Change in plans –
Chile was the biggest surprise of this trip, I initially only planned to spend only one or two days there and swing into Argentina while heading south to Patagonia. However, from the first City I went to (San Pedro De Atacama) I was captivated by the incredibly natural beauty, and the friendly folk. I ended up spending around 6 weeks in Chile traveling from the desert in the north, right down to the glacier covered peaks in Patagonia in the south.
San Pedro De Atacama, highest desert, beautiful –
After a rough experience with the first walk in accommodation we found (story for another time…) I quickly fell in love with San Pedro De Atacama. It is a small town, on the highest desert in the world, nearby you can see the massive volcanoes on the Bolivian border towering over the very wide valley (the highest volcanoes are approx 6000m high, around 2500m higher than San Pedro). The night sky is so clear here, in fact just nearby a major international effort build the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, which was just recently finished. I really wanted to see it but it is purely a research facility rather than tourist one, so the limited tours they do need to be booked months in advance and are hard to get into. Regardless, I spent most of my few nights here hanging out with the locals, who one of my friends had gotten to know really well. Some great, very late, and very heavy nights out. I was sad to leave but knew I had to keep on the road as I only had another 5 weeks or so to go. At this point I needed to decide whether to head south via Argentina or Chile, in the end it was the tourist visa fee ($100USD) that tipped the scale to stay in Chile and I’m thankful for that.
Valparaiso – lovely University bay town and the king of street art
The 22 hour bus ride to ‘Valpo’ was smooth, efficient and picturesque. The first few hundred kilometers was through mining country – a visual reminder at how heavily the Chilean Economy is very heavily based on commodities exports (more so than Australia). It was a challenge navigating my way to my accommodation, the extremely steep streets were a maze of hidden back paths, and steep paths leading to dead ends. It was worth the effort, the hostel I was in had amazing views of the bay, the hosts (a French expat, a Chilean local, and a staffer from Argentina) were the friendliest and most hospitable group of people I think I ever met in a hostel. Valpo is one of my favourite Cities I’ve even been too, I was amazed by the beauty of the City. It reminded me a little of San Francisco (large port and bay, the steep streets, the climate, and the history of earthquakes). It also had a lot of charm, the streets everywhere are covered in this lovely street art – everywhere (not just in a tourist precinct). It gave the city a lot of character. Another notable thing was the loud barking dogs at night, you could tell if anyone was walking up a street because you would hear the dogs going off in the distance. A nice security measure but a bit annoying at 3am when the party goers might be stumbling home.
I loved Valpo so much, I actually went there 3 times on this trip. I used it as a stopping off point to go north to the [wine valley name], south towards Patagonia, and east to Santiago. Shaping the experience was also the super friendly hosts at the hostel (a Chilean and french couple), the diversity in other travelers I met.
I had enough time to see so much of the country (including the wine valley of Pisco Elqui – a bit overrated in my books), and the Cities of Conception, and Puerto Montt further to the south. Butt there are still areas I would like to visit, especially in the south. My focus was really on getting down to Patagonia to finish my ‘top 3 bucket list’ – the other sites being the Salt Flats in Bolivia and Machu Picchu in Peru.