The Ultimate Guide: CHILE
What has always been a secret travel tip for US and Canadian citizens becomes more interesting to Asian and Europe travelers alike - Chile. The longest country in the world is one of the narrowest as well, has got high mountains, the driest place on earth and also the southernmost tip you can travel on this planet. A county that couldn't be more diverse to be honest. And I think I would have never made the step to actually make the trip if I Lukas wouldn't have called this country home for nearly six months. You might have been right if you consider stop reading this as you think the flight costs a fortune to the end of the world. Actually it was when Alitalia signed bankruptcy in summer 2018, when flying to „El Fin del Mundo“ became affordable. I scored a business class ticket on the longest flight of my life (and yes it was worth each penny even tough service was mediocre) for roughly 1.5 k euros. Two years ago this was the regular rate of an economy class ticket from Munich to Santiago. Thanks to Alitalia‘s dumping price you now no longer have to worry about the Italian airline having its last day of operations as Latam Airlines threw out stunning rates for as low as 1.1 k euros for a return ticket in Business class. While the seat for sure is better at Alitalia, why not trying out Latam who is famous for their staff and fleet of brand new Boeing 787s.
I flew into Santiago directly from Rome where I connected from Milan and although it was the longest flight of my life with 15 hours pure flight time, it went by very fast and I was not travelling for more than 24 hours which was pretty cool. As we had a flight out to the Easter Islands departing at 7 am, there was the need of a layover in Santiago. This is actually one of the most annoying things about Chile: you always have to connect through Santiago and connection times are actually quite bad (due to the distances, flights have to depart early) making it impossible to catch another flight on the same day you arrive. Consequencing in an overnight each time you change in SCL. For the first day we squeezed through the city to exchange money, check out the hotel and have dinner at the Borago restaurant - the country‘s rising star and best introduction to the country‘s culture.
For Easter island I recommend to stay for a minimum of five days. Even tough we managed to see nearly everything in our four days, the flight is so terribly expensive that you simply have to stay for one more night. Good part: Both, Hanga Roa and Explora will get you a full expedition programme so no worries that you will miss one sight during your stay. Plus don‘t think too much about the trip including a point-of-no-return flight, meaning once passing a certain point in the Pacific, Easter Island airport is the only place to land. We also loved the food on the island and were surprised by the lovely shops selling cool Polynesian fashion.
After Easter Island we flew back to Santiago, stayed for another short night where we discovered Bellavista District before we showed up slightly too late for our Sky Airlines flight. By the way, LATAM is the only airline to book even if it is (slightly) more expensive. Sky Airlines is the Chilean copy of Ryanair and is never on time, seats you on separate seats away from each other even if on the same booking and also decides to re-book you without no reason. This way we were re-booked on the 11 am flight to Punta Arenas instead of the booked 8 am flight just because we arrived at 6.50 am and not at 6 am. For everyone being excited about Patagonia: Plan this trip wisely and book months in advance, plus also get you sorted with transfers as the distances are massive. We were picked up by the Patagonia Camp and drove for the entire afternoon until we reached a totally different scenery than where we landed.
To say one thing first: Patagonia is simply stunning. It‘s the place all people living in New York City, Hong Kong or Tokyo dream of. A place that is so remote that you don‘t have any telephone reception and the only smell that accompanies you is the purest of air you always dreamed of. Your only connection to the world is the WiFi access (only in the main areas) which often does not work properly. Let‘s be honest: You booked a flight to the end of the world, drove for five hours and passed about ten houses just to check out your Instagram account? Well, I don‘t think so neither. Unplug and enjoy nature. And please: Chile is not the place for high heels, suits and notebooks, you simply don‘t need em. When in Patagonia (Chile) you rather stay in Puerto Natales and if you brought a bigger wallet, check in at a hotel inside the Torres Del Paine national park so that you don‘t have to unwind the two hours drive each way from Puerto Natales daily. I recommend Patagonia Camp or the Explora on Salto Chico (prepare to pay Aman-prices).
Border crossing to Argentina
Normally you stay in Patagonia for a week or two to best enjoy the different flora and fauna or trek the W - the world‘s most famous trek. Fly back to Santiago and stay for a night to add a week at Atacama or do as we did and take the bus over the border to Argentina. Being Millennial generation-born in a EU-Schengen area having no border controls anymore when doing road-trips, Lukas and me were totally excited for the border crossing by bus. Everyone has to leave the bus and get a stamp inside an office before being able to move forward. Do this twice - one time in Chile for leaving the country and once in Argentina to immigrate. We then arrived later in the evening in the pretty town of El Calafate, actually the prettiest spot of entire Patagonia to see the famous Perito Moreno glacier. Having stayed at the Eolo Lodge, we can gladly say we have seen the best of everything.
Our initial plan was to go all the way up to Puerto Varas by bus, however this idea was soon vanished as the boat between the Argentinian and Chilean border did not go anymore. So our last stop in Patagonia was the uber-expensive Aguas Arriba Lodge which finally was the most remote accommodation we both stayed at. A two-hour bus drive brought us to El Chalten followed by a taxi drive of two hours to be taken by boat to the lodge within another 10 minutes. Not counting the flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate. After our stay in Lago del Desierto we went to the Argentinan capital and waived goodbye to Patagonia. We came to the conclusion that even tough it is stunning and unique, it‘s sufficient if you have seen it once in your life. We recently did a tour through the Dolomites and had the same feelings as in Patagonia - just for tenth of the money we spent for the entire trip.
From Uruguay to Puerto Varas
So instead of taking the bus all the way up to Puerto Varas passing by Cochrane, La Catedral de Marmol and Futalefu we took the ferry over to Uruguay, rented a car and discovered Colonia, the interesting capital Montevideo and obviously we headed to Punta del Este for a bit of Cote d'Azur bliss. Even tough Punta is pretty nice, we preferred to stay in sophisticated José Ignacio that reminded more of the Bahamas than South America. Chic shops, great eats and luxurious hotels included. Totally loved it. We flew back to Northern Patagonia and discovered San Carlos de Bariloche which was nice and is a great spot for water sports and rafting, tough can compete with Switzerland easily. On the other side, Puerto Varas and the views of the volcano were simply stunning an worth the little detour.
Wine Valleys and Valparaiso
We still had a week left to discover Valparaiso and the wine valleys of Chile. To be honest we could have gone to Atacama desert as well but we had enough of lodges and exploring so I thought why not going to Chile again on another occasion, now as I have a reason. We rented a car in Santiago at Sixt and got upgraded again free of charge (second time and great experience again) - our road trip through the Andes towards the Pacific has started. We have passed by Casablanca (the famous wine town) where we stopped at Casas del Bosque winery. Once we arrived in Valparaiso we felt like in a Seaside version of Prague thanks to the Bohemian buildings and lifestyle. When in Valpo, stay in a Hostel they said so our first night we spend in a totally chic hostel until we moved into the most luxurious property on Chile's beach side. From Valparaiso we drove to Concon to take surf lessons and to watch the sunset over Valparaiso from the Dunes of Concon. That was one amazing day!
Our last stop was the Colchagua Valley where we stayed the first of our three nights at Lapostolle Clos Apalta Residence - one of the best hotels we have ever stayed at - before we changed for the main highlight of this 4-week trip: Vina VIK. Owned by Mr Alexander Vik, this architectural highlight is named best resort of South America and for a reason. All inclusive also means sipping the 100 Dollar bottle of VIK's Signature wine along the Michlin-worthy food. From tanning at the pool to seat 1 A for a transatlantic red-eye.