Santiago - End of my South American road

Santiago - End of my South American road

I am writing this post about Santiago in SANTIAGO! Wow, for the first time on my trip around the world I'm up to date with the blog. Better open a bottle of wine (wait, it's already open..)! It has helped a lot that I haven't done anything really exciting in the past week so easy to catch up on some writing. Also I know that I will be veeery busy and the internet is expensive in my next destination (New Zealand) so it's now or never...

I got to Santiago from Valparaíso, just an hour and a half's bus ride away. I got off the bus on a metro station Pajaritos, hoping I could find my way to my hostel from there - and I did! Small victories in life :) It was Sunday and the town was full of people (all the hostels were booked, barely got a bed for me) with the Lollapalooza music festival and the Santiago marathon packing the city with rock & running tourists. Although by the looks of it in downtown Santiago you could imagine that about 200 people live in the city: it was basically empty. Strangely empty. But I guess everybody was having fun somewhere else than the commercial district, almost all the shops were closed anyway.

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The rough Valparaíso - bohemian "paradise valley" is no paradise

The rough Valparaíso - bohemian "paradise valley" is no paradise

So after one night and two relaxing (boring) days in La Serena I was already ready to move on. I anyway needed to get a bit more south, towards Santiago. 7 hours south of La Serena was the Unesco Heritage site Valparaíso, just an hour and a half from Santiago, on the coast. I thought I might find more things to do there. I left La Serena on the last evening bus that was supposed to leave at 0.30am - but lucky us, our bus didn’t get to the bus terminal until 1.10am. I got settled in my seat and passed out within an instance. At around 7am I was already awake, worried that I’d miss my stop – though this time it was actually the final stop of the bus. At about 8am we were in Valparaíso.

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A dry spell in San Pedro de Atacama

A dry spell in San Pedro de Atacama

When I was looking at the map of Northern Chile the Atacama desert clearly sticks out - that's where I wanted to go! But getting there was no small task...

How to cross the border between Peru and Chile? They’re not making it easy for the travelers; this was perhaps the first border crossing where there wasn’t a direct a bus that would take you from one country to the other. Nope. First you have to get a bus to the southernmost town in Peru (Tacna). I got a ticket to the 7am bus from Arequipa to Tacna, arriving at around 1.30pm to Tacna, with a nice Cruz del Sur bus. Ah, they have one of the best buses in South America that I’ve come across (and the price isn’t bad, 30 soles i.e. around 10€ for a 6-7 hour bus ride).

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Torres del Paine - the towers of ..pain?

Torres del Paine - the towers of ..pain?

As long I was in Southern Chile, there was another must-see destination: Torres del Paine. One of the trekking capitals of the south, Puerto Natales, is the closest town (or a village really) to the mountain and the national park. It’s a windy little place with some quaint cafes and restaurants and tons of tour agencies and trekking outfitters. 

But I wasn’t going to sign up for the 3, 4 or even 9 day hikes you can do around the mountains. No, I didn’t have the equipment for it or the time or the money – or the trekking enthusiasm. The next morning after I arrived there I went on a tour to the National Park around the mountains and I was happy I wasn’t going to camp or hike on the mountains. The weather was very unpredictable, one minute rain and sunshine the other, the winds were “knock you off your feet” –strong and the views sometime obscured by the clouds. I was quite happy with my cheap & easy option, the full day tour, safe & sound close to a shelter (a minivan) all the time.

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Suit up for Chilean Patagonia

Suit up for Chilean Patagonia

After two days in the 'end of the world' Ushuaia, I had to say goodbye to Argentina again and take a bus to the Chilean side of Patagonia. The island Tierra del Fuego is actually quite small and when you start going up from the southern tip of the peninsula you will cross between Chile and Argentina a couple times at least. Personally I hadn’t planned to spend a lot of time in Patagonia, a few weeks, which may sound like a fair amount of time but frankly doesn’t give you a chance to see nearly half of everything there is in the beautiful southern South America.

Knowing there aren’t that many buses up from Ushuaia I booked mine a week before. It was an 11 hour day trip (no night buses – come on!!?) to the “next town”, Punta Arenas in Chile. Right after we passed the mountains surrounding Ushuaia the landscape turned rather flat and dry farmland. You could see the same landscape continued for miles, houses were far in between. There were lots of sheep, some horses – and to my delight some random guanacos on the side of the road and even ostriches. First we crossed the border and later the Magellan Strait on a ferry and the dolphins escorted us from the Tierra del Fuego to the mainland!

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