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Geysers, salt flats and flamingos: What not to miss in the Atacama Desert

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The Atacama Desert is like no other place on earth – geysers, volcanoes, sand dunes, salt mountains, hot springs, flamingos, desert villages, salt flats, llamas, high altitude lagoons and so much more, all within a comfortable distance from the base town of San Pedro. (Check out our favorite photos of this otherworldly landscape here.)

dani and jess atacama desertAt 20+ hours by bus from Santiago or a ten hour ride from the nearest city in Argentina, this remote desert might seem out of the way, but if you are traveling through South America, make time for at least a few days here. We loved it so much, we came here twice.

laguna Miscanti atacama desert dani jumpingSan Pedro de Atacama is the main base town for the area and it is stuffed with travel agencies on every street in the center, especially Caracoles, the main drag. Each offers basically the same tours, with varying prices and services included. As Chile – especially San Pedro – can be fairly pricy, we opted for the less expensive agencies and feel that we had the same quality tours as those who went with agencies that cost more.

atacama desert chile busMany tour operators consolidate tourists to fill up vans anyway, so shop around for the best rates since you’ll likely do quite a few tours while in town. Do your research though, as you’ll see below we got burned once by going with an agency with bad reviews.

el tatio geyser chileRead on to find out what we think you shouldn’t miss on a visit to the Atacama Desert.

Moon Valley and Death Valley Tour

The Moon Valley and Death Valley have the benefit of being near to town, inexpensive and offering incredibly spectacular landscapes. If you only have time for one tour, we’d recommend taking this one. Tours run in the afternoon everyday from 4-8pm.

atacama desert moonscape chileThere is no question where the name Moon Valley (Valle de la luna) came from. Like many times driving through the Atacama Desert, it is as though you hopped in a space ship and took a trip to space. The landscape here is remarkably similar to the surface of the moon.

valle de la luna atacama desert jessLikewise, Death Valley’s name, in Spanish ‘Valle de la muerte’, came from people who got lost and did not make it out alive, although just as appropriate would be the fact that the absence of life (both vegetable and animal) and the lack of water make this the most inhospitable place on the planet.

The Cordillera de la Sal runs between the valleys. This mountain range is covered in a layer of salt and home to salt caves which you visit on these as well.

valle de la luna atacama desert saltine rocksThere are bike rental places all over town who will rent you bikes and point you in the direction of these valleys, but here’s why we opted for an organized tour: you’d have to ride 35km round trip up a steep, winding road and the thin air at just under 8,000 ft left us breathless just walking around town.

valle de la luna atacama desert canyonWe just so happened to hop on a tour on one of the thirty days per year that was not cloudless, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. The tour drove out into the lunar scenery, to the moon, into salt caves, and finally to the top of the ‘Big Dune’, the biggest of all the sand dunes, for sunset. The colors that reflected off the clouds made this last stop spectacular. Real adventure enthusiasts can also opt to sandboard in the Death Valley. Most agencies offer sandboarding, too, but this tour doesn’t include all of the stops of the regular tour.

valle de la luna atacama desert sand dunesPRICE: Most agencies run this afternoon tour for CLP7,000 to 8,000 ($14 – 16). Find out if the entrance fee to the valleys (CLP2,000 / US$4) is included in the tour you book. Sandboarding tours can be booked at several agencies and cost around CLP12,000 / $24.

valle de la luna atacama desert saltine landscape with road

Salar de Atacama – Chile’s salt flats

This whole altiplano region has salt flats including ones in northern Argentina and the largest of all in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni. Out here near San Pedro, the Salar de Atacama salt flats are different.
salar de atacama chile cracked saltsalar de atacama chile saltInstead of being white and flat, here the flats are more gray, chunks of salt and at first glance they might seem disappointing compared to others. But the lagoons, flamingos, even fish are all very visible, plus these are the third largest salt flats in the world. These giant grayish salt chunks span 3,000 square km (1,200 square miles) and are 100 km (62 miles) long and 80 km (50 miles) wide. The highlight on the salt flats is the Laguna Chaxa, filled with hundreds of bright pink Andean and Chilean flamingos.

salar de atacama chile flamingoThe day trip, which starts at 8am, is very long grueling day driving 270km, but it is amazing to watch the vicuñas sprinting across the landscape that changes hour after hour but somehow always seems to look like you’re on Mars.

The first stops at Laguna Miscanti and Miñiques are gorgeous, cobalt-blue lakes at the foot of their respectively name peaks. The surface are like glass, or a mirror, with colorful surroundings of green and yellow grass and bushes to the clear blue skies.

laguna Miñiques atacama desertThe last stop of the day is at the desert village of Toconao, famous for its buildings constructed entirely of Liparita volcanic stone and its iconic white bell tower built in 1750.

Tip: The Salar de Tara are also part of the Salar de Atacama and are supposed to be even more beautiful, with shallow lagoons and more flamingos, with less visitors. You need a 4×4 vehicle to get there, which is why most organized tours don’t go there. If you’re traveling in your own vehicle, the trip is well worth it. The Salar De Taca is 200 km south of San Pedro.

salar de atacama chilePRICE: We paid CLP22,000 ($44) per person for the all-day tour incl. breakfast and lunch, plus an additional National Park fee of CLP5,000 ($10) per person.

The 80 geysers of the El Tatio geyser field

Getting up at 4am in the freezing cold desert darkness was entirely worth it to see the world’s third largest geyser field. Was it painful? Sure! And not just the early hour – temps were -9°C (15°F) when we arrived at 6:30, which shouldn’t be surprising at 4,320 meters (14,174feet) just before sunrise.

temperature tatio glacierThe sights are incredible. Just as the sun is rising, the steam from the boiling water bubbling and erupting into the freezing cold air creates this ethereal, entirely mystical feeling with some geysers shooting 10m (30ft) into the air. It’s not exactly Old Faithful, but the sheer number of geysers bubbling up make this such an beautiful experience.

el tatio geyser atacama desert chileAfter walking around the geyser fields, taking pictures and learning some facts about El Tatio, we had a picnic breakfast with warming coffee during sunrise.

The next part of the tour is for the brave…for those who are willing to strip down to their bathing suits at 8am, the 35°C / 95°F hot springs are the perfect antidote to the bone-chilling temperatures earlier that morning. I was willing to do it, and found that the water was only warm enough in one corner, right where the boiling water came out of the earth. Jess stayed dry and watched in amazement instead.

el tatio geyser field atacama desert chile hot springs daniThe tour also stops at a tiny village named Machuca on the way back to San Pedro, barely more than a few houses smack-dab in the middle of the desert. The town has incredible history, but today it seems just to cater to tourists for the tour groups returning from the geysers, selling food (vicuña skewers which were popular with the meat eaters and mediocre cheese empanadas for us) and a toilet stop.

INFO: The tour lasts from 4.30am – 1.30pm, and covers around 200km. The maximum altitude is 4,320m. Make sure to bring enough water and sunscreen. We paid CLP20,000 ($40) per person for the tour.

el tatio geysers chile sunriseTIP: This tour shouldn’t be done on the first or second day of your stay in San Pedro due to the high altitude of the geysers.

Laguna Cejar

Sadly we ran out of time to visit Laguna Cejar – often considered to be one of the most remarkable experiences around San Pedro. Some tourists do cycle the 18 kilometers from town, but again 36km at this altitude is a bit too intense for us. The reason you might want more time there is because you can float in the lake like the Dead Sea thanks to its high salt concentration.

The tours to the Laguna usually leave around 4pm for time in the lake, sunset and a glass of pisco sour.

PRICE: Tours to Laguna Cejar range from CLP8,000 to 10,000. ($16 – $20).

el tatio geyser field atacama desert chile

Pukara de Quito

The Pukara de Quito is a pre-Inca fort from the 12-century that sits in a stunning steep hillside location three kilometers outside of San Pedro. This distance can easily be cycled or even walked in 45 minutes.

This fort has two impressively carved faces as well as an arch etched into the wall of the rock. The views over the valley from here are also worth the trip!

PRICE: Admission to the fort is CLP1,500 ($3).

atacama desert chile shadows

Puritama Hot Springs

The Puritama Hot Springs, 28 km north of San Pedro, are supposed to be the most scenic hot springs in the Atacama Desert. Located at the bottom of a small canyon at 3,475 m (11,400ft), this series of eight volcano hot springs has pools and falls heated by the hot water of the Puritama River. The springs are administered by the luxury Explora Hotel, so there is also a sauna, a waterfall, other facilities and food available on site as well. The Puritama Hot Springs make for a nice splurge if you’re looking for a relaxing day in a stunning environment. You can get there by cab from San Pedro or join an organized tour.

PRICE: CLP8,000 ($16) per person.

el tatio geyser atacama desert chile

A word on Stargazing

The Skyscape: The near-perfect visibility here gives stargazers crystal-clear views

Because of its clear skies, high altitude and almost zero light pollution for near-perfect visibility, the Atacama Desert is an optimal spot for stargazing. Even without a telescope you can see more star constellations from here than almost anywhere on Earth, which is why there are also a number of high-tech observatories run by NASA or ESA here.

The perfect middle ground is to take an actual stargazing tour to learn more details about these constellations and galaxies and the differences in what you see from the northern and southern hemispheres. On our tour, the company brought two telescopes out to the desert and showed us the stars that make up the Southern Cross, the moon, Saturn, the Jewelry Box star cluster and more.

Unfortunately this was the tour we were most looking forward to and subsequently most disappointed by. We didn’t research well enough beforehand and just chose a random tour agency. It turns out that the company we went with, Vision Atacamena, is actually one of the worst-rated in town.

san pedro de atacama tour agencyWe had 30 people, two telescopes and we ended up standing around fairly bored for three hours, in the very cold dark desert evening. Plus our guide did not have good English OR Spanish (at least not for astrology), but we have heard several people raving about their stargazing tours, so check TripAdvisor first. Either way, the night sky here is breathtaking, packed with more stars than we had ever seen.

PRICE: Stargazing tours are around CLP15,000 ($30) and include a hot drink or wine and some snacks.

Other activities in the ‘adventure capital’

Horseback riding
These go to several places around San Pedro including Moon Valley and Death Valley. La Herradura is supposed to be the best provider of horseback tours.

san pedro de atacama horseback ridersHiking
One of the most popular hikes is the all-day Moon Valley and Death Valley hike from San Pedro, but there are also guided hikes to places that can only be reached by foot or bike and aren’t part of any of the tours.

Cycling
Guided cycling tours range from 2hours to all-day trips, even all the way to El Tatio Geyser!

Sandboarding
See the section on the Moon Valley and Death Valley (above). This is one of the most popular activities in San Pedro!

