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South America

Struck by a wave of charm in Valdivia

sea lions in valdivia

During a trip through Chile, odds are that unless you are Chilean or have unlimited time to travel, you probably won’t visit Valdivia.

Why would you?

Although it is the largest city in the south of Chile, it roughly four hours south of tourist-friendly Pucón and the same distance north of Puerto Varas, a popular stop with the South American cruises, and has no major tourist attractions to speak of.

valdivia riverside and fish market
Covered fish market and Valdivia from the river

We love these kinds of cities, the ones that are entirely unconcerned with tourists.

Their beauty is a natural one, no make-up, nothing over the top, out in plain sight for us to discover.

That’s why we fell for places like Valladolid in Mexico (we ask you not to even go there), Kamphaeng Phet (the town that tourism forgot) in Thailand and now Valdivia in Chile. While there is no earth-shattering attraction, it turns out that an event here actually altered the Earth forever.

valdivia streetLet’s back up a bit first. To understand Valdivia, the easiest place to start is by heading straight down to the river at the center of town. Not one river, actually this is where the confluence of three major rivers, the Calle-Calle, the Valdivia and the Cau-Cau.

It was here at the famous outdoor fish market, that, despite the bloody fish guts splattered on the floor, for us Valdivia began to sparkle.

valdivia market fish vendorIt is bursting with gorgeous produce on one side – fresh fruits and vegetables, a variety of colorful tubers, eggs, cheese, big cubes of dark green seaweed and another thick, rubbery type that looks more like animal intestine but is indeed seaweed straight from the area’s river system. Varieties of freshly caught river fish with strangely large teeth, or whiskers and tails stare across the aisle at the vegetarian-friendly section as fishmongers clean them, tossing their guts right onto the floor and then hosing them into the river behind them.

valdivia market algaeHundreds of birds hover and swoop in for this free fishy lunch, competing with six massive sea lions who roar, play fight and flap about lazily on a floating wooden pier just off river bank, both sure that they are the true main attraction.

The sea lions win, flippers down.

sea lion valdiviaAt one point Dani thought a space ship had landed in the market when seeing my eyes so wide with disbelief. The largest of the sea lions had made its way past the metal security gates and flopped right into the market itself. Hundreds of tourists with their cameras suddenly circled (at a safe distance) taking pictures with their phones, cameras, iPods and (annoyingly) iPads.

Dani jumped down right near him, of course, to get her shot, and though the market vendors were obviously used to this beast’s visit, they were amused with Dani’s eagerness to get the shot and kept urging her to touch him. She didn’t, instead letting some of the mongers lure him back into the water by dumping ever more fish guts into the water.

valdivia sea lion attackA stroll along the river brought us to the spot where river tours leave from – right in front of Fucoult’s Pendulum. You’d have to be much smarter than us to understand more than a basic gist, but we gleaned that the swinging of the pendulum proves the earth’s rotation.

In Valdivia, it turns out, this is more relevant than we would have thought.

valdivia submarineWe hopped on a one-hour river tour here (Spanish only) that gives a great outline of the history and industry of the city, but it was here we learned that Valdivia was the most affected city of the 1960 Great Chilean Earthquake, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in history.

Registering a 9.5 on the Richter scale, the quake was so powerful it actually altered the Earth’s axis and shortened the length of every day on Earth by a few milliseconds.

Tsunami waves of over 80ft (25m) battered the Chilean coast and actually devastated a town in Hawaii. Learning this, and that waves as high as 35 ft (10.7m) were recorded over 6,000 miles (10,000km) from the epicenter – as far as Japan – while sitting on a small tour boat was not exactly where we would have chosen to hear of this earth-shattering event.

valdivia riverOur visit was calm and focused on experiencing the everyday life of the city’s residents. The weather was sunny and warm, so hundreds of people were out on the river in kayaks and paddle boats, with more serious rowers speeding up and down it, parallel to the length of the city. While we were there, we ate well in several restaurants with fair, local prices.

In particular we would recommend a stop in at La Ultima Frontera, just a few blocks up and away from the river, for their great priced and delicious lunch specials. For a boozy afternoon break, stop by the very local Cafe Palace, where we had a giant bowl of Patatas Bravas and 2-for-1 pisco sours for a total of $8. There is primary forest to be visited outside of the city and incredible wildlife just across the river, but we were focused on a city getaway in the middle of a month of Patagonian adventure. We spent the afternoons visiting museums, like the contemporary art museum, and stopping in cozy, if nondescript, cafes, noticing each time that if a place offered free Wi-Fi, the internet connection always worked.

Valdivia from modern art museum
Valdivia from the Modern Art Museum across the river

This is how we feel in general with most of Chile. While lacking in the crumbling grandeur (and constant threat of economic disaster) of neighboring Argentina, in Chile everything just works. The economy here is strong and the infrastructure solid. Even in remote areas, roads are paved and internet connections are speedy. There is a sense of order here, throughout the country that we found even in bohemian Valparaiso and seven-million strong Santiago.

In Valdivia, the waves are calm enough again to witness the subtle aspects of charming Chilean life.

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Uruguay Hotel Tip: Posada de la Viuda, Punta del Diablo

hotel tip of the week

Having local friends show you around is the best way to explore a new town. During our stay in Punta del Diablo, we had a gang of three four-legged friends from our hostel lead us down the organized grid of unpaved roads, up and over the massive sand dunes and along the beach. They waited patiently while we bought groceries to cook in the Viuda’s well-equipped kitchen and laid by our feet after dinner at night for cuddles.

Luckily the owners and staff were just as helpful and nice as our furry friends – which is the actual reason we’re recommending Posada de la Viuda for a hostel stay in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay.

Hostal Punta del Diablo UruguayTo be honest, our stayed ended on a much more enthusiastic note than it first began. Our bus pulled into town around eight in the evening, and a pick up truck from the hostel was waiting to take us there. That was a good sign, but the minute we drove out of the village center – which quite literally took under a minute – it was still a bit of a drive through pitch black, dusty roads to get to the hostel.

We immediately wondered how we would ever find our way back for dinner (we were starving) and just what we had booked ourselves into. I’m actually quite shy, and when we opened the door into a room of over 20 people lounging in the living room and kitchen area of the giant yellow house, I felt immediately intimidated. To be fair, most people glanced up shortly from their smart phones, iPads, laptops or the movie that was showing on the flat screen. The next day, Dani and I would both realize that they were sucked into the relaxing trance that Posada de la Viuda puts on you, and we would also be entirely caught up in it.

Posada De La ViudaWe were checked in by the same friendly guy who drove us back from town, and after he showed us to our room, he said that he and a few others were heading back in to town and offered to take us in ten minutes. We quickly settled in to our private room on the ground floor. It was small but tastefully decorated.

The bed was narrow but comfortable, at the foot of it, a 20inch TV with DVD player sat on the desk. Right across the hall were the three shared bathrooms, which were cleaned early each morning before breakfast and throughout each day of our stay. There are dorms and bathrooms upstairs, plus two more private rooms and two small dorm rooms downstairs. We quickly freshened up and rummaged around in our bags to find our flashlights for the trip back from town later.

