The first thing we noticed about Chile is how modern it felt! Coming out of the airport and heading into the city was a breeze compared to the other cities we have been to given the fact that they have big highways here, complete with many electronic tolls! Between that, and the city of Santiago being more modern and progressive, we felt as though we could be in any major city in the US. Dean said it looked like the Denver of South America, a big metropolitan city with mountains in the background, with some altitude and a different vibe than other South American cities.
Our first day in Chile we spent in Santiago. We stayed in an Airbnb so it was nice to have a full refrigerator to stock with water and Lemon Beers (even though we didnt need it, their water is safe to drink here!), a walkout balcony, and a nice washer for our stinky clothes. We first went to find breakfast and realized, yet again, it’s Sunday! Not many places to choose from! We landed on a little coffee shop and each got an empanada. Mine was stuffed with melty cheese and Dean’s was stuffed with tender meat and crunchy pine nuts. It also had an Aji pepper sauce to give it an extra kick. They warned it was muy picante, But we think Tabasco sauce is twice as hot. We were then off to the Mercado Central (central market) to see what it was all about. Upon entering, we quickly noticed that this market primarily sold fish. Bad luck for us, since I’m such a picky eater and don’t like fish and Dean is allergic! However, it was cool to walk through and see it all, the restaurants in the center and citizens buying their fresh fish along the perimeter. The scallops were cracked open and smelled of salt water, probably some of the freshest seafood we’ve seen yet. Outside the market, the streets are lined with the brightest color fruits and freshest looking vegetables, it’s the middle of summer so the produce was the perfectly ripe, you can imagine the air was perfumed with the scents of peaches, watermelons, strawberries and raspberries. Bunches of plump juicy grapes were proudly set out on display waiting for the lucky buyer to take them home. Another cue that you’re in a major city, a vast walking mall housed many stores, restaurants and people selling, yet again, everything you can imagine from produce, to shoes and clothes, along with all different kinds of street food. They had things like Mote con huesillos, cooked wheat kernels, with dried peaches that are rehydrated in a sugar water, then put in a cup. It looked so delicious!
After the market we went to Cerro San Cristobal, the second highest mountain in Santiago. It’s located in the middle of the city consisting of a huge park, zoo, cable cars and a funicular to the top where you can have amazing views of the city. Apparently Sunday is THE day to go here, (probably since everything else is closed!) so after a long wait in line we finally made it to the top and were stunned by how big Santiago is! The view was incredible. The city stretches as far as the eye can see. We walked around and took in the sights, the amazing views and greeted a large Virgin Mary with outstretched arms. Before we knew it, the afternoon was over. Being that it’s summer in Santiago, it’s nice that our Airbnb had a rooftop pool with panoramic views of the city. After our sweaty adventure it felt great to dive in, cool off and relax. A great way to spend a Sunday in Santiago.
The next day (my birthday!) we were off to a hotel closer to the wineries in Northern Chile’s Aconcagua valley. We chose a nicer hotel with a nice pool and restaurants since it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and we wanted to have a nice place to celebrate. Before checking in, we went to Errazuriz (glad we booked ahead of time!) a vineyard about 30 minutes from the hotel. It is close to the edge of the mountains, so if you think you’ve gone far enough, keep driving, you’ll find it! Upon entering the grounds you are created with a massive modern looking bodega to the right and a historical looking building that used to be the winery right in front of you. It looked like a scene out of a movie. Incredibly unique and aesthetically pleasing. We got a private tour from Catalina and learned all about the history of the family that runs the winery, the building history and some history of the varietals used in Chilean wines. We saw the vines, to the fermentation bins, to the barrels and bottling. Then, the best part, the tasting! Their wines were the perfect balance between easy drinking and complex. We tasted a Sauvignon Blanc, then a Merlot, Carmenere and a Syrah. Each had their own unique flavor and tasting notes. We learned that this was one of only 3 wineries in Chile that uses a gravity fed method of wine making. The grapes are crushed under their own weight, keeping the seeds intact to reduce harsh tannins and for a clear filtration, then it is drained into the either stainless steel, concrete or oak barrels.
The hotel turned out to be a resort/casino and apparently during the week they only have their buffet open and must send all their nice staff home and replace them with angry, rude people. We won’t bore you with our complaints, but let’s just say we won’t be going back there and won’t be suggesting it to you!
