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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Beyond the incrediblydiverselandscapes 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 variouswineries 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Candles and Prayers on Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago, Chile
Even though I was born and raised in a small town, I’m really a city girl at heart. Ever since living in Buenos Aires, I have craved city life, with all its energy, culture, and convenient public transportation. Unlike most travelers, I immediately loved the chaos and confusion of Lima, which is partly why I returned to volunteer in the Lima area a few years later. For these reasons, I was excited to visit Santiago and get to know Chile’s massive capital city.
Visiting a major city like Santiago is different than visiting a pueblo or smaller city. It takes time to get to know the way the city works, to find the best routes on foot or by bus or subway, to learn about the neighborhoods and secret spots that give the city its character. I often find you can’t really appreciate what is special about a city on a short visit (with Chicago, San Francisco, and Nashville being notable exceptions).
Luckily, my friend Francisca invited me to stay with her and offered to show me around her city. She knew that I wanted to see the major tourist sites, but that I also hoped to really experience Santiago as a resident, as I wanted to see if it was a place I might like to live someday. I had realistic expectations for how much I could learn in a week, but would benefit from an insider’s perspective. I was ready to explore Santiago.
Smog and Clouds Over Santiago from Cerro San Cristobal; Mote con Huesillo on Cerro San Cristobal
On my first day in Santiago, Fran took me to Cerro San Cristobal, the second highest point in the city. On clear days, this mountain gives you an amazing view of the city and the cordillera (Andes mountain range) that surrounds it. Unfortunately, I was visiting in winter, when Santiago’s famous smog surrounds the city, coating it in a hazy grey cloud.
Cerro San Cristobal is a highly transited hill; you can climb it on foot, on bike, or in a car (as we did). When you get to the top, there are a number of stands selling mote con huesillo. When I was on Easter Island, I saw several signs advertising this treat, but had no idea what it was. Fran was adamant that we try this delicious drink, as it is the traditional reward for making it to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. As it turns out, mote con huesillo is a sweet drink made by stewing dried peaches in water, sugar, and spices, then mixed and served with chewy mote and eaten with a spoon. In Peru and Ecuador, mote refers to cooked corn kernels, but in Chile it means fresh cooked wheat or barley. We enjoyed our treat and the hazy views of Santiago below us.
Gifts to the Virgin Mary for Answered Prayers; Statue of Mary on Cerro San Cristobal
Afterwards, we walked over to the sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary. While many of South America’s mountains and hills are dotted with statues of Jesus, Cerro San Cristobal boasts an attractive statue of Mary. Chile is a deeply Catholic country, and believers visit the statue to pray, contemplate her power in the large amphitheater below, and light candles in the hopes that Mary will answer their prayers. I was moved by the massive number of lit candles and the plaques and small trinkets left along the walls of the sanctuary thanking Mary for hearing and answering their prayers.
After spending some time wandering around the Parque Metropolitano de Santiago on top of Cerro San Cristobal, we descended and headed to Barrio Bellavista, one of the most popular neighborhoods in Santiago. Our first stop was La Chascona, the Santiago home of Pablo Neruda, Chile’s beloved poet. La Chascona is named for the crazy, tangled hair of his third wife, and the house has been converted into a museum with an attractive little cafe. According to our guide, the home was vandalized when Neruda was forced to abandon it during Chile’s military dictatorship, but the Fundación Pablo Neruda has done its best to accurately restore it to Neruda’s vision. We wandered through the quirky decorations and shapes of the rooms and took in Neruda’s style, but unfortunately visitors are not allowed to take pictures anywhere but outside the house in the lovely garden. La Chascona is an excellent introduction to Santiago’s artsy side.
Mural Near La Sebastiana, Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile
After La Chascona, we explored Barrio Bellavista on foot. Barrio Bellavista is known for being an artists’ neighborhood, with murals covering much of the available wall space. The streets are lined with cute shops and open talleres, or art workshops, where you can take a look at the art being produced by Santiago’s artisans. We particularly enjoyed the quirky, humorous artwork displayed at Galería Cian.
Storefront of Little Palermo Soho and Art Displays inside Galería Cian in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago, Chile
Barrio Bellavista is also a good place to sample Chile’s restaurant and bar culture. Patio Bellavista is an upscale outdoor mall which has become popular with locals, but we ended up eating at Viva La Vida, which had a number of vegetarian options. I was intrigued by all the happy hour options displayed on the signboards in front of the bars in the area, but it was too early for a drink!
After filling our bellies, we headed back into the center of Santiago. Fran wanted to show me Barrio Lastarria, another artsy neighborhood with impressive colonial architecture. We saw a street fair and I ended up walking away with a Chilean children’s book about a boy whose parents took him to the United States. 🙂 By this time, dusk had fallen and Fran took me through the downtown historical district so that I could see some of Santiago’s architecture and landmarks at night. When we passed by the Plaza de Armas, I snapped this photo of Santiago’s brightly illuminated cathedral.
