Chile

ISLA CHILOE

Where to stay

I stayed in Hospedaje Mollo in Castro. It was nice, cheap and friendly but there was no breakfast and I hesitate to recommend it as it was shortly after I left here that I found myself covered in flea bites. It´s down a steep side street and some steps off the main street.

Hostel Nuevo Mundo on the waterfront in Ancud looks great, brand new and modern, very reasonable rates.

www.newworld.cl

PUCON

Where to stay

Hosteria Ecole is lovely and, very unusually for South America, has a vegetarian restaurant. I recommend the lasagne.

http://www.ecole.cl/

Where to eat and drink

Hosteria Ecole as above. Mamas y Tapas bar on the main drag, Avenida O´Higgins.

http://www.chile-pucon.com/Mamas-Tapas,459

What to do

Although I hadn’t really realized until I got there, the main draw of Pucon is climbing the active Vulcan Villarica. I´d recommend the Aguaventura Agency, very professional, provides all the equipment you need and has fantastic guides. I´ll never forget Michael´s help! They organize other activities too: white water rafting, ziplining and mountain biking are popular. A cautionary note about the bike ride to Ojos de Caburgo: unless you´re an experienced mountain biker, it´s a long way and it´s quite tough. Doable, but tough, especially if it´s raining- And check your bike before you go, make sure the seat is adjustable etc.

http://www.aguaventura.com/index.php

 

 

 

PUERTO NATALES

Where to stay

Although it comes highly recommended by the guidebooks, I would not recommend Hostel Dos Lagunas – expensive and the owner slightly creepy/sleazy. Not good value.

Hospedaje Nancy is great value for money: private en suite rooms for less than a dorm bed at Dos Lagunas. Decent breakfast. Luggage storage facilities. Camping equipment rental. Nice staff.

If you can get in (I couldn´t: book ahead if possible), the place to be is Patagonia Aventura on the main square. Looks like a lovely place to stay and also is fantastic at helping you organise your trip to Torres del Paine. I could have done with their help!

Where to eat

La Mesita Grande – great atmospheric pizza place on the main square. It´s the one with the old fashioned cash register in the window.

What to do

Apparently there are some interesting cycle rides around the town and port area, but the main reason to be in Puerto Natales is because it’s the jumping off point for the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park. It can be quite hard to get information before you actually set off, so the main advice I´d give is to seriously consider camping. I didn’t want to carry tents, food etc so I opted for a combination of refugios and rented tent on refugio camp grounds, mainly on a full board basis. However this is the most expensive way to do it and if you can share food and equipment with someone else, camping doesn’t have to be too onerous. There are lots of places you can leave your bags as well, so you don’t even have to carry then all the time (though there will be lots of stretches where you will have to carry them, so pack as lightly as possible and make sure you can carry your rucksack comfortably). You can also buy food at the refugios and while it’s more expensive than buying it in P. Natales, at least you don’t have to carry it. There are free campsites with limited facilities but you can also camp at paid sites at the refugios, with hot showers etc. At Torres campsite, I used the shower there because it was better than the refugio! Camping might not be for everyone, especially if the weather is bad, but don’t automatically rule it out. I was lucky: I was trekking with campers so I got the best of both worlds, sharing their bonfires etc, but I wish I’d known more about the camping options in advance, hence this post.

Erratic Rock run a hostel (lovely smell of fresh baked bread: their breakfasts come highly rated) and also a travel agent that can book refugios and campsites in the National Park for you. They also do onward travel, trips etc and are extremely caring but be warned, the travel agency is always rammed, the system is erratic (excuse the pun) and you will likely spend hours in there. You can also make bookings at the big agency on the square, name escapes me at the moment. Be warned: it’s difficult/impossible to get confirmed reservations at some of the refugios/sites on a Sunday.

Erratic Rock also do a talk every day at 3pm on the W Circuit etc. It’s well-intentioned and many people find it extremely helpful. I found it a little earnest and over-dramatic, especially once I was on the trek itself, but it can be a good place to meet other trekkers.

PUERTO VARAS

Where to stay

I stayed in Casa Azul, in a very nice house, lovely and clean and warm. Hostel Compass del Sur also looks good: it was full when I arived but they are opening another hostel soon. A lot of the places are German-run due to the immigration history of the area.

http://www.casaazul.net

http://www.compassdelsur.cl/

Where to eat

Cafe Danes, Del Salvador 441 next to the supermarket, for great cakes.

 

PUNTA ARENAS

Where to stay

I stayed at Erratic Rock (can be slightly tricky to find) though it’s not like the one in Puerto Natales (see  above). Basically a v small dorm in the v small flat of a lovely young family above a bakery. You share their bathroom and lounge so it’s quite intimate. Good value for money though and they are really nice.