The next day we went to another winery, Viña Von Siebenthal. This was even smaller than the first and you could feel the passion radiating from the vines that greet you as you drive in. They produce wine to sell but the owners son who gave us the tour told us all about how this is more of a hobby winery than a money making one. The romanticism blew us away. Their house was right on the property and the whole production was small enough to fit it one building down the road. So small that there is one lady who cleans and seals all the bottles that get sent out, Lucy. The wines were fabulous. We tasted a Syrah and one of their blends. It wasn’t walking up to a counter and getting a sip and moving on to the next, he opened the two bottles just for us and we had much as we liked. That, paired with crackers and cheese he got from his farmer friend down the road made us never want to leave.
After the winery we went to check out the town of Valparaiso. This is a coastal town known for its steep, windy streets filled with amazing murals and colorful homes. (Flashback to Colombia, anyone?) We got the city and when we realized we weren’t going to be able to find any parking, we decided to just drive up the windy streets and see what we could find. Big. Mistake. There’s a reason why the only people driving up these streets are the people who live there. It was magnificently beautiful. The murals were outstanding, the roads were terrifying. A good 45 degree angle upwards. I said to Dean “just pick a road and go up, the houses have to be up there.” So he did. And then… dead end. At the top of a tiny, narrow, steep street. Thank goodness Dean is a master backer-upper. I still don’t know how we made it back down. After a few more terrifying streets and getting yelled at by locals, we decided to call it a day. It will definitely be a town we have to go back to and plan better.
Our final day in Chile we wanted to take a day trip into the Andes Mountains and do something different. A quick google search led us to Embalse El Yeso, a reservoir about an hour away that looked like it had the most beautiful blue water. An hour away would allow us just enough time to get there, hang out and picnic and head back into the city to return our car. So we were off! An hour later, google maps planted us right in the center of a small town. Realizing this could not be the place we were looking for, we did some more research and saw the actual place we were wanting to go was another hour and a half from where we were. Our options were, turn around and hang around at the hotel until we had to return our car, or continue the journey and get there with just enough time to look around, take some pictures and head back. So, when is the next time we’ll be in Chile? That means we went! The next hour and a half led us deeper and deeper into the Andes. With each turn, the roads got windier and smaller. The kilometers took longer and longer to pass. The signs for falling rock, volcanic eruption evacuation signs and steep cliffs got more and more prevelant. At one point I said to myself, “at least the roads are paved. If the roads weren’t paved I’d really be nervous.” As the roads being paved must mean people actively drive this road, right? Then… pavement stops. I wish I could have been an outsider looking in at the two of us and what our faces must have looked like. Nevertheless, we continued on. Then, just at the point you think the road might just disappear, the clearest, bluest water appears almost out of nowhere. The true meaning of a hidden gem. With just about 10-15 other people up there, it felt like we had the place to ourselves. (I can see why, given the scare tactics it gives you to get there!) It was a mind blowing sight. Deep into to the mountains where all you see is brown and bits of green. Where there is no cell phone service, no bathrooms, no human contact. All you see is the Andes mountain range and then all of the sudden a huge pool of blue/turquoise. The contrast between the brown mountains and blue water made it all the more magnificent. The scary, rough trip up made it all worth it. Although, it still was the scariest drive of my life. We even saw, after we made it safely back to our hotel, that it was listed as one of the scariest roads in the world. We’re both glad we didn’t read that before heading up.
Our final night we were in search for a nice dinner, since all Chile seemed to have to offer was hamburgers, sandwiches and French fries. We were sick of it! Research led us to a nice place in the city, so we were off. Should have looked at the menu first. We sat down and ordered two beers to start before looking through our dinner options. No bueno. The beers ended up being about $6 each (very expensive for South American standards!) and the menu was underwhelming. We decided to get the check and keep looking. 2 steps down the road we saw a sign for 2 beers for $4! Just our style. We sat down, each had one and Dean got another thing Chile is known for, a hot dog! They have them in all different sizes with all different toppings. Dean was happy. Being as we hadn’t eaten all day and I was getting “hangry” we still needed to get something for dinner. We landed on a place called “Shopdog”. Essentially a late night drunk munchie place. Since our hunger had taken over we ended up having the one thing we were so sick of, more French fries. They served them with all different toppings to choose from, so at least we got some protein in there! We had ours with chicken, cheese, onions, scallions, egg and 3 different types of salsas.
Chile resembled the US the closest out of the all the places we visited. From the transportation, the modern cities and even financially. Everything was way more expensive here than anywhere else we’ve been in South America. Thank you for a wonderful week, Chile. Next up; Argentina! First stop, Mendoza.