During our month together in Chile we visited a Japanese-inspired hot spring in the middle of a forest, the beautiful Nationalpark Conguillío, checked out the street art in the hills of Valparaíso, and explored the unique Valle de la Luna by bicycle. My boyfriend spent one month in the north of Chile (desert) before we met again in San Pedro de Atacama. The part about Iquique is written by him.
Frutillar is a small city with a bay on lake Llanquihue. We shared a chalet with my friend Martina and her mum. The Teatro del Lago was nice to visit. It is beautiful and the best acoustic theatre ever built in South America.
While we were in Valdivia it rained a lot. It was New Year’s Eve. Our host left the city for a few days camping with his bicycle. Since we just sold our camping gear we decided to stay home, enjoy the privacy, read, write, and watch the new season of Black Mirror. Valdivia has a lot of artisanal breweries. My boyfriend said he had there the best beer since 10 months (e.g. The Growler, La ultima frontera).
A Japanese-inspired spa in the middle of a forest. There are 17 hot springs in total. Each of them fed directly from a natural hot spring via wooden pipes. Mists rise from the warm water in a nearly constant fog. A magical place. We spend a night in Panguipulli city and hitchhiked to Coñaripe the next morning. Since not many buses go from there up to Termas Geométricas it was easy to hitchhike. It is an unpaved way for about 40-50 minutes. Entrance varies between 20’000 and 28’000 pesos. Depending on what time you enter. See here for more info: http://www.termasgeometricas.cl/.
We went with our host from Temuco and her brother and sister by car to the nationalpark Conguillío. The nationalpark is huge and has lot of hiking options. Entrance is 6’000 pesos. We visited Laguna Arcoiris, Laguna verde, volcano Llaima and the Lake Conguillio. In Temuco is a huge open market called Feria Pinto.
We had a great week in Concepción. Especially thanks to Oscar. He took us to a jazz concert at the university, a museum, some local bars, invited us to meet his friends, and joined us to an African festival. Oscar also had Netflix and my boyfriend introduced me to the series Rick and Morty and we made a vegan Tiramisu, lasagna, bread, and other delicious meals.
Santiago de Chile
Santiago, the capital, is one of the biggest cities in America. We spend a bit over a week in this busy and hot city. We visited a food and art festival in the bohemian neighborhood Bellavista, bought food in Chinatown, walked through the neighborhood Bellas Artes and Lastarria, and met up with a Hernán. A guy I met three years ago in Laos. Our first host was Dunja and Ingrid. A well-travelled couple. They gave us fresh towels, space in the cupboard to unpack a few things, and bananas and peanut butter were waiting on us 🙂 It was great to share our travel- and life stories. I felt like we could philosophize with them about everything. Our second host was Catalina. She was wonderful as well! We met her family couple of times and many of her friends. Since she was vegan we enjoyed sharing meals and recipes with her. She even let my friend Martina, who was on her way to Ecuador, sleep in her apartment. It was a fun and interesting week.
To use the metro and bus you need to buy a BIP card (1550 pesos, unlimited number of transfers). With each journey costing 610-740 pesos. Depending on the time of the day. The bus from the center (Los Héroes) to the airport is 1800 pesos.
Arvoleda (100% vegan)
We enjoyed Feijoada. A typical Brazilian dish out of chard, rice, beets, pepper, beans, and eggplant. So delicious! As a desert we had four different ice cream scoops. The restaurant is open since two years and the owner a very nice and sweet person. She is vegan since eight years. The chef is from Brazil and very creative. She changes the menu del dia (plus soup) every day (3’500 pesos). Sandwiches from the menu are between 1’200 and 3’300 pesos. In the restaurant is a little shop where we bought nutritional yeast (3’600 pesos), vitamin B12 (2’500 pesos), and vegan cheese.
The Govindas Restaurant Vegetariano offers yoga (Monday to Wednesday at 6:30pm and 8pm) and cooking classes (Thursdays at 7pm) free of charge. Unfortunately they are close the whole month of January. See here for more infos: https://www.facebook.com/govindas.santiago/.