Mountain Climbing
There are several mountains around San Pedro that can be climbed, including volcano Lincancabur. You can get information in most travel agencies.

san pedro de atacama volcano lincancabur chile

How to get the most out of your time San Pedro

Even if you stayed longer in San Pedro, it’s not economical to do all these tours. We recommending choosing a couple based on your time and interests, making sure to combine various types of landscapes. Consider doing the all day Salar de Atacama tour one day and then the late afternoon Moon Valley tour the next, for example. Or the early morning El Tatio Geyser tour one morning and the Moon Valley the next afternoon.

On a tight budget, walk to the Pukara de Quito and cycle to the Moon and Death Valleys. Bicycles can be rented from around CLP3500 ($7) for 6 hours or CLP6000 ($12) for 24 hour anywhere in town.

valle de la luna atacama desert mountains at sunsetWikitravel has some great advice on how to cope with issues like altitude sickness, solar radiation and other health concerns in San Pedro De Atacama. Take these seriously as the combination of high altitude, dry air and strong sun make this an very intense environment, especially when your tours have you waking up early, going to bed late and spending a lot of time out in the elements.

el tatio geyser field atacama desert chileatacama desert llamaatacama desert chile

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Soaking up the desert spirit in San Pedro De Atacama

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At first glance, San Pedro feels like it’s straight out of an old time Western film, set somewhere in the Southwestern US. The white one-story Spanish colonial adobe buildings are mud-splashed from the deep red dusty roads. You might see cowboys on horses or sheep or goat herders, or first you might hear their hooved friends pounding the unpaved roads on a walk outside of town.

Between the altitude (7,900 feet / 2,400m) and the scorching sun and freezing nights, those walks can be a challenge. Much like our hikes in Tucson during the day, we were often left breathless, conversations ending not because they were finished, but from catching our breath or stopping to drink water here in this seriously dry desert.

That’s where any comparisons come to an end, however, because San Pedro really can’t compare to any place in the world, not even to another location in Chile. Somehow this tiny little desert town balances an odd mix of sleepy, remote border village and adventure capital of the Atacama Desert.

san pedro de atacama streetThis village of 5,000 can certainly keep you entertained for a day or two, but the incredible Atacama Desert surrounding it is what attracts visitors  from around the world to come here.

We’ve already told you about the otherworldly landscapes of the Atacama Desert, and we’ll talk about the things you shouldn’t miss on a visit to San Pedro next week, but here are just some of the places that make San Pedro de Atacama an outstanding place to visit:

  • The third largest geyser field in the world (El Tatio Geysers)
  • The third largest salt flats in the world (Salar de Atacama)
  • The lunar landscapes of the Moon Valley and Death Valley
  • The Deep blue altiplano lagoons like the Laguna Miscanti, Miñiques and Chaxa
  • The Laguna Cejar that is so salty that you can float in it like in the Dead Sea
  • The  two faces carved in rock walls (Pukara de Quito)
  • Milky Way, Saturn and the moon – stargazing is one of the top activities in San Pedro

san pedro de atacama volcanoYou can easily spend a week here and not see everything the Atacama Desert has to offer, but truth be told, the tours are very extreme affairs due to long drives, early starts, freezing temperatures, boiling temperatures, the altitude or the intensity of the landscape around you. So you’ll need to plan in a few rest days in between all the tours – and San Pedro is the perfect charming base to do just that. Although it might seem odd, there is just something that drew us to this northern town so much so that we named it our favorite place in all of Chile.

Atacama desert ChileThe main road in town, Caracoles, is lined with restaurants and tour agencies – and while it could feel overly touristy, the quaint Spanish-colonial buildings make the whole setting just picture-perfect. Neither of us will ever forget that first dinner in town in a candle-lit adobe restaurant with live guitar on a dimly lit stage- it was very intimate and romantic.

san pedro de atacama chilesan pedro de atacama house with blue windows

Food in San Pedro de Atacama

Oh the food in San Pedro! Honestly, being so remote in the middle of one of the world’s driest places, we expected a few ramshackle restaurants with canned and fried foods – the bare minimum. We could have never imagined what a foodie mecca it is up here! There are almost too many restaurants to try during your short time in town and too many delicious-sounding dishes on the menus, too. Even the vegetarian options go beyond the standard rice and vegetables or spaghetti pesto – instead, we could choose between savory crepes filled with sautéed vegetables, quinoa risotto with local greens, creative salads with baked brie and cranberries, or a Chilean version of a tabbouleh (with quinoa instead of bulgur).san pedro de atacama brie saladOn every menu, there was at least one vegetarian dish, and even though San Pedro is so tiny, there is even a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in town. Eating our way through the town’s restaurants was reason enough to stay for a few days and indulge on good food – something we didn’t often find in Chile.

It’s not just the food that makes the restaurants so great, either. We love rustic feeling inside most of them, with adobe benches and bars built right into rock surfaces and how they keep fires lit at night for guests to stay cozy and warm.

During the day, most visitors are out on tours or tucked away in their hotels, but at night the town seems to come alive. Caracoles swarms with people shuffling back and forth looking at the menus, deciding which restaurant to dine at that evening. Restaurants all tend to have a lunch menu with a starter, a main and dessert or coffee, while dinners often include at least one special dish that changes every night.

san pedro de atacama restaurant la estakaEven though its location is remote and activities here tend toward the adventurous, San Pedro is not a ‘backpacker’ destination. There are a few cheapie places and little ‘tiendas’ that sell basics for cooking in a kitchen, but while you’re here, we say splurge on the higher-end restaurants for truly delicious dining experiences.

san pedro de atacama plaza

What to do in San Pedro (besides eat)

San Pedro has a slow pace and almost sleepy feel. Head one block off Caracoles and you’re strolling along the tree-lined, shady and serene Plaza de Armas, where you can have coffee and people watch on the square. We, of course, spent time with the stray dogs sunbathing here, too.

At the square’s northwestern corner sits the gorgeous white church, Iglesia San Pedro, which dates back to 1640 and is the second oldest church in all of Chile. The bright white color of the simple façade sets a beautiful contrast to the cloudless, bright blue sky, but it is the inside that makes this church truly special: the walls, roof, and the entrance door are built with cactus wood and bound together with llama leather – no nails were used here!

san pedro de atacama church san pedro iglesiaFrom outside of the church and just about anywhere in San Pedro, you can see volcano Licancábur, the high volcano on the east side of town, looming over the village at 19,409 feet / 5916 meters. In the summer, the brown dry peak matches the surrounding landscape, but is a snow-capped summit in winter. If you need to orientate yourself, east is where the volcano is.

san pedro de atacama plaza de armas and lincancaburWithin a five to ten minute walk away from Caracoles you will be surrounded by local houses made of mud-brick with clay and hay roofs. Even though these days most of San Pedro’s inhabitants live off tourism, there is still a fair number of people who still do what the Atacameños have done for thousands of years – farming and livestock breeding. This is so much of San Pedro’s charm – llamas, goats, sheep, and their cowboys bustle along the unpaved roads here every day.
san pedro de atacama goatsThe reddish dusty roads are actually watered every morning by truck in order to keep it packed down, but with only 1.4 inches / 35mm of rain per year, it seems unsustainable to wet down the roads, provide the water necessary for locals and keep up with the tourism boom happening here in town.

san pedro de atacama dirty housessan pedro de atacama

When you really take a good look around, it is easy to get the sense that San Pedro might be one of those places that change completely within a decade or so, considering the fast development of new resorts and tour agencies, but we hope that the village will be able to retain its laid-back Wild West charm no matter how much our favorite Chilean town grows!

san pedro de atacama streetsan pedro de atacama plaza de san pedrosan pedro de atacama

Where to eat in San Pedro de Atacama

Adobe (Caracoles 211): Delicious food, great coffee and excellent Wi-Fi. Come for lunch, when they have set menus (starter, main, desert or coffee, and sometimes a free pisco/drink) that are very good value for money.

La Estaka (Caracoles 259): Fabulous set lunch menus for CLP7,000. We never had a bad meal here. Overpriced at night though, when a main dish costs more than the entire set lunch.

Quitor (Licancabur #154): Excellent three course meals for CLP6000 with a good vegetarian option. One of the most creative and scrumptious meals we had in San Pedro.

Café Bar Export (corner of Caracoles and Toconao): We didn’t love the food here, but the ambience at night – only lit by candle light – was beautiful; a lovely place for a Pisco Sour or a glass of wine!

Estrella Negra (Caracoles 362) is entirely vegetarian (with vegan options) and has affordable lunch menus for CLP3,500 (including drink, soup, salad and main course).

Casa De Piedra (Caracoles 225): even though this place doesn’t have a great selection of vegetarian dishes, we found the wi-fi here to be the best in all of San Pedro and the food was decent.

Sol Inti (on Tocopilla, just north off Caracoles): Very good value-for-money set lunch menu for CLP4,500: Starter, main and desert. Vegetarian option available upon request.

Tierra del sol (corner of Caracoles and Domingo Atienza) for ice cream! Try unique flavors like quinoa, chañar (a local tree) or local berries here.

Market: If you’re on a budget or just looking for fresh, healthy snacks, there is a market in a courtyard off Caracoles (between Toconao and Ignacio Carrera Pinto) twice a week (Tuesday and Friday) where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables and eggs. Along with the tiendas around town, you can find enough groceries to cook for yourself if your hostel has a kitchen.

Quitor Restaurant San Pedro De Atacama

Where to stay in San Pedro de Atacama

If you are looking for a truly luxurious experience, you should check out the Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa (prices start at $600 per night) or Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa (prices start at $500 per night).

For a mid-range luxury experience, we recommend Atacamadventure EcoLodge, prices start at $185.

The cheapest options for budget travelers start at $20 for a dorm bed (yes, San Pedro is not cheap!) – there are several hostels right in the center of town. For a private double room, expect to pay around $40 – $50 at a hostel. Hostal La Florida on Tocopilla 406 just off Caracoles has clean double rooms, free use of kitchen, good Wi-Fi, shared bathrooms and a courtyard with hammocks for $40. San Pedro De Atacama Atacamadventure Ecolodge chile

What to do in the Atacama Desert

Stay tuned for our next post on what we think you shouldn’t miss on your next visit to the Atacama Desert.
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The otherworldly landscapes of Chile’s Atacama Desert

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The first glimpse of the Atacama Desert was crossing the Andes over the 4,300 m (14,100 feet) Jama mountain pass from Argentina to Chile. The ten-hour ride from San Salvador de Jujuy to San Pedro de Atacama travels through a seemingly endless stretch of no man’s land, at one point the bus worked its way up around a grueling 72 switchbacks and the last hour or two the road cuts like a straight (and steep!) downhill line all the way to San Pedro. It is here that we see the Atacama Desert ahead of us for the first time: a barren landscape at 2,300 meters (7,500 feet) stretching as far as the eye can see. San Pedro itself sits on the official border between Argentina and Chile and just a few miles from the Chile-Bolivian border.

atacama desert roadThe Atacama Desert is a 600-mile-long (1,000 kilometers) plateau in northern Chile, close to the borders of Bolivia and Argentina, barely populated, and the driest desert on the planet. It is also among the barest and bleakest sceneries we have ever seen.

atacama desert chile lunar landscape with rocksLooking at this harsh, yet captivating landscape,  I can easily picture the surface of Mars looking exactly like this. The only word that comes to mind to describe this scene is ‘otherworldly’.

atacama desert chile scenery atacama desert chileAt times, dry shrubs and bushes cover the ground, but most of the time there is nothing but rocks and gravel.

atacama desert chile with salt flatsAs the bus descended down that consistently straight, steep road, we couldn’t help but wonder where San Pedro could possibly be. There are no signs of civilization for miles and miles – just the lunar landscapes of the Atacama Desert in all directions.

valle de la muerte atacama desert streetWhen we finally reach the village, we are surprised to see that is actually quite green – a lush oasis in the middle of this desolated part of Chile.

