how to get to Isla Negra on public transportation.

If you weren’t such a fan of the houses in Bellavista or Valpo (like me), Isla Negra is a completely different experience. If you can only visit one of Neruda’s houses, make it this one.

Sunset en route to Santiago, Chile
Sunset En Route to Santiago from Isla Negra, Chile

Recommendations for Isla Negra, Chile:

  • Buses leaves for Isla Negra from the Valparaíso bus terminal, located by the Congreso. I did not see a posted schedule but they seemed to leave every hour. Make sure you tell the driver you want to get off in Isla Negra. The bus cost $4000CLP on my visit during busy winter vacation.
  • If you are staying in Viña del Mar, as we were, you will have to take a local bus to Valparaíso and then leave from there. There no buses from Viña to Isla Negra.
  • If you would like to head to Isla Negra from Santiago, this is totally possible! Pullman has a bus route through the Casablanca Valley that passes right through Isla Negra. The buses leave from the Pajaritos and Alameda bus terminals, both located on the Metro Linea 1 (red line). If you’re taking the metro, you might as well just go directly to Pajaritos as it is a brand new, beautiful terminal and the buses will go there after passengers board at Terminal Alameda. (It’s also a little safer, in my opinion.) Buses leave every 15-30 minutes and you’ll need to buy tickets before boarding.
  • We caught a direct bus back to Santiago from Isla Negra, right on the main street. There is a Pullman office in the center of town which offers luggage storage, which is a great option for those travelers like us who were just passing through but still had our luggage.
  • You can see more about the Pullman Bus routes here, but remember that you won’t be able to buy tickets online because these are regional buses rather than long-distance buses.
  • The Isla Negra museum has luggage storage in the form of free lockers, and we were able to get our medium sized backpack and suitcase into them.
  • Try to visit the museum on an off day. The number of visitors allowed into the house at a certain time is restricted and on weekends, holidays, or vacation weeks, this can mean an hour or two wait and a very crowded tour. Even though the tour is with an audioguide, you still move through the house as a group and it can feel a little clausterphobic.
  • Take some time to walk down to the beach and browse the artisan wares being sold along the beach path.
  • Entry to the museum costs $5000. There is an on-site cafe and gift shop, and if you are lucky, there will be a table selling the intricate embroidery from the artisan collective. Even though it is pricey, it is well worth a look to admire the detailed work.

Viña del Mar, Chile: Revisiting the Coastal Resort and Its Seaside Views

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
The Lovely Coastline of Viña del Mar, Chile

Back in 2013, when I was visiting Chile in order to get a sense of whether I might like to move here, my friend Francisca took me to all the main tourist destinations around Santiago, including a whirlwind tour of nearby Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. On my first visit, we stopped at the Museo Fonck so I could see the Easter Island exhibit, then followed that up with some empanadas and a walk on the beach before continuing onward to Valpo.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Scenes from Viña del Mar, Chile (the quote reads “Don’t let the bad defeat you; use good to defeat the bad”)

That quick visit left a good impression on me, so I put a return visit to Viña on my Chile bucket list. When my friend Sara decided to make the journey south to Chile during my winter vacation, I saw a good opportunity to return. Since she arrived in the middle of winter (and being from Boston, neither of us are desperate to see more snow!), we decided to stay on the coast. Sara headed to Valparaíso on a solo adventure and covered so much territory in her explorations that it made more sense to visit Viña del Mar together.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Views of Viña del Mar, Chile

Viña del Mar is an attractive coastal city with plenty of beach to wander at any point of the year. The climate is mild even in winter, and even on cloudy days the sun manages to peek out, as you can see in my photos. We caught a Viña bound bus from the Pajaritos terminal and enjoyed the comfortable ride to our next destination. After checking in to our AirBnB close to the beach, we headed out to wander along the coastline.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Walking on the Beach in Viña del Mar, Chile

Once we reached the beach, I realized that I already knew this stretch of sand, captured in one of my favorite photos of myself. It was a little surreal to recover the same ground as two years before, with a completely different perspective on Chile.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Casino in Viña del Mar, Chile

Thankfully, Sara is a relaxed traveler and was equally content to wander along the coast and get a sense of Valpo’s sister city. While the botanical gardens were too far away for a short off-season visit, I wanted to make sure we took in the Castillo Wulff (Wulff Castle) and Reloj de Flores (Flower Clock), two distinctive characteristics of Vina del Mar.

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

Posing in Front of Castillo Wulff, Viña del Mar, Chile

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Castillo Wulff, Viña del Mar, Chile

Castillo Wulff was built by a businessman of German heritage back in 1906, and is still a popular spot with tourists due to its great vantage point and distinctive architecture.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Posing with Sara at the Viewpoint Above Castillo Wulff, Viña del Mar, Chile

Inside the castle, there is small gallery with temporary exhibits, run by the municipality of Viña del Mar. On my visit, the gallery displayed intricate embroidery by local artists, which was perfect for me as a huge fan of textile art.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Embroidery in the Exhibit at Castillo Wulff, Viña del Mar, Chile

Combined with the amazing folk art exhibit in the Centro Cultural La Moneda in Santiago and the artisan collective at Isla Negra, I am pretty inspired to keep learning more techniques in embroidery.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Views of Viña del Mar, Chile

After visiting the castle, we continued along the coast, taking in the views over the ocean right from the sidewalk.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Seabirds in the Late Afternoon Sun, Viña del Mar, Chile

The seabirds circled above, leading me to catch some pretty nice shots of the ocean in the late afternoon sun.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Reloj de Flores (Flower Clock), Viña del Mar, Chile

After crossing some major streets, we reached the Reloj de Flores, a touristy but attractively landscaped clock located by the one of the entrances to the commerical district. I was particularly intrigued by the plants in the little plaza, which appeared to be kale or cabbage, quite eye-catching in their own right (maybe even cooler than the clock, if you ask me!).

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Pretty Landscaping in Viña del Mar, Chile

Mission accomplished, we headed back along the coast in search of an affordable and hopefully delicious dinner. The late afternoon mix of sun and clouds led to some pretty beautiful skies.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Enjoying the Views in Viña del Mar, Chile

We ended up getting pizza at Diego Pizza, a restaurant I was drawn to due to its clean design. Happily, they had the best pizza I’ve had to date in Chile, made even more flavorful by its roasted garlic and onion. We added in a big fresh salad for balance.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Our Delicious Meal at Diego Pizza, Viña del Mar

After eating, we hurried outside to catch the tail end of an amazing sunset. That is one of the best things about staying blocks from the beach; the sunsets are all the more accessible.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Sunset in Viña del Mar, Chile

The next morning, we enjoyed a delicious American-style breakfast at our AirBnB before beginning our journey to Isla Negra. While I would probably want more time in Viña during the warm, sunny summer, this was a perfect overnight trip during my winter break and I feel like I got to know the city a little better this time around!