Viña del Mar
I stayed for a week in Viña del Mar and my boyfriend stayed meanwhile in Valparaíso. Valparaíso has a lot of street art. Just walk up the Cerro Alegre and you will find plenty. The bus terminal is called Terminal Rodoviario Valparaiso. The beach in Valparaíso is not worth to visit. We visited each other and explored the cities together (e.g. the flower clock). The micro bus to Valparaíso is 400 pesos. Mauro, my host, invited me to a hike for sunrise with his friends to Cerro Mauco. The night before we had an asado. He made vegetables for me which I really appreciate. We had many interesting conversations together, shared many meals, and he showed me the beach. The waves were nice big and reminded me about my time in Costa Rica when I learnt how to surf.
San Pedro de Atacama
San Pedro de Atacama is a very small touristic and expensive town in the middle of the desert with a beautiful little park and nice restaurants. It is one of the best places on Earth to see the sky and book a stargazing tour. The first night we camped at the Camping Los Perales (5’000 pesos per night and tent) which was a bad idea. It gets very cold at night. So we went to Juriques Hostal (6’000 pesos per night for a dorm bed).
There are several small vegetable and fruit markets. One day we visited Valle de la Luna. Entry was 3’000 pesos. We rented a bicycle for 6 hours (2’500 pesos). The seats were not the most comfortable. But it was worth every pain I had the next few days. The sunset was incredible breathtaking and the landscape unique.
On our way to Uyuni in Bolivia we stopped for a few days in Calama. Our stay even got extended since all buses were booked up. It seems you can only book a bus the day before departure. Calama is a very dry, not so beautiful city. But we were visiting a friend of my boyfriend so we spend a nice and relaxed time.
Iquique is a beach city on the north coast of Chile. Nearby to the infamous “ghost town” of Humberstone. When you are not on the beautiful Playa Cavancha, sandbording, or hang-gliding — check out a couple of the restaurants there!
Espacio Bhanga (100% vegan)
Espacio Bhanga is a laid back restaurant with a great atmosphere. It invites patrons to be there for hours. So I stayed for hours. I was drawn in by the peaceful music, incense, and many books. I was greeted by Karina and Iris, the owners, and they are very friendly. Karina told me some about the space and her inspiration for the restaurant. It opened July 25, 2017. Sometimes in the evenings, there are events: When I was there an event happening was a tribute to Víctor Jara. He was a Chilean teacher, singer, and political activist. There was a conversation after. It sounded very interesting and made me wish my Spanish had been mucho más mejor! Other events were yoga, acting, but they are open to any performance art.
I sat on the floor-seating that is offered with many pillows and near me on a table, there was a guest book for everyone to sign. I thought this was another small thing that made it feel very welcoming and cozy. I had a water infused with fresh fruit, no added-sugar. I had a well-balanced meal with sufficient protein, fat, and fiber. The peanut-mustard sauce with chia was a delicious topping for the fresh carrots and beets. I also had chick peas, quinoa, broccoli, spinach, and sesame seeds. I cannot do the food justice with words so take a look at the photos and then plan your trip to Iquique!
Each day, there is a menu of the day with water for lunch for 3.500 pesos. 3.700 to go. And 3.500 to go if you bring your own container. It is posted each morning on the restaurant’s Facebook (link to https://m.facebook.com/espaciobhanga/). Located at Manuel Bulnes 497.
Restaurante Monte Everest (vegetarian with vegan options)
Radhika, the owner, greeted me with a big smile and immediately made me and all of her guests feel welcome to Monte Everest. She is from India and now opened a restaurant in downtown Iquique. Like Radhika, the cook is from India and has 12 years experience in cooking. Her inspiration was not being able to find Indian food in Iquique. There was one Indian place but they did not have regular hours and they mostly sold to other Indians and not the locals because they did not think locals would like Indian food. Radhika thought different. She bought the place from them and started serving Indian food infused with more local spices and vegetation. But she still uses great spice mix from India so all the Indian flavor you could want is there!
I started out by having a samosa made with potato, peas, wheat flour, flour, garlic, and ginger. Served with a curry salsa. Few ingredients but it had an excellent taste. I loved the crunchy texture with the creamy salsa. Then I had Aloo Paratha with a curry salsa and fresh vegetables. Radhika offered more but I was full. I did have great conversation with her. She was interested to tell about her transition from India to Chile and how it has been. I recommend visiting Everest for great hospitality and great Indian food in Iquique!
There is a menu of the day Monday-Friday for 3.000 pesos. It is vegetarian but all can be made vegan. When I was there, she said soon they hope to start using coconut milk and had recently purchased an ice cream machine and hopes to serve regular/vegan ice cream. Sometimes the menu is posted to the Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Alrestaurantmonteeverest/). Located at Bernardo O’Higgins-593 con Ramirez.