San Pedro de Atacama with volcanoSan Pedro de Atacama has doubled its population to 5,000 people over the last decade, becoming more and more popular with travelers from all over the world, but also many Chileans who want to explore this fascinating part of their country.

san pedro de atacama chile with treesOver the next few days in San Pedro, we explored the desert and discovered that there is much more than barren land here: we see dark blue lagoons, vast salt flats and salt mountains, a moon-like valley, a geyser field and sand dunes.

laguna Miñiques atacama desert chilevalle de la luna atacama desert red rocksThere are smoking volcanoes, canyons and gorges, hot springs and remote desert villages with houses made of volcanic rock – for a desert, there is actually much more diversity than you might expect.

atacama desert chile volcanomachuca chile atacama desert churchOf course much of the desert does indeed resemble Mars – and not just the looks but the conditions as well. Water is extremely scarce and much of the desert is inhospitable – not even bacteria can survive in some areas!

valle de la muerte atacama desertFor this reason, NASA actually uses the desert to prepare Mars missions like testing robotic vehicles that will be used on Mars.

valle de la muerte atacama desertWhat looks like snow in these pictures, is actually salt. Parts of the Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna) near San Pedro are made up of dry lakes, with salt covering the surface.

valle de la luna atacama desert saltine sceneryvalle de la luna atacama desert saline landscape chileSeveral saline outcrops have been carved into naturally sculptured statues by wind and time.

valle de la luna atacama desert saltine formationThe Three Marias, one of the most recognized salt structures of the Atacama, is made of clay, salt, gems, gravel and quartz and is approximately one million years old.

valle de la luna atacama desert saltine three mariasSalt can also be seen on many of the red rocks in the Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) of the Atacama Desert. Many of the rocks are coated in a white layer of salt originating from volcanic eruptions in the area.

valle de la muerte atacama desert salt mountainvalle de la luna atacama desert salt cave rocksThis part of the valley is actually called Cordillera de la Sal (Salt mountain range), and in addition to the salt-covered rocks, we spent time crawling through one of the many salt caves here.

Dani and Jess atacama desertAtacama Desert Salt CaveThe best time to visit the Death and the Moon Valley is the late afternoon, to see how the lights of the twilight hours change the colors of the mountains and sand dunes.

valle de la luna atacama desert at sunsetvalle de la luna atacama desert saltine landscapes at sunsetvalle de la luna atacama desert sand dunes at sunset chileOn one all-day tour, it was incredible to watch the landscape change from dry sand to deep volcanic lakes to the shallow waters on top of the salt flats, where hundreds of pink flamingos pecked their way across the water in search of food.

salar de atacama chile flamingo reflectionThe vast salt flats, the Salar de Atacama, are actually the third largest salt flats in the world, after the nearby Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and the Salinas Grandes across the Andes in Argentina.
salar de atacama chileThe Chilean salt flats feel very different to the other two. Here there are more animals, it seems. Like those flamingos…
Atacama Desert Flamingosand the lizards…
salar de atacama chile lizard… and also the fact that instead of an almost blinding white salt, the salt flats here are made up of big chunks of grayish salt rocks and boulders sticking up out of the ground.
salar de atacama chile salt flatssalar de atacama chileA completely different side of the Atacama Desert are Laguna Miscantes and Miñiques, two altiplano lakes at over 4,200 meters (13,800 feet).

laguna Miñiques atacama desert jessSet next to each other in a spectacular mountain setting, the surrounding yellow grass and brownish mountains create a colorful contrast to the deep blue waters and clear azure skies.
laguna Miñiques atacama desertThe lake shores are white due to the salt in the soil, adding yet another color.
laguna Miñiques atacama desertThe crystal clear skies are one of the most famous features of the Atacama Desert – on over 300 days of the year there are no clouds whatsoever. This is what makes the desert so desirable for star-gazing as well. And not just by amateurs like us. There are a number of international telescopes in the desert owned (or partially owned) by several countries from around the world.
laguna Miñiques atacama desertOn an early morning trip to the El Tatio Geyser fields, we get to see another completely different face of the desert: steaming hot springs, bubbling and erupting geysers with columns of steam surmounting high into the sky.

el tatio geyser field atacama desert chileThe geyser field is among the highest-elevation geyser fields in the world and consists of around 80 geysers!

el tatio geyser atacama desert chileel tatio geyser atacama desert chile sunriseIt is the third largest geyser field in the world, and the largest one in the southern hemisphere.

el tatio geysers chileOn this particular trip, we had the option to hop into the hot springs which was an inviting thought after feeling like our fingers and toes would freeze off for the two hours before and after sunrise. These hot springs are around 35C (95F), as opposed to the freezing winter air at dawn at 4,320 meters (14,174feet).
el tatio geyser field atacama desert chile hot springsConsidering that the Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world, there are actually quite a few green patches and types of vegetation throughout the entire desert, from scrub brush to green tufts of grass to astonishingly high cacti.

atacama desert chileThis leads to plenty of wildlife spottings…
atacama desert llamasFrom domesticated llamas to wild vicuñas…
atacama desert vicunasThere are lots of viscachas, which are a kind of desert bunny that are related to chinchillas…
viscacha atacama desert…and desert foxes.
atacama desert fox chileThe desert is dry as a bone, making it very hard to survive.
atacama desert chile skullThe Atacama Desert is without a doubt one of the most stunning regions we have ever been to, anywhere in the world.
atacama desert chileIf you are planning a visit to Chile, San Pedro and the Atacama Desert are a must-see stop. From Santiago, this region is a 24-hour bus ride or a short flight into the nearby city of Calama and a 60-mile bus or minibus ride from there.

valle de la luna atacama desert salt cave rocks danisalar de atacama chileatacama desert moonscape chileWhat’s the most extraordinary place you’ve ever been to? Share in the comments below!

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How to upset an entire nation: Why Chileans Think We SUCK!

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The way to someone’s heart is through their stomach, and the way to upset an entire nation, at least the nation of Chile, is to criticize its cuisine.

I know this, because a post we wrote called Here’s Why Chilean Food Sucks which caused a massive stir. On our own site it went relatively unnoticed, but after it was picked up in South American food blog called Comosur it then gained traction, began spreading on social media and has now gone fairly viral.

comosur article

Of course, I never, ever meant to offend the great people of Chile. Even the ones who have told me now to drink bleach, eat shit and die and never come back to the country because we are fat, gringa, lesbian sluts (note: possible future band name?).  Below we have listed some of the comments, just a sprinkling of the hundreds of mixed results – some in support of us, some entirely outraged. Below these, you will find the Lessons I have Learned from this experience with infamy.

First, a few words to the thousands of Chileans visiting our site:

To the people of Chile, I would like to emphasize a few things:

1. We adore Chile – please see the list of posts below. There are LOT of positive posts about Chile on this website.
2. I know that you are a country, not a condiment, and it was simply a (very, very bad) play on words – the Chile vs Chili comment.
3. This is a website for all travelers, not just Chileans, and while I thank you for inviting us to come to your home to eat the homemade Chilean food, what we find out in restaurants throughout the country is very different.
4. Why does food have to be expensive to be good? Many people have argued that we were eating ‘inexpensive’ food and that a decent meal comes at certain price. We agree with you. But therein lies one of our key frustrations. When you travel full time, as we do, you can not eat expensive meals all the time. And unlike so many other countries around the world, when you go under $10 a plate, the food in Chile becomes…less desirable, when in other countries around the world, even simple meals can be seriously delicious. It is an issue of value for money.
5. Dani is German, so please stop calling her a fat American.
6. Let me as the big, stupid American take the fall. I understand what it is like to have people constantly beat up on your country. I lived abroad during all 8 of the Bush years and faced extreme hatred day in and day out. It is very easy to call us stupid Americans and that we know nothing.
7. You eat pizza, Chile. For all the people that got so down on me for writing about the pizza – it is everywhere in your country. It may not make the list of your ‘national foods’ but like the Chorillana and pasta pesto, it is on menus all around the country. Therefore, whether you like it or not, it is one of the foods that people come across when visiting your country.
8. We are vegetarian, so please stop telling us that we left out the meat dishes and seafood dishes. We know. And the people who read our site more than just for this one article, they all know that.
9. While I admit that I shouldn’t have used the word ‘sucks’, we are never going to love your food. Sorry.
10. We did not only eat in fast food places. In 100 days it would have been impossible to list all the places we ate. But as a tourist, without a home or a grandmother to cook you Chilean food, you often eat on the go. And even the local places that you claim we did not eat in (which we very often did) have the kinds of food we mention in the article.
11. You’ll see in the comments that Chileans agree with the point we were making.
12. We actually did eat in almost all the restaurants that have been recommended to us, we shopped every week at the La Vega Mercado during our time in Santiago. It is a lovely market. For tourists reading this, you really should go there.
13. We love your produce. It’s amazing. It’s fresh, better than so many other places.
14. We did not travel Chile with a ‘guide’. We had at least 20+guides on the various tours we did, we used Foursquare where local Chileans recommend restaurants in each town, we use travel blogs, local blogs, guidebooks, forums, talk to locals and get recommendations. So, there is no ‘guide’ you can blame for not showing us the best Chile has to offer.
15. When people travel, they often make comparisons. To compare the empanadas of various countries is natural, just as comparing public transportation systems, quality of roads, the beautiful landscapes (all of which Chile would arguably win compared to any other South American country).

how to upset chileans-1Now, on to some of the comments: 

Fran told us to get the sand out of our vaginas. 

Julio, Rita and Jules insinuate that we are alcoholics who only go out at night and eat when we are wasted. I do not drink alcohol and Dani does only very rarely.

Valerii encourages us (for those who read Spanish) to watch the movie The Breakfast Club to get a real sense of what a shitty culture we Americans come from, using this as evidence as to why we should never, ever come back to Chile as we have humiliated the entire country.

