Chile had been on our bucket list for a long time. It was extremely difficult to put together the perfect itinerary: too many places to see and too little time to see them. So we decided to take a different approach. We chose only a few places that attracted us the most. Like that we would spend less time on the road and more time actually enjoying them.
From this brief introduction you probably understand that this is not going to be a typical suggested itinerary like we usually do. This will be a detailed description of our two weeks in Chile with a lot of tips and advice. Our aim is to make you fall in love with Chile.
Two weeks in Chile: How it all started
Chile is a particular country. If you check it on the map you’ll notice that it’s very long and narrow. The climate in the north is completely different from the one in the south. Can you imagine that there is a huge desert in the north where in certain points it has never rained? Central Chile has a perfect weather for growing vine and in the south you will find glaciers. Incredible, right?
Day 1: Santiago de Chile
It was a long flight from Europe to Chile and we were really happy to finally land in Santiago. It was very strange indeed. Right after All Saints’ Day a lot of shops and restaurants were closed and the centre was completely empty. However, it was a pleasure to take a walk in its streets and feel the spring in the air. While in Europe the winter was coming in Santiago the shops were offering spring fashion collections. Enrico also got to try the first typical meal: Pastel de Choclo. It is a corn pie filled with things like meat, olives or eggs.
Day 2: San Pedro de Atacama
The next day we flew to Calama, which is basically the closest airport to San Pedro de Atacama. Why did we want to get there so bad? Well, because during our two weeks in Chile we simply could not miss the desert Atacama. Don’t get mistaken by the word “desert”. Atacama is huge and offers a lot of colourful places. But first things first.
Renting a van
San Pedro de Atacama is a small town in the middle of the desert. It doesn’t even have proper concrete roads. Wherever you decide to go somehow you have to pass through San Pedro or you’ll end up there anyway. All the hotels and travel agencies are located right here. You have several options how to move around. You can either use the services of a travel agency or you can create your own itinerary and rent a car. And there is a third option that we went for: rent a van.
Wicked Campers offer a proper camping experience in the desert. Perfectly equipped and originally designed campers are a great way how to enjoy all the amazing places in the area. We had always wanted to try something similar and in Chile there is nothing to worry about. There is almost no traffic and the roads are safe. You can camp pretty much anywhere as long as you don’t disturb and polute. You need to book a few months in advance as the demand is very high and the number of vans limited.
PS: There is only one petrol station in the whole area so make sure you always have a full tank before you head out of town.
Valle de la Luna
After sorting out the paperwork with the van rental we still had the whole afternoon to kill. The entrance to Valle de la Luna is just a few kms from San Pedro. The place looks almost surreal. Kilometres and kilometres of strange rock forms and sand that really look like the Moon’s surface, hence the name. There are a few points on the way where you can stop, walk and take pics, just never leave the signed route. Apart from the spectacular views it is really worth watching the sunset above the valley.
We admit that it can be a little scary to sleep in the middle of nowhere with the desert noises around you. There are a few official campsites where you can stay overnight (not for free of course), take a shower or get a water refill. The one we stayed in is called Andes Nomads Desert Camp. We got everything we needed but to arrive there was not exactly a piece of cake. It’s all fun and games until you end up in a totally unknown place after dark.
Day 3: Salar de Atacama
Next day we woke up early and headed to the biggest salt lake in Chile: Salar de Atacama. The area looks really arid but it is home to a large community of pink flamingos. You can spend as much time as you wish observing these gracious creatures but the sun is so hot that you probably won’t resist too long. You can take some pretty impressive pictures with the flamingos as the principal object and the lake with the mountains as a colorful background.
On the way to San Pedro we stopped in the village Toconao. This tiny oasis is much calmer than its neighbour San Pedro but equally charming. There was a market with local products in the main square. We also feel it is right to dedicate a few words to eating out in San Pedro and the surroundings. There are a few meals that you will find everywhere and they all contain meat. When it comes to vegetarian dishes you can only have an omelette or tortilla. Oh, and the portions are huge, really huge. San Pedro has more possibilities, you can also have fish or burgers.
In the afternoon we went to check a place that goes by the unofficial name “Cactus forest”. It is a small area around the stream where a cactus “forest” grew. Some of them are as tall as 6-7 meters
Day 4: Laguna Miscanti and Miniques
Two weeks in Chile are not much but you shouldn’t miss these places. It’s a long way from San Pedro but the views will make up for it. We were lucky and saw a lot of wild animals on the way there: donkeys, vicunas and a nandu, which is something like a South American ostrich.
The two lakes lie more than 4000m above sea level so you can feel a little dizzy. It is much colder than San Pedro: make sure you bring warm clothes. We walked all the way from Miscanti to Miniques and back and admired big colonies of vicunas. The place is so breathtaking that we didn’t want to leave.
Day 5: Heading south
After three days in the desert Atacama we headed south to Patagonia. We had to go back to Calama and flew first to Santiago and then to Punto Arenas, which took about 5 hours in total. Arriving to Punta Arenas was like entering a completely different world.
Day 6: Isla Magdalena
Did you know that penguins don’t only live in Antarctica? There is a tiny island in the strait of Magellan that is home to a big colony of Magellanic penguins. A few agencies offer daily tours to the island and they let you stay there for something less than an hour. It might look like a short time but we actually approve. Like this the tourists get to see these beautiful and funny birds and the penguins don’t get disturbed too much.