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Viña del Mar, Chile

Recommendations for Vina del Mar:

  • Direct buses to Viña del Mar run from Terminal Alameda and Terminal Pajaritos in Santiago. If you are heading to the bus terminal on the metro, you may as well head directly to Pajaritos as the buses stop in both locations. You buy your tickets from the kiosks inside the newly remodeled terminals. On a holiday during winter vacation, a one way ticket cost $4000CLP.
  • We ended up taking a taxi to our AirBnB, but be aware that taxis are very expensive in Viña and the city is pretty walkable from the bus terminal.
  • Local buses cost $400 per ride, and I found both strangers on the street and bus employees to be quite helpful with helping us get to the bus terminal and to Valparaiso.
  • We stayed at the Speakeasy Guest House, which we booked through AirBnb. The location is excellent, near the shopping mall, the beach, and a number of restaurants. The owner, a Chilean-American, provides an excellent large American-style breakfast in the morning. He’s a trained chef so it’s worth it just to enjoy the breakfast!
  • I suggest spending some time around the colonial buildings downtown, including Museo Fonck, enjoying empanadas at an open air restaurant, checking out Castillo Wulff, and the Reloj de Flores. Viña is also known for its botantical gardens.

Santiago, Chile: Quick and Easy Day Trip to Viña Concha y Toro Winery

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Viña Concha y Toro, Santiago, Chile

Beyond the incredibly diverse landscapes worth visiting all over Chile, the country is also well known for its wine. Though I’d spent quite a bit of time visiting the various wineries around Mendoza, Argentina, before July, the closest I’d gotten to an actual winery was glancing it through the windows of my bus to Santiago. After trying so much pisco, I was interested in tasting some Chilean wine varietals, and I used my friend Sara’s recent visit as an excuse to go.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Welcome to Viña Concha y Toro!

There are several valleys near Santiago which are famed for their wine producing climate, but visiting most of them requires renting a car or taking a tour, something I may well do at another moment when I have more time and funds. But there is good news for the budget-oriented wine lover: there are several wineries located on public transportation around Santiago, and one of the most famous, Viña Concha y Toro, is even accessible by Santiago’s metro!

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Views of the Pretty Concha y Toro Building

Concha y Toro is most known for its widely available brand, Casillero del Diablo. When I lived in Lima, this was the wine most often available in neighborhood shops; it is dependable and fairly tasty for about $10USD. So I asked myself, why not visit where the vineyard where it is produced and try out a wider variety of the winery’s offerings?

In order to visit Concha y Toro, it is a good idea to reserve a tour on their website, although they are usually so busy that there is likely to be availability if you show up without a reservation. We decided to splurge for the premium tasting ($20000CLP per person), led by a sommelier, and paired with a cheese platter.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Checking Out the Landscaped Grounds at Concha y Toro

Arriving at Concha y Toro is fairly straightforward. You take Línea 4 (Line 4), or the blue line, of the Santiago metro to the Puente Alto stop, which lets you off in a busy shopping district. From there, you hail any taxi and tell them that you are going to Viña Concha y Toro. They will charge you a fixed price of $3000 and drop you off at the gate. When you leave after your tour, you can grab a cab at the taxi station around the corner from the vineyard. Super easy!

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Posing Among the Dormant Winter Vines at Concha y Toro

The tour itself is fairly basic. First, you head to the attractive house where they hold major events and take pictures of the scenic property. Next, you head to the tasting vineyard, where in the summer there are vines of several varietals of grapes so that you can compare their flavor. In winter, it was brown but attractive. From there, you head into the storage room where the wine is aged in barrels, hearing a bit about the process of making wine along the way.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
One of the Grape Varietals in the Tasting Garden

After this brief overview, the tour guide leaves you inside to watch an entertaining multimedia presentation about the legend of the winery and where it got the name, Casillero del Diablo.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
The Devil is in the Wine at Concha y Toro

Both the regular and premium tours end with a tasting of some of the most commonly available wines as well as a premium wine. They hand out a souvenir wineglass as well as a box to take it home in, a nice touch.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Premium Wine Tasting at Concha y Toro

After this first tasting, it is time for the premium tasting with the sommelier. I appreciated the chance to sample some of the more unusual varietals of wine and try to see how they matched with the cheese most commonly available in Chile.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Enjoying the Wine Bar at Concha y Toro with Sara!

If you’re not that interested in taking a tour, Concha y Toro has an on-site restaurant and wine bar, with outside seating for those lovely sunny days and a full menu that includes vegetarian options. Sara and I opted to sit inside at the bar, and I tried a nicer glass of wine while she went for a tasting flight. It is a good way to save some money but still get a broad range of flavors.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Wine Bar at Concha y Toro

Of course, the winery also has a giant store for buying any kind of wine you want at slightly more affordable prices before heading home in a pleasant wine haze. As usual, I always visit wineries when traveling to several locations, so I opted out, but it is always an option!

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile
Saying Goodbye to Concha y Toro

As you can see, visiting the winery was a pleasant day trip to make the most out of the chilly winter weather in Santiago. On our visit, the skies were clear, giving us an awesome view of the snow-covered cordillera from the metro. The area around Puente Alto was also interesting and very different from the high rises of Providencia, so I suggest wandering around and taking advantage of the delicious street food around the plaza.

Recommendations for Viña Concha y Toro, Santiago, Chile:

  • Check out the scheduled tours at the Concha y Toro website and make a reservation before you visit.
  • To get to Viña Concha y Toro, take Línea 4 (the blue line) to Plaza de Puente Alto. Outside the station, hail a cab and tell them where you are going; it will cost $3000CLP.
  • While the tour is interesting, it is not the most educational one I have ever been on. If you already know about the wine making process, you can save money but still sample a number of wines by ordering a flight of wine at the wine bar.
  • Here is a little more information about visiting the winery, including directions on how to walk there if you so desire!

Santiago, Chile: Embracing New Beginnings in the Chilean Capital

When I finally landed in Santiago seven months ago after an arduous, two-day, budget-oriented journey from Lima, Peru, I was surprised at how easy everything was here in Chile. After a bit of “returner’s shock” in my beloved Peruvian capital, I found that things flowed smoothly from my arrival to Chile’s capital. I stepped out of the airport with my three heavy backpacks and onto a bus that deposited me at a metro station on the line that runs through the heart of Santiago.

Barrio Lastarria, Santiago, Chile
Colorful Church in Barrio Lastarria

My manager had set me up at her friend’s bright, spacious apartment in trendy Barrio Lastarria, where public transportation was just a few blocks away. I was suddenly connected to anywhere I needed to go, easily determined by a glance at Google Maps, rather than puzzling out Lima’s confusing-but-amazing bus system. And it was the middle of summer, so walking through the many green parks was equally as appealing. Even though Santiago is actually a giant, sprawling city, it feels small for visitors like me who stay in the fairly compact downtown area.