This whirlwind tour of Santiago was a great introduction to Chile’s capital. Fran then whisked me off to the coast for the weekend; we’d been invited to dinner at her parents’ house in Curacaví, and we were going to take the opportunity to visit Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. (I’ll talk about those beautiful cities in the next two posts!)
On my second day in Santiago proper, Fran had to run some errands, and she offered to drop me off at Parque Arauco, an American-style shopping mall. After a year volunteering in dusty Huaycán, I had dropped about 10 pounds and destroyed all but one pair of my pants, and my stretched out, faded jeans did NOT fit Santiago’s chic aesthetic. I was desperate to visit the GAP and buy some skinny jeans (seriously!); after putting them on, I immediately started looking less like a gringa backpacker and more like a Chilean. I also headed to the bookstore to pick up another book by Isabel Allende, one of Chile’s most famous authors; I’d read her gorgeous family memoir Paula earlier that year and wanted another of her books as a souvenir.
Chasing the Cordillera on a Drive Through Santiago, Chile
Afterwards, I acted even more like a stereotypical expat – I went to Starbucks to read and use their wi-fi over chai tea and had a Chipotle-style burrito in the food court. Hey, every traveler needs a break sometimes! When Fran picked me up, the clouds had cleared a little bit, revealing the cordillera; we drove into one of the neighborhoods located at a higher elevation to get a better look at the mountains. This was the closest I got to seeing the Andes during my stay in Santiago!
That night, another student-turned-friend, Alexandra, took me out for a proper night on the town, Chilean style, in fancy Vitacura and Las Condes. Unfortunately, I’ve become a bit of an old lady and had to call it a night around 2AM, whereas Chileans usually party all night!
The next day, Santiago was hit by intermittent downpours, and I spent most of my day inside, avoiding the rain and planning the next part of my trip. I ventured on foot to the supermarket and got drenched, but later explored Providencia on foot. While Santiago is definitely a car and subway city, its residential neighborhoods are pleasantly walkable due to the wide sidewalks and tree-lined streets.
Plaza de Armas, Santiago, Chile
On my last day in Santiago, we’d hoped for the skies to clear after so much rain, but the smog remained. Fran suggested we visit the Centro Artesanal de Los Dominicos to take a look at the artisan offerings. After, she dropped me off at one of the metro stations so that I could head downtown on Santiago’s efficient and easy-to-understand public transport system. I was interested in exploring downtown Santiago on foot, and visiting some museums and other landmarks.
Mercado Central and Colonial Building in Santiago, Chile
My first stop was the Palacio de La Moneda, the presidential palace, which was undergoing renovations at the time. From there, I wandered down the pedestrian street, Paseo Ahumada, to the Plaza de Armas. You can’t visit Santiago without seeing the historical buildings lining the colonial central plaza, like Santiago’s Cathedral and the old post office (Correo Central). Like every main plaza, the Plaza de Armas was filled with combination of political signage, performers, tourists, and businesspeople and elderly Chileans sitting in the park and enjoying some fresh air. I moved on to the Mercado Central, hoping for a vibrant, bustling market bursting with local foods like in Peru, but while it was interesting to see (and smell) so much fish, there wasn’t much exciting street food. I quickly grabbed a greasy lunch at a cheap Fuente de Soda and headed back to the Centro.
Teatro Municipal, Santiago, Chile
I enjoyed wandering around the tall, shiny office towers interspersed with ornate colonial buildings, but city photography has never been my strong suit, so I didn’t pull out my camera too often for fear of drawing attention to myself. Fran (and my guidebook) had warned me that the downtown area could be a little unsafe, so I decided to focus on experiencing the city vibe rather than recording it. 🙂 I made sure to visit the gorgeous Teatro Municipal and the massive Biblioteca, which takes up an entire city block.
My goal was to visit the Museo La Merced inside the Iglesia Basílica de la Merced as they had an entire room dedicated to relics from Rapa Nui (Easter Island/Isla de Pascua). On Easter Island, I hadn’t been able to visit the island’s museum because it was under renovations, so I took every opportunity in Chile to learn more about Rapa Nui culture and history. The museum also had some interesting exhibits about colonial art and religious dioramas of the baby Jesus which used to be displayed in the homes of elites. In the center of the building is a small garden, surely a nice place to sit for a while when it’s sunny.