Alejandra says:
I’ve heard from travel writers that you have to write about the positive things you find while traveling. But I do understand your frustration regarding food in Chile. I have been living in Chile for 3 years and I truly remember finding everything terribly tasteless for 8 months (more than 100 days.) After that time, I was eating pasta with a friend (who had just arrived) and I happened to comment how nice was the food and she laughed and said really? You have lost your sense of taste.

No offense Chileans, but your food (and I DON’T EVER eat street vendor’s food) is tasteless and overpriced. Although I have looked over and over again for cheese I have not found a good Chilean cheese. I (trust me) bought almost every cheese and they are flavorless.
I support your article 100% I live there and I think that Chilean cuisine is far from being world-class or even nice. I think that Chilean’s lack the ability to see what’s not working so well within their borders and that, also applies to food.

The Alejandra followed up with:
I also have to say that it is a SHAME that Chileans think that you have spend a lot of money to eat properly. This is just a reflection of their classicist culture “only the ones with money are allowed to eat nicely, live comfortably and be well educated”.
Normally around the world (and this applies in my country, which is not as “rich” as Chile is) street food is the best.  

Diego – and hundreds of others – have told us not to come back anymore:
Girls, you really don’t taste THE REAL Chilean food!…REALLY? and even after that, you made a bad opinion about the food! All the food that you mentioned in this blog, here in Chile is almost like a snacks…you come to Chile to eat pizza? really?…is like if i go to Italy to eat Ceviche, it’s ridiculous isn’t? And if you don’t like the sea food, (maybe the principal culinary attraction in Chile), don’t come back anymore

Gerardo would like to rock us in the bedroom:
Seems that your loco guides were not the best ( and of course you did not try aji cacho de cabra, they say that is double spicy, when you eat it and when you are in the bathroom, lol. Did you even tried sex at least? We do rock in bed babe not in the kitchen.
Luv ya. 

A few people said things like:
Fuck you Gringoo!!! #eatshitfromChilewithlove

Robert says:
Jess, 
I think the main mistake you are doing here is not to recognize that your blog post is offensive to Chileans with that excessively harsh title. You can’t ask for respect when you are offending people on their pride and for free. So yeah… people will be violent on the comments. 

Chilean Chef says:
You are so wrong. Dis you ever tried CAZUELA or MOTE con HUESILLO?. So you don’t even started with te chilean food. Take care with your comments, be sincerely. By th way, The USA food is the worst food that i ever tried , you put bbq sauce y everything, and that is disgusting.

Rigo has taken this post and everything we have ever written to mean that we find Latin Americans to be inferior. Nothing could of course be further from the truth. For those who read Spanish:
Cabros, ¿Saben cuál es el problema de fondo?: los gringos piensan que somos una mierda. Nos miran en menos, muy mal, como si fuéramos unos trogloditas. Vienen casi a hacer turismo antropológico acá. Lo mismo varios europeos. No se pueden sacar de la cabeza el tema de desarrollo/subdesarrollo. No debemos olvidar nunca la relación de poder que media entre nuestras culturas. Viva América Latina!

An expat living in Chile named Ori confirmed our opinion:
Thank you for this post. As a foreign living in Chile, the food has been by far the most traumatic and shocking thing i’ve had to live with. I remember that I had a few weeks in here, and was craving for some pancakes with bacon. Poor me, it’s been 4 years since I’ve arrived and I’ve never seen that kind of breakfast here. Nevermind the haters. Chileans tend to believe that they are the best of the better of the best (I’m not intending to sound redundant). They like things heavily salted, flavorless and most of all oily, fatty and simple. They charge you 7000 CLP for a salad that they don´t even bother to stir it up!! 

Karen’s comment was refreshing:
First of all, if you are some stupid lesbians who tried to eat vegetarian food its going to end bad. You have no power here to say our food is terrible because you don’t even eat meat!!
So fuck yourselves with a soybean-burger and freeze to death in the USA with your junk food!!

Locals like J. were nice and agreed to disagree with us on some things:

It is true that good food in Chile is really hard to find. We pride ourselves of having great meals, but most of them you can only eat them at home, ’cause the cheap places that you can afford while backpacking it’s truly disappointing. If you compare our food to Peruvian or Argentinian it gets even worst. We barely consider vegetarian an option, much less vegan. And the meat we eat is just bad and tasteless.

This person says that she agrees, that unlike neighboring countries, Chilean cuisine isn’t all that (In Spanish only).

Puta qué cierto! Yo le envidio a los peruanos y bolivianos lo orgullosos que están de sus tradiciones, de su comida, de sus raíces indígenas. Acá siempre estamos diciendo ‘si es chileno, es bueno’ y saltamos con agresiones a quienes critican a nuestro país, pero en el fondo, en el fondo, nosotros no lo valoramos ni lo respetamos ni lo aplaudimos. Yours if probably one of the few constructive comments. 
Sadly, my fellow countrymen can be absolute assholes and neanderthals. I do agree with some that your comments are hurtful to our pride, but that does not entitle them to attack you galls like most of them are doing. please remember the Chileans you met while traveling, not the morons who are treating you like shit just ‘cus you said what many actually actually think.

One really friendly poster gave us this reference:

I invite you to look into what the people at Ñam (http://niamsantiago.cl) are doing for our cuisine, it’s really great. Even though they don’t make it very public, they treat international chefs to the wonders and variety of our country and they usually leave loving Chile and talking about it back home. Even the Roca’s, from the world known El Celler de Can Rocca, have been here and loved what we had to offer.

I really think you got cheated, food-wise, when you came here, and like I said on my comment down below, being vegetarian made things worst, since this is a country that eats mostly meat and seafood.

Next time you come to Santiago feel free to contact me and my girlfriend and I’ll try and show how good Chilean food can be. You have my e-mail 😉
Oh and once again, sorry for the assholes commenting here.

Three years in Chile said, in Spanish, that we were totally right, the food is plain and boring, be realistic. Whoever thinks that Chile is the ultimate in food should travel the world to understand what great food is out there (in a nutshell).

Estas niñas tienen toda la razón la comida en Chile es plana y aburrida , se debe ser realista. Y quienes creen que Chile es la ultima panacea en comida , los invito a viajar por el mundo y comer cosas ricas de verdad, con deliciosos condimentos, combinaciones y sabor. Y por ultimo Chilenos dejen de ser crecidos y acepten que la comida y atención en su país es muy mala.

The Lessons Learned

There have been many lessons learned from this post; about the outrage, Chilean pride, our place within the world of the internet, and the debate between journalism and blogging.

Lesson #1: Chileans are a very proud people

The truth is, when I wrote the article, I didn’t exactly have the Chilean people in mind. I was venting about our ordeal, our struggles, and those of several travelers we also met on the road. I admit that the title was entirely insensitive. But WOW! Chileans are very proud of their food and insulting is like directly insulting their grandmother’s cooking and then directly their culture and their country. I did not mean that in any way as we love Chile (please see lesson #2 below).

Lesson #2: Negativity spreads like wildfire. 
Negativity spreads like wildfire and compliments hardly stick. For over a year we have done nothing more than compliment Chile. The only post that has ever gone viral was the ONE negative one we wrote. I list for you here all the articles where we talk about how incredible we think Chile is:

33 Things We Love About Santiago
Go Beyond Central Santiago
Sculptures of Santiago: A Photo Essay
GlobetrotterGirls Quick Guide to Santiago
Live and in Technicolor: Valparaiso is Chile’s Colorful Cultural Capital
A Blind Date with Chile’s Romantic Chiloe Island
Hotel Tip: Hosteria Yendegaia in Porvenir, Chile
Valparaiso’s Essence Can Be Found Among Its Dissidents
Hotel Tip: Casa Kreyenberg, Valparaiso, Chile
Struck by a Wave of Charm in Valdivia
Quirky Chile: Coffee with Legs
Home Sweet Home in Southern Chile: Following the Trail of German Immigrants
Pisco, Papaya and the Playa:  La Serena and the Elqui Valley
How much does it cost to travel in Chile
Our Top Five Places to Visit in Chile
The Otherworldly Scenery of the Atacama Desert 
Celebrating Spring at the Beach
San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis in the desert
From Pucon to Ushuaia: Our Trip through Patagonia
The Day We Hitchhiked to the End of the World
Flamingo in Chile’s Salt FlatsHotel Tip: Puerto Varas, Chile 
An Homage to the Wind in Puerto Natalaes
Thank Goodness for Silver Linings…Rained Out in Pucon
Hotel Tip of the Week: Bosque Nativo Eco-Hostel, Valdivia, Chile
Polaroid of the Week: Sea Lion Attack in Valdivia Chile
Warming up to the Iquique Coastline in Northern Chile
Torres del Paine: Patagonia’s Essence in a Day

And yet this one post is the only post that has ever gone viral on the site.

Lesson #3: I need to listen to my heart as a writer

The third is that I had been listening to too many other people’s opinions about the site without listening to my own heart. Many fans and friends have been saying we need to cover more nitty gritty details, the negative sides of travel. That’s probably true. And every time we meet readers or online friends in real life, they always tell me that I need to try to be funnier, write in a less serious way. The takeaway: I can show the more nitty gritty details about travel without being offensive. I can (try) to be funny without taking the easy joke, like the one about Chile and Chili.

Lesson #4 The Ever-Raging Blogger vs Journalist Debate

Lastly, I have learned that the conflict between what makes a blogger versus a journalist is still raging. I consider us GlobetrotterGirls to clearly be travel experts (contrary to the list of awful comments here on this website now), and bloggers, travelers and nomads. I’ve never thought of this as a journalistic space.

As bloggers we are lending a different kind of thread to the fabric of the internet. It is a running thread – where we share our personal story, our personal experience, our feelings, our hopes and our lives out in the open for everyone to see.

A journalist covers specific stories in a very different way. That is why when I write a post that I don’t like Chilean food, it is part of an ongoing series of nearly 800 articles that our audience can read to understand the story of our lives and our travels. That doesn’t mean we don’t research. Anyone who knows us knows the copious notes and intense research we put in to the destinations we choose to visit. Even though I never intended for the infamous Chilean food post to be more than a quick frustration release, we researched Chilean food before arriving in Chile, during our time there and afterward to write each and every article on the country.

However, many of the reactions have been how unprofessional we are, how we are terrible journalists, and how lazy we are for writing this news. For us, this was just an opinion piece – hence the many lame jokes that really didn’t land.

While I want this website to be a reflection of us as people, the lesson that this blogger is taking away is that every single piece is a stand alone item that, when taken out of context, can be taken as news by others.

LUN articleA note to our Loyal Readers

To our readers, the loyal ones from the past four years and the new ones who have left really great supportive comments here today, thank you. Thank you for sticking with us and being a part of this journey with us. We have dedicated ourselves to covering destinations around the world with passion, careful research and a love of discovering the world.