Uruguay Hostel Punta del DiabloAlmost everything about the fisherman’s village of Punta del Diablo is just perfect, but the food selection leaves much to be desired. Just that one time, we shoveled the overpriced, mediocre tourist food down and made sure to stop in two different grocery shops in town. We bought enough to cook for the duration of our stay, and headed for home.

There could be more signs pointing the way, but it was easy and we felt perfectly safe walking home that night and every other. We would never walk alone again anyway, for the four days we spent in town. Our dogs were always by our side and our favorite Great Dane mix even walked us all the way to the bus at 8am on the morning we left for Punta del Este.

Posada de la viuda punta del diabloWith Brazilian songs pumping happily in the background (it is only an hour to the border from here), breakfast each morning consisted of big, puffy white and wheat rolls with oodles of butter, fresh marmalade and dulce de leche, plus bottomless coffee, tea and mate. After months of traveling through South America, this was easily one of the best versions of this breakfast we had ever been served. Three giggly yet stylish girls prepared breakfast each day, and were also around most the afternoon baking and cooking together, always assuring fresh pastries, cakes, quiches and empanadas were available (for purchase) throughout the day.

Even when they were in there cooking, there was enough space, utensils, appliances, stove tops, dishes, pots and pans for us and others to cook along side each other. The kitchen was easily one of the highlights of Posada de la Viuda, especially considering the 20 minute walk into town where all the restaurants are.Posada De La Viuda BreakfastAfter breakfast each day we tended to go for a walk with the dogs, up over the sand dunes to walk along the beach. The weather in March, Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, was chilly at dawn and dusk, but after hours is the hot afternoon sun, we meandered back through the sandy streets, past the vacation homes, each designed by professional architects. We would dream of renting one the next time we were in town, but in all honesty, after getting back to the hostel and setting up our computers to work at the tables in the cool afternoon breeze, we didn’t ever feel like we were missing anything during our stay.

We worked until the hostel kitchen got busy around dinner time (which is later in South America, so we had a good five or so hours to work each day). The Wi-Fi here was strong enough for guests to all sit around on their devices, Skyping or emailing in the evening, and because it was off season, there wasn’t much other to do in the evenings than that, or watch movies sprawled out together on the leather couches and armchairs in the living room.

Hostel in Uruguay Punta Del Diablo

Stand Out Feature: More than meets the eye

During our stay at Posada de la Viuda, we spent a lot of time actually hanging around the hotel and every day we discovered new amenities. There is a pool in the back, plus a multi-level sun deck with ocean views, loads of space to barbecue, sun chairs, hammocks, tire swings, even a volleyball court. In addition to the freshly baked goods in the kitchen, there is also a fridge selling beer, water, soda, chocolate and other snacks at nearly the same price as in town. Any time the jeep heads into town, someone does offer to take you, but there are also bikes for rent for $5 a day. There are also brand new apartments for rent off site, if you are looking to stay longer term or have more privacy.

Hostel Punta Del Diablo Uruguay

Room for improvement: Signage

I can’t ask the hotel to move closer to the beach any more than I can ask the beach to relocate nearer to the hotel. All I would like is for the information on the website to reflect the reality that it’s a 15-20 minute walk into town, not five minutes, and I wouldn’t mind one or two lit signs on the main road and on one of the darker side roads lighting the way a bit more clearly to hostel. I really wonder if I would have found it at night as easily if I didn’t have my real-life GPS Dani with me.

posada de la viuda signs

Posada de la Viuda: Overall

Overall, staying in this big yellow house feels like the parents have gone away, only to leave their enthusiastic kids in charge. There is a happy, chilled vibe that immediately relaxed us during our stay. We got a bizarre amount of writing done, in a sort of serene haze, not lazy, just no stress whatsoever. With a cool, laid-back vibe, Posada de la Viuda manages to meet every need before you know you’re missing something, and made us so welcome and comfortable that we extended for one extra night, just so we could hang out for one more day (and play with the dogs, obviously).

Punta del Diablo

Details: Posada De La Viuda

Location: Calles San Luis y Nueva Granada, Punta del Diablo, Uruguay
Price: Starting at US$10 for a dorm bed, US$40 for a double room (shared bathroom)
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes
Amenities: Complimentary breakfast, fully equipped kitchen, food and drinks available for purchase, free wi-fi, swimming pool, comprehensive book and DVD library, terrace, hammocks, bicycle rental, apartments available
Website: www.posadadelaviuda.com

Warning: In Punta del Diablo the ATM (Cash machine) only works in January and February!

We booked this hostel through

booking

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Inflation and the Blue Dollar: How much does it really cost to travel in Argentina?

Argentine Pesos

We often say, half-jokingly, “We make mistakes so you don’t have to.” This is a story about a major travel mistake we made that, had we been better prepared, we could have saved thousands of dollars.

To be fair, we did research, but because we were going to spend the first six weeks in Buenos Aires, there were some things we left for after our arrival. We read fellow travel blogs about trips taken in 2010 and 2011, and relied on an older version of the Lonely Planet. The latest version of Lonely Planet South America on a shoestring has only just been published after over three years. So much has changed in that time.

Prices seemed low, more comparable to Central America than Europe or the United States. Accommodation seemed to fit in the range of US$30 a night for a private room, overnight buses around US$70 and meals at restaurants around US$5 – $7.

Our first mistake was thinking that currency exchange information from 2010 or 2011 would be correct in 2013. With inflation currently running at 25 per cent, prices aren’t even the same month to month, let alone from last year.

The second lesson we learned was that the official US Dollar – Argentine Peso rate that you get withdrawing cash at ATMs and banks is worth half the Blue Dollar rate, a parallel currency exchange that is unofficial and technically illegal.

Blue Dollar rate vs. official Dollar rate

The biggest travel mistake we have ever made was not bringing cash in US dollars. At the time, we had been housesitting in Costa Rica and then flew to Buenos Aires via Mexico, and if we had just gotten some US Dollars before traveling to Argentina, we could have saved an incredible percentage of our overall spending.

Blue Dollar ArgentinaATMs in Argentina limit withdrawals to 1000 pesos, which at the official exchange rate of (around) 5 pesos to the US$1, was US$200. Due to the high prices, we had to withdraw very often, and pay the US$4 ATM fee on top every time. (Had we opened a Charles Schwab account before our time in Argentina, we would have had all those $4 reimbursed at the end of every month. Yet another lesson learned.)

Note: Citibank allows up to ARS3000 pesos, three times the usual ARS1000 peso limit. However, even though Jess has a Citibank account, we could never withdraw from these banks despite several attempts.

The peso, and the entire Argentine economy, is extremely unstable. Argentina has a history of financial crashes and when the last crash happened in 2002, US Dollars kept in bank accounts were simply converted into Pesos (at much lower value). In 2011 the government of Argentina made it impossible to buy US Dollars at all in an attempt to keep their own currency afloat. But this doesn’t stop the flow of US Dollars, it just relegated dollars to an unofficial black market, or parallel economy, which is referred to as the Blue Dollar Rate.