Views from Providencia, Santiago, Chile
Public Park in Providencia, Santiago, Chile

During my week in Santiago back in January, I embraced my new life as best I could. By day, I experienced what it was like to be a digital nomad, working from home to make decisions on teacher training and cross-cultural sessions for the volunteers’ upcoming orientation, and teaching my last few online classes before moving to the Valle de Elqui.

Views from Santiago, Chile
Andean-Inspired Murals Outside Metro Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile

In the afternoons and evenings, I caught up with my Chilean friends from my time in Boston and wandered around the city, embracing Santiago with a new perspective, that of someone who would be living in Chile rather than passing through.

Posing with Ale in Vitacura, Santiago, Chile
Catching Up with Friends and Enjoying Every Minute, Santiago, Chile

Finally, it was time to move on to my new life in the Valle de Elqui. Like many Santiagans, I spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon in Parque Forestal, enjoying my time in the shade to read and write in my journal about all the emotions racing through me as I adjusted to my new life.

Parque Forestal, Santiago, Chile
Grass in Parque Forestal, Santiago, Chile

From there, I headed on to the Valle de Elqui to get acquainted with my new life. It was surprisingly challenging to leave Santiago, so I was happy to head back in early February to pick up the volunteers!

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

Learning about the Mapuche, Museo Precolombino, Santiago, Chile

My next trip to Santiago took place in May, when I returned for the long weekend for the Dia del Trabajador and to pick up a new volunteer. The chillier temperatures encouraged me to check out some museums I had yet to visit, such as the recently remodeled Museo de Arte Precolombino, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. I enjoyed the chance to take in the inspiration of the city.

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

Appreciating the Lovely Ladies Holding up the Museo de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile

Of course, another advantage to the city lifestyle is being able to eat well on each of my visits, and spend some time lounging in a cafe with my book or my journal and a pot of tea.

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

Delicious Lunch at an Argentine Restaurant in Santiago, Chile

Even though I haven’t actually lived in Santiago, I feel like I’ve managed to get a good sense of life in the city on my sporadic visits, and as I finish up my year in the Valle de Elqui, I’m considering moving there. My winter visit last month to show Sara the sites was quite pleasant despite the cold and the rain, and I learned even more about hidden corners that give the city its personality, as you’ll see in a future post.

Santiago is an inviting capital city and a place that seems both easy to get to know but full of hidden surprises, and I am glad that my life here has included time there!

Recommendations for Santiago, Chile:
• If you are looking for a family-owned, welcoming hostel with super comfortable beds, look no further than Makus Hostel. Arturo and his wife have created a great atmosphere for the traveler and provide a solid breakfast and nice hot showers. The hostel is also located within walking distance of the downtown area as well as Providencia, so it is a good base for further explorations.
• The Museo de Arte Precolombino has an extensive collection of art from all over Latin America and it is well worth a wander. On the first Sunday of every month, the museum is free; otherwise entry costs $3500CLP. The Cafe del Museo offers delicious lunch options at affordable prices, as you can see here!
• The Museo de Bellas Artes is currently undergoing remodelation but always has interesting thematic exhibits. As with other national museums, entry is free as of July 2015.
• Next door, the Museo de Arte Contemporaro is also undergoing remodeling but is worth a look.
• Parque Forestal’s green spaces and wide paths are excellent for a stroll or bike ride. On Sundays, the CicloRecreoVia closes down major roads running along the Parque Forestal for bikers and pedestrians, which is a great experience to get out in the city without worrying about traffic.

La Serena, Chile: Trying to Appreciate the Oceanside City with a Colonial Past

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

Excited to Be at the Beach in La Serena, Chile

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my time living in the Valle de Elqui, it’s that I have most definitely become a city girl. While living in an idyllic mountain location can be restorative, I find myself inspired by each visit to Santiago, where even just wandering the streets sparks creative ideas.

Views from La Serena, ChileViews from the City Center of La Serena, Chile

When I signed up for a year here, I thought I would love visiting La Serena, a city touted as an ideal expat base due to its mild climate, proximity to the beach, and wide variety of services, such as a sizeable mall and two superstores. It is also only 5 or 6 hours from Santiago, which is convenient for any necessary visit to the capital.

Views from La Serena, Chile
Views from the City Center of La Serena, Chile

It’s funny how small decisions can have a greater impact later on in life. When I took the 32 hour bus ride from Santiago to Arica back in 2013, I considered stopping in La Serena to break the very long trip, lured by my guidebook’s enthusiastic description of its charms. But six hours just wasn’t enough of a dent into the day-plus journey, so I opted to power through and go straight to Arica. From my limited vantage point on the Panamerican highway, La Serena seemed like a pretty cool city. Imagine if I had spent a day or two exploring La Serena? I may not be where I am today.

Views from La Serena, Chile
Views of La Serena, Chile

Why is that? Try as I might, I cannot connect to this Chilean city. When I read this recent post from This Battered Suitcase naming La Serena as one of the cities she just didn’t like, I wanted to stand up and shout, “Me neither!”

Views from La Serena, Chile
Checking Out the Ocean from La Serena, Chile

There are few cities I don’t like (Huanuco, Peru is at the top of the list), but unfortunately, La Serena is one of them. Even still, I have tried to get to know La Serena as more than a transit hub, the place I have to go every so often to process my visa paperwork, and home to high speed internet and massive supermarkets. In May, I spent a Chilean holiday weekend staying in the city, walking and biking along the beach, and even trying to take in some nightlife. I ended up shattering my cell phone screen, getting the seat stolen off my rented bike, and offending a local with my controversial opinions about living in Chile. Needless to say, La Serena and I have a challenging relationship.

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

Churrasca in the Plaza de Armas, La Serena, Chile

That said, La Serena does have some redeeming factors. When the sun is shining brightly (more rare than you would expect due to the proximity of the mountains), the colonial buildings provide an attractive landscape for relaxed wanderings around the city center. The Plaza de Armas often hosts fairs where you can get regional food like churrascas or fresh juice, along with artisan crafts. There are hidden corners like the Patio Colonial filled with neat stores selling looseleaf tea, roasted nuts, essential oils, etc.

Ayawasi, La Serena, Chile
Vegetarian Lunch at Ayawasi, La Serena, Chile

There are at least two vegetarian restaurants where you can get a healthy meal, Pachamama Comida Sana and Ayawasi (see my recommendations, below). There are a number of cafes with outdoor seating catering to the locals along with a cute Western-style cafe, the Lighthouse Cafe. There are also a couple of interesting museums which give you an insight into local culture, which are a good place to head on a cloudy or chilly day.

