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Tarapacá, Chile: Experiencing the Healing Mineral Waters of Mamiña

Church in Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Church in Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

When I decided to travel to Iquique, I knew one of my stops would be Mamiña, a small town in the desert known for its healing mineral waters. According to the legend, an Incan princess named Mamiña recovered her sight after washing her eyes with the water that flows through the town. Today, Mamiña is a popular stop for miners seeking to relax their tired muscles and people treating a number of health complaints. It is also a common day trip for your average tourist like me, looking for a relaxing soak in thermal baths.

Church in Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Church in Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

Throughout my travels through South America, I have taken many a thermal bath and elected to skip several others. In Cachueta, near Mendoza, Argentina, the thermal waters give a sense of luxury among the picturesque Andes. In Baños del Inca, near Cajamarca, Peru, a rather sterile complex has grown up around one of the Inca’s favorite places to relax, where the thermal water is piped into a tiny cell-like bathing room. I wasn’t sure what to expect in Mamiña.

Plaza in Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Plaza in Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

Although tours can take you to Mamiña, they cost between $25000-$35000CLP per person, which is quite pricey for someone on a nonprofit salary. Beyond that, I wasn’t that into sharing a relaxing bath with other tourists. After a little bit of research, I discovered that public buses to Mamiña leave daily from just outside the Mercado Centenario in the center of Iquique (see details, below).

Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Road in Upper Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

The route passes through Pozo Almonte en route to Mamiña, giving you a chance to buy breakfast in the dusty transit town. From there, it is a mostly paved road to Mamiña and a steady climb in altitude. The bus first stops at the plaza of Mamiña, which hosts an attractive old church. Don’t make my mistake and attempt to get off there; the town is separated into a lower and upper section and the bus will take you all the way to the thermal baths above town.

Barros Chinos (Mud Baths) in Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Barros Chinos, Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

By the time we arrived, it was about 11AM, which is a good time to get there as the sun was just starting to get strong. The bus dropped us off at Barros Chinos, where I got ready to take my first ever mud bath.

Barros Chinos (Mud Baths) in Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Barros Chinos, Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

After paying a $3000 entrance fee, the gentle, friendly staffperson points out the changing rooms and the mud bathing rooms, one for women, men, and mixed, for families. I headed into the women’s bathing room, where the attendant brought me a bucket of mud and kindly offered to apply it to my back as I was on my own.

Barros Chinos (Mud Baths) in Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Coating Myself in Mud at Barros Chinos, Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

The instructions are simple: coat yourself all over with mud and sit in the sun for 30 minutes to let it dry. When I started slathering the mud on, I started laughing so hard tears ran down. I never thought I would voluntarily coat myself in mud! Other ladies came in and told me that the mud was supposed to be good for your hair and skin. I wasn’t quite ready to put it in my hair but I tried it on my face, which the nice man captured for posterity.

Barros Chinos (Mud Baths) in Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Thermal Bath at Barros Chinos, Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

After 30 minutes, I was antsy and ready to get into the thermal bath itself. Despite the strong sulphur smell, the bath itself is a pleasant temperature, with pockets of water which almost burn your feet. The pool you rinse off in is actually just carved out of the ground and you definitely touch the mud bottom. Not for the squeamish.

Barros Chinos (Mud Baths) in Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Barros Chinos, Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

After stepping out of the thermal bath, I attempted a quick rinse under the frigid showers and changed back into my clothes. I had a couple of hours to kill by wandering through the residential part of town and eating my lunch. There are few places that offer lunch, so as a vegetarian, I opted to bring my own food.

Baños Ipla, Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

Baños Ipla, Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Baños Ipla, Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

After the traditional siesta, Baños Ipla opens back up for business. I was one of the first ones through the door and headed into my own private room, which is basically another thermal bath carved into the floor. Because the baths are sourced right out of the ground below, the water which comes in is full of what looks like dirt and minerals. And the water is hot. Seriously hot. Signs around the small complex recommend a bath of only 5 minutes, and up to 10 minutes for later visits, once your body has built up tolerance.

Baños Ipla, Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Private Thermal Bath in Baños Ipla, Mamiña, Chile

Take this advice seriously – submerging in water this hot is no joke. After your five minute dip, you should rest for about 10 minutes on the wooden recliner. After so many months feeling cold, it was an amazing feeling to be so warm, right through to my bones. I needed the recovery time to stretch out my muscles and let my blood pressure return to normal. Afterwards, you head out into the waiting area to let the relaxation set in a little more.

