When we went to Chile in November 2015, we could only squeeze together 10 days (including travel days). As part of our Chile itinerary, we knew we wanted to 1) see the cool, artsy coastal town of Valparaiso; 2) consume copious amounts of pisco sours; and 3) get in some great hiking and scenery.
Additional pictures are available in our Chile gallery (Click Here).
This was our trip:
We landed in Santiago late morning and met our private tour guide at the airport arrivals hall. He took us on a wine tour in the Casablanca Valley (known mainly for its white wines due to its cooler climate near the Pacific Ocean), where we visited two wineries for tours and tastings and a great restaurant for lunch. He later dropped us off in Valparaiso where we spent two nights at a friendly little hostel, La Nona B&B.
With only one full day to spend in Valparaiso, we decided to get our bearings and see the highlights by doing a free walking tour with Tours4Tips. We met the guides at the meeting spot at 10am and spent the next three hours walking around the city, seeing all the city highlights, getting bar and restaurant tips, and tasting some local food. Valparaiso is known for its street art, which is throughout the city. In the afternoon, we decided to hop on the regional train and travel a few stops to nearby Vina del Mar, the beach resort town. In the evening, we ate at an awesome little restaurant, Café Vinilo, followed by several nightcaps at Bar de Pisco.
The next day we took a local bus back to Santiago. We checked into our hostel, H Rado, where we would stay for two nights. We then grabbed lunch next door at a restaurant in Patio Bellavista (big outdoor patio filled with restaurants). After lunch, we walked to the meeting point for a 3pm free walking tour with Tours4Tips. We found the 3-hour tour gave us a decent overview of the city, but we didn’t like it nearly as much as the one in Valparaiso. Later that night, we had dinner and some pisco sours at a restaurant close to the hostel. Overall, we found that one day was sufficient for seeing Santiago.
In an effort to maximize our time, we decided to take the one hour flight from Santiago to La Serena instead of the 7-hour bus ride. We rented a car in La Serena and drove an hour to Vicuna, a small town in the Elqui Valley, land of the pisco! We checked into our hostel for the next two nights, Solar de los Madariaga, which is a very cool place located within the grounds of a small museum. The location was terrific and in easy walking distance to all the shops and restaurants in the town. After checking in, we went to a nearby bar for some pisco sours (of course!), followed by dinner at a really cool restaurant, Chaski, that looks like it’s a tree house.
We had one full day to explore the Elqui Valley and we wanted to get the most of out of it. After a nice breakfast at our hostel, we jumped in our rental car and drove the half hour to the tiny town of Pisco Elqui, which is the centre for pisco production in Chile. We did tours and tastings at two pisco producers, Los Nichos (warning – no one speaks English at this small producer!) and Mistral, the largest pisco producer in Chile.
At Mistral, we enjoyed a good lunch and nice scenery on the large outdoor patio of the on-site restaurant and had lucked out by getting a private English speaking tour. We drove back to Vicuna, where we had planned on going on an observatory tour that evening. In addition to pisco, the Elqui Valley is reknowned for being a great place to observe the stars the galaxies due to clear conditions. We were unlucky – our tour was cancelled due to cloudy conditions.
For our full article on tasting pisco in the Elqui Valley, click here.
In an effort to maximize our short amount of time (again), we decided to fly to the Lakes District rather than spend a full day on a bus. We took the short flight back south from La Serena to Santiago and then another ~1.5 hours further south to Temuco. In the Temuco airport, we picked up our rental car and drove about an hour and a half to the wonderful town of Pucon, known as the adventure capital of Chile.
About halfway into the drive, you’ll get your first sighting of the beautiful snow-capped Villarrica volcano. As we drove through the small town centre of Pucon, we were excited by the look of the place – the small rustic wooden buildings housing shops and restaurants reminded us a lot of our favourite alpine town, Grindelwald, Switzerland. It also reminded us a lot of Queenstown, New Zealand. We checked into our hostel, Hostal el Nogal Pucon, where we would spend the next four nights.
We loved Pucon. Not only is it a beautiful town right on lake Villarica and overlooked by the gorgeous smoking and snow-capped volcano, but there is tons to do here. We had a bit more flexibility because we had a rental car and were able to drive to a bunch of nearby sights such as hiking trails and natural hot springs. We thoroughly enjoyed soaking in the hot springs of Termas Quimey Co, a short drive from Pucon But even if you don’t have a car, this town is well set up for backpackers with tons of large grocery stores, shops, restaurants, a laundromat, etc, all in the city centre.
There are also ton of tour operators that you can book various tours through such as hiking, visiting hot springs, mountain biking, white water rafting, fishing, and kayaking. Unfortunately, we were not able to trek up to the summit of the volcano when we were there because the trail was closed after the eruption a few months prior. This is the most popular activity to do in Pucon and it’s back open in 2016 so I do recommend you give it a try! We enjoyed our down time in Pucon as much as the activities – strolling the streets, browsing in shops, sitting on patios to enjoy a cocktail or two (we loved the happy hour specials in Pucon), and walking along the beach.
When we flew back to Santiago, we had quite a few hours to kill before our flight back to Toronto. We had arranged for our same tour guide from day one to pick us up and take us to a different wine region, Maipo Valley, which is about an hour south of the capital and well known for its red wines (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmanere). We visited two wineries, Santa Rita (Chile’s largest wine producer), and Huelken (a small family producer). The wine was really good and we were happy to experience a region so different from Casablanca.