The selection of fruits and vegetables is like in Argentina. Not a huge variety like in the north of South America. We bought most of our food at food markets (called feria) or in the supermarket and cooked a lot. The prices vary a lot depending where you are in Chile. Food in Frutillar and Viña del Mar is most expensive. In Temuco and Valparaíso food is cheapest. Some examples to have an idea: avocados called palta (2’000-3’700 pesos per kg), tomatoes (1’000-1’500 pesos per kg), bananas (400 pesos per kg), potatoes (600 pesos per kg), peanuts (3’000 pesos per kg), 200 g walnuts: 4’599 pesos, 400 ml coconut milk: 1’690 pesos, 500g quinoa (2’899 pesos), chickpeas (2’500 pesos per kg), 400 g oats (1’379 pesos), lentils (2’100 pesos per kg). A meal in a vegetarian/vegan restaurant is between 2’500 and 5’000 pesos. Santiago de Chile is the only city that has many vegan options. Other cities in Chile do have a few or none.
Vegan street food is not very common in Chile. One I saw repeatedly was Mote con Huesillos. This is a traditional Chilean drink made from husked wheat and dried peaches and often sold in street stands. It is usually cooked in sugar, water and cinnamon.
- Couchsurfing is popular in bigger cities in Chile. We found a host together in each city besides San Pedro de Atacama.
- Hostels are available for 6’000-15’000 pesos per night in a dorm. Frutillar, Valdivia, and Viña del Mar are most expensive. Concepción, Santiago, San Pedro de Atacama, and Valparaíso are the cheapest.
- Airbnb is available in every city for 8’500 pesos.
- Volunteering is a nice option to spend a few weeks at one place.
The transport system in Chile is organized for South America. There exist no bus maps but on Google maps are most bus connection with times, numbers, and location from where to take the bus. Long-distance buses cost about 1’600 to 2’000 pesos per hour. Local collectivos and buses inside a city are usually 400 to 500 pesos. Some cities (e.g. Temuco, Viña del Mar) do have collectivos. They look like a taxi, run along fixed routes, charge the same as the bus and collect different people. There are no set stops and in order to get off, you must say “voy a bajar” (I want to get off) or “esquina” (for stop at the corner). We hitchhiked a lot. Chile is one of the easiest countries to hitchhike in South America. We usually waited around 10 minutes. The only place we didn’t get a ride was when we wanted to leave San Pedro de Atacama.
Buses we took:
- Bus from Osorno to Valdivia: 3’300 pesos (2h, Queilen Bus)
- Bus from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta: 17’500 pesos (Border crossing)
Like anywhere else it is important to be careful and use common sense. Ask which the neighbourhoods you should avoid. Petty theft and slashing (of bags) is rare.
There is a public and a private healthcare. All workers and pensioners are mandated to pay 7% of income for health insurance (the poorest pensioners are exempt from this payment). The cost is free for people older than 60, people without income or with disabilities and for workers earning less than one minimum wage. The quality of healthcare in Chile varies regionally, with modern equipment and facilities available in Santiago and other major cities but significantly reduced access in smaller towns and rural areas.
Chile’s weather differs greatly depending on topography and degree of latitude of the region. Ranging from desert in the north, to alpine tundra and glaciers in the east and southeast, humid subtropical in Easter Island, Oceanic in the south and Mediterranean climate in central Chile. There are four seasons in most of the country: summer (December to February), autumn (March to May), winter (June to August), and spring (September to November). The south of Chile (Patagonia) is best to visit in summer. In Winter the sun goes down very early during the day and therefore it is much colder than it already is.
Spanish is the official and predominant language. The Chilean Spanish has a lot of local slang. Chileans from higher levels of socio-economic classes speak or understand English to some degree. Some Chileans have German ancestry and still speak German. Most of them live in Los Ríos and Los Lagos Region. Indigenous languages are endangered. Only a few are present: Mapudungun (Mapuche living in the Los Ríos and Los Lagos regions), Chilean Quechua (northeast high plains), and Rapa Nui (Easter Island).
Official currency: Chilean peso (CLP).
No entrance or exit fees. Most visitors (including U.S. citizens) are granted a 90 day tourist entry, free of charge.