Rather than get bogged down in this negativity, and I admit to casting the first stone, I can’t help but think of Ellen Degeneres. While other comedians use cheap jokes and make fun of others to get a laugh, she has dedicated her life to spreading love and compassion through her comedy. Until recently, we had hardly said a bad word about anyone or anything on this website, focusing on the things we love, the hotels we recommend, the great experiences recommend rather than the crap hotels and things we didn’t like about certain places.

The passion for travel and experiencing the world is what drives me every single day to keep writing, and I will do this through positivity, keeping all people and the pride of entire nations in mind.


The biggest lesson of all, of course, is that, apparently,  you should really try the seafood in Chile! 

Now, what do you think?

Was the title too harsh? Should we change the title to Why Chilean Food Sucks For Vegetarians? Even if we know that so many people agree?

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Warming up to the Iquique coastline in Northern Chile

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Question: The more you travel, do you start to compare every new place with somewhere you’ve been before?

We do this constantly now and not only the general feeling of a place, but even specific corners, streets and neighborhoods, too.

iquique playa cavanchaIt took us quite a while to warm up to Iquique, a city in Northern Chile, but right from the start those comparisons began. The unfinished cement skyscrapers along the coast reminded us of Panama City, Panama – a city we could really only warm to parts of.
iquique at sunsetAs we explored the Centro Historico, the clapboard houses spread among the more grand Spanish colonial architecture reminded us of Belize.
iquique baquedanoiquique tramsiquique baquedano towerAnd yet, by our last couple of days strolling along the coastal boardwalk under the palm trees down near Playa Canvancha, I couldn’t help but giggle when I said to Dani in all seriousness, ‘Iquique does have a bit of a Miami vibe, though, doesn’t it.’

iquique beach promenadeNo, it really doesn’t.

But there is a certain charm that took a while for us to appreciate. This was partially due to those damn expectations that get built up by reading articles, guidebooks and blog posts about the destinations we visit. The city is lauded by some as both a surfers and a paragliders paradise, so we were expecting a Southern California feel.
iquique surfersWe had come here for an extra extended beach weekend, knowing it would be months in the Andes before we would have that again. In reality, the waves are massive and crash with dangerous intensity right on the shore, which meant we only dipped our toes in.
iquique daniParagliding is definitely another thing to do in Iquique, and it’s fun to watch people do it right down near the shore. But like most Latin American towns and cities, there are jumbles of electric wires stretching along the streets, and getting tangled in an electric cable salad was not a risk we wanted to take.

iquique paragliders at sunset chileInstead we spent our days walking up and down the long, coastal boulevard and touring the historic center, the Baquedano, to get a feeling for the city. A highlight was walking past the fish market and watching feeding time for the sea lions, pelicans and other sea life fighting for the bucket of guts the fishmongers would toss out to them.
iquique sea lion and pelicansiquique pelican chileiquique sea lionsFurther south is Playa Cavancha, which is technically where most of the beach action takes place, and where you’ll find the surfers. On a Saturday, we just kept on walking, further and further south, all the way to our hotel. A few surfers and way more long-boarders and roller bladers mingled on the boardwalk (literally made of wooden boards) along with families, ice cream vendors and groups of Chilean tourists.
iquique beach promenade chileThe waves crashed to our right and traffic ebbed and flowed to the left for the hour it took to return to our ‘hood, Playa Brava. Our hotel was a ten minute cab ride from the center, but we discovered that down on Playa Brava, we actually had three top restaurants, the best cafe and the most laid-back area of the beach nearby.
iquique cafe at sunsetWe ate overpriced but amazing sushi at Otaku Sushi, had seriously authentic Italian food next door at Trattoria Machiavelo and had strong, strong coffee at Ciocolatta every morning.

In addition to outdoor sports, from Iquique you can visit ghost towns of Humberstone and Santa Laura, which are former nitrate mining towns, and take a trip to the Atacama Giant geoglyphs, said to be the world’s largest rock art.

iquique beach chileThere is one thing that makes Iquique truly unique, where we couldn’t make any other comparisons. The city is a relative sliver, long and thin, set between the Pacific Ocean and a giant mountain of sand, almost like an oversized dune right behind it that looms over and gives it a sort of urgent, intense feel that is semi-smoothed over by the palm trees and sun reflecting off the ocean.

iquique jess at sunset chile
Our favorite eateries in Iquique: Otaku Sushi (Avenida Arturo Prat 3080), Trattoria Macchiavello (Avenida Arturo Prat 3082), Ciocolatta for coffee and cake (Avenida Arturo Prat 3078)
iquique coffee and kuchen

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Pisco, papaya and the playa: A trip to La Serena and the Elqui Valley

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Did you know that U.S. citizens pay out the nose to travel in South America?

Thanks to reciprocity fees (the US charges citizens of these countries out the nose so they charge us back) tourist visas add up – Chile is $160, Bolivia $135, Argentina is $160, Brazil is $160 and Paraguay is also $160.

Did you also know that, when you are traveling with Dani – which I happen to do full-time for just under four years now – you quickly learn that one travel goal is to get the most of our hard-earned money at all times.

elqui valley jessSo when we flew back in to Santiago on the return leg of our round-trip ticket this past November, there was no way we were just using this as a means to get back to South America so we could pick up at the border of Chile and Bolivia where we left off. Nope, for the new $160 tourist visa I’d have to pay for, you could be damn sure we were going to spend more time in Chile to get the most out of that visa.

Our first stop to La Serena and the surrounding Elqui Valley made the entire visa worth it.

Elqui Valley and La SerenaChile’s second oldest city after Santiago, La Serena is just seven hours north of the capital by bus and the perfect size for exploration. With roughly 300,000 inhabitants, the city never feels congested or confusing.

la serena street with churchThe architecture here is gorgeous, and along with its wide pedestrian avenues that seemed to have been transported directly from Spain, La Serena is also known as the City of Churches – there is one on almost every corner, it seems.

la serena churchThere also are good restaurants – even a couple of vegetarian ones, plus quirky cafes with good coffee – and you know how we usually feel about Chilean food! The city has a breezy, refreshing character to it, owing to the fact that it is a popular beach town with the longest stretch of beautiful golden beaches in the entire country, which is essentially a 4,000km stretch of coastline, itself. You could walk uninterrupted for an entire day along the coast.

la serena beach and ducks chileThis means that in January and February the beaches of La Serena are packed with tourists, but our stop there in November (the start of spring in South America) was fairly empty. Even in the height of tourist season, I’d much prefer La Serena to Viña del Mar, Chile’s most popular beach resort that we ended up seriously disliking. Even though it is right next to Valparaiso, a stylish but gritty harbor town we loved Viña is a generic, soulless resort, whereas La Serena offers a much more laid-back, authentic beach escape. Sure, it takes five and a half hours longer to get there, but buses leave more than once an hour from Santiago and there are 4-5 flights daily into the La Florida airport from the capital, so it couldn’t be easier to get here, either.

la serena ocean bird chileLa Serena is also the jumping off point to explore the Elqui Valley, which made our list of the top five places to visit in all of Chile. We only did a full day tour of the valley, but if we were to visit Chile again, we might even rent a car in La Serena and spend a few days to a week slowly exploring this 137 mile stretch of incredible, lush landscape surrounded by arid mountains and topped off by bright blue skies. The picturesque villages that dot the valley are separated by miles and miles of vineyards, wine grapes on one side and grapes to make the local Chilean Pisco on the other, plus avocados, alfalfa and other crops as well.

elqui valley panoramaOur first stop was a papaya plantation, thought at first we didn’t realize they were papayas at all. The papayas are not like the huge ones we saw in Central America; these are These are yellow, sour and tiny, almost like a starfruit.

elqui valley papayaFrom there we stopped at the hydroelectric dam on the Elqui river. This was a beautiful outlook over the valley, filled with cacti like in Arizona.

elqui valley cacti chileelqui riverThe tour continued on to the town of Vicuña, the birthplace of Chile’s Nobel Prize winning poet Gabriela Mistral, where we had time to explore the city center for a while.

Vicuna Elqui Valley ChileThe sun here is incredibly strong and we had lunch at a solar restaurant before heading to the Pisco Peralta distillery for a tour and pisco tasting just outside the appropriately-named town of Pisco Elqui. As soon as we pulled in along narrow, cobblestone streets, we knew we could easily have spent a night or two here. We know now that one advantage of spending the night in the Elqui Valley is that this region is home to some of the best conditions for star gazing in the world. Astronomers from around the globe sign up to a two-year waiting list to work for just one week at the area’s top-notch observatories, and there are also astronomy and observatory tours for curious novices as well.

elqui valley solar restaurantPisco Distillery Elqui ValleyOur stop in Pisco Elqui was super short, but even so you could feel the older, hippy dippy crystal vibe going on. During the 1960s, the hippie folk declared there to be an energy here, and new age tourism became a major focus fifty years ago.

It turns out that they were actually right on, man.

In 1982, scientists measured the Earth’s magnetic forces for the first time and found that the most energetically charged place on Earth had indeed flipped from 30 degrees north in Tibet to 30 degrees south, right around Chile’s Elqui Valley. Was this energy what attracted us to La Serena? No, probably not.

elqui valley pisco elqui church chileWe’re not that ‘in tune’ with things like that. It was more likely the sun, the sand and the fresh air of the small city vibe that we ended up loving so much here in this truly serene little town.

elqui valley chilePractical information

We stayed at Hostal El Punto, a German-run hostel in walking distance to the main square and the bus station (CLP17000 / $34 for a double room, CLP8000 / $16 for a dorm bed). We also arranged our Elqui Valley Tour through the hostel (CLP20,000 / $40 per person).

Our favorite lunchspot was Polen, a hole-in-the-wall vegetarian restaurant that offered set lunches for CLP1800/$3.60.

Café Colonial has a Happy Hour 2×1 coffee special in the afternoons, but skip the food there. Another good café (with free wifi) is Coffee Express.

Most travel agencies in La Serena offer tours to the Elqui Valley, but there are also frequent buses to La Vicuña and Pisco Elqui. Cars can be rented in La Serena for about CLP25,000/$50 a day (or a jeep for CLP38,000) including pick-up at your hotel.

La Serena ChileSuggested Itinerary

If you have the time: Spend 3-4 days soaking up the sun and atmosphere in La Serena then rent a car and spend 2 nights in Pisco Elqui as your base for three days driving through the villages that dot the Elqui Valley.

If you’re in a rush: Spend three days in La Serena – one day in the city, one on the beach and one on a tour of the Elqui Valley.

Elqui Valley in ChileMore photos of La Serena and the Elqui Valley:

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Here’s why we think Chilean food sucks.

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Sorry, Chile, but it’s true. For as much as we loved our time traveling thousands of miles up and down your country, our palates were left entirely under-stimulated.