Views from La Serena, Chile
El Faro, La Serena, Chile

Since La Serena’s city center is about a 20 minute walk from the beach, a visit to the Avenida del Mar can give you a sense that you are in another city and can be quite relaxing as it is located a good distance away from the heavy traffic of the Panamerican highway. On a sunny day, this is a pleasant stroll with a handful of small restaurants catering to tourists. The major destination is El Faro, or the lighthouse, located at the end of Francisco de Aguirre.

La Serena, Chile
Walking Along the Beach in La Serena, Chile

In the city center, La Recova is a popular destination for tourists. At ground level, it is lined with stalls offering mass-produced artisan wares akin to what you can find in nearby Peru and Bolivia at a fraction of the price. If you look closer, they also sell La Serena’s regional speciality, papaya. You can find preserved papaya, candied papaya, papaya with nuts, you name it. Chile’s papaya variety is different from any I have had before, so even if you’re not usually a fan of the fruit (like me), it’s worth a taste or two.

Views from La Serena, Chile

On the top floor of La Recova’s market, there are a number of restaurants dedicated to serving a wide variety of seafood. If, like me, that’s not your thing, La Recova also hosts fast food stands with empanadas and other quick meals. For budget travelers, nearby Calle Vicuña, has a number of low budget hostels, which cannot be particularly recommended but which are a decent option for a night.

Views from Coquimbo, Chile
Views from Avenida del Mar, between La Serena and Coquimbo, Chile

You also have the option of biking from La Serena to Coquimbo, as much of the route is on protected bike paths or sidewalks. We rented our bikes from a small family business near La Recova, but if you just want a short ride, there are bikes for rent by the hour along the bike path.

Views from Coquimbo, Chile
Bike Path Between La Serena and Coquimbo, Chile

Nearby Coquimbo has a busy, bustling fish market atmosphere which is a nice break from the cool, distant demeanor of many residents of La Serena. Due to the aforementioned bike seat robberies, I did not get to spend much time exploring Coquimbo, but I did enjoy watching the pelicans and seabirds.

Views from Coquimbo, Chile
Pelicans at the Port of Coquimbo, Chile

In Coquimbo, the big tourist destination is the Cruz del Tercer Milenio, a huge cement church complex located at one of the highest points in the city.

Views from Coquimbo, Chile

From the top, you can look out at the brightly painted houses coating the hillside of Coquimbo, which are remiscient of the views you get in Valparaíso.

Views from Coquimbo, Chile

Jardín Japonés, La Serena: Parque Jardín del Corazón
Parque Japonés, La Serena, Chile

Finally, La Serena has a lovely Japanese garden, Parque Jardín del Corazón, located close to the bus terminal and malls, which is a welcome escape from the hectic activity along the Panamerican highway (even if you can still hear the traffic during your stroll around the carefully curated landscape).

Jardín Japonés, La Serena: Parque Jardín del Corazón
Parque Japonés, La Serena, Chile

I know it is hard to believe that someone who loves the sprawling urban chaos of Lima could feel so ambivalent about the compact, organized, similarly colonial city of La Serena, but así es. As I’ve said before, this has indirectly benefited me because I spend less time and money heading to La Serena than I originally expected to, so I have learned to take advantage of my current home in a way I might not have otherwise.

Recommendations for La Serena, Chile:

• If you are spending a few nights in La Serena, I highly recommend Hostal El Arbol, located in a quiet neighborhood next to the Japanese garden. It is within walking distance of the bus terminal, close to the beach, and also near the city center.
• If El Arbol is booked up or a little too pricey, you can try the street of hostels located near La Recova.
• For vegetarians, La Serena has at least two vegetarian restaurants. Pachamama Comida Sana, located at Cordovez 490 in the commercial center, offers fixed price lunches at $2500, as well as juice and other cafe treats. The meals are on the smaller side but healthy. Ayawasi, located at Pedro Pablo Muñoz 566, near the Plaza de Armas and Japanese garden, has more plentiful meals for $3500.
• The Museo Arqueológico in La Serena is worth a visit to get a sense of the pre-Colombian cultures in the area, particularly the Diaguitas, who inhabited the Valle de Elqui. There you can also find a much-abused moai from Easter Island and other Rapa Nui artifacts. Admission is free as of writing.
• La Serena has plentiful shopping options with stores lining its two main streets, Prat and Cordovez. There are two malls located nearby on the Panamerican highway, as well as two superstores, Jumbo and Líder. For more niche shopping, try the Patio Colonial, which has a number of intriguing stores selling loose leaf tea, nuts and grains in bulk, aromatherapy, and other interesting wares.
• La Serena has a strong cafe culture, and you can’t wander around the city center without tripping over an outdoor cafe. For foreigners looking for a western-style coffee or bagel, head to Lighthouse Cafe at Matta 570.
• La Serena’s bus terminal is centrally located on the Panamerican highway, making it a great transit hub for just about any destination north to Arica or south to Santiago. From here, you can also catch buses to nearby Ovalle or Tongoy, a popular beach resort.
• To reach the Valle de Elqui, you can take a Via Elqui bus from the bus terminal, but their schedule is variable and irregular. For more regular bus service, catch a Sol de Elqui bus. The route begins at the bus stop across the street from Lider, near the Japanese garden, and continues along Avenida Brasil until the Unimarc parking lot next to La Recova, where it waits to pick up more passengers. It then continues its route and stops outside the other major market in La Serena.
• To reach Coquimbo, you can take local buses along the Panamerican highway. Some buses from the Valle de Elqui end in Coquimbo. If you have time and energy, you can rent a bike and follow the bike path from El Faro in La Serena to the market in Coquimbo, but be aware that there is nowhere particularly safe to lock up your bike in Coquimbo.

Valparaíso, Chile: Coastal City of Street Art, Amazing Sunsets, and Ascensores

Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile
Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile

After spending an afternoon enjoying the sun and beaches of Viña del Mar, my Chilean friend, Francisca, and I headed to nearby Valparaíso.  Over the years, I’d heard bits and pieces about Valparaíso, Chile, namely that it was a lovely city with a lot of character located on the Pacific, and I was ready to experience it for myself.

La Sebastiana in Valparaíso, Chile
La Sebastiana in Valparaíso, Chile

Sunset from La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda's House in Valparaíso

Our first stop was La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house in Valparaíso.  Fran thought it would be fun to continue our tour of the private life of Chile’s most famous poet.  Although you are not allowed to take photos inside the house, the windows of the quirky three-story house afforded an amazing view of sunset falling over Valparaíso.

Based on the clouds in the sky, I realized that the evening’s sunset was going to be a special one, so we found a good vantage point to take in the sunset.

Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile
Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile

We were not disappointed.  The setting sun illuminated Valparaíso’s houses perched on the surrounding hills and painted the clouds pretty shades of pink and purple.

Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile
Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile

How could you not fall in love at first sight with a colorful seaside city like this?

Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile
Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile

After watching the sunset, we decided to explore some of the galleries scattered about Valparaíso.  Valpo (the city’s nickname) is famous for its bohemian atmosphere and support of the visual arts, including the murals and graffiti art that decorate nearly every available surface in the city.

Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile Nighttime in Valparaíso, Chile
Nighttime in Valparaíso, Chile

We lingered over some screenprinted representations of the distinctive Valpo hills, and I ended up buying a handpainted canvas directly from the artist.  I loved the way that all of the art celebrated the special characteristics of the city, like its small houses, ascensores, and churches perched at the top of the hills.  As we were leaving Valparaíso, we both lamented that we hadn’t been there long enough for me to really take in the full character of this artsy city.  We hadn’t even been able to wander around in search of interesting street art!  We quickly decided to spend another night at Fran’s parents’ house in Curacaví and return early the next day to continue exploring.

Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile
Murals in Valparaíso, Chile

Luckily, we were blessed with another gorgeous sunny day, perfect for walking through the streets of Valparaíso.  I was amazed at the talent evident in the colorful murals and how they were often adapted to match their surroundings.

Views from Valparaíso, Chile

Streets of Valparaíso, Chile

I was also surprised at how much the city felt like a smaller, more compact version of San Francisco, with its steep cobblestone streets.

Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile

Street Art in Valparaíso, Chile

We started our day at Cerro Alegre, then headed to nearby Cerro Concepción, two of the most touristic hills of the city (there are over 40!).  These photos were shot in both locations as they are within walking distance of each other.

Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile

Street Art and Interesting Buildings in Valparaíso, Chile

The photographer in me was overwhelmed by all the eye candy.  Even the buildings that weren’t decorated with murals had character!

Views from Valparaíso, Chile Views from Valparaíso, Chile

Views of Valparaíso, Chile

Since it was a clear day with a brilliant blue sky, I really wanted to get a nice shot of Valparaíso surrounded by the cordillera with its snow-capped peaks showing in the distance.  We walked for a little while to a stretch of sidewalk that was unobscured by houses, and were rewarded with this awesome view.

Views from Valparaíso, Chile

Views of Valparaíso, Chile

From the top of this hill, you could see the tall industrial buildings and the colorful residential buildings.  Walking through the streets of Cerros Alegre and Concepción, Valparaíso seemed small, but the city clearly sprawled far off into the distance.

Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile

Views from Valparaíso, Chile

As a student of Latin American culture, I was particularly drawn to the art that celebrated Chilean and Latin American identity.  Of course, I also appreciated this reference to biking culture, going strong throughout Chile!

Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile

Posing in Valparaíso, Chile

This giant mural illustrated Chile’s many landscapes and cultures, including that of Easter Island, as you see above.  By this point, I was completely enchanted by Chile, so I couldn’t resist posing with my guidebook and commemorating my visit to this amazing country!

Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile

Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile

I have always been drawn to graffiti that carries a message.  The graffiti on the left are lyrics from “Cantata de Puentes Amarillos” by Luis Alberto Spinetta, a well-known Argentine rocker.  Loosely translated, the lyrics read, “Even if they force me, I’m never going to say that all that time in the past was better, tomorrow is better.”  The stencil on the right says, “Let life fly!”

Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, Chile

Colorful Mural in Valparaíso, Chile

I am always impressed by artists who can make art seem 3-D, as in this colorful mural.

Paseo Atkinson, Valparaíso, Chile

Paseo Atkinson, Valparaíso, Chile

Pisco Sour at Cafe Brighton in Valparaíso, Chile
Pisco Sour at Cafe Brighton in Valparaíso, Chile

After spending a few hours wandering through the streets, Fran suggested we have lunch at Hotel Brighton, one of the best-known restaurants in the city.  Built into the hill, it has amazing views of the water, the surrounding city, and the mountains.  Above the cafe/bar is an exclusive hotel with incomparable views.

Murals and Graffiti in Valparaíso, ChileAfter eating lunch and sampling a pisco sour, we poked around in more of the cute shops lining the streets of Cerro Concepción and admired some more artwork, and then decided to head down to the business district at sea level, below.Artistic Renderings in Valparaíso, Chile

Artistic Representations of Valparaíso, Chile

Valparaíso is famous for the ascensores, or funiculars, that provide cheap, easy transportation between the business district below and the residential hills above.  These ascensores are more than 100 years old and represent the working class past of this port city.  In the past, Valparaíso had more then 20 ascensores, but now only seven are currently in use.  Riding these rickety wooden train cars is a full body experience with a visual reward.

Views from Valparaíso, Chile Armada de Chile, Valparaíso, Chile Views from Valparaíso, Chile

Views from the Business District of Valparaíso, Chile

Stepping off the ascensor and into the business district of Valparaíso is like entering a completely different city.  Suddenly, you’re surrounded by people walking around at a brisk pace and buses, trolleys, and cars passing by on crowded streets.  The buildings around the main plaza are impressive, particularly the two pictured above!

Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile

Views from Cerro Artillería, Valparaíso, Chile

After wandering around for a bit in the busy downtown, we took another ascensor to Cerro Artillería.  (We visited in August 2013, but, unfortunately, this picturesque ascensor is currently under construction and is no longer operational.)  On Cerro Artillería, the ambiance is a little different.  Instead of being geared towards the more affluent tourists who pass through Cerros Alegre and Concepción, the amenities seemed aimed at locals, which made browsing and lingering over the views much more comfortable for me.

Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile

Views from Cerro Artillería, Valparaíso, Chile

When you leave the ascensor, you immediately see the giant building which used to house the Escuela Naval (Navy School) and has since been turned into the navy’s museum.  You can also walk along the Paseo Mirador 21 de Mayo, which affords great views of the cordillera in the distance and overlooks the constant movement and noise of boats being loaded with shipping containers in the port below.

Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile

Views from Cerro Artillería, Valparaíso, Chile

We spent some time chatting with a few local artesanas (artisan women) who were selling their jewelry nearby.  I still get compliments on the jewelry I purchased from them!

Sunset in Valparaíso, Chile

Views Heading Down the Cerro Artillería Ascensor, Valparaíso, Chile

After watching the pretty sunset from above, we headed back down on the ascensor and found a bus to take us towards the other ascensor back to Cerro Alegre.  The port area of Valparaíso is not known for being particularly safe, and Fran was especially protective of her American friend with her fancy camera. 🙂

Cute Cafe in Valparaíso, Chile Cute Cafe in Valparaíso, Chile
Tea and Treats at Mercadito Alegre, Valparaíso, Chile

Back on Cerro Alegre, we decided to stop in at an adorable small cafe called Mercadito Alegre.  I was excited to find loose-leaf tea to warm me up, and couldn’t resist a sweet treat.  I also loved the adorably decorated cupcakes, including various characters from the World of Nintendo and Winnie the Pooh.