Fountain on Cerro Santa Lucía; Cerro San Cristobal Seen from Cerro Santa Lucía; Dog Love on Cerro Santa Lucía
At this point in the afternoon, the sun had finally appeared from behind the clouds, so I decided to climb Cerro Santa Lucía, Cerro San Cristobal’s shorter sister hill. Between my guidebook and the signs over the park, I knew to keep an eye on my surroundings and stick to the main pathways, as petty theft is pretty common around this hangout for young, bored Chilean teenagers. Cerro Santa Lucía boasts a number of fountains and monuments, including a number of statues of dogs! From the top, you can see Cerro San Cristobal and take in great views of downtown Santiago.
Views of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucia
I was lucky enough to spot the cordillera breaking through the clouds. As this was a clearer day, I was able to get a clear sense for the massiveness of the capital.
Sun Amidst the Clouds Over Santiago, Seen from Cerro Santa Lucia
I was also relieved that the sun brought some warmth to this chilly winter day, illuminating the buildings and making for some moody photos!
Posing on Top of Cerro Santa Lucia
Of course, I couldn’t resist posing for a classic Santiago photo, trusting my camera to some visiting businessmen. This photo makes me smile because it reminds me of my independent explorations of Santiago. 🙂
Rear View of La Moneda, Santiago, Chile
I took the long way back to La Moneda, walking along Chile’s main thoroughfare, La Alameda (or Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins), just as the business day ended and the streets began to flood with people heading home. I stopped by the Museo Chileno De Arte Precolombino, but I had neglected to do my research in advance and found that it was closed for renovations (it reopened in 2014!). I’ll have to try again on a future visit!
While I was downtown, I bought my bus ticket for the long journey back to Arica. Fran had been trying to convince me to fly and save myself 32 hours in the bus, but I was looking forward to seeing a bit of the coast. In retrospect, I should have spent the extra money; even on with a comfortable bus cama seat, 32 hours is long.
For my last night in Santiago, Fran took me to a yoga class at her studio. It was a very different style than I’m used to practicing, but it felt good to stretch out my body. We followed the yoga class with Indian food, a nice, spicy break from the simple meals I’d been eating all week. Even though it was not the most Chilean way to say goodbye to Santiago, it was a perfect way to wind down my week exploring Santiago. Santiago’s multifaceted culture certainly piqued my interest, and I’m sure I’ll be back! 😀
Recommendations for Santiago, Chile:
This is a great English-language compilation of all the things you can do in Santiago. I wish it had existed when I visited in 2013. 😉
Visit La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda’s homes, in Barrio Bellavista. Entry costs $5.000CLP (about $10 USD) and now includes an self-guided audio tour.
Stop by the small but interesting Museo La Merced to see some relics from Easter Island and learn a little more about religious art in this Catholic country. Entry costs $500 CLP (about $1 USD).
Check out the newly remodeled Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino to learn more about the cultures that inhabited Chile before the Spanish arrived. Entry costs $3.500 CLP (about $7 USD).
Don’t forget to visit La Moneda, the Plaza de Armas, the Mercado Central, the Teatro Municipal, and the Biblioteca, some of Santiago’s most distinctive buildings.
Amazing Views of the Andes from the Bus Between Mendoza and Santiago
During my week in Mendoza, I’d come to the tough conclusion that this city of wine set among the high Andes would be my last stop in Argentina. I’d originally hoped to revisit my former home, Buenos Aires, and spend time with my porteño friends, but after hearing horror stories about how dangerous the capital had become, I decided to save both time and money and head back to Chile to get to know Santiago.
Blue Rivers and Lakes Leaving Mendoza, Perfect for White Water Rafting
I woke up early to leave for the bus terminal, where I’d bought a ticket for a 10AM departure. I figured this would allow me to cross the border before it got too busy and arrive in Santiago before dusk. As I was checking out of the hostel, the receptionist at Hostel Empedrado asked me if I had exchanged contact info with my Canadian friends, who had left earlier that morning. I hadn’t, but, curious, I asked why.
As it turned out, they had accidentally forgotten their video camera under the bed and she wondered if I could return it to them. (More proof of this hostel going above and beyond!) I suggested she send them an email with my contact information, and agreed to take the camera with me to Santiago. After all, they had lost most of their possessions when they were robbed in Buenos Aires: I wanted to make sure they got reunited with their video camera!
Pretty Pink Rocks and Blue Skies on the Way to the Border of Argentina and Chile
I said goodbye to my new favorite Argentine hostel and headed to the bus terminal. I had a decent amount of Argentine pesos left, and frantically purchased alfajores, chocolate, and other snacks to unload as many pesos as I could. I couldn’t find a souvenir shop near my bus platform, or else I would have walked away with some cute Argentine flag pins or something. I hung on to a few Argentine pesos in case I needed them at the border crossing. In retrospect, I should have spent all my Argentine pesos, as they are virtually worthless outside the country; I changed them for a fourth of their original value back in Peru!
View of the Andes on the Way to the Border Between Argentina and Chile
This border crossing journey was much more calm and organized than the trip between San Pedro de Atacama and Salta; this is one of the most popular routes between Argentina and Chile and it works like a well-oiled machine.