A photo posted by Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) on

Around this time, a local came by to the little stand outside the bath complex, offering delicious fresh juices. I opted for guayaba, since it’s not a fruit I see too often.

Healing Waters, Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Source of the Healing Waters of Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

After enjoying my juice, I walked behind Banos Ipla to see the small monument to the site where Mamiña had her vision restored, which would have been a relaxing place to read if it weren’t for the construction going on at the hotel a stone throw’s away.

Views from Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile
Green Hills around Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile

The rest of the afternoon was laid back, with those of us who had come in on the bus waiting around Baños Ipla until it was time to catch the bus back to Iquique. It was a pleasant afternoon, definitely at the Chilean pace, where there is nothing in particular to do, so you get the chance to embrace downtime.

Sunset Over the Desert in Tarapacá, Chile
Sunset Over the Desert in Tarapacá, Chile

Recommendations for Mamiña, Tarapacá, Chile:

  • Tours to Mamina are available from various tour operators in Iquique and cost between $25000-$35000CLP per person.  However, I suggest visiting Mamiña independently.
  • Public buses run daily to Mamina from the 900 block of Barros Araña, next to the Mercado Centenario in Iquique. You can buy tickets in advance from the store at Barros Arana 965. You may also be able to arrange other pickup locations with the driver, and the bus also stops in Pozo Almonte. Each way costs $4000CLP per person, or roundtrip for $8000CLP. Buses leave at 8AM and leave upper Mamina at 5:30PM and the plaza of Mamina at 6PM. (There is also an afternoon bus at 4PM from Iquique which returns from Mamina at 8AM.)
  • There are a few pricey hotel complexes in Mamina, popular among miners, families, or people using the water for treatment. There are a few restaurants with cabins (cabanas) scattered around, but it is best to try to make reservations or check if they are serving food on less busy days.
  • Bring snacks and water as there are not many places to buy refreshments.
  • Make sure you take advantage at the stop at the plaza to check out the church.
[Mamiña, Chile: July 23, 2015]

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.

Chumbeques

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!

Vicuña, Chile: Appreciating the Charms of this Historical Little City in the Valle de Elqui

Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Calle Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

If there is one thing you can say about Americans, it is that we believe we have a sense of control over our lives if we plan for our futures. When we accept a job, we make sure to ask as many questions as possible so that we know what we are getting ourselves into. When things don’t go as we expected, we often react with indignation, frustration, or even anger.

Having spent 20% of my adult life living and/or traveling in South America, I sometimes believe I’ve learned to let go of expectations and that I’ve gotten better at recognizing that I don’t actually have any control over how things turned out. And then I realize that quite a few expectations have crept in, and I learn to readjust them yet again. It is a constant practice as I continue to grow and explore my own spiritual path.

I still recall a conversation I had with a dear friend from Buenos Aires back in 2007, when I was visiting my former home during my travels as I did research for my Master’s thesis. It was late evening and we were chatting over helado at one of the many heladerías around the city. I was probably talking about my concerns about my future, as I was halfway through my Master’s degree and had no idea what I was doing my life. She said to me, “That’s the thing about Americans. You believe that you can plan for the future and always have a five-year plan and a bank account for retirement. Here in Argentina, we can’t count on the future. In the blink of an eye our currency lost its value, so we always have to readjust our expectations for the future.”

While I am paraphrasing her words, the sentiment has stuck with me, eight years later. Why do I bring this up? Because my initial arrival to Vicuña was full of letting go of my expectations. When I signed the contract for my job, I thought I would live in Paihuano and researched the town as much as I could to see if I could live there. I don’t even remember reading anything about Vicuña!

While I was in Lima for a couple of weeks before starting work in Chile, I learned that the Chilean program coordinator had actually found me a home in Diaguitas, a small (very small!) town in the comuna (similar to a county) of Vicuña. Just like that, I was forced to readjust two of my biggest expectations. Naturally, my American side started to freak out, so I sought advice from an Italian-Peruvian friend living in Lima. Wise as all my friends are, she said, “If you wanted things to be stable and predictable like in the US or Europe, you wouldn’t have chosen to live in South America.” Touché!

