Chilean Adventure

Chile is a fantastic country that is full of every type of attraction, fascination, and even contradiction (HOW is Chile so skinny, while making us so fat?).  It’s a fascinating place, with incredibly warm people, and we loved it so much that we came twice!  Our first trip was in the south to Patagonia, but we couldn’t resist all that the rest of Chile had to offer.

We crossed through the Andes to get to Chile and there were some pretty tight turns along the way!

Our first stop was also one of our favorites.  It’s a small city called Valparaiso that is unlike any place we’d been before.  Valparaiso was a major port town until the Panama Canal made it obsolete.  As its citizens abandoned the town and over time artists moved in and took over.  What they’ve built is magical. 

Imagine a hilly port town covered in graffiti.  Sounds awful, huh?  Now, instead of the amateur graffiti most cities deal in, imagine gorgeous, large-scale art murals covering all of the walls and buildings.  The murals differ hugely in style, color and size, and yet somehow they blend together to create a magical place where, around every cobble-stoned corner, a new adventure awaits.

Valparaiso, Chile

We stayed in ViaVia Boutique Hotel, which, besides being a charming lodging, is home to the famous ViaVia Café.  It was a delight from start to finish, and between the great room, delicious food and fun atmosphere, we never wanted to leave.

We took a walking tour around Valparaiso with “Tours for Tips,” our absolutely favorite tour company in South America.  They operate with volunteer guides, who are young, energetic and knowledgeable.  We’ve loved every tour we’ve taken with them.

Though we hated to leave Valparaiso, leave me must.  Next, we spent a brief two days in fabulous Santiago, where we enjoyed another tour from Tours for Tips.  Their walking tours are such a fun way to get acclimated in a new place and learn history at the same time.

Santiago has some incredible murals of their own!

Santiago even has art in their Subway stations.

In Santiago, we stayed at an awesome guesthouse called Hostel Amazonas Riveras.  A redone Tudor mansion, it has tons of ambience and clean simple rooms.  Plus, they were great help with activities and transfers. 

After Santiago we flew to North Chile to enjoy our favorite: Adventure.  

Patagonia or Narnia?

A few times in life, an experience is everything that your mind built it up to be.  Welcome to Patagonia.

Patagonia stretches across southern Argentina and Chile, and both countries heavily protect their National Parks.  Tourism is strictly monitored and the number of visitors contained so that the treasures found here will be enjoyed for many generations to come.  We almost sang with delight—here’s a place that not only lived up to the hype, but where the countries understood the preciousness and fiercely defended it accordingly.  Ok, that’s a lie.  Blakely did sing.

To add to the wonderfulness, Ryan’s family came down for a visit to check on our sanity after months of travel, and enjoy the general splendor Patagonia provides.  In at least one, they weren’t disappointed!

We started of in El Calafate to get our first glimpse of Perito Moreno Glacier.  Wowza.  I’m not sure what we expected, but nothing prepared us for the colossal vista of this natural wonder.  Who knew ice could be so astounding?  It towered over and surrounded us, and whenever a piece of ice broke off into the water (called “calving”), the resounding splash thundered like a cannon! 

We stayed at the fabulous lodge Esplendor, which has a cozy decor that perfectly matches it's gorgeous surroundings.

From El Calafate we traveled down to Torres del Paine to start the trekking portion.  We stayed at the charming Hotel Las Torres, a lodge nestled amongst some of the best trailheads in Patagonia (which is saying something!).  After a quick hike around the grounds, we got some rest to prepare for the great treks ahead.

The W is a famous multi-day trek around Torres del Paine that allows hikers to explore some of the most breathtaking nature in the world.  So, to the Dubya we would go!  The first portion of our route was advertised as a “lakeside stroll,” and promised to be the easiest portion of our trek.  Incorrect.  While it started off this way, the steep incline/decline of the last few hours (!) laid us flat.  Literally.

Thankfully, the scenery around us provided a significant distraction.  WOW.

There are basic lodges (or “refugios”) and campgrounds of all ranges along the W.  We decided on a decided on a unique type of refugio and stayed in the Domes Frances, which has cozy domes built for warmth and peaceful rest.  The delicious food and cozy beds made a perfect, and necessary, resting point.

The view from our Domo window!

The next day we opted for a hike up into the French Valley and were astounded with views that, though very different than they day before, were just as beautiful!  Around every bend were lake views, thundering booms of the calving glacier, waterfalls, and landscapes that made us feel like we’d dropped into Narnia.

The next day we headed back along the lake and, whether our expectations were better set or our legs in better shape, the trek was much easier this time.  What we didn’t expect was the tremendous wind!  Patagonia has a reputation for tumultuous weather and we witnessed it on this day.  At some points, the wind actually blew us over and off the trail!

"Hang on Meggy!"

"Hang on Meggy!"

Once back at the Hotel Las Torres, we settled back in for a night of stretching and delicious cuisine.  And maybe a cocktail or two!

Andre and his ostrich.

The next day we headed off to the iconic Las Torres.  Hotel Las Torres has a well-stocked stable, so part of the group was able to do the traditional hike, while others of us traversed the trail on horseback!  We joined each other halfway up the mountain at Chileno, and all hiked to victory at the signature vista of Patagonia.  The rocks of the Torres pierce the sky, standing above a glacier fed lake and defy all reason.

After all of the fabulous trekking in some of the best known and loved trails, it was time to get off the beaten path.  Way off.

It took a plane, car, and boat to get there, but the luxury lodge Aguas Arriba was more than worth the travel.  Set on the gorgeous fresh water lake and in the middle of a National Park, Aguas Arriba is a retreat that everyone should experience once in his or her lifetime