Trip Report: Chile
- Submitted by: Kevin Dowd
- Website: None Available
- Submission Date: 04th Feb 2005
In August, 1993, my brother and I traveled to Chile on vacation. We hired local tour agents in the cities we visited, rather than strike out on our own. This turned out to be a great idea; we saved time; we saw things we wouldn't have seen; the touring companies treated us very well. I strongly recommend that people going to Chile hire tour companies; it was well worth it for us.
Overall, the vacation was excellent. Chile is a pleasant country to visit, though perhaps a bit far away (from Connecticut anyway). The people are warm and helpful. The crime rate is low, and the literacy rate is high.
We arranged our travel through AAA in West Hartford, Ct., selecting a package put together by Alexander Tours, who then made arrangements with local, Chilean tour companies. The Chilean companies were:
P.O. Box 1001
Arturo Varas, tour guide.
Puerto Montt: Varastur
Antonio Varas 437
P.O. Box 267
Puerto Montt, Chile
Ph: 252918 or 253801
Antonio Capel, tour guide.
8/4 We left from Bradley Intl/Hartford on a 2:55 PM commuter flight down to JFK. The flight for Santiago, via Miami, left at 6:00 PM. The Chilean airline LanChile did a nice job; food was good; plane was clean; attendants friendly.
8/5 We arrived at 6:00 AM in the fog (and smog) in Santiago. The plane was almost diverted to Mendoza (Argentina), but the weather cleared sufficiently just before landing. The first glimpse of Santiago was grey and uninviting. The international arrivals area seemed to be full of uniformed military police, and it was kind of chilly.
We met Turismo Cocha representative Arturo Varas and driver in the airport foyer. The road from the airport took us through more grey, gloomy areas, and through the morning rush. Arturo and the driver dropped us at the Hotel Galerias in a busy section of the city.
Because the smog problem in the city is pretty bad, buildings are a little dingy. The morning view from the window of the hotel was the same as the view from the airport and during the trip into the city: grey and gloomy. We looked down onto the tops of other buildings and across the way to other windows.
Up until this point, we were wondering whether we'd made a mistake coming to Chile. However, we headed out into the city to look around (tour books said the city was safe), and found it to be very interesting. There was a tremendous amount of bustle, but even in their haste, people were very friendly and helpful. We looked into a number of shops, and ate an early dinner at a hole in the wall with a local patrons. The restaurant had good food and served wine in milk glasses. By now, the sky lightened up a little, and some of the color came back into the city.
8/6 An earthquake tremor rumbled through the city at about 4 AM.
In the morning, Arturo and his driver picked us up and brought us to the Moneda to view the changing of the guard. We were joined by two Australian men and a couple from Madrid.
The Moneda is the seat of the government in Santiago. It is famous because it was bombed in 1973 by General Pinochet to remove socialist president Allende. It was restored several years back and now houses president Alwyn. The parliament building has been moved out of Santiago to nearby Valpraiso. Lots of armed guards.
Our next stop was the Cousin mansion (Palacio Cousiño), now owned by the government and occasionally used to house visiting dignitaries. The Cousin family made its fortune in mining and agriculture.
We completed the morning tour with a trip to Santa Lucia hill, near the center of the city. Again, we couldn't see much because of the smog. Later, on our own, we walked to other parts of the city, including a park called Forestal, and over to look at the river. We ate lunch at a place called Pollisimo (the most chickeny), and I bought a pair of pants in town.
That evening, Arturo took us to a wine museum on the top of San Cristobol hill. It was very nice. We then visited a local tourist club called Los Adobes de Argomedo. Dancers performed the Cueca, the national dance of Chile, and some "authentic" dances from Isla de Pasqua (Easter Island). The food was so-so, and the entertainment was kind of queer, but the evening was interesting nonetheless.
8/7 Arturo and a driver, plus two other employees of Turismo Cocha, went to the cities of Valparaiso and Vin~a del Mar. The ride to Vin~a del Mar took about an hour and a half, through pretty a pretty countryside, reminiscent of Southern California.
Valparaiso is a Pacific coast fishing town, set on rolling hills. Neighboring Vin~a del Mar is a resort area, with many waterfront hotels and apartments. We had a nice lunch of local sea bass and an abalone salad.
8/8 We picked up a van in the Plaza de Armas and rode out to the nearby Andes for a day of skiing. We took in some gorgeous scenery on the way to the Colorado ski area, up at about 8,000 feet. Again, it was a pleasant experience; people were nice, the skiing was good; the sun was warm.
When we returned to the city, we found it alive again (Sunday night) with people and families out enjoying themselves. (This is not like a city in the North Eastern US, folks).
8/9 Arturo brought us to the airport, and we took a flight South to Puerto Montt, the largest town (or city) in what is known as the "lakes region." Upon arrival, we were greeted by Antonio and Gabriel of Varas Tours. They took us into town, to the Hotel Vicente Perez Rosales--a nice hotel on the harbor. The air was clear, and as with Santiago, the city was very safe--you could walk everywhere, which we did.
In the afternoon, we went for a tour of the city with a couple other people from the U.S. and two couples from Brazil. We saw the local fish markets, some residential areas and schools and some of the local artisans' work. It was very nice.
That evening we had a dinner of Congrio fish, and barnacle soup at Dino's. It was a chilly night, so the locals fired up their wood stoves. By 9:30 PM, the smoke from the stoves rivaled the smog of Santiago.
8/10 Antonio and Gabriel took us for an exceptional all-day tour of the North of Chiloe, an island to the South of Puerto Montt. To reach Chiloe, we headed South on the Pan American highway for about 45 minutes, and took a ferry across the access to the Pacific.
Chiloe (and the city of Ancud, which we visited) was gorgeous. The land rises and falls between the sea and inland lakes. As with the rest of the lakes region, the main livelihoods are fishing and agriculture. We saw birds of every description, including a flamingo, and dolphins too.
We visited a museum in Ancud, detailing life and history of Chiloe. Many exhibits were concerned with a powerful earthquake in 1960, which flattened buildings and swept the island with a tidal wave.
Back in Puerto Montt, we ate empanadas for dinner.
8/11 Antonio and a driver (a fellow from Colombia) took us to Petrohue, a national park in the shadow of Volcan Osorno. The park is situated on volcanic ash, the last of which was added when Osorno vented ash in 1961. Petrohue contains spectacular waterfalls, etched into volcanic rock.
Petrohue, and the neighboring town, Puerto Varas, would be spectacular sites for bicycle touring and camping. Fishing in the area is excellent, and there are many facilities for for those who want to stay a week or so.
At 12:55 PM we boarded a LanChile flight back to Santiago. We walked around the city one more time, visiting a few of the bookstores, and then boarded the plane back to JFK at 8:45 PM. The flight to Miami was awful; most of the other travelers were teenage Chileans, being brought back to the states by Youth for Understanding. The kids made a horrible ruckus, preventing others from sleeping (I guess at this point they still lacked understanding....); the chaperons didn't intervene.
8/12 After 24 hours of traveling, we were home.
I'll go back someday and spend more time. I understand the Atacama desert is beautiful. We also want to get down to the Torres del Paine and Straits of Magellan someday.
Kevin Dowd | A T L A N T I C | Multipurpose
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