Diaguitas, Valle de Elqui, Chile
The Valle de Elqui Looking More Mystical on a Cloudy Day

So after a week of preparations while reacquainting myself with Santiago and catching up with friends there, I boarded a night bus, destination Vicuña. The buses to Vicuña stop first in Coquimbo, then La Serena, so even thought it was early in the morning I was wide awake as we enteres the Vallw de Elqui. I remember gazing out of the window over a cloudy, foggy valley, trying to feel the mystical energy so many of my Chilean friends talked about. And then, after an hour around the twists and turns of the now-familiar highway, I arrived to the Vicuña bus station, gathered my three backpacks, and hopped in a Diaguitas-bound colectivo (shared taxi) to my new home.

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Gabriela Mistral’s Stone Head, Plaza de Armas, Vicuña, Chile

A few days later, my host family took me to Vicuña so I could get a sense of the city and check out the fería (farmer’s market) and buy some much needed food supplies. It was the middle of summer, so the skies were a brilliant blue and the plaza was lined with stands with artisanal crafts, food items, plants, and other interesting wares. We stopped at the giant cement head in the plaza, honoring Gabriela Mistral, the Valle de Elqui’s patron saint, who was born in Vicuña.

Plaza de Vicuña, Chile
Plaza de Armas, Vicuña, Chile (pre-construction)

(Mentioning the plaza is a little awkward as of the writing of this post, because the plaza has been under construction since the heavy rains in March, and won’t be finished until 2016. Instead of a pleasant central plaza, there is a boarded up perimeter, which is partially covered in beautiful bright murals. The artisan fair has relocated to an empty lot next to the bank.)

Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Plaza de Armas, Vicuña, Chile (under construction)

Despite the fact that there isn’t too much to see or do in Vicuña, I actually like the calm city. It has a number of little charms, and I am happy to repeat my same routines on each visit. Moreover, I can buy just about everything I need there, with the occasional trip to La Serena for some less-accessible supplies, clothes, or high speed internet. Vicuña has a neighborhood-y feel, and I always run into someone I know. It is a nice central hub for people living in the Valle de Elqui and is well worth exploring on a sunny day.

Museo Gabriela Mistral

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

Gabriela Mistral was born in Vicuña and raised in nearby Montegrande, and she is celebrated almost everywhere in the Valle with schools, businesses, streets, you name it named after her. After feeling a bit overloaded by the constant celebrations in her honor in April, the month in which she was born, I realized I needed to get to know her story for myself.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

The Museo Gabriela Mistral is located down a pleasant commercial street also named Gabriela Mistral, which is lined with small businesses and hostales, which are busy in summer but appear closed in the off-season.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

The museum begins with a reconstruction of the house where it is believed Gabriela Mistral was born, complete with period furniture and housewares. After peeking into her house, you can walk around the little plaza containing a Vía Láctea (Milky Way) marking all of the many places Gabriel Mistral lived during her life.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Gabriela Mistral’s Personal Milky Way at the Vicuña Museum

After crossing Mistral’s personal galaxy, you arrive in a modern museum containing lots of displays with objects, quotations, photos, and other artifacts from her life. You can retrace her childhood upbringing in Montegrande, see furniture she used in one of her diplomatic offices, find out about her love of education, and learn about her travels.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

I was actually profoundly moved by the exhibits, realizing that there are many ways to live a life. Mistral certainly did not follow a traditional path, and she struggled to pursue her passion for education and receive recognition for her writing in her native country. But she is much loved and remembered for all of these things today.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Library at the Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

After exploring Gabriela Mistral’s life story, you can head into another building where temporary exhibits show local artists’ textiles or photography. On site, there is also an interesting library dedicated to children’s literacy, which is a cause that is also dear to my own heart. In addition, there are collections of Mistral’s poetry and local literature, worth perusing.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Lavender in the Garden of the Museo Gabriela Mistral

My favorite part of the museum is the beautiful garden located behind the museum and library. This garden is full of lavender and rosemary plants and honors the fields and orchards Gabriela Mistral grew up with. In the off season, the museum receives few visitors, so the garden is a quiet oasis in noisy Vicuña.

Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Museo Gabriela Mistral, Vicuña, Chile

Casa Solar de los Madriaga

Museo de la Casa del Solar de los Madriaga, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Casa Solar de los Madriaga, Vicuña, Chile

On my friend Sara’s recent visit, I finally satiated my own curiosity and took us both to another museum on Calle Gabriela Mistral. The Casa Solar de los Madriaga is one of the traditional houses that you see all around the Valle, but you can actually explore inside. Many years ago, the family converted the front of their house into a museum, preserving the family’s history and lots of period decorations, furniture, and appliances. Your guide is the owner, and he is friendly, funny, and open about his own life story.