Here’s where we could have saved loads of cash

At this point it should go without saying that Argentines don’t trust their own currency. They are willing to buy dollars at a weaker rate just to have them and most people stuff them in suitcases or boxes under the bed. This is better for them than having pesos even though they lose a big chunk buying dollars on the black market. For foreigners traveling with dollars to Argentina, however, this is a great advantage and a way to cut costs in half.

While we were in the country in late 2012 / early 2013, the official rate was 5 pesos to $1 and the Blue Dollar Rate was 7-8 pesos per $1. With inflation running at 25 percent, the current Blue Dollar rate is now up to 10 Pesos per $1. This frustrating number (for Argentines looking to secure their net worth in dollars) is now even referred to as the Dollar Messi, after Argentina’s current top soccer player Lionel Messi, who wears the number 10 jersey.

What does this difference look like in actual numbers?

how much does it cost to travel in ArgentinaThis is where things get really painful for us to look back on. We did not start taking advantage of the Blue Dollar rate at all until the third time we entered the country.

The total amount we spent in Argentina comes up to 44,018 Argentine Pesos. In US Dollars, that is $8,910 (at the official exchange rate of around 5.0 we got during our stay). This is roughly $3,000 per month for the two of us, the same amount we would spend traveling through the US or Western Europe.

Had we gotten the Blue Dollar rate, we would have spent roughly US$6,290 at 7 Pesos or even US$5,500 at a rate of 8 Pesos to the Dollar. We essentially donated over $2,600+ to the government of Argentina.

If you are traveling to Argentina today, you can cut your expenses almost in half by exchanging your money at the Blue Dollar rate of 9-10 pesos per $1 instead of 5 pesos per $1 at the bank, plus you’ll save on all those ATM fees.

How to get the rate of the Blue dollar Argentina

Normally, we would never, ever recommend this, but… you could bring a giant stack of US Dollars, in cash, to Argentina. If you have this cash, what to do with it?

In Buenos Aires, you’ll have to find an ‘arbolito’, or little tree. These are the men with ‘green leaves’ or dollar bills, most of whom stand on Calle Florida and will take you to a ‘cueva’ (cave) to exchange your money. Sound shady? It is. These are illegal places, often looking like completely legit stores, in nearby shopping arcades.

A local Argentine friend told us to stay away from them since they often give the wrong change or even fake bills, but BA expats seem to use them. You’ll recognize them easily since they are yelling out “cambio, cambio” (exchange, exchange) constantly, especially when foreigners walk by. You can read more about the arbolitos and the underground dollar market in this Business Insider article.

Arbolito Alternative: Xoom

If you don’t want to travel with handfuls of cash and exchange them in caves with little trees or aren’t able to stock up on US dollars at your previous destination, there is another way to get Argentine Pesos at the Blue Dollar rate: Xoom, a digital money wiring service. Blue Dollar ArgentinaWe did not do this but we know many foreigners based in Argentina who use it. You sign up for Xoom online and wire money into the account from any bank account or even just a debit card and then pick it up in cash at one of their affiliated offices (in Buenos Aires, the most convenient located office is More Money at Libertad 1057). The only requirement for opening a Xoom account: you need a U.S address. A similar service for UK citizens is Azimo, and Exchange4Free offers a similar service for almost any nation in the world.

In order to pick up your Xoom cash, you need to show documents that prove you are the same person who wired the money. In other words, this isn’t a service for US residents (or people using a US address) to wire money to Argentine residents. This is a way to wire yourself cash. The small transaction fee Xoom charges is minimal and the service will end up saving you bundles of cash in the long run.

You can see their fees and exchange rate here. Apparently it takes only 30 minutes to wire the money, but in reality you should allow 24 hours for the transaction. If you are using Xoom in other places in Argentina, make sure these towns have a place where you can pick up the cash – not all cities have a Xoom affiliate.

Is the Blue Dollar rate legal?

With Blue Dollar caves and companies like Xoom, how illegal is this all, really? Even though the rate is technically illegal, it is official enough to be printed in Argentina’s major newspapers and websites. Some shops and restaurants put signs with the blue dollar rate they trade for on their door and windows. The Blue Dollar rate even has a Facebook Page with 20,000 likes and tweets the updated rate daily!

dolar blue argentinaHowever, you can look up trustworthy exchange offices on websites like the Buenos Aires expat forum or ask the receptionist at your hotel, your taxi driver at the airport or the guy at the newsstand – they’ll most likely know where you can get the Blue Dollar rate or refer you to someone who knows someone.

How much does it cost to travel in Argentina: Official Dollar vs Blue Dollar 

Let’s talk numbers now. As I mentioned already above, we spent ARS 44,018 between the two of us, or US$8,910 at the official rate. We spent 80 days in Argentina, so our daily expenses were $111.40 together, or $55.70 per person.

Now, let’s say you exchange your money at the Blue Dollar rate (at 9 Pesos per Dollar). You can travel Argentina right now, spending the exact same amount of pesos as we did, for $30.57 per person per day, or $61.14 per couple. During the six months we spent in and out of Argentina (we traveled Chile and Uruguay in between), inflation was tangible – you could actually see it happening. We watched restaurants change their prices within a few months and prices of products in the supermarket had risen by a few pesos or more after our two months in Chile.

Our actual travel expenses in Argentina

There are quite big differences in prices depending on where in Argentina you’re traveling. We found the northwestern part of the country (around Salta) to be considerably cheaper than Buenos Aires, Iguazu, Patagonia or the Lake District (around Bariloche).

Here is what we spent on average for transportation, accommodation, food and entertainment. The prices will be in pesos, because as you have seen the dollar rate is completely relative.andesmar bus argentina

Transportation

We flew only once in Argentina despite the great distances we covered. That is because flights were double or more the cost of overnight buses. The most expensive bus we took was the overnight bus from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile at ARS820 ($170 roughly) per person for a First Class seat. All other overnight buses were around ARS600 for Second Class. Expect to pay around ARS100 more for a 1st class seat.

Buses within Buenos Aires were ARS4. A taxi from the airport was ARS200, a direct shuttle bus to the city center was ARS85.

Accommodation

On average, we spent around ARS250 (officially, that would be US$50) for a double room in a hostel. In some places, we paid much less (ARS180 in Tilcara, northern Argentina), in popular places like Patagonia and Ushuaia we paid up to ARS325 for fairly basic accommodation.

Food

The most we spent for dinner at a restaurant was ARS240 for the two of us, and we often paid around ARS200 in BA. We usually tried to stay under ARS150 for both of us, and in cheaper places we were able to eat out for around ARS60 per person.

Set lunches and lunch buffets were much cheaper, with lunches (including a starter and a drink) for ARS45-60 and the vegetarian takeaway buffet lunches we went to in Buenos Aires frequently were usually around ARS50 for the two of us.

When we cooked for ourselves, we never spent more than ARS100 in the supermarket for fresh groceries and wine, but we usually managed to buy some veggies for a soup or pasta for under ARS50.