 

SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA

Where to stay

Hostels, like bus tickets, can be hard to find here. My advice is to book in advance if you can (I didn’t, but do as I say, not as I do!). As a result of my lack of advance planning, I didn’t stay anywhere to write home about.

Hostel Inti Para was the best of the 3 hostels I tried: clean, quiet, good beds. Hostelling International was friendly but very run down and crowded, Hostel Florida had limited and dirty bathroom facilities.

The whole town suffers from water shortages and electricity blackouts.

Where to eat & drink

The food here is expensive but excellent. A couple of places don’t serve alcohol: check before you dine if this is a priority.

Etnico de Vino was probably the best place I tried for overall quality and value (if you go for the set lunch or dinner). Lovely staff and good wine.

Ekstra has delicious food and a nice ambience but is quite pricey.

Todo Natural has good breakfasts with tasty brown bread and fresh juice. Salon de Te also good for breakfasts and sandwiches.

El Cave is a funky bar with very cheap happy hours (there are 2: one from 8-9 and the other from 11-12).

The café under the arches on the main square is good for a shady day time drink or an evening sundowner.

What to do

The town is full of places offering various excursions. I went with El Vulcan on the Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte sunset tour, which was a nice way to sample the lunar landscapes. They also run various hikes up volcanoes in the area, but you need to acclimatize (heights in the region of 5500-6000m) and there has to be enough people to form a group (there wasn’t when I was there and I stayed about 4 days).

I’d highly recommend the space tour, with the entertaining French astronomer Alain. Night time outdoor observations (dress warmly) through telescopes at Alain’s house about 30 minutes outside town. Viewing stars and planets in the clear skies of the Atacama desert with an accompanying lecture. Unusual and informative.

The other popular trip is across the altiplano and salt flats to Uyuni in Bolivia. Well worth doing. I booked with Pamela Tours and ended up on a Colque Tours trip, which was fine. All agencies charge similar prices but shop around. Can be difficult to find out exactly what the itinerary will be, what’s included and who is in your group. But the scenery is breathtaking.

 

SANTIAGO

Where to stay

Happy House Hostel was lovely – in a beautifully converted mansion house with high ceilings and gorgeous (though creaky) wooden floors. Has a bar and pool table though not really a party hostel – peaceful. Casa Roja has a pool and has been recommended for a meeting and party place. Often full and runs a waiting list, so book ahead.

http://www.happyhousehostel.cl/

http://www.lacasaroja.cl/

Where to eat

El Café on Plaza Brazil is a nice place to sit outside and people watch.

What to do

Museo Bellas Artes is beautiful: worth a visit for the building alone. Museo de Artes Contemparaneos (MAC) around the corner is missable. The Pablo Naruda house, La Chascona, is definitely worth a visit, very informative guide tours in both Spanish and English. Cerro San Cristobal is overrated in my opinion – a long hot walk up the hill or a ride on the funincular.

 

VALPARAISO

Easy to reach from Santiago by bus and I’d definitely recommend a visit for its attractive breezy streets stacked up on the hillside (actually, apparently there are 14 hills), good places to eat and one of Pablo Neruda’s houses (Casa La Sebastiana), now a great museum.

Where to stay

I stayed at the Hostel Luna Sonrisa – rooms not great, but it’s friendly, the communal breakfast is excellent and the owner is the author of the Footprint Chile guidebook.

http://www.lunasonrisa.cl/en/home.html

Where to eat

I didn’t go there, but Pasta e Vino looks lovely and comes highly recommended if you fancy an Italian blow-out. You usually need to reserve in advance. Also stylish, good and not cheap is Cafe Vinilo. At the other end of the scale, for cheap, cheerful and tasty lunches, early dinners and a massive range of herb teas, try the Colour Cafe.

http://www.pastaevinoristorante.cl/

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g294306-d793263-Reviews-Cafe_Vinilo-Valparaiso.html

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g294306-d1057346-Reviews-Color_Cafe-Valparaiso.html

What to do

Visit the Pablo Neruda museum in his former house in Valpo. Check out the very public toilet in his dining room! http://www.fundacionneruda.org/historia_sebastiana.htm

Take a trip to Neruda’s third house, in La Isla Negra. You have to join a guided tour and are meant to book in advance. I didn’t and was lucky enough to tack onto a tour just setting off, but it does all depend on visitor numbers. Have lunch at the restaurant there – savour the stunning views along with the food and and try a Pacific pisco sour.

http://www.fundacionneruda.org/

If the weather’s nice, go to one of the nearby beaches: I went to Renaca: soft sand, big waves.

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