The island can only be reached by boat so don’t forget to dress properly: you will need warm clothes that will protect you from cold and wind. When we visited Isla Magdalena it was actually the nesting period. Many penguins were hiding in their nesting holes but by no means did it ruin our experience. If you have two weeks in Chile, Isla Magdalena is a must!
If it’s not too windy the boat will take you to another island, which is actually just a rock in the middle of the sea. What is so special about it? There is a colony of sea lions that you can only observe from the distance. The boat cannot get too close to the island so it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to bring a pair of binoculars.
Punta Arenas looks like a mixture of San Francisco and Scandinavia. There are a lot of nice examples of architecture and street art. The choice of restaurants is also great, we highly recommend La Luna that we visited as many as three times!
Day 7: Puerto Natales
It is a long way to get from Punta Arenas to the Torres del Paine National Park. First, you have to take a bus to Puerto Natales. It is much smaller than Punta Arenas but doesn’t lack charm. It lies on a lake and you can already see the mountains waiting for you. All the bars and restaurants are situated in the centre and the choice is quite nice.
Day 8: Torres del Paine
The first day of trekking in Patagonia finally arrived. If you get to spend two weeks in Chile you cannot skip one of the most beautiful national parks in the world. We chose to do one of the most popular hiking trails, the so called “W trek”. The bus left us at Scudeto which lies a few kms from the entrance to the Torres Del Paine National Park. From there we took the catamaran that stops right in front of the Refugio Paine Grande. And there the fun started.
Our destination for that day was Refugio Grey. We left behind the incredibly blue waters of the lagoon and started walking. The country around us was slowly changing. It looked like were crossing different worlds. The highlight was the breathtaking viewpoint in the pic. It took us around four hours to get to Refugio Grey as the heavy backpacks were slowing us down. The sun was still up when we arrived so we dropped the bags and just went to check the surroundings. Refugio Grey is fully equipped and has four-bed shared rooms. You can have something to eat or just hang around in the common room. There is also a small shop and camping close to Refugio if you’re ok with sleeping in a tent.
Day 9: Glacier Grey
The next day after breakfast we hiked to one of the viewpoints close to Refugio Grey. You need around 2-3 hours and it’s enough to bring a bottle of water, energy bars and a sun protection. We wanted to get as near as possible to the fascinating glacier Grey glistening in the sun. Even though it is a fascinating view we were shocked at how small it gets every year. There is a scheme showing how the glacier is melting. When it comes to hiking the most adventurous part for sure are the two suspension bridges. You better not look down while crossing them! After the walk we headed back to the Refugio Paine Grande.
Day 10: Mirador Britanico
During our two weeks in Chile this was probably the most chalenging day. We walked as many as 28kms. The first part from the Refugio Paine Grande to the Campamento Italiano was actually pretty easy. There you can leave the bags and head towards the two viewpoints; Mirador Frances and Mirador Britanico. We won’t deny it: it was super tiring but really worth it. We would have loved to stay more and enjoy the stunning view but we had to proceed from the Campamento Italiano to Los Cuernos. It was the first night that we slept in a tent. However, it was comfortable and we weren’t cold at all.
Day 11: Campamento Las Torres
On the fourth day our knees slowly started to disobey. Our destination for the night was Campamento Las Torres, precisely 20kms of a nice and mostly flat hike. We experienced the caprices of the Patagonian weather. After two sunny days we had to deal with a little rain and wind. As we were getting close to our camping we knew that that was probably it and we wouldn’t be able to walk further the next day.
Day 12: Las Torres
We regret it as we lost probably the best part of the W trek: Las Torres. We could only enjoy them from the distance. We didn’t have any strength left to climb up to the viewpoint and then again down to the camping. We wish we had one more day to recover but unfortunately we only got to spend two weeks in Chile. Anyway, the last day in Patagonia was sunny and we passed half of it leisurely walking around the camping before taking the bus back to Puerto Natales. We were actually pretty lucky and caught an earlier bus from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas. Like that we could enjoy one more lovely dinner at our favourite restaurant.
Day 13: Back in Santiago
It was weird to be back in a big city after the wild beauty of Atacama, adorable penguins of Santa Magdalena and incredible views of Patagonia. We used this day to do some sightseeing even though it was getting very warm. First we walked around the Cerro Santa Lucia, which is a tiny park in the middle of the city with a few interesting monuments and an impressive view. Then we walked to Plaza de Armas and had a nice vegetarian lunch at a place called El Naturista. After that we checked the Mercado Central with plenty of restaurants offering fresh fish. We had a tasty smoothie close to the presidential palace La Moneda. In the evening we had the most delicious dinner at the wine bistro called Bocanariz.
Day 14: Urban guerrilla in Santiago
The last day of our two weeks in Chile was not the most fortunate. We witnessed a violent manifestation in the streets of Santiago. Only after it was over did we find out the reason: The previous day a member of the Mapuche tribe was shot during a police raid. Santiago for one night changed into a hell full of burning cars and armoured vehicles with water tanks shooting tear gas. And us in the middle trying to find a way back to the hotel. Well, this is a proof that travelling is not just rainbows and butterflies.
Our two weeks in Chile ended with a little bit of drama. However, it doesn’t change the fact that Chile is a mesmerizing country full of things to offer.
Have you already visited Chile? What places did you visit and which of them did you like the most?