Museo de la Casa del Solar de los Madriaga, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Inside the Casa Solar de los Madriaga, Vicuña, Chile

Most of the house is preserved in its original condition, and a few of the rooms have been converted into a modern hostal, where you can stay in great comfort. There is also a small dance studio that can be rented for events and a lovely garden in the family’s living quarters. Cafe Frida, located next door, rents space from this giant house-turned-museum, so it is possible to appreciate the vintage charms over a Mexican-inspired meal.

Museo de la Casa del Solar de los Madriaga, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Succulents in the Garden at the Casa Solar de los Madriaga

Torre Bauer and Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción
Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Torre Bauer, Vicuña, Chile

Another place that characterizes Vicuña is the distinctive red Torre Bauer on the corner of the plaza, kitty corner from the attractive old church. This tower was made in Germany and then brought over to Vicuña, where it was constructed on the site of the old Cabildo. Behind the Torre Bauer, you find all the municipal offices, including the post office. The tower hosts a small museum.

Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción, Vicuña, Chile

Across the street is Vicuña’s pretty church, the Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción. I haven’t actually been inside as it is usually closed when I pass through town, but like most of the churches in the Valle de Elqui, it is worth stopping by. It is about a century old and retains the regional charm from this era.

Café Oveja Negra

Oveja Negra, Vicuña, Valle de Elqui, Chile
Hanging Out with Sara in Café Oveja Negra, Vicuña, Chile

I have recently started to frequent Café Oveja Negra, located on Calle Gabriela Mistral, right on the plaza. With comfortable benches in the window and outside seating, it is a great place to spend an afternoon people watching. The café is small but cozy, with lots of sheep decorating its walls. It is a pleasant place for a pot of tea, fresh juice, freshly prepared sandwiches, and tarts (known as kuchen here in Chile), and has a long list of coffee options. And they have free wifi, which makes it a nice option for writing emails.

Empanadas Paladar Arte-sano

Paladar Arte-Sano, Vicuna, Chile
Empanada at Paladar Arte-Sano, Vicuña, Chile

The best place to get empanadas in the Valle de Elqui is Paladar Arte-sano, located on Calle Chacabuco, almost directly across the street from Supermercado Rivera. When I took over this job, I saw several references to volunteers loving these empanadas, and nothing has changed with this year’s cohort. The owners are a friendly, kind couple who share the workload of making empanadas and baking simple, healthy pastries. They have a full list of vegetarian empanadas along with the standard Chilean options like pino, all using quality ingredients, mozzeralla cheese, and avoiding lard. If you are lucky, you will stop in when they have recently baked gingerbread cookies styled after Gengi, the character from Shrek, which kids and adults alike get excited about.

Helado

As with most tourist towns in Chile, Vicuña has (at least) three artisanal ice cream shops, where you can get a number of fruit flavors as well as local favorites like canela (cinnamon) and tres leches (three types of milk). All of the ice cream shops are located on Calle Gabriela Mistral, heading toward the museum.

Permanent Artisan Market

Another place worth checking out is the artisan market located on the plaza, down a small passageway. Because of its bohemian vibe, the Valle de Elqui attracts a number of artisans, and you can buy a number of well-made and affordable goods in this permanent artisan market. I am particularly impressed by the jewelry made from copper and other metals common in Chile.

Temporary Artisan Market

During the summer, there is another artisan market around the plaza, but since the plaza is under construction it has been relocated to an empty lot next to the BancoEstado on the other side of the plaza. Formerly open during holiday weekends or school vacations, it is currently open daiky and may no longer be so temporary. Here you can get local fruit and nuts like papaya and pecan, honey, more ice cream, natural beauty products, and other interesting things, like jewelry, textiles, and handcrafted souvenirs.

Casa de la Cultura

One of my other favorite places to spend time in Vicuña is the Casa de la Cultura, located on the same block as the Unimarc, BancoEstado, and temporary artisan market. Tucked inside the Casa de la Cultura is the public library, which offers free wifi (if you are a foreigner, you can ask the computer room attendant for a code that gives you 1.5 hours of wifi). They also have a pretty sizable collection of English language books.