A Snowy Welcome to Chile
So well, in fact, that I don’t remember much about the journey, except that we sat for quite a while in the line at the border and the bus got nice and toasty. As you can see from the photos above, the route passes through the super blue rivers and lakes of the high Andes, where there are plenty of options for whitewater rafting and other adventure sports. On another visit, I’d love to stay outside the city of Mendoza in one of these towns nestled in the Andes. You can tell that the scenery along this route is seriously gorgeous because I got these awesome photos from inside a moving bus!
Amazing Clouds Over the Andes near the Chile/Argentina Border
Paso Internacional Los Libertadores is an easy border crossing, with both of the Argentine and Chilean immigration posts located inside the same building, making it surprisingly efficient. Unlike Paso Jama, they also have the equipment to clear away the snow that falls consistently at such a high altitude. Interestingly, six weeks after I crossed the border, it got hit with such a major snowstorm that it, too, closed!
Views of the Snow-Covered Andes from the Chilean Side of the Border
While the route to the border from Mendoza is fairly uneventful, the descent to Santiago takes you along a series of impressive switchbacks, leading to constantly changing views of the mountains. Chile’s ski resorts are nestled somewhere in the Andes near this route.
Getting Closer to Santiago and the Chilean Vineyards
As you continue to descend towards Santiago, you enter Chile’s wine producing region, almost equally as famous as Mendoza. The hills changed to greens and burnished reds and browns, reminders that it was, in fact, winter in the region, even though we’d left the snow-covered high Andes.
Speeding Past Chile’s Wine Country En Route to Santiago
I stared out the window at the expanses of vineyards that we continued to pass. If I hadn’t just done a full tour of the wineries of Mendoza, I would have been tempted to explore the beautiful countryside (and drink more wine).
Foothills of the Andes on the Chilean Side
At this point, we were getting closer to Santiago and leaving the Andes. Once again, I saw those familiar Andean foothills, covered in green brush and vegetation.
Sunset En Route to Santiago
We’d lost an hour crossing the border (and time zones), and the sun disappeared from sight while we continued our journey towards the capital city. With the winter clouds in the sky, it made for a truly impressive sunset. This is still one of my favorite sunset pictures, captured from the window of a moving bus!
Pink Sunset Somewhere in the Suburbs of Santiago, Chile
As we approached Santiago, we entered its suburbs and hit the afterwork traffic you should certainly expect on a Friday evening. I had already put my D40 away, but looked out the window to see this crazy pink sunset. If you can believe it, I took the above photo with an iPod touch! I couldn’t let these pink colors disappear into memory. 🙂 This ended up being the last clear sky I saw for a few days, so it was well worth documenting.
Finally, we arrived to the bus station in Santiago, which is located in the midst of a major transportation hub. All the Chileans on my bus were complaining about the location of the bus terminal in the center of the city. We spent an extra hour inching along city blocks during the rush hour commute. By the time the bus got there, I was antsy to get off the bus and stretch my legs. I quickly changed some dollars into Chilean pesos and eventually found a taxi to take me to my friend Francisca’s house in Providencia.
Since I’d had no way to call Fran to let her know I was running late, she had generously left the key to her apartment with her doorman and a note for me to make myself at home in her adorable one bedroom apartment until she returned from a yoga class. I took the opportunity to make some tea, stretch, and recover from yet another bus journey. When she arrived, we poured ourselves some Chilean wine, fixed some snacks, and excitedly caught up on a couple years of life until 1AM, when I was too tired to keep talking. This was my first exposure to the famed Chilean hospitality, and I knew I was in for a great week in Santiago.
Recommendations for Border Crossing Between Mendoza, Argentina and Santiago, Chile:
Buy your ticket in advance if you’re planning on traveling over the weekend, as I did, to guarantee a seat by the window. Sit on the right side of the bus if you want to watch the river go by.
Leave as early as possible. I left at 10AM and I probably should have left earlier to avoid rush hour traffic in Santiago. The border can get really busy with all the buses and cars passing through.
Spend all of your Argentine pesos before leaving! Argentine pesos have very little value outside of the country and you will get more for your money if you spend them on souvenirs and snacks before leaving. It’s a good idea to bring some snacks with you for the ~eight hour journey, but keep in mind that Chile has strict rules about what kind of food can cross its borders. Be prepared to eat any fruit, cheese, meats, etc. before you cross the border. They x-ray all luggage looking for food.
If you still have Argentine pesos, change them at the currency exchange station at the immigration post. Exchange rates are always best at the border. You can wait until you get to the bus terminal in Santiago, but you won’t get the best rates there. The border is also a good place to change dollars into Chilean pesos.
[Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile: August 2, 2013]