When picking up pastries at the bakery, our bill ranged from ARS6 for a couple of medialunas to $30 for several sweets for the two of us.

Coffee was usually around ARS15, or ARS25 for a café con leche with three medialunas (coffee with milk & three Argentine pastries) in Buenos Aires.

how much does it cost to travel in ArgentinaWine was available for ARS15 (the cheapest bottles), and good wine was around ARS40.

A large bottle of beer in a restaurant (usually Quilmes, the national brand) was between ARS30-40 in Buenos Aires, and around ARS15 in the supermarket.

Entertainment / Activities

We visited national parks, took some tours and a cooking class, visited several museums and went on some major hikes during our travels through Argentina, and prices varied greatly. The most expensive thing we did was visiting Iguazu Falls (which was well worth it) and the cheapest activity were the museums in Buenos Aires which were usually around ARS15.

Touring the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia was ARS300 per person, visiting Perito Moreno Glacier was ARS310 per person (transportation, boat ride and National Park entrance fee), Nahuel Huapi National Park was ARS50 and our guided tour of the Quebrada De Las Conchas was ARS100 per person. We splurged on an empanada cooking class in Buenos Aires (US$55) and went on a graffiti tour there ($25), but most of the things you shouldn’t miss in Buenos Aires are actually free.

Conclusion

Our time in Argentina cost us more than we had expected, but it can be done on the cheap once again. Use Xoom, or if you choose to, visit the ‘arbolitos’. See if you can exchange directly with your hostel/hotel or with local friends who will likely give you the blue dollar rate. And if you do use an ATM, make sure to have an account that reimburses all international ATM fees.

how much does it cost to travel in Argentina

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Polaroid of the week: A beach stroll with friends in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

polaroidoftheweekphoto11

polaroid of the week uruguay punta del diabloSpring has now officially arrived in the northern hemisphere and we are starting to feel the chilly autumn weather south of the equator. Hoping to catch the tail end of beach weather in Uruguay, we headed out to our first stop on the coast, Punta Del Diablo, a little bohemian beach town near the Brazilian border.

While it was raining occasionally and too cold to swim in the ocean (for us – there are always those crazies swimming when we have jeans on), there was plenty of sunshine for pleasant strolls along the miles of empty beaches. Our lovely hostel, Hostel De La Viuda, came complete with a pack of friendly dogs who enjoy beach walks as much as we do.

It was as though they all just knew how badly we miss our two furry Santiago friends from our housesit. These hostel dogs adopted us and took us for walks everyday along the beach, ‘protecting’ us from other dogs (they were just jealous!) and even meeting us right at our door every morning to greet us. Our favorite, a massive yet graceful mutt called ‘Novio’ (boyfriend) even walked us the five blocks to the bus stop in the rain and sat stoically with us to see us off to our next stop, La Paloma. We miss them all already!

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Torres del Paine: Tour Patagonia’s essence in a day

torres del paine lake and island

To trek or not to trek

A major difference between going on vacation and traveling long(ish)-term is this: when you go on vacation, you have already carefully researched and chosen your destinations (and possibly tour providers) before ever stepping foot on the plane. When travel is your lifestyle – okay, when WE travel – you let destinations come to you. In other words, aside from the main stops, the decision to visit certain destinations is made after talking to fellow travelers, being won over by posts on other travel blogs and studying guidebooks for more detail.

When we announced our trip to South America, we heard over and over again “You have to do the W Trek.” What is this trek about, we wondered? It turns out that this is one of those great hikes in the world, regularly appearing in The World’s Ten Best Treks’ lists in magazines across the globe. So obviously we considered tackling it as we neared the Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chilean Patagonia.

torres del paine mountains with reflection

What makes the W Trek such a remarkable hike? It turns out, this is a multi-day hike whose trials form a cursive letter W throughout the park and although it much of it is ranges from intermediate to difficult levels of hiking, the experience is supposed to be the pure essence of Patagonia. In those 4-5 days you experience glaciers, massive mountains, crystal blue lakes, waterfalls and exotic wildlife like Guanacos (part of the Llama family) ñandus Torres Del Paine W Trek(similar to Emus), plus foxes and even pumas. The park is name after its most famous mountain range, ‘Los Tres Torres’, or the Three Towers and ‘Paine’ is the local indigenous word for blue, an amazing array of which you see throughout the park from the sky and lakes to the floating chunks of glaciers (which we’ll get to in a bit).

Sounds amazing, right? Here’s the thing. We love day hiking, but not 4-5 days in a row, plus the whole experience is quite costly. The refugios (hostels along the trek) run $40 for a dorm bed, and meals are apparently so overpriced that people who’ve done the trek recommend lugging around all your own food for five days. We’d have to buy or rent warm clothes, as our supply is limited and the weather in Torres del Paine can change dramatically hours at a time. Then we read about bed bugs in some of the refugios and that was that. We were not going to do the W trek.

torres del paine national park llamaInstead, we took the five-hour bus ride from El Calafate, Argentina to Puerto Natales, Chile, the small Patagonian city popular as the base for trips into the park. We had intentions of sorting out a day trek to the three towers, which is a highlight section of the trek, but after a few failed attempts, we settled on an all-day Torres Del Paine tour that included several stops at the main viewing points and short hikes in the park.

For those non-trekkers out there, this Torres Del Paine day tour was a great way to actually see more of the park than you would on the W Trek. The Torre Del Paine tours from Puerto Natales all cost roughly the same, at $40 per person, plus the $36 park fee on top, which worked out to be more expensive than renting a car but easier to get to the park’s highlights without having to do any more of that pesky research!

torres del paine mountain and horsesTorres del Paine National Park begins 112km (70mi) north of Puerto Natales. The minivan tour started by speeding through the vast pampa straight toward the looming mountains of the park, making one short stop first at the Milodon cave. The prehistoric cave was probably carved out by rushing water from nearby melting glaciers thousands of years ago, but what makes these deep caves so famous is the discovery of skin and bones of the prehistoric giant ground sloth, the Milodon.

jess with milodonFrom there the tour continued on into the park, driving along nearly empty dirt roads. 100,000 hikers visit Torres Del Paine every year, or under 275 per day, meaning we felt like we had this national park almost entirely to ourselves. The first stop was the first highlight – a viewpoint overlooking a bright blue mountain lake with snow-capped mountains in the background.

Massive icebergs at Lago Grey

The first hike of the day was a short trail to Lago Grey, walking across a wooden footbridge, through a forest and down onto a beach around the lake. The temperature dropped dramatically as we neared the massive blue icebergs floating in the lake which had calved off the nearby glacier. Wind-whipped and freezing, we posed in front of the blue ice blocks and even got to touch some of the smaller ‘cubes’ that floated to the water’s edge.

torres del paine eating iceice berg torres del paineWe warmed up back in the van, stopped at another mountain lake and then stopped at one of the refugios for lunch. Our lunches packed, we headed away from the restaurant and up onto a small hilltop where three, then four, graceful guanacos grazed and galloped right by us. At first we had stunned faces to match the cast of Jurassic Park viewing dinosaurs for the first time, but as we still observing them, warming ourselves in the sun, it really set in how magical the park can feel – so pure, natural and exotic down at the end of the earth.

