First time in Chile… Santiago & Patagonia
Embarking on my first trip to Latin America and Chile, we flew directly to Santiago with British Airways. We spent three days in the capital, tasting the local cuisine and learning about the history. We then flew south to Punta Arenas where we began our journey to the Torres del Paine National Park, via Puerto Natales.
Santiago is made up of barrios – neighbourhoods – the most popular of them being Lastarria and Bellavista. In the centre of the city, you could mistake the streets of Lastarria for Europe with its cobbled streets and mixture of classical and Art Deco architecture. Walk up the Santa Lucia hill for views over the city and see contemporary photography and performing arts at the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center. We dined at Chipe Libre, a restaurant renowned for its pisco sours, and shared a number of delicious plates. The Chilean-style pork spare ribs with merken – a Chilean spice of smoked chilli pepper that is used in Mapuche cuisine – give an Argentine barbecue a run for its money.
Tapas at Chipe Libre in Lastarria, Santiago
Crossing the Mapocho river, Bellavista is a ray of colour with huge street murals painted by local artists. From here you can either walk or take the lift to the top of the San Cristobal hill which, on a clear day, offers amazing views over the city. The famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, had a house at the foot of the hill, called La Chascona. It offers an insight into the idiosyncrasies of the well-known writer.
Patio Bellavista, Santiago
As the tallest building in Latin America, Sky Costanera’s observatory is 300 metres high and has impressive 360-degree panoramic views. It eclipses the rest of the city, which is predominantly low rise due to the earthquakes and tremors Chile is susceptible to. On a clear day and with a good pair of binoculars, you can see even see the ski resorts in the Andes.
View from Sky Costanera
Arriving in Punta Arenas after a three-hour flight, we drove straight to Hotel Altiplanico in Puerto Natales where we stayed the night. Set on the hillside, the hotel has hot tubs and overlooks Balmaceda glacier and Last Hope sound. It was named Last Hope in 1557 by Spanish Explorer Juan Ladrillero, who was looking for the Strait of Magellan’s western passage. After little success exploring the maze of channels between the Pacific and the mainland, this was the last place he decided to look.
View from Hotel Altiplanico, Puerto Natales
From Puerto Natales we embarked on a long but extremely scenic drive to the Torres del Paine National Park. The rugged landscape is made up of lakes and fjords of every shade of blue, granite peaks and sprawling glaciers. Along the way, we were extremely fortunate to see condors, guanacos, wild horses and even three pumas in the scrub.
Torres del Paine National Park
Staying at Lago Grey Hotel, we had uninterrupted views of Grey lake and glacier from both my room and the restaurant. The view perfectly complemented my glass of Chilean red. We spent a couple of days driving around the park, stopping for short walks. We walked to scenic viewpoints above Pehoe lake, around the turquoise lakes, to waterfalls and saw Los Cuernos, or ‘The Horns’, a famed outcrop of impressive granite peaks.
Views from Lago Grey
A highlight of mine was the boat trip across Grey lake to see Grey glacier, which is actually electric blue! The excursion is organised by Lago Grey Hotel and involves a short walk across bridges and through forests to the beach. Here you board the Grey III catamaran for a three-hour round trip. We navigated past small icebergs bobbing on the lake, saw the imposing mountains either side of us and sailed up close to Grey glacier.
Boat ride on Lago Grey
On our return to Punta Arenas, we stayed in Cabo de Hornos and went for a warming hot chocolate at La Chocolatta. The café felt authentically Swiss, with rustic interiors similar to a chalet and incredible hot chocolates served with a chocolate. At the end of the 19th century, thousands of Swiss and Germans migrated to southern Chile. There are thought to be 5,000 Swiss citizens currently living in Chile.
Los Cuernos and Pehoe lake
Cox & Kings arranges escorted group tours and tailor-made private travel throughout Chile. To visit many of the stunning sights described in this article, options include our Splendours of Chile group tour, or the Patagonia: Untouched Wilderness group tour. Alternatively, find out more about all our holidays to Chile here. If you are interested in private travel, please either call one of our South America experts or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.