After such an awesome day, I was officially in love with Valparaíso and its street artists, photographers, and artisans.  I felt like the city combined the best aspects of my favorite cities around the world, with a distinctively Chilean spin.  I also sensed that the people of Valparaíso took great pride in their city, and their enthusiasm made me love it too!

Recommendations for Valparaíso, Chile:

  • Spend as much time in this fun city as possible!  We were only there for a day and a half and I could have easily stayed for a week exploring the vibrant streets and poking my head into all the shops and restaurants in the area.  To get a real sense of the city, you should venture beyond Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción and visit some of other hills, like Cerro Artillería.
  • Make sure to ride at least one of the famous ascensores that used to be the primary mode of transportation between the business district and the residential areas.  A ride costs $500CLP (about $1 USD).
  • Stop in to have a warm drink or a snack at Mercadito Alegre!  This was the cutest cafe I visited in Chile.
  • Although I did not have a chance to explore them on my quick visit, Valparaíso is also known for its many churches.
  • Check out this comprehensive list of things to do and places to stay in Valparaíso!
[Valparaíso, Chile: August 4-5, 2013]

Curacaví and Viña del Mar, Chile: Sunshine on the Chilean Coast

Flowers Near Santiago, Chile
Confused Winter Blooms in Curacaví, Chile

After a whirlwind tour of some of Santiago’s highlights, my friend Francisca whisked me away to her parents’ house in Curacaví for a welcome dinner.  Chileans are famous for their hospitality, and true to form, her parents provided “la gringa” with an amazing dinner spread with copious amounts of quality Chilean wine.  They were pleasantly surprised to find that I speak Spanish fluently and we laughed throughout the leisurely dinner party.

Views from Curacaví, Chile Views from Curacaví, Chile Pretty Garden in Curacaví, Chile
Views from Curacaví, Chile

The next morning, I awoke well-rested and was pleasantly surprised to see blue skies and sunshine surrounding us.  Curacaví is less than an hour’s drive from Santiago but seems a world away, nestled in the green hills of the lower Andes en route to the coast.

Flowers in Curacaví, Chile Views from Curacaví, Chile
Views from Curacaví, Chile

Curacaví is a small city which has seen significant real estate development in recent years, particularly gated communities of condominiums.  Many years ago, Fran’s parents began constructing their dream house in Curacaví, and her mother’s artistic touches have brought warmth and style to the house. (There are no photos out of respect for their privacy, but trust me, she’s an inspiration!)  I was particularly fascinated by the succulents and flowers all over the property, and the lovely views of the surrounding hills.

Flowers in Curacaví, Chile
Flowers in Curacaví, Chile

Although it was technically the middle of winter, some of the trees were in bloom, bringing an extra dose of cheerfulness to my morning.  After chilly Santiago, I enjoyed relaxing in the hammock in the warm sunshine.

Colonial Buildings in Viña del Mar, Chile Mini Moai in Museo Fonck, Viña del Mar, Chile Moai at Museo Fonck, Viña del Mar, Chile
Colonial Buildings and Moai at Museo Fonck, Viña del Mar, Chile

After breakfast, we headed to Viña del Mar.  I was excited to finally be back to the Chilean coast, and the views descending from the highway into Viña were lovely.  Viña del Mar is famous for its colonial architecture and its annual international music festival, so I was looking forward to experiencing the resort city for myself.

Our first stop was Museo Fonck.  As you probably know by now, I fell in love with Rapa Nui (Easter Island/Isla de Pascua) when I visited in December 2012, and I had learned that the museum had an impressive exhibit on the island’s history and culture.  Most importantly, I wanted to visit the moai sitting in front of the museum, who had been transported so far from his home.  I spent a solid hour carefully reading the museum placards and studying the artifacts of Rapa Nui culture.  Easter Island’s museum had been closed for renovations when I tried to visit, so I was hungry for more information about the island.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Pretty Ocean Views from Viña del Mar, Chile

Empanadas in Viña del Mar, Chile
Empanadas in Viña del Mar, Chile

As it turned out, the museum closed early on Saturdays, so I wasn’t able to delve into the other exhibits on Chile’s other cultures.  However, this was for the best, as it forced us outside into the bright sunshine.

We headed to the coastline so that I could take in the ocean. After spending a month in the Andes, I hadn’t realized how much I missed the sound of the ocean!  Luckily, one of the typical traditions of Viña del Mar is to eat empanadas at one of the many outdoor cafes that line the coastal road.  I was happy to find two vegetarian options and we enjoyed a relaxing lunch as the breeze came in from the water.

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Beach Cuddling in Viña del Mar, Chile Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Scenes from the Beach in Viña del Mar, Chile

Of course, no visit to Viña del Mar is complete without a stroll on the beach.  Although it was the middle of winter, the beach was spotted with other visitors.

Wandering the Beach in Viña del Mar, Chile
Wandering the Beach in Viña del Mar, Chile

I couldn’t resist taking off my shoes and feeling the wet sand between my toes.

Posing at Viña del Mar
Enjoying the Pacific Waters in Viña del Mar, Chile

Views from Viña del Mar, Chile
Views from Viña del Mar, Chile

I had to test out the Pacific waters for myself, even if the water was very cold!

After wandering along the sandy beach, we headed to the nearby tourist stands set up as a fair, filled with typical souvenirs and sugary treats, like churros and alfajores.  This gave me a chance to try some typical Chilean desserts.

Although we spent only a few hours in Viña del Mar, I enjoyed the coastal vibe.  As this photo shows, Viña del Mar is a lot like San Diego, with its palm tree-lined streets and tall hotels.  It also reminds me a lot of the pretty malecón in Lima.

Next up was Viña’s sister city Valparaíso, which I fell in love with at first sight!

Recommendations for Viña del Mar, Chile:

  • Be sure to visit Museo Fonck, but check the posted schedule to make sure you leave enough time for your visit.  They have an extensive exhibit dedicated to Easter Island, and they also have a Mapuche collection.  Admission costs $2.500CLP (about $5).
  • Walk along the coast and have some empanadas and a drink at an outdoor cafe.
  • Although we did not have a chance to visit them on our very brief visit, Viña is also known for its botanical gardens.
  • If you can, try to time your visit with the famous International Song Festival held in Viña every February in the Quinta Vergara park, but plan in advance to find a place to stay!
  • Here are some other suggestions on things to do in Viña del Mar. You can also read my more recent post on Viña.
[Curacaví and Viña del Mar, Chile: August 4, 2013]

Santiago, Chile: Getting a Feel for the Culture of the Chilean Capital

Prayers on Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago, Chile
Candles and Prayers on Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago, Chile

Even though I was born and raised in a small town, I’m really a city girl at heart.  Ever since living in Buenos Aires, I have craved city life, with all its energy, culture, and convenient public transportation.  Unlike most travelers, I immediately loved the chaos and confusion of Lima, which is partly why I returned to volunteer in the Lima area a few years later.  For these reasons, I was excited to visit Santiago and get to know Chile’s massive capital city.