First, let it be known that there is nothing spicy to eat in Chile. Do not let the name fool you. There is a deceiving red powder, called ají, on the table with salt and pepper, but even if you cover your pizza in a blanket of it, there’d be about as much kick as from a legless man.

vegetarian food la serenaI mention pizza, and if you read this website often, you will know we are always on the hunt for excellent pizza. Unfortunately the Chilean version pales desperately in comparison to its Argentine neighbor. It is dry, basic, unimaginative and does nothing more than to satisfy large groups, teenage boys and two vegetarian GlobetrotterGirls when nothing else is even remotely interesting on the menu.

Ugh, and the empanada certainly didn’t make it over the Andes very well either. In Argentina the thick, buttery dough filled with creamy mozzarella, tangy blue cheese or meat (if that’s your thing) became an addiction. Here, the shape and concept is the same, but the dough is like cardboard, the cheese like rubber.

pizza valparaisoChile is by far the most sophisticated country in South America, yet its food reflects none of this sophistication. Take the ‘famous’ Chorillana – a Chilean national dish that we would simply call Stoner Food. Meat, large chunks of lazily chopped broiled vegetables, ham, cheese and a fried egg or two are thrown on top of a huge bed of French fries. That’s it. Just pull the fries out, dip them in some off the yolk and/or ketchup and/or mayo, and eat the rest with a mix of your hands and a fork.

Next up, the ‘completo’ is a hot dog. It’s not very ‘complete’ either. It’s got a few things on it, but it’s just a hot dog with none of the creativity of a Belgian, Chicago or New York style dog let alone bratwurst.

Once, we ordered a sandwich that, on a neighboring table, looked remarkably similar to a Mexican Torta. But rather than being fresh, thick, warm bread piled high with so many delicious ingredients it puts Subway to shame, this was just cold, boiled green beans, queso fresco (the worst white cheese in.the.world), lettuce, tomato and onion. Green beans on a sandwich? Really?

ancud lomito veggieYou’ll notice that much of these are some sort of sandwich or bread dish, and not one would be classified as healthy. Even salads are not done right. How often did we get a plate with four ingredients lined up in a row – a strip of lettuce next to a row of sliced tomatoes next to sliced cucumbers next to, say, shaved carrots. The ingredients were not even mixed together, vegetable oil and white vinegar on top, for the price of that Chorillana those stoners, sorry locals, are chewing down on at the next table over.

saladPossibly the worst offender is the sopaipilla – fried dough bought from a street vendor and then slathered in mayo. That’s right, just fried dough in mayonnaise (we didn’t say it wasn’t good, but again with the stoner food!).

The lack of healthy options never ceased to amaze, nor did watching coffee drinkers pour one, two, sometimes three oversized sugar packets into an espresso. If it even was an espresso. Most likely it was a Nescafé, since instant coffee is preferred in Chile, a fact which makes us sad and teary-eyed every morning.

nescafe chileContinuing on the subject of sugar, ordering a smoothie and forgetting to ask for no sugar meant resigning ourselves to the presence of a new cavity by days end.

And salt? I once watched a mother salt her pre-teen daughter’s dinner so heavily, had she also lit and handed her a cigarette it wouldn’t have surprised me.

There are some healthier dishes, like the curanto, a meat dish cooked underground in a pot over hot rocks, similar to a hangi in New Zealand. Fish, meat, bread and potatoes are heated wrapped in large leaves for hours and then taken out to be eaten together. But this is 1. only in the south of the country and 2. too time-consuming dish to order with any regularity.

You’ll note that most dishes are for meat-eaters. Traditional vegetarian dishes include humitas, which are like Mexican tamales, with corn meal masa, with only sprinkles of corn inside and no other flavor to speak of. There is always the Paila option, which is just scrambled eggs, often with avocado. Oddly, this is not considered a breakfast dish, but an once, meaning afternoon snack).

And now we come to the Mote con Huesillo, a popular summer drink that, while not bad, is just plain weird.

Served in a plastic cup, first the vendors add two or three big scoops of cooked husked wheat. Yup, wheat. That’s the ‘mote’ part. Then, one or two stewed peaches in a syrupy liquid are poured on top. This is not blended together. You chew the drink using a straw and a spoon to consume it.

mote con huesilloWhat was so disappointing about the basic, unimaginative and unflavorful foods is that unlike most places in Latin America, in Chile you can drink the water. So in theory you could eat street food freely and happily without worry, just like in Thailand. But this comparison feels absurd, considering the delicious, spicy Pad Thai for a dollar versus fried dough and a cup of wheat and peach juice.

This brings me to our biggest frustration of all – the lack of international food. In Cambodia we had fairly authentic Mexican food, in Malaysia we had spot on British tea and scones. In Chile, any attempt at international cuisine is like eating a bowl of plastic fruits. It always looks so realistic, but once you bite down, there is no flavor at all. Look, the Brits, the Americans, the Germans, we all have boring traditional foods – that’s why we steal international cuisine and mix them all together and call it fusion. All Chile has to do is look north to Peru for fine examples of Japanese-Peruvian and Nouveau-Andean cuisines.

The only international food that Chile really seems to have gotten right was the Kuchen. That’s right, German cake. The Germans arrived to the Lake District en masse in the 19th century and their delicious cake recipes remain perfectly in tact today. Other than that, the dessert leaves much to be desired, with manjar-filled flaky pastries, alfajores and leche asada, which pretty much tastes like flan made of boogers.

cakeLook, Chileans do wine very well, and pisco sours, too (though Peruvians would say they stole it from them). They grow delicious avocados and we ate at least one a day every day for over three months.

pisco soursAnd of course there are some excellent chefs making magic throughout the country. We ate extremely well in San Pedro de Atacama, loved the pizza at Tiramisu in Santiago along with Le Fournil, the chain Cassis made great food and one of our top meals was a seriously delicious three course meal at La Marmita in Punta Arenas, as far south as you can get on the Chilean mainland.

Chile, your glaciers and geysers, penguins and sea lions, volcanoes, lakes and massive mountains mesmerized us. Just glance through these posts, and you’ll see how much we love you. We felt right at home in your cities and warmed ourselves on your beaches, vowing to spend a month here or there, or even to plan a GlobetrotterGirls Getaway here someday. And you can be sure that our feelings are genuine, since we stayed over 100 days with you in spite of, most definitely not because of, your food.

Have you been to Chile? What did you think of Chilean cuisine? Share in the comments below!

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Goodbye 2013: Our year of travel in pictures

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I remember leaving for the airport in London like it was yesterday. Dani kept looking at me with my big, funny backpack, and I at hers (and the extra bag she had filled with magazines she just had to finish before we left the U.S.) as we walked to catch the bus to the airport. We were filled with exhilaration that we were actually free – like high school seniors on the last day of school.

2010 brought us from Europe, through the US and Mexico to Central America, it was an unforgettable 2011 through Central America, Europe, Canada, the US and then Thailand. In 2012 we spent time in South East Asia, India and finally to South America.

Now here we are, this is the FOURTH time that we’re looking back at our year of travel. 2013 was as much a year of city-hopping as it was spent in some of the least populated areas of natural beauty on Earth. Our travel style was mostly on four wheels overland and technically slow, visiting only seven countries, but we covered a huge portion of this planet this year across Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, the US, Germany, Bolivia and Peru.

Follow along as we look back at what we are still able pack in, nearly four years after setting off on this nomadic adventure. Click through on the dozens of links to read in more detail about each of these stops along the way.

The year began in Santiago, where we housesat for two months. We still think often about our two adorable Scottie dogs there.

1 january santiago de chileWe were practically becoming locals, so we had to rip ourselves away at the start of February to start our travels through Chile. We began in Valparaiso, and fell in love with this colorful city on the Pacific.

colorful houses in valparaisoFrom there we headed to the Lake District and the island of Chiloe, before returning to the Argentine side of the Andes to explore Bariloche and Nahuel Huapi National Park with its famous black glacier. Then it was time to hit Patagonia.

2 bariloche cathedralAfter that infamously long 27 hour bus ride, we landed in El Chalten, where Dani set off on some solo hikes, and continued to El Calafate, where we visited the impressive Perito Moreno Glacier.

2 argentina perito moreno glacierThen it was back over the border to Chile to see Torres Del Paine. We opted for a full day tour of the National Park, and it became one of our favorite places in all of Patagonia.

3 chile torres del paineAfter a few days in Puerto Natales, the base town for Torres del Paine, we continued our journey south and traveled to Tierra Del Fuego via the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas before finally reaching Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, after hitchhiking from Chile back into Argentina.

UshuaiaOur next stop was Uruguay, a quick flight from Ushuaia, where we visited Montevideo (and almost got robbed!) and the dreamy colonial town Colonia del Sacramento.

3 uruguay colonia del sacramentoOf course we couldn’t leave without visiting some of Uruguay’s famous beaches!

3 march uruguay punta del este3 uruguay beach dayAt the end of March, we went from Uruguay to the north of Argentina and spent a lovely week in Rosario, before we made a 48-hour bus detour to the Iguazu Falls – a detour that was well worth it!

4 argentina dani and jess iguazu fallsWe continued our journey through Northern Argentina to Salta, a city we didn’t love as much as we thought we would, but we fell for the small wine town of Cafayate four hours south of there.

4 cafayate streetThe road took us back north through Salta to Jujuy, where we rented a car to road trip through the Quebrada de Humahuaca for two days.

4 purmamarca street and seven color hillHere we also stopped at the first of three sets of salt flats we’d see this year. 4 argentina salinas grandes salt flats salt rainAfter returning the car, we took a bus to San Pedro De Atacama in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

4 san pedro de atacama streetIt turns out that we seriously love this town and the surrounding scenery on this first of two visits to San Pedro in 2013, and were actually excited to know we’d be making our way back up here again later in the year to continue our travels to Bolivia from here.

4 april northern chile atacama desertDuring this first visit, we took a tour that showed us some of the breathtaking landscapes around San Pedro…

4 april chile atacama desert… including salt flats #2.

4 salt flats chile atacama desertBut instead of heading north to Bolivia from here, we broke our South America journey to fly to New York City for a two-month housesitting gig that made our dream of living in New York come true (at least temporarily!). We landed in New York just in time for our third anniversary as nomads and loved ‘our’ two cats and ‘our’ apartment, just a five-minute walk from the Brooklyn Bridge.

6 brooklyn bridge new yorkIn June, we flew straight to Germany to test out five weeks living in Berlin, which is now one of our favorite cities in the world.

7 alexanderplatz at nightWe couldn’t have asked for a more perfect summer in Germany, where we were featured in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, one of the national newspapers and interviewed by a major radio station about our housesitting book before flying back to the US in August.

sueddeutscheIt felt great to jet set in the summer as we flew from Berlin to New York to spend the weekend. We were mainly on a quest to find the best pizza in NYC, but also had time to revisit some of our favorite places off the beaten path and cycle through Manhattan on the Citibikes.