Torres del Paine tourThe Torres Del Paine tour continued on with gorgeous viewpoints every so often until the driver stopped for our second ‘hike’, which was really a 30 minute easy walk that led to a lookout above and just to the side of a rushing waterfall and paths up and down to different vantage points.

Along the path, the burnt trees were painful evidence of the terrible forest fires Torres del Paine suffered a few years ago when a tourist’s campfire got out of control and thousands of acres were burnt to the ground.

The water rushing down is so powerful and the water is pristine enough to drink, if only I could have just held the water bottle under that giant faucet…

torres del paine tour

The grand finale: The Three Towers viewpoint

These three towers have come to symbolize the park, the hikes, really the entire reason most people make the trip to this part of Patagonia. On the day tour, it was entirely anticlimactic, with a quick stop at a lookout spot with views of the three towers tucked behind a mountain in front of it. Watching herds of sheep running across the road nearby – and the reaction of a Japanese tourist who had never seen such a thing before – was actually much more memorable than this stop of the tour.

torres del paine national park torres
torres del paine sheepEven without feeling the buzz of accomplishment from at least a day hike to the towers, this day tour made the trip to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine completely worth it. The city itself was a fun place to hang out for a day or two after the tour, as well. Not even ten years ago there was almost nothing but the basics here, and now Puerto Natales is home to several great restaurants, a clean central park perfect for people watching and one of Chile’s typical riverfront promenades with beautiful statues, a BMX bike ramp, benches and incredible views out over the water that remind you just how far south you have really come.

puerto natales lake

Torres Del Paine Day Tours – Details and Tips

If you are looking to do a Torres Del Paine National Park day tour, check out the tour agency at the Patagonia Aventura hostel (on the west side of the Central Plaza in Puerto Natales). They can also set up multi-day hikes and other excursions.

Alternatively, you can book these tours online ahead of your arrival in Puerto Natales:

 

Rental cars are available in Puerto Natales and start at around US$70 per day.

TorresdelPaine.com has a range of maps for the W trek, the Circuit (an 8-9 day hike in Torres Del Paine) and other treks. They also have a listing of all the lodging options in the park and other useful information like ATMs and detailed gear lists. Make sure to book ahead since the refugios fill up quickly, especially between December and March. Check out Thomas & Tony’s Ultimate Guide To Hiking in Torres Del Paine for more practical information on the various treks in the park.

dani and jess torres del paine lakeYou can follow our complete route through Patagonia here – including information on how to get from place to place, how much it costs, suggestions for places to stay and how many days we recommend you spend in each place.

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Hotel Tip of the Week: Kospi Boutique Guesthouse | Bariloche, Argentina

hotel tip of the week

Welcome to our Hotel Tip of The Week series. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way – some are true gems, while others are absolute nightmares. We started this series together so your holidays are filled only with the gems! We have personally stayed in and tested each and every hotel we recommend. This week: Kospi Boutique Guesthouse in Bariloche, Argentina.

Just as I swung my 60 liter-pack on my back after arriving in Bariloche, Argentina, the best thing ever happened. A young, bearded stranger saddled up beside us, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Are you Jess?”

I hesitated, hopeful yet unsure. Could he possibly be there to pick us up? Would we be able to avoid the stress of the take-the-long-way taxi ride or navigating the buses as fresh arrivals? Not wanting to get too excited about what would be a great relief, I responded only with a ‘Yes’.

He stuck his hand out and said with a warm smile, “I’m Juan, from Kospi Boutique Guesthouse, nice to meet you.”

Kospi Boutique Guesthouse in BarilocheKospi Boutique Guesthouse had only been open for six weeks at that time, and I am sure Juan and his wife Lucia won’t have time for such a personalized pick-up service in the future. The effort, however, shows the level of customer service and genuine enthusiasm this young couple has for their new guesthouse. After completing their degrees in Buenos Aires a few years back, Juan and Lucia went traveling and ended up working for over a year and a half in luxury five-star hotels and resorts in New Zealand. They returned to Bariloche to fully renovate Juan’s grandfather’s house to open Kospi, set on Mitre, the main tourist drag, 15 minutes from the buzzing Bariloche center.

All eight rooms are en-suite, and though the space feels cramped, the beds and pillows are very comfortable and everything feels very new, which we found was offset nicely by the home’s original 50s era features like the beautiful tiles and toothbrush holders built right into the wall.

retro toothbrush holderThe kitchen and living room also have plenty of antique touches like old radios, retro music posters and a gorgeous flat top wood-burning stove, now converted to gas. We used the second, modern stove while in the kitchen, which is a large, open space completely equipped with everything from cutlery and crockery to a clean refrigerator, microwave and wide wooden table to cook and eat around. Lucia can often be found in the kitchen either pouring over work-related papers on her laptop or cooking up a storm.

If she offers you her homemade granola, try it – you’ll struggle to find better in South America.

A flat screen TV with hundreds of international channels, movies and excellent surround sound hangs in the living room. It is a welcoming, relaxing space to chill out, as is an upstairs nook which has a loveseat, chairs, a workspace where they’ll have a couple of computers soon set up, a budding tomato plant and views of the lake just beyond the massive Araucana tree across the street.

Living Room and Work Space

Stand Out Feature: Excellent Customer Service

Juan and Lucia have taken all their five-star luxury experience and re-shaped it into an attentive, comfortable home away from home feeling right here in their own home town. They both speak excellent English and gave us countless ideas for day trips, recommendations on vegetarian restaurants to try, and they weren’t shy on sharing Lucia’s homemade lemon cake with us as we all watched the Oscars together, either.

Kospi Boutique guesthouse in Bariloche Argentina

Room for Improvement: Ambience

Considering we were seeing this guesthouse so early on after its opening, there is much to be said for how little needs to be improved at all. What does need work is the follow through on the overall ambience, most likely an issue only of over-eagerness. The soft jazz music playing in the mornings when Lucia served the breakfast (they trade early shifts) was wonderfully relaxing, but Juan tends to talk a lot, holding mini-lectures both during breakfast and often when guests are on their way out. In time, we’re sure he’ll relax a bit and join Lucia in hosting the party rather than trying to be the life of it, allowing guests to organically speak with each other or just enjoy the silence.

Kospi Guesthouse in Bariloche

Room for Improvement: Breakfast

Not many would complain about enjoying baskets of homemade bread and cake, butter and local jams in the morning – and we’re not either! Argentinians seem fine with instant coffee, mate or tea and toast for breakfast, however, and we feel that, for room rates upwards of US$50 per night, international guests will expect something fresh: fresh-squeezed orange juice or fresh fruit. In fact, after sampling Lucia’s granola, we think granola, fruit and yogurt would be the perfect, hearty breakfast guests need for a day of hiking and outdoor adventure.

kospi breakfast

Overall: Kospi Boutique Guesthouse Review

We felt right at home and were able to both work and cook comfortably here. Not only did we extend two extra nights, but so did friends to whom we had recommended Kospi Guesthouse in Bariloche. Guests of all ages and backgrounds should find it immensely easy to connect with this warm, friendly and well-traveled couple. Juan and Lucia’s combination of passion, experience and energy ensure that Kospi will continue to be one of the top accommodation choices in Bariloche.