Visiting a major city like Santiago is different than visiting a pueblo or smaller city.  It takes time to get to know the way the city works, to find the best routes on foot or by bus or subway, to learn about the neighborhoods and secret spots that give the city its character.  I often find you can’t really appreciate what is special about a city on a short visit (with Chicago, San Francisco, and Nashville being notable exceptions).

Luckily, my friend Francisca invited me to stay with her and offered to show me around her city.  She knew that I wanted to see the major tourist sites, but that I also hoped to really experience Santiago as a resident, as I wanted to see if it was a place I might like to live someday.  I had realistic expectations for how much I could learn in a week, but would benefit from an insider’s perspective.  I was ready to explore Santiago.

Cloudy and Smoggy View from Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago, Chile Mote con Huesillo on Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago, Chile
Smog and Clouds Over Santiago from Cerro San Cristobal; Mote con Huesillo on Cerro San Cristobal

On my first day in Santiago, Fran took me to Cerro San Cristobal, the second highest point in the city.  On clear days, this mountain gives you an amazing view of the city and the cordillera (Andes mountain range) that surrounds it.  Unfortunately, I was visiting in winter, when Santiago’s famous smog surrounds the city, coating it in a hazy grey cloud.

Cerro San Cristobal is a highly transited hill; you can climb it on foot, on bike, or in a car (as we did).  When you get to the top, there are a number of stands selling mote con huesillo.  When I was on Easter Island, I saw several signs advertising this treat, but had no idea what it was.  Fran was adamant that we try this delicious drink, as it is the traditional reward for making it to the top of Cerro San Cristobal.  As it turns out, mote con huesillo is a sweet drink made by stewing dried peaches in water, sugar, and spices, then mixed and served with chewy mote and eaten with a spoon.  In Peru and Ecuador, mote refers to cooked corn kernels, but in Chile it means fresh cooked wheat or barley.  We enjoyed our treat and the hazy views of Santiago below us.

Prayers on Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago, Chile Statue of the Virgin Mary on Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago Chile
Gifts to the Virgin Mary for Answered Prayers; Statue of Mary on Cerro San Cristobal

Afterwards, we walked over to the sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  While many of South America’s mountains and hills are dotted with statues of Jesus, Cerro San Cristobal boasts an attractive statue of Mary.  Chile is a deeply Catholic country, and believers visit the statue to pray, contemplate her power in the large amphitheater below, and light candles in the hopes that Mary will answer their prayers.  I was moved by the massive number of lit candles and the plaques and small trinkets left along the walls of the sanctuary thanking Mary for hearing and answering their prayers.

Flowers at La Chascona, Pablo Neruda's House in Santiago, Chile
Flowers at La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s House in Santiago, Chile

After spending some time wandering around the Parque Metropolitano de Santiago on top of Cerro San Cristobal, we descended and headed to Barrio Bellavista, one of the most popular neighborhoods in Santiago. Our first stop was La Chascona, the Santiago home of Pablo Neruda, Chile’s beloved poet.  La Chascona is named for the crazy, tangled hair of his third wife, and the house has been converted into a museum with an attractive little cafe.  According to our guide, the home was vandalized when Neruda was forced to abandon it during Chile’s military dictatorship, but the Fundación Pablo Neruda has done its best to accurately restore it to Neruda’s vision.  We wandered through the quirky decorations and shapes of the rooms and took in Neruda’s style, but unfortunately visitors are not allowed to take pictures anywhere but outside the house in the lovely garden.  La Chascona is an excellent introduction to Santiago’s artsy side.

Street Art near La Chascona, Santiago, Chile
Mural Near La Sebastiana, Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile

After La Chascona, we explored Barrio Bellavista on foot.  Barrio Bellavista is known for being an artists’ neighborhood, with murals covering much of the available wall space.  The streets are lined with cute shops and open talleres, or art workshops, where you can take a look at the art being produced by Santiago’s artisans.  We particularly enjoyed the quirky, humorous artwork displayed at Galería Cian.

Little Palermo Soho, Santiago, Chile Fun Shop in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile Fun Shop in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile
Storefront of Little Palermo Soho and Art Displays inside Galería Cian in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile

Barrio Bellavista is also a good place to sample Chile’s restaurant and bar culture.  Patio Bellavista is an upscale outdoor mall which has become popular with locals, but we ended up eating at Viva La Vida, which had a number of vegetarian options.  I was intrigued by all the happy hour options displayed on the signboards in front of the bars in the area, but it was too early for a drink!

Cathedral, Santiago, Chile
Santiago’s Cathedral at Night

After filling our bellies, we headed back into the center of Santiago.  Fran wanted to show me Barrio Lastarria, another artsy neighborhood with impressive colonial architecture.  We saw a street fair and I ended up walking away with a Chilean children’s book about a boy whose parents took him to the United States. 🙂  By this time, dusk had fallen and Fran took me through the downtown historical district so that I could see some of Santiago’s architecture and landmarks at night.  When we passed by the Plaza de Armas, I snapped this photo of Santiago’s brightly illuminated cathedral.

This whirlwind tour of Santiago was a great introduction to Chile’s capital.  Fran then whisked me off to the coast for the weekend; we’d been invited to dinner at her parents’ house in Curacaví, and we were going to take the opportunity to visit Viña del Mar and Valparaíso.  (I’ll talk about those beautiful cities in the next two posts!)

On my second day in Santiago proper, Fran had to run some errands, and she offered to drop me off at Parque Arauco, an American-style shopping mall. After a year volunteering in dusty Huaycán, I had dropped about 10 pounds and destroyed all but one pair of my pants, and my stretched out, faded jeans did NOT fit Santiago’s chic aesthetic. I was desperate to visit the GAP and buy some skinny jeans (seriously!); after putting them on, I immediately started looking less like a gringa backpacker and more like a Chilean.  I also headed to the bookstore to pick up another book by Isabel Allende, one of Chile’s most famous authors; I’d read her gorgeous family memoir Paula earlier that year and wanted another of her books as a souvenir.

Chasing the Cordillera in Santiago, Chile Chasing the Cordillera in Santiago, Chile
Chasing the Cordillera on a Drive Through Santiago, Chile

Afterwards, I acted even more like a stereotypical expat – I went to Starbucks to read and use their wi-fi over chai tea and had a Chipotle-style burrito in the food court.  Hey, every traveler needs a break sometimes!  When Fran picked me up, the clouds had cleared a little bit, revealing the cordillera; we drove into one of the neighborhoods located at a higher elevation to get a better look at the mountains.  This was the closest I got to seeing the Andes during my stay in Santiago!