8 best pizza in williamsburg brooklyn new york city white pizza5 dani roosevelt islandOur next stop was Tucson, to a housesit we’ve done three times now for homeowners and a dog, Miss Millie, who we just love! We enjoyed some quality time by the pool and the desertscape that we love so much.

8 Jess and Millie in TucsonIn September, we took off on one of the best adventures of this year: a road trip through New Mexico, which would finally bring us all the way back to Chicago via Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa.

We started at the amazing yet little-visited Gila Cliff Dwellings, followed by the otherworldly White Sands…

9 white sands jess & daniThen we spent Jess’ birthday at Carlsbad Caverns before moving on to the aliens of Roswell, Las Vegas (the small New Mexican town) and Albuquerque…

9 carlsbad cavernsThen we hit Santa Fe, explored Georgia O’Keeffe country, the Bandelier Cliff Dwellings, various Pueblos and then finally spent time in magical little Taos, our last stop in New Mexico. Here we got to trek down into the Rio Grande gorge with llamas and our wonderful guide Stuart of Wild Earth Llama Trekking.

9 bandelier monument new mexicoAfter 19 incredible days on the road, we reached Chicago, where we visited friends and family, hit plenty of our favorite sightseeing spots and ate our way across the city.

10 bean reflections at night chicagoChicago is where Dani got to experience her first ‘real’ Halloween in the U.S.! Look at what we did to her face! 🙂

10 globetrottergirls halloweenIn what now, looking back, seems like our year of New York City, we spent another long weekend in Manhattan before hopping onto the return leg of our flight back down to Santiago, Chile – but not without eating more pizza, spending time in Williamsburg, meeting up with quite a few good friends and watching the New York Marathon.

11 New York sunsetFinally we flew down to enjoy all the things we love about Santiago – and just in time for the perfect spring weather (and escaping the freezing cold New York weather that hit the day after we left!)

11 santiago lastarria churchInstead of pushing through on the 24 hour bus ride to San Pedro De Atacama, we visited three new places on the way: La Serena, a quiet though sizable colonial town with a wide beach seven hours from Santiago by bus. This is the jumping-off point for the beautiful Elqui Valley, which became one of our five favorite places in all of Chile.

11 la serena street with churchThen we traveled 19 hours through the narrow piece of land between the Andes and the Pacific to Iquique, a beach city in the north of Chile. The town grew on us slowly, and we ended up enjoying our fourth visit to the Pacific in 2013. This was our last beach visit of the year, too.

11 sea lions in iquiqueThen we went on to San Pedro and made sure to visit the Tatio geyser fields – an incredible piece of desert nearly 5,000m high where geysers explode, gurgle and spurt. It was well worth the 4am wake-up call to see the geyser field at sunrise.

11 geyser de tatio chileAfter a few days of an obsessive amount of research on good tour companies, we finally jumped on our three day off-roading tour through Bolivia’s South West, otherwise known as the Salar de Uyuni salt flats tour. Our first ever border crossing in a jeep, on a tour and in the middle of absolutely nowhere, there was so much more than the salt flats. We saw more otherworldly landscapes, volcanoes, flamingos, lagoons and rock formations of just about every shape and color imaginable.

11 Bolivia laguna verde11 laguna hedionda flamingos bolivia11 arbol de piedra and mountain boliviaOn the last day of the tour we spent sunrise out on our third set of salt flats for the year, which also just so happen to be the largest salt flats in the world, the Salar De Uyuni.

11 Bolivia salt flatsThen we started our travels through Bolivia, with our first stop in the 4000m-high colonial town of Potosi. For those of you who think in feet, this is 13,500 ft high, or almost three ‘mile-high’ Denver cities stacked on top of one another. This is officially the highest city in the world, and we enjoyed the beautifully maintained historic town center which was a great introduction to the country – although just walking its hilly streets was a massive challenge at that altitude.

12 potosi viewsNext were three weeks in both of Bolivia’s capitals: first in Sucre, the official capital (and a city we spent two weeks battling a massive stomach bug that practically laid us flat for half the time)…

12 sucre street bolivia…and then La Paz, the de facto seat of the government. It was from here that we signed up (read: Dani signed US up!) for the mountain bike trip down the world’s most dangerous road – and survived (barely 🙂 ).

12 death road boliviaOur final stop in 2014 was Lake Titicaca, first on the Bolivian side in Copacabana, where we spent Christmas, then followed by a couple of days on the Isla del Sol and then crossing the border into our first stop in Peru – Puno – where we are celebrating New Year’s Eve.

lake titicaca with boats copacabana bolivia

This was a big year for us as The GlobetrotterGirls as well!

We released a second and much, much sexier version of our book, The Ultimate Guide to Housesitting – check that out here if you want to start housesitting in 2014.

We started the Break Free podcast, where I interview globetrotting women who have created the incredible life balance of running successful businesses while traveling the world. You can listen on the website or subscribe in iTunes.

Then there was the launch of our Escape Route travel planning and consulting service. We seriously love helping people make the most of the travels, and we’ve loved being able to help readers and clients plan their perfectly customized holidays.

Perhaps most exciting for us is the launch of our GlobetrotterGirls Getaways – starting with our seriously epic overland trip from San Francisco to Seattle in May 2014. If you’re interested in joining us on a seriously unique trip (in a custom-converted American school bus!) read more about the Getaways here. Early-Bird pricing ends today, December 31st, so if you’re interested, save $150 and put down your deposit today!

Dani and Jess in Argentina

Thanks so much for following along on our journey in 2013. Stick with us in 2014 for even more epic adventures through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, the US, Europe and who knows where we’ll end 2014!!

Happy New Year!

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How much does it cost to travel in Chile (and tips for traveling Chile on a shoestring)

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The short answer to this question is that it’s not cheap to travel in Chile – or Argentina or Uruguay for that matter.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to Chile. We can’t tell you how often we heard budget travelers using the higher prices as the reason not to travel through Chile. But this is a mistake. This over 4,000km long country is so diverse, plus the higher living standards make it much easier to travel here. If you want to limit your time here, check out our top five places to visit in Chile, and use this post as a budget guide to independent travel in Chile.

ChileFirst we share our tips for getting the most bang for your buck in Chile, then we share our own budget for the 3.5 months we spent in the country.

CLP indicates Chilean Pesos and $ is the US dollar conversion at the time of publication. Chile is much more stable than neighboring Argentina, so expect normal inflation and rise in prices – no dramatic ups or downs.

How to get more for your pesos in Chile

Especially when coming from Bolivia, Chilean prices will come quite as a shock. Prices are on par with the US, Canada or Argentina – yet without that Blue Dollar rate the Argentines enjoy next door.

Knowing these key money-saving tips in advance will help your budget while traveling in Chile.

1 Drink the water

No need for bottled water here, water is clean and fine to drink throughout the country. Get yourself a water bottle and fill it up straight from the tap. The only place where we didn’t drink the water was San Pedro De Atacama (close to Bolivia) and Iquique due to the city being close to several mines. But La Serena to Santiago, the Lake District, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego – you can drink tap water all the way.

Bottled water in Chile can cost $1.50-$2 a piece, so this is a great way to save money.

2 Buy bus tickets in advance

For frequent travelers, it’s easy to be laidback about buying tickets on the day of travel – and it often makes no difference at all to do so. But in Chile you can save over 50 per cent on the price of a ticket by purchasing your ticket in advance.

Turbus.cl is a great website and you can easily find prices for anywhere you want to go. Unfortunately, you need a RUT number- a Chilean ID number – to actually make the purchase online so we did always have to make an extra trip to the bus station or buy our departure tickets at the same time we arrived to a city.

bus to valparaiso
Turbus was our favorite bus company in Chile

It was definitely worth it.

  • Same-day bus ticket for Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama = CLP48,900 (roughly $100)
  • Advance bus ticket for Santiago to San Pedro = CLP36,900 (roughly $72)
  • Savings: $28
  • Same-day ticket for Puerto Montt to Santiago = CLP23,000 ($46)
  • Advance ticket for Puerto Montt to Santiago = CLP17,900 ($36)
  • Savings: $10

We recommend both Turbus and Pullman for bus travel in Chile.

Note:
Prices for bus tickets rise significantly during holidays like Christmas and New Years. Book well in advance if you are traveling during this time.

3 Avoid traveling between December and March

Traveling between December and March means traveling in high season in Chile. Like in most developed countries, the locals travel, too, during high season, which means hotels and hostels are heavily booked in advance, plus prices rise – especially in popular destinations like the Lake District or Patagonia. If your travels fall into this period, booking in advance will improve your experience. Not only do prices rise, but the hotels that are available at short notice are crap – often makeshift and cold.

bosque nativo valdivia dorm room
Dorm room in Chile

We traveled during high season and when we didn’t book a private room in advance, we had to stay in dorms, which we really don’t like. Luckily, double rooms are usually only a smidge more anyway. What made matters worse was that these were dorms in low-quality hostels at much higher prices than normal. A dorm bed is usually CLP8000 ($16) in Chile, but during high season, we paid up to CLP11000 ($22) for a dorm bed.

Check hotel booking websites like Booking.com for special deals – we found some great last-minute deals on there.chile hostels

4 Get lunch deals and eat in for dinner

Most places in Chile offer a special set lunch menu, including a starter, main course, dessert and a drink for as little as CLP2500 ($5) and usually ranging from CLP3000 to CLP5000.

Fill up at lunch and cook in your hostel kitchen at night. Always opt for a hostel with a kitchen, as this will save you loads of money. Unless you are always eating snack foods and fried chicken, dinner can easily cost you around CLP7000 ($14), or even more, depending on where you’re traveling.

Chile food
The set lunches are definitely the cheapest option. The Indian curry (u.r.) was CLP8000 ($16), and the macchiato CLP1450 ($2.90) – coffee is not cheap in Chile!

5 Take advantage of Couchsurfing

Since accommodation costs are so high in Chile, a good way to stay within your budget – and meet friendly locals – is to try couchsurfing. Chile has a very active couchsurfing community and you’ll be able to find a host in most places. You can cook at home (a great way to thank your host) plus get first hand recommendations and possibly meet many more people than you would on your own.

How much we spent traveling in Chile

We spent 103 days traveling in Chile and spent a total of 3,191,910 Chilean pesos, which is as much as it sounds. In US Dollars, that’s about $6,705. This comes to $65 a day between the two of us, or US$32.50 per person.

So why is this number inaccurate for you? We housesat for 51 of those 103 days, saving us well over $1000 in accommodation, plus food we cooked for ourselves. Our fabulous housesit in Santiago allowed us to get a real feel for the city rather than just rushing through like most travelers do, and we were able to still splurge on luxuries like decadent French breakfasts or the occasional Starbucks.

santiago breakfast le fournil
Splurging on a CLP5000 breakfast at Le Fournil in Santiago. So worth it!