The Casa de la Cultura has a pretty courtyard with tables where you can sit in the sun, but the most interesting aspect is the small gallery containing exhibits of local artists, many inspired by the Diaguitas culture, regionally popular weaving, or mandalas and other spiritual symbols popular in the Valle.

Govinda

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Lunch at Govinda, Vicuña, Chile

In a place known for its spiritual energy, it is no surprise to find the Hare Krishnas in Vicuña. While they have an EcoTruly in Diaguitas, they also have a restaurant located on the main plaza serving fixed price lunches. For a vegetarian like me, this is one of the few places I can get a full meal instead of a salad or empanada.

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Lotus Window at Govinda, Vicuña, Chile

As you can see, Vicuña is a compact city which still boasts some quality food, art, and museums. I am sure there are a number of hidden corners I will still discover in the time I have left in the Valle. Since coming back from my vacation, I realized how much I like pleasant Vicuña and I will definitely miss its charms when I leave at the end of 2015.

Recommendations for Vicuña, Chile:

  • If you are coming to the Valle de Elqui from Santiago, you can take a direct bus to Vicuña on Expreso Norte, but these buses are only semi-cama. The bus leaves Santiago twice daily, once in the morning and once at night, and leaves Vicuña twice daily at 11AM and 9:45PM.
  • Alternatively, you can take any bus to La Serena and transfer to the Via Elqui bus in the La Serena bus terminal (or the Coquimbo bus terminal), or take the Sol de Elqui bus from its stop across from Líder, anywhere along Calle Brasil, or from the Unimarc parking lot next to La Recova.
  • Since I live here, I haven’t stayed in any of the hostels, but after seeing the cute rooms in the Casa Solar de los Madriaga, I would suggest staying there.
  • As of writing, the Museo Gabriela Mistral is free to visit and absolutely a must-stop for anyone interesting in the history of the Valle or Chile’s Nobel-prize winning poet.
  • If you are curious about the traditional houses of the Valle de Elqui, you can get an intriguing peek inside at the Museo Casa Solar de los Madriaga, which costs $900 for a guided tour. I really enjoyed my visit.
  • The best empanadas in the Valle are at Empanadas Paladar Arte-sano, located at Chacabuco 448, a block from the plaza, across from Supermercado Rivera and not far from the bus terminal.
  • Don’t forget to check out the artisan markets and shops around the plaza and peek into the Casa de la Cultura to see its temporary exhibits or enjoy the sunny courtyard.
  • On Saturdays, Vicuña has a fería, or farmer’s market, where you can get local produce and food items at low prices. The fería is located in the market area next to the Shell station and is especially fun in summer when there are lots of things in season.
  • If you want to visit the Mamalluca astronomical observatory, the ticket office is located the municipal complex off the San Martín side of the plaza, behind the Torre Bauer. It is much more affordable to book your tour and transfer from the municipal office if you stay in Vicuña, rather than booking with a tour agency in Pisco Elqui.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

20 Little Things I Love About Chile

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el


Gorgeous Clouds and Hills of the Valle de Elqui, Chile

What comes to mind when you think of Chile? For many, Chile evokes the images of snow-capped peaks, lush vegetation, infinite hiking paths, and perhaps even blue-toned glaciers spreading across the Andes. Patagonia is one of Chile’s biggest draws, and visiting Torres del Paine is a bucket list dream of many (including me!).

Views from Arica, Chile
Views from Arica, Chile

Perhaps you think of the lakes region, particularly the picturesque island community of Chiloé with its distinctive architecture. Maybe you’re intrigued by the haunting desert landscapes of San Pedro de Atacama, or the up-and-coming surf havens of Arica and Iquique. You may have heard some buzz about the colonial architecture attracting expats to the seaside city of La Serena, or the massive capital city of Santiago and all its history interests you.

Concha y Toro Winery, Santiago, Chile

Wine Tasting at Concha y Toro, Santiago, Chile

If you enjoy wine, you’ve likely learned to appreciate Chilean cabernet sauvignon, or the rediscovered carmenere, from the many fertile valleys around the country. Chile hosts many world class wineries, competing with the delicious options from nearby Mendoza, Argentina.

And of course, star lovers head to my current home of the Elqui Valley (Valle de Elqui), recently covered in the New York Times. Fans of artisanal liquors are also more than happy to sample the variety of piscos in this area (though I still prefer Peruvian pisco – sorry!).