Kospi Guesthouse Bariloche Argentina

Details: Kospi Boutique Guesthouse Bariloche

Contact: Kospi Boutique Guesthouse on Facebook
Book: Kospi Boutique Guesthouse on Booking.com
Location:
Mitre 1361, San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
Price: Double rooms start at US$45.00 in low season
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly: Yes
Amenities: Breakfast included, kitchen use, living room with TV, free wifi

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: MaPatagonia Hostel in Puerto Varas, Chile

hotel tip of the week

We almost missed the blackboard with ‘MaPatagonia Hostel’ scrawled hastily on it hanging from the front door of a historic home on a quiet side street called Purisima, which, roughly translated, means ‘super pure’. What was a chance booking at a Puerto Varas hostel turned out to be a ‘purely super’ accommodation experience.

The French owner, Pierre, is a former travel journalist and photographer who has been able to nail down exactly the kind of hostel experience we are always on the look out for but rarely find. The space he has created and his staff maintains is organized and controlled, yet with the comfortable ambiance that allows travelers to relax and enjoy time together.

MaPatagonia Hostel Puerto VarasAfter checking in, we were taken on a tour of the hostel and then Pierre sat down with both a town map and a topography map of the surrounding region, proceeding to lay out how to do a quick two-hour walking tour of town, followed by a full explanation of the types of tours and activities that are easiest to do from Puerto Varas using the other map. MaPatagonia Hostel runs tours for guests, including sunset kayaking and hiking tours, or guests can grab one of the new, sturdy mountain bikes perfect for making the full-day cycle trip to the German town of Frutillar or other independent trips. Our three days in Puerto Varas were planned out within minutes thanks to his expert advice and maps. While the staff could be friendlier, they helped with anything and everything we needed during our stay.

MaPatagonia Hostel Puerto VarasThere are seven private double rooms and two four-bed dorm rooms on two stories of this well-preserved colonial home on Chile’s Patrimonial Hertiage list. The well-lit doubles are entirely adequate in size, with comfortable beds in sturdy wooden frames and the rooms have desks, chairs and power strips to plug in several electronic devices at once (hostel/B&B owners worldwide: please invest in power strips like Pierre – we all have multiple devices and one outlet just doesn’t cut it!). The only thing we found missing was that there were not enough hooks in the room. Dani’s theory is that this is a historic home, so making holes in walls is frowned upon. Speaking of the walls, they are thin and noise does carry, but this wasn’t a problem during our stay as the average age of the guests was around 35, so there were no gap year backpackers shouting over bottles of beer late into the night.

MaPatagonia Hostel Taking in the vibe of the house, I immediately noticed how grand it feels, nothing like your average hostel. I wondered why Pierre didn’t go the ‘extra mile’ and make it into a Bed and Breakfast. We later discovered why, when, on our last morning at the hotel, Pierre asked why he didn’t see us watching the movie last night. We had passed out early after a full day exploring town (and, maybe, eating too much cake…).

In his lovely French accent he explained, “Oh, what a shame. It was beautiful last night, you know, with everybody gathered around the TV in the living room, drinking wine and watching a black and white film from 1942 together.” He went on to explain how much he prefers the energy of hostel life, the togetherness of a hostel you just don’t have with a more sophisticated Bed and Breakfast. It’s true. The living room would be filled with five or six small tables if this were a B&B, but instead there is one long wooden table where everyone eats meals together or relaxes on an oversized couch (the most comfortable in Chile, Pierre proudly claimed) on rainy evenings to watch one of the 300+ films available together. We later learned that the noncommittal chalk sign outside is on purpose – the former name Margouya 2 was inherited but it will change soon (and has been updated in this review to MaPatagonia Hostel).

puerto varas hostelYears of hard-earned travel experience plus love of hostel life means that Pierre brings together all the best parts of other hostels and keeps away those that give ‘hostels’ a bad reputation. Guests here receive loads of local information, tour information without any pressure at all to take part, a communal environment great for couples and travelers over 20 years of age, plus coffee and tea available all day and dependable, plus super-fast Wi-Fi.

There is a spacious garden in the back with a grill, hammocks, and a grass volleyball court for good weather, while inside there are stoves and heaters original to the house that keep everyone toasty warm on the chilly nights. The location is an additional plus. The street is quiet, but just around the corner from the main drag and is a five minute walk down the hill into town.

MaPatagonia Hostel Puerto Varas

Stand Out Feature: The kitchen 

Unlike cheapie hostels requiring one-pan pasta meals, this kitchen is made for cooking. With room for roughly half the hostel to prepare meals at once, the spacious kitchen is fully stocked with stacks and stacks of pots and pans, more than enough silverware, including razor sharp knives and several full sets of dishes (and fresh, clean sponges to wash them with when you’re done). There is a new blender, a coffee press and a coffee machine, an electric kettle to boil water, a toaster and a large table in the center of the kitchen with large cutting boards for everyone to stand around and prepare their food together. During our time there, people were making lovely stews, an interesting baked chicken, cheese and endive meal, and big, leafy salads. Two large refrigerators keep guests’ food separate and easy to find, with markers and bags in a basket on top to label food so nothing goes missing and, when checking out, guests leave any leftover ingredients – fresh fruit/veg, oil, spices, bread – on a designated table for anyone to use. We particularly loved this feature as we not only hate seeing food we buy go to waste, but also dislike having to buy new oil / salt every time a hostel has a kitchen!

Small talk and wine drinking ensue as people talk over and under others in a myriad of languages, with just the sort of energy that we assume Pierre had in mind when he opened the place.

MaPatagonia Hostel

Room for Improvement: The showers

The bathrooms are cozy, with extra toilet paper rolls, soap and fresh towels, but the showers are original – which unfortunately means they are a bit shabby and in need of a refurb. I’d like to see modern plexiglass shower cabins, rain shower heads and shelf space for toiletries inside. Truth be told, the bathrooms are fine for your typical backpacker hostel, but as the rest of MaPatagonia is that wonderful step up from such an experience, why not invest a bit here to match the high level of all around quality.

puerto varas hostel

Overall: MaPatagonia Hostel

This is a hostel for grown-ups that gets the whole experience just right. With the same rates as other hostels in Puerto Varas, the value for money here is off the charts.