During our time in Santiago, we spent $2166 between the two of us – roughly $42.50 a day, or $21 per person.

The real per-day budget breakdown in Chile

Once we left the comfort of our free and luxurious housesit, our costs shot up as we traveled, in high season, through the Lake District and Patagonia. How high? More than double.

Our daily budget per person in Chile: $44

Over the next 52 days we traveled through Chile, we spent a total of $4,540, which comes to a daily spending of $87, or roughly $44 per person per day – but this is always based on two sharing.

At any rate, $44 per person per day is a more accurate estimate of costs of traveling in Chile and includes meals, accommodation, transportation and activities.

Normally we are not shoestring backpackers, but it is hard to see how we could have cut our costs any lower. We stayed in budget hotels and hostels throughout the country, tried to cook for ourselves whenever possible, chose our adventure activities carefully and booked our buses in advance to get better deals on tickets.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what to expect for accommodation, transportation, entertainment, food and drinks in Chile:

Accommodation

Private rooms are always our preference and usually paid around CLP20,000 for a private room ($40). Dorm beds ran as high as $22 per person, or $44, but in low season you should be able to get a dorm bed for CLP8,000 ($16) and the cheapest private room we found was CLP17,000 ($34).

Chilean hostels
Hostels in Chile

Transportation

Purchase bus tickets in advance and you will usually pay CLP4,500 ($9) for a 3-4 hour ride in the Lake District or up to CLP36,000 ($72) for a 24-hour bus ride – a more common distance in this long country. On average, we paid around CLP10,0000 ($20) for long-distance bus rides that weren’t overnight buses.

Transportation in Santiago itself is affordable for the quality. The subway in Santiago is clean, fast and efficient and tickets range from CLP560 to 620 ($1.10 – 1.20), depending on the time of day of your journey.

You can take private taxis in Santiago and other cities, but a much smarter option is to take the colectivos, or shared taxis. In some cities these work on a similar route system as buses while in others you just hop in, say your destination and you’ll get dropped there as it fits in with other passengers’ stops. This option is easier than buses and equally as cheap: CLP250 – 300 ($0.50 – 0.60) per ride.

Private taxis cost between CLP2,000 – 4,500 ($4-$9) depending on the size of the city.

Food

Lunch usually cost us between CLP1,800 ($3.60) and CLP4,000 ($8) each, but when we went out for dinner, we easily spent between CLP17,000 ($34) and CLP20,000 ($40) for the two of us. Grocery stores and hostel cooking reduced the cost to between CLP2,500 ($5) and CLP7,000 ($14) for a complete meal for two depending on the ingredients.

san pedro de atacama gourmet food
A CLP6000 ($12) set lunch in San Pedro De Atacama

Entertainment and tours

Chile has incredible landscapes, but often times it takes joining a tour to see them.
Average tour price per person = CLP20,000 ($40)

We opted to do a full-day tour of the Atacama Desert in the north and Torres del Paine in the south at that cost. If you’re planning to hike the W Trek, check out this great breakdown of costs on BeyondBlighty.com.

Half-day tours usually ran much cheaper. One of our favorite tours in San Pedro was the Valle de la Luna, salt caves and sunset in the Atacama Desert, which cost a reasonable CLP7,000 ($14). We paid CLP10,000 ($20) to visit a penguin colony on Chiloe.

Museums ranged from free to CLP3,000 ($6).

Take advantage of free walking tours offered in Santiago and Valparaiso. They give you great insight to the city and you only pay your guide a tip at the end.

Touring Chile
Touring Chile: Visiting a penguin colony on Chiloe, the Atacama Desert, Torres Del Paine and doing a photography tour in Santiago

Drinks

Drinking is not cheap in Chile. Keep your eyes out for happy hours to save you loads of money on alcohol. The best option is to drink local Chilean wine at around CLP1,500 ($3) for a glass of decent red or white.

Locally brewed beers range from CLP1,500 ($3) for a half-liter bottle to CLP2,500 ($5) for a one-liter bottle. Cocktails are usually around CLP4,000 (US$8) and bars will often offer 2×1 pisco sours for CLP3,000 ($6) during happy hour. Bottles of wine in the supermarket can be as little as CLP2,000 ($4).

Drinks in ChileHave you traveled in Chile? If you have any money saving tips, please share them in the comments below!

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Where to stay in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile: Atacamadventure Wellness & Ecolodge

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After our summer in Europe and the US, we flew back down to Chile in order to set off from San Pedro de Atacama to undertake the incredible Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats tour. All we wanted before being thrust into freezing cold temperatures, 4,800m altitude, mediocre food (and did I mention three days straight of off-roading?) was a pair of fuzzy slippers and a bit of pampering.

Relaxing in San Pedro de AtacamaSurprisingly, San Pedro de Atacama does luxury very, very well on the whole. At the top of the accommodation pyramid, there are three to five high-end luxury resorts that can charge upwards of $500 a night. That drops dramatically in the mid-range, which is why we opted to stay at Atacamadventure Wellness and Ecolodge. An eco-friendly boutique Bed And Breakfast, Atacamadventure offered exactly the kind of (guilt-free) pampering we are looking for – a hot tub, pool, sauna, massage studio plus homemade organic breakfast. In addition, the hotel uses primarily solar energy and has incorporated a centuries’ old local irrigation technique that offers you lovely green spaces once you step inside this off-the-beaten path resort from the burnt orange desert dirt outside.

San Pedro De Atacama Atacamadventure Ecolodge chileAt a 30 minute walk outside of town, and further than most other hotels we could have chosen, it certainly felt off-the-beaten path. (I admit: the walk could take as little as 15 minutes under other circumstances, but in either dry desert sun or pitch black darkness and the high altitude, we were huffing and puffing in a way that was like doing cardio at a leisurely stroll.)

San Pedro De Atacama AtacamadventureAlthough most resorts and even some hostels offer free pick-up and shuttle service into the downtown area, Atacamadventure does not. The taxi driver had never heard of it and it was an adventure finally landing upon this hidden hotel.

Atacamadventure San Pedro De Atacama ChileOnce inside, however, this is a beautiful little escape. The first owner started taking in a boarder or two until she built on a separate cottage. Then, as time went on she added on an additional five rooms. All six are very different, and we were incredibly impressed with ours. First impression – it was huge. King size bed? Check. White fluffy pillows? Four checks. Desk with a oddly professional office chair? Check (although this pressured me to actually get some writing done!) Walk-in closet with about twenty shelves? Check. And the bathroom! The bathroom alone was larger than most private hostel rooms available in San Pedro proper. We had hers and hers pedestal sinks, a jacuzzi tub and a stand-up jacuzzi shower, big white towels and fuzzy slippers.

San Pedro De Atacama Atacamadventure room and bathroomAfter our long journey we skipped dinner and flopped down into bed. Even though we almost never watch TV, the receptionist had mentioned it when she was showing us around the room (that’s how big the room was, she could show us around in it). But when my fingers crawled along the nightstand looking for the remote, they came up empty. There was, in fact, no TV in the room and we were so tired we had hardly noticed. We fell asleep five minutes later anyway. There is one large TV in the lounge upstairs to share, but the focus here, explained the manager, is on escape, powering down and soaking up the natural environment.

San Pedro De Atacama Atacamadventure EcolodgeRefreshed and seriously starving, the next morning we couldn’t have been happier with the breakfast. We ordered made-to-order omelets from the short, no-nonsense cook in charge, who also showed us the fresh brewed coffee, tea, hot milk, bowls which we filled with fresh fruit, homemade yogurt and plate which we piled high with homemade cakes, bread slices, cheese, butter and jam. With our bellies full we headed into town to get some work done (the wi-fi signal here was non-existent) and returned in the afternoon with plans to hit the outdoor jacuzzi and sauna. Two older couples had beaten us to the jacuzzi and at $70 an hour, the infrared sauna wasn’t worth it, so instead Dani grabbed a glass of wine (well-priced at $3 a glass), I filled up a cup of coffee and we sprawled out on the white couches outside on the back patio and planned our time in Bolivia the coming week.

San Pedro De Atacama Atacamadventure breakfastThe hotel restaurant does offer a dinner menu each evening, but it is heavily meat-based and one thing we love most about San Pedro is the food selection in town (everything from hearty pizzas to fine dining and three-course set menus from $10) so at sunset we hopped on two of the three bikes available and pushed the rusty pedals into town for dinner. The plan was to try out the giant telescope on the back patio when we got back that second night but it turns out we don’t really know how to work it. The idea was nice though, as star gazing is the number one evening past time here in the desert.

San Pedro De Atacama Atacamadventure bikesThe breakfast selection the second morning was much more modest, but the rest of the morning went off without a hitch. I got in a long yoga session in our room, getting all the kinks out and calming my nerves for the adventure to come. Dani sat sprawled out on big pillows in the comfortable lounge loft above the kitchen, editing photos and drinking bottomless cups of coffee from the breakfast bar – the combination of coffee and photo editing puts Dani most definitely in what you could call her element!

Leaving Atacamadventure was much easier than our arrival – they simply called us a cab and hopped in and off we went to our big adventure.

Hotel Highlight: Relax factor
Even though we loved our room, what we both loved even more was not having to stay in it to relax. There are many different areas to relax: inside upstairs in the lofted lounge and outside on several comfortable white couches or lounge chairs, plus the pool/jacuzzi area had deck chairs as well. It was so peaceful to sit outside, take in the fresh air and late afternoon sun, totally relaxed and saying hi to the other guests padding barefoot back and forth enjoying their spa time.

San Pedro De Atacama Atacamadventure sitting areasRoom for improvement: Shuttle service and signage 
There is apparently a law in San Pedro that prohibits hotels from putting a sign anywhere but on their property, which unfortunately for this hotel, means no one could ever possibly happen to see it. For that reason and the location itself, Atacamadventure needs to offer a shuttle service – from pick up service at bus station around town to shuttle service that brings guests back and forth from town.

Overall
Two relaxing and refreshing nights’ sleep later, we got what we came for, even without dipping our toe in the jacuzzi. Despite inconsistencies in quality (breakfast, bikes and Wi-Fi that works) Atacamadventure Wellness & Ecolodge is a great little oasis outside San Pedro to shut off and relax for a few days at a time, especially before – or better yet after – the Bolivian salt flats tour.

Atacamadventure Ecolodge San Pedro De Atacama Chile

Details

Website: www.atacamadventure.com
Location: Pasaje Alana No.2, San Pedro de Atacama 1410000, Chile
Price: Double rooms start at US$185
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly: Not until there’s WiFi (that works)
Amenities: Swimming pool, jacuzzi, complimentary breakfast, coffee & tea all day; lunch and dinner available; fully-stocked bar; tour desk; hammocks; library; garden & terraces; sauna; massages, free bicycles

You can book your stay at Atacamadventure via Booking.com.

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