Sunset from Ahu Tahai
Views from Isla de Pascua, Chile

Clearly, there are a lot of things to love about Chile. I haven’t even mentioned my favorite destination, Rapa Nui (more commonly known as Easter Island or Isla de Pascua).

Even with all of these amazing landscapes, I have struggled to connect to Chile like I did to Peru. I’ve mentioned that it’s taken me some time to readjust my expectations and find my routine in my new reality. Many Chileans have suggested that the north takes more getting used to than the south, just because the people here tend to be more suspicious of outsiders. I remember my guide in San Pedro de Atacama mentioning that he had the same problem when he moved there, and he’s Chilean!

While I may still find myself on the outside of Chilean culture, there are a number of aspects of life in Chile that I’ve come to embrace.

1. Marrequeta

Chileans are famous for their bread consumption. They rank second or third in the world for the amount eaten annually, depending on your source. While there are various types of bread popular in Chile (see this handy guide here!), I prefer marrequeta, the fluffy, crusty bread. While not all marrequeta is equally delicious, you will never forget a recently baked marrequeta that melts in your mouth. Many gringos complain about eating so much bread, but I keep my daily consumption to one marrequeta and haven’t gained weight yet.

Queso Crema, La Serena, Chile

2. Queso crema

Queso crema is Chileans answer to cream cheese, and I like it so much better! It usually comes in a tube and you cut off the top, revealing just enough space for your knife. It is spreadable and has just the right amount of tang. Marrqueta with queso crema is my new favorite breakfast.

3. Loose leaf tea with a sliver of cinnamon stick (té con canela)

Chileans also rank highly for their consumption of tea, due to the fact that they drink it twice day. While loose leaf tea was hard to come by in Peru, you can easily find it in any supermarket in Chile, bags and bags of affordable ceylon tea! Here, I learned that Chileans have the custom of slipping in a sliver of cinnamon stick into their mug while the tea brews, giving it a nice flavor.

4. Té or once tradition

As mentioned above, most Chileans eat bread and drink tea twice a day, part of a meal called té, or more commonly, once. Instead of having dinner, Chileans opt for a big almuerzo and have a small meal in the evening. Even though our host families provide us with dinner, I am also happy with the té tradition, and enjoy the fact that it is always served with an elaborate presentation and a variety of options to top the bread. Sometimes people eat once comida, which can mean a delicious slow cooked onion mix with eggs, or some other light meal.

Paladar Arte-Sano, Vicuna, Chile
The Best Empanadas I’ve Had from Paladar Artesano, Vicuña, Chile

5. Empanadas

While my recent trip to Buenos Aires reminded me that Argentines are the masters of empanadas, Chilean empanadas are still delicious. Chilean empanadas tend to be oversized and turn into a filling meal. I particularly like the empanadas I can find in Vicuna at a small restaurant called Paladar Arte-sano, where there are a number of vegetarian options.

Valle de Elqui, Chile: Making Orange Juice
6. Fresh squeezed orange juice

I remember traveling in Bolivia in 2007 and discovering that I could buy inexpensive, freshly squeezed orange juice from a vendor in the plaza. Imagine my joy wandering the streets of Providencia and stumbling across the same thing! Lucky for me, I live in a house next to an expansive orchard which is currently overflowing with oranges. I also have a simple but effective machine that quickly and efficiently squeezes the oranges. This means I can have orange juice whenever I want this season.

7. Homemade dulces

Chileans certainly have a sweet tooth, but it tends towards fruit marmalades and dulces, or sweet bricks of concentrated fruit preserves. I personally prefer my fruit fresh (see above!), but I can’t complain about the occasional slice of dulce de manzana or spoonful of apricot marmalade with chunks of preserved fruit.

8. Kiwis

I am not sure exactly where kiwis grow in Chile, but I do know that they are more common and much more affordable here than anywhere else I’ve lived. Kiwis are one of my favorite fruits (okay, I like all fruit), so I’ll happily eat as many as I can while living here.

9. McKay cookies

Even though I don’t usually eat packaged cookies in my normal life in the US, I do like being able to buy tubes of cookies for a quick snack at school. I am a fan of McKay brand cookies, which are not too sweet and have lots of good flavors. I am especially a fan of the coco, tiza, and triton cookies.