That night, another student-turned-friend, Alexandra, took me out for a proper night on the town, Chilean style, in fancy Vitacura and Las Condes.  Unfortunately, I’ve become a bit of an old lady and had to call it a night around 2AM, whereas Chileans usually party all night!

The next day, Santiago was hit by intermittent downpours, and I spent most of my day inside, avoiding the rain and planning the next part of my trip.  I ventured on foot to the supermarket and got drenched, but later explored Providencia on foot.  While Santiago is definitely a car and subway city, its residential neighborhoods are pleasantly walkable due to the wide sidewalks and tree-lined streets.

Plaza de Armas, Santiago, Chile
Plaza de Armas, Santiago, Chile

On my last day in Santiago, we’d hoped for the skies to clear after so much rain, but the smog remained.  Fran suggested we visit the Centro Artesanal de Los Dominicos to take a look at the artisan offerings.  After, she dropped me off at one of the metro stations so that I could head downtown on Santiago’s efficient and easy-to-understand public transport system.  I was interested in exploring downtown Santiago on foot, and visiting some museums and other landmarks.

Mercado Central, Santiago, Chile Santiago, Chile
Mercado Central and Colonial Building in Santiago, Chile

My first stop was the Palacio de La Moneda, the presidential palace, which was undergoing renovations at the time.  From there, I wandered down the pedestrian street, Paseo Ahumada, to the Plaza de Armas.  You can’t visit Santiago without seeing the historical buildings lining the colonial central plaza, like Santiago’s Cathedral and the old post office (Correo Central).  Like every main plaza, the Plaza de Armas was filled with combination of political signage, performers, tourists, and businesspeople and elderly Chileans sitting in the park and enjoying some fresh air.  I moved on to the Mercado Central, hoping for a vibrant, bustling market bursting with local foods like in Peru, but while it was interesting to see (and smell) so much fish, there wasn’t much exciting street food.  I quickly grabbed a greasy lunch at a cheap Fuente de Soda and headed back to the Centro.

Opera House, Santiago, Chile
Teatro Municipal, Santiago, Chile

I enjoyed wandering around the tall, shiny office towers interspersed with ornate colonial buildings, but city photography has never been my strong suit, so I didn’t pull out my camera too often for fear of drawing attention to myself. Fran (and my guidebook) had warned me that the downtown area could be a little unsafe, so I decided to focus on experiencing the city vibe rather than recording it. 🙂 I made sure to visit the gorgeous Teatro Municipal and the massive Biblioteca, which takes up an entire city block.

Santiago, Chile
Basilica de la Merced
Mini Moai in a Church Museum in Santiago, Chile
Moai Carving in the Basílica Museum

My goal was to visit the Museo La Merced inside the Iglesia Basílica de la Merced as they had an entire room dedicated to relics from Rapa Nui (Easter Island/Isla de Pascua).  On Easter Island, I hadn’t been able to visit the island’s museum because it was under renovations, so I took every opportunity in Chile to learn more about Rapa Nui culture and history.  The museum also had some interesting exhibits about colonial art and religious dioramas of the baby Jesus which used to be displayed in the homes of elites.  In the center of the building is a small garden, surely a nice place to sit for a while when it’s sunny.

Views from Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile Views from Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile Views from Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile

Fountain on Cerro Santa Lucía; Cerro San Cristobal Seen from Cerro Santa Lucía; Dog Love on Cerro Santa Lucía

At this point in the afternoon, the sun had finally appeared from behind the clouds, so I decided to climb Cerro Santa Lucía, Cerro San Cristobal’s shorter sister hill.  Between my guidebook and the signs over the park, I knew to keep an eye on my surroundings and stick to the main pathways, as petty theft is pretty common around this hangout for young, bored Chilean teenagers.  Cerro Santa Lucía boasts a number of fountains and monuments, including a number of statues of dogs!  From the top, you can see Cerro San Cristobal and take in great views of downtown Santiago.

Views from Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile
Views of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucia

I was lucky enough to spot the cordillera breaking through the clouds.  As this was a clearer day, I was able to get a clear sense for the massiveness of the capital.

Views from Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago, Chile View of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucia
Sun Amidst the Clouds Over Santiago, Seen from Cerro Santa Lucia

I was also relieved that the sun brought some warmth to this chilly winter day, illuminating the buildings and making for some moody photos!

Posing on top of Cerro Santa Lucia
Posing on Top of Cerro Santa Lucia

Of course, I couldn’t resist posing for a classic Santiago photo, trusting my camera to some visiting businessmen.  This photo makes me smile because it reminds me of my independent explorations of Santiago. 🙂

La Moneda, Santiago, Chile

Rear View of La Moneda, Santiago, Chile

I took the long way back to La Moneda, walking along Chile’s main thoroughfare, La Alameda (or Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins), just as the business day ended and the streets began to flood with people heading home.  I stopped by the Museo Chileno De Arte Precolombino, but I had neglected to do my research in advance and found that it was closed for renovations (it reopened in 2014!).  I’ll have to try again on a future visit!

While I was downtown, I bought my bus ticket for the long journey back to Arica.  Fran had been trying to convince me to fly and save myself 32 hours in the bus, but I was looking forward to seeing a bit of the coast.  In retrospect, I should have spent the extra money; even on with a comfortable bus cama seat, 32 hours is long.

For my last night in Santiago, Fran took me to a yoga class at her studio.  It was a very different style than I’m used to practicing, but it felt good to stretch out my body.  We followed the yoga class with Indian food, a nice, spicy break from the simple meals I’d been eating all week.  Even though it was not the most Chilean way to say goodbye to Santiago, it was a perfect way to wind down my week exploring Santiago.  Santiago’s multifaceted culture certainly piqued my interest, and I’m sure I’ll be back! 😀

Recommendations for Santiago, Chile:

  • This is a great English-language compilation of all the things you can do in Santiago.  I wish it had existed when I visited in 2013. 😉
  • Visit La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda’s homes, in Barrio Bellavista.  Entry costs $5.000CLP (about $10 USD) and now includes an self-guided audio tour.
  • Stop by the small but interesting Museo La Merced to see some relics from Easter Island and learn a little more about religious art in this Catholic country.  Entry costs $500 CLP (about $1 USD).
  • Check out the newly remodeled Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino to learn more about the cultures that inhabited Chile before the Spanish arrived.  Entry costs $3.500 CLP (about $7 USD).
  • Don’t forget to visit La Moneda, the Plaza de Armas, the Mercado Central, the Teatro Municipal, and the Biblioteca, some of Santiago’s most distinctive buildings.
  • Absolutely climb Cerro Santa Lucía for some nice views of the city, but stick to the main paths.  You should also visit Cerro San Cristobal for some exercise and mote con huesillo.
  • Visit Providencia to experience one of Santiago’s nicer neighborhoods and Barrio Bellavista and Barrio Lastarria for its more artsy and social side.
[Santiago, Chile: August 3 + 6-8, 2013]