Details: MaPatagonia Hostel in Puerto Varas

Book & read recent reviews here: MaPatagonia Hostel on Booking.com
Location: Purisima 681, Puerto Varas, Chile
Price: Dorm beds CLP8,000 (US$16), single room CLP15,000 (US$30), double rooms with shared bathroom CLP20,000 (US$40), double rooms with private bathroom CLP26,000 (US$52)
LGBT Friendly:Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly: Yes
Amenities: Kitchen use, lounge room with TV and comprehensive DVD library, tour desk, bike rental, free wifi, garden with sun chairs and BBQ

puerto varas hostel

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Polaroid of the week: San Pedro de Atacama, An Oasis in the Desert

polaroidoftheweekphoto11

polaroid of the week chile san pedro de atacamaCrossing through the Andes from Argentina into northern Chile, our bus drove for hours across vast expanses of untouched terrain, passing only hills, lakes, llamas and dunes for miles and miles. How could there be a town anywhere near us, we wondered? And then, from one minute to the next, houses appeared on the horizon and soon after we arrived to the immigration entry point to Chile and at the same time, the town of San Pedro de Atacama.

The little town, which sits on the edge of the driest and highest desert in the world, is the main base for tourists visiting the many attractions here: steaming geysers, volcanic lagoons and hot springs, salt flats with pink flamingos and salt caves, sand dunes, erratic rock formations and other-worldly landscapes. The Atacama Desert offers some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Chile, but the experience is augmented by the fact that the town of San Pedro de Atacama itself is a really charming, strangely chic and gastronomically friendly place in its own right.

The tiny town exists almost entirely due to tourism, and the few dusty roads are lined with restaurants, guest houses and tour agencies all there to cater to the needs of tourists. The central plaza is anchored by a beautiful white church, which is unique with its creaky, wooden floor. The surprisingly good food, the laid-back vibe, and the remarkable scenery all helped San Pedro de Atacama make it into the Top Five Favorite Places we visited in the past twelve months! We are looking forward to returning there on our way to Bolivia later this year.

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33 Things We Love About Santiago de Chile

Santiago de chile

We spent nearly two months in Santiago and came to love it more with every day that passed. There are certainly more than only 33 things to love about Chile’s capital, but we wanted to share the 33 most memorable things that made Santiago so special for us. And we hope that you’ll find a few facts about Santiago de Chile in this list that you didn’t know yet!

1 Santiago’s subway art

We mentioned this in our Polaroid of the week series and there’s a good reason we’re bringing it up again here. Santiago’s subway stations each have their own art throughout – murals, sculptures, paintings and contemporary design.

Santiago de Chile facts

2 Work out machines

We took back our health and wellness in our Santiago condo, but even without the spacious three-bedroom housesit, staying fit would have been possible on the many workout machines found throughout the city’s green spaces.

Santiago workout machines3 Dog houses

Seeing stray dogs in the streets is always heartbreaking, no matter where we travel. Santiago was one of the few places where we didn’t immediately want to rescue them all Not only are they well-fed and treated so nicely by people who pet them and give them love, but the city even provides them with doghouses in the parks.

Santiago de Chile facts4 Mote con huesillo

This typical Chilean drink might be too sweet for some, but I found it refreshing after hiking up to Cerro San Cristobal for an hour in the sweltering summer heat. Mote con Huesillo is a strange drink that consists of dried peaches and cooked wheat in sweet tea which is not drunk but eaten with a spoon.

mote con huesillo5 The cemetery

Santiago’s Cementerio General turned out to be one of the most impressive cemeteries we have ever visited. Filled with grand mausoleums, ornate graves, obelisks and statues, it is one of South America’s largest cemeteries with nearly 2 million burials – including President Salvador Allende’s massive family mausoleum.

Santiago Cementerio General images

6 The Andes mountains surrounding the city

We loved seeing mountains on almost all sides around Santiago. Not sure if it is because both of us are from flat places, but seeing the snow-capped peaks of the Andes never got old.

Santiago de Chile facts7 Cafe con piernas – Coffee with legs

We have talked about these quirky coffee shops in detail already – read all about them here.

Santiago Cafe Con Piernas

8 Lastarria Neighborhood

The Lastarria neighborhood is without a doubt one of Santiago’s prettiest neighborhoods: grand, beautifully restored buildings mixed with colonial charm with restaurants and cafes spilling out on the sidewalks. We loved wandering through the streets here, especially during our Foto Ruta photography Tour, which allowed us to zoom in on the little details throughout the neighborhood.

Barrio Lastarria Santiago de Chile

9 Swimming pools with a view

There are two public swimming pools in Parque Metropolitano that have some of the best vistas of Santiago: Piscina Antilen and Piscina Tupahue. You can hike to the latter one from the Cerro San Cristobal viewpoint and be rewarded with a refreshing experience!

Verano del 2008, Piscina Antilen, Santiago
Piscina Antilen via Armando Lobos on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/armandolobos/2254296096/

10 Le Fournil

This French bakery and restaurant is by far our favorite eatery in Santiago. Admittedly not exactly Chilean cuisine, Le Fournil set out to bake the best bread in Chile and we say, Mission Accomplished – the breads, pastries and full breakfasts are to die for.

santiago breakfast le fournil

11 La Piojera on a Friday night

This famous ‘fleahouse’ is the perfect introduction to Chilean drinking culture. The bar is known for its notorious terremotos, which means earthquakes, which are half liter cups filled with Pipeño (a sweet fermented wine), pineapple ice cream and Fernet (a strong herbal liquor). Headaches are guaranteed on Saturday mornings, but the Friday night atmosphere packed with locals provides a true South American experience.

Santiago de Chile nightlife12 The beautiful churches

We were surprised how many churches there are in Santiago, and there is such a variety of different styles: colonial churches dating back to the 18th century, neo-renaissance, the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur-inspired Basilica de Sacramentinos, neo-gothic and baroque architecture. Even though the external weren’t always remarkable, the interiors were always stunning.

Santiago de Chile churches

13 Street art

Buenos Aires has an amazing street art scene, and coming from there to Santiago, we weren’t sure how this capital would compare. Even though the city has such a different vibe, street art here is gorgeous, intelligent and everywhere! The best neighborhood to spot the most street art is Bellavista.

Santiago de Chile street art pictures

14 The old-fashioned phone booths

Even though most of the phone booths are understandably out of order, they make gorgeous little spots to take cover from the rain around the city.

santiago phone booth

15 Peluqueria Francesa

This traditional 19th century barber shop is still up and running, as retro as it is functional, and the restaurant of the same name right next store pays tribute with antique memorabilia that fits with the barber shop theme.

Peluqueria Francesa barber shop Santiago de Chile

16 Fresh watermelon everywhere

We loved the pop-up stalls on the side of the roads during the summer months selling fresh watermelons. If you don’t want to carry an entire watermelon, you can just get fresh cut-up pieces.

santiago de chile fresh water melon17 Innovative contemporary architecture in the Las Condes and Providencia neighborhoods

In contrast to boring steel and glass blocks of financial districts around the world, Santiago takes serious pride in expressing their booming economy and optimistic future through its architecture. The country’s best architects have been called upon to create such unique skyscrapers, office towers and downtown hotels.

Contemporary architecture in Santiago de chile

18 Free walking tours

We mentioned it before – Santiago is not exactly filled with tourist attractions, but there are three different free walking tour companies in the city that operate entirely on a tipping basis and let you choose between a total of five different walking tours! Santiago might not have as many tourists as other South American destinations, but the ones that come and visit can get a great tour with only few people and an insightful local guide. Nobody should miss going on one, as we suggest in our quick guide to Santiago.