Delicious Homemade Dinner, La Serena, Chile
Enjoying the Chilean Tradition of Salad

10. Salads

Chileans may have a meat, dairy, and bread heavy diet, but they also love their salads! In the lunch room at school, the other teachers are always eating a variety of salads as part of their almuerzo, and at any formal gathering with family or friends, you are likely to have at least two salads. Salads are usually one or two ingredients, such as tomato and cucumber, broccoli and carrot, or some combination thereof. I am a big fan.

Palta in the Valle de Elqui, ChilePicking Palta in the Valle de Elqui, Chile

11. Picking my own fruit

One of the things I most enjoy about my living situation is the access to the orchard. When I arrived in summer, peaches and plums were plentiful, and then figs and grapes came in. Now it is the season of limes, oranges, avocado (mi querida palta), and guavas. I even found a pecan tree and tried out some quince (membrillo). From my city girl perspective, having your own orchard is a dream come true so I am going to enjoy it while it lasts. Now that I’ve talked about all the food customs and options I love about Chile, it’s time to mention a couple of aspects of Chilean culture that are equally appealing.

12. WhatsApp

While WhatsApp is not a Chilean phenomenon, it is the primary form of communication among everyone here. Work, play, you name it – people are going to chat with you on WhatsApp rather than calling, texting, or emailing. Instead of asking your phone number, people ask if you have WhatsApp. I have fully adjusted to the range of emoticons now available me, after being someone who rarely chatted online in the last 10 years.

13. Karaoke

I am not sure if this is specific to the region I live in, but Chileans here sure love their karaoke. I have always been a fan and it is a cheap and easy form of entertainment on the weekends. Sometimes when we are bored on weeknights we rehearse our songs for weekend gatherings.

14. Natural wool

One thing I was delighted to find here is 100% natural Chilean wool. Despite the fact that Peru produces tons of high quality sheep and alpaca wool, it was always hard to find affordable, non-acrylic wool. Chileans also tend to knit in acrylic, but I’ve been able to find plenty of gorgeous natural wool in yarn shops in Vicuna, La Serena, and Santiago. This keeps me inspired to knit my own 100% Chilean souvenirs, as you see here and here!

15. Ponchos

Speaking of wool, Chilean women love their ponchos. I was shocked by the variety available for purchase in the department stores in fall, and I am always impressed with the ways stylish Chileans wear them. They are useful here because it’s usually cold in the morning and ponchos keep the chill off your shoulder while leaving your arms free. I acquired one myself and wouldn’t be surprised if I buy another before the winter is over.

16. Receipts and posted prices

Chile is a much more official country than others in South America, which means that prices are almost always posted and usually fixed. I particularly like the fact that it is easy to get receipts, which helps me with my nonprofit expenses. I have never been a huge fan of negotiating and like that I don’t always have to be on guard for people raising prices on me because I’m a foreigner.

Una foto publicada por Kim Dodge (@blueskylimit) el

17. Reading by the river

I figured out over the last few years that I am a person who needs to be near the water, and I am excited that I live within walking distance of the major river here in the Valle. Almost on a daily basis I walk down to the river and sit in the sun reading. It may not be the same as my walks along the Malecon in Lima, but it does the job and keeps me sane.

18. “Aqui estamos”

I am not sure if this is a Valle or northern thing, but often when you ask someone, especially someone my parents’ age or older, how they are, they say, “Aqui estamos,” or “here we are.” While it can seem a little resigned to living out days after endless days, I find it charming. It is usually said with a smile rather than sarcasm, but it makes me laugh every time I hear it.

19. Tía (or Tío)

Another funny thing about Chilean Spanish is that kids are taught to call adults “Tia” (aunt) or “Tio” (uncle). At first it makes you feel old, but you get used to it quickly and it becomes adorable.

20. Gas Heaters

Okay, this is a weird one to end the list, but because it is still cold right now, this one is on my mind. Most Chilean homes don’t have a heating system, even though the temperatures in night and day can be drastically different. Here is the Valle, that means that you may be hot in the day and very cold at night or in the early morning. Enter the gas heater, the most common way to heat your room. I like the gas heaters because they are easy to control – gas trucks circle around town several times per day, and gas is relatively affordable. I can decide how much to run my heater rather than having to worry about how much electricity I am using. As a person who is usually cold, I am really enjoying sitting next to my gas heater as much as I want.

As you can see, Chile has a lot of little things that I have learned to embrace during the past six, almost seven months here. With only four months left, I need to take advantage of these things as much as possible, because who knows where I’ll end up next!