19 The traditional pharmacies

Where can you still find pharmacies like this nowadays?!

santiago pharmacy20 Fish market madness

Visit the fish market at Mercado Central in the morning when the trucks with the day’s catch and witness an intense commotion, or wait to dine on fresh seafood in the cute restaurants right in the market later in the day.

Santiago de Chile fish market mercado central

21 Public sculptures

We loved the public sculptures so much that we decided they deserved their own post – take a look at some of our favorite pieces in Santiago here.

Santiago de Chile facts

22 Parque Bicentenario

This park have free sun chairs and umbrellas, wide green spaces, flamingos swimming in the pond and is one of the most fun outdoor spaces in the city. By far our favorite park, we spent many afternoons here with the puppies in our care, and which is why we recommend heading here if you want to go beyond central Santiago.

Parque Bicentenario Santiago De Chile

23 The views from Cerro San Cristobal

While Cerro Santa Lucia, the other famous Santiago viewpoint, might be considered the prettier one, San Cristobal has the better views. From here you see how spread out Santiago is, and with the Andes in the background, we always felt like we were in such a special place.

santiago and andes

24 Resale shops on Bandera Street

When we heard about the second-hand stores on Bandera Street, we didn’t think all that much of it but stopped by anyway. What we found was loads of  stores selling quality clothes, leather jackets, business suits, handbags and shoes – all of which fit non-Latina body shapes!

25 Pizza machines in the subway stations

We are not sure about the quality of these pizzas (yeah we are, it’s probably not that good!), but just having the option to throw money in the slot, click on the toppings that you want and hold a steaming pizza in your hands three minutes later is probably amazing after a night out. One of my favorite facts about Santiago de Chile!

santiago pizza machine

26 Sunsets with a mountain backdrop

We were ooh-ing and aah-ing almost every night when the sun set and the sky started to turn orange, purple and finally dark blue. We highly recommend to visit one of the many hotel rooftop bars or the Cerro Santa Lucia or San Cristobal lookouts if skies are clear.

santiago sunset

27 Fruit and vegetable vendors

Even though there are plenty of big supermarkets well stocked with fruits and vegetables, the city is filled with fresh fruit and veg, from the main market, La Vega, and simple fruit and vegetable vendors selling their produce from their own personal carts around town.

fruit and vegetable cart in santiago de chile28 Bike friendliness

Santiago has surprisingly many bike lanes, called ciclovias, which are usually lined with trees, have space for joggers as well and run for miles across the city.

29 Strawberries in January

We were lucky enough to be in town for strawberry season, and when it hit, it seemed like there were strawberries for sale everywhere in town, for as little as $1 per kilo! The strawberries are all natural and taste like strawberries of old, how they are supposed to taste. We devoured so, so many kilos.

strawberries santiago

30 The nightlife in Bellavista

Bellavista is the place to be on a Saturday night – the bars, pubs and clubs around Pio Nono street are bursting with cheap booze deals. We loved the atmosphere especially on warm summer nights when most of the parties spilled out onto the streets.

31 El Huerto – the best vegetarian restaurant in Santiago

While Buenos Aires turned out to be a paradise for vegetarians, in Santiago it was harder to come by decent vegetarian food. Luckily we made our way to El Huerto (which is nowhere near anything we wanted to visit), as it turned out to be our favorite vegetarian restaurant in town.

El Huerto Restaurant in Santiago De Chile

32 The contrast in the architecture

The contrast between the typical colonial houses, and the glass towers in Providencia and traditional German half-timbered houses show Santiago society’s many sides.

Santiago de Chile architecture33 Pedals an the art of multi-tasking.

Sure you could just enjoy a rest on a park bench, but why not combine that with a lower body workout?! We love these little foot pedals you find in front of many benches throughout the city – and took advantage whenever we could. Jess pedaling in SantiagoHave you been to Santiago? What are your favorite things about the city? Were any of these Santiago de Chile facts new to you? Share in the comments below…

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The capital is but a canvas | Street Art in Buenos Aires

buenos aires street art

You don’t need to go on a tour to see amazing street art in Buenos Aires. Like pages from a comic book, the streets of the city host incredible images, from small, political stencils to gifted, large-scale paintings all over its walls.

Street Art in Buenos AiresWe admired the pieces and took tons of pictures for a couple of weeks before deciding to jump on a street art tour. Whether your trip is two days or two months, if you are a fan of street art, we recommend getting on this tour right away and here is why. First of all, the fact that there is a street art tour at all is great. In so many cities around the world we wish we knew more about the street artists, but admire from afar instead.
buenos aires street art palermoMore importantly, unlike appreciating art in a museum, street art doesn’t come with an explanation of the piece and a background of the artist, and just because you see a mind-blowing piece of art one day, doesn’t mean it will even still be there the next. It might be its ephemeral, intangible nature that attracts us or the jaw-dropping skill expressed on everyday surfaces with low-tech materials, usually under the cover of night.

buenos aires street art eyeHere in Buenos Aires, however, artists need not work in the dark, avoiding the police. Instead, for many reasons related to the recent economic crash in 2001 and a relaxed attitude throughout history about writing on walls in the city, street art and graffiti were not seen as criminal activity.
buenos aires street art sprayerThis is why Buenos Aires is home to intricate, two and three story pieces of urban art, created in the light of day over days, even weeks at a time. This was just one of the insights we were told by the non-profit and very cool Graffitimundo organization who has put together the tours.

buenos aires street art mao zedongFriends with the actual street artists themselves, this collective are super passionate about the work on the street and also supporting the scene in the city. Obviously, we loved the tour, which took us to beyond the central Palermo neighborhoods and out into pockets of the city most tourists wouldn’t just happen to see.
buenos aires street artWe spent a good half an hour circling an out-of-the-way bus depot, talking existentialism, graphic design and that there were actually three pieces by international street artists on that one block alone. There was plenty of walking through more popular areas of Palermo as well, but this was not a city tour with some graffiti info sprinkled in.
buenos aires street artWe talked urban art for three hours and still walked away feeling like not only did we understand the scene here better, but also Argentine history and culture as well. We may have also taken hundreds of pictures, a select few of which can be found below.

buenos aires street art post street bar
buenos aires street art elk
buenos aires street art with whale
buenos aires street art pig
buenos aires street art horse rider
Street Art in Buenos Aires Palermo
buenos aires street art and laundry
buenos aires street art wall

Graffitimundo Buenos Aires Street Art Tour:

  • Tours take place every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, starting at 3pm and lasting around 3 hours
  • The tour is partially walking, partially driving in a minibus through the neighborhoods of Palermo, Colegiales, Villa Crespo and Chacarita
  • Tours are available in Spanish and English
  • Price: US$20 per person

Check out the graffitimundo website for more information, private tours and bicycle tour, hidden wall tours and stencil workshops.

Want more street art? Check out our Flickr album with our favorite Buenos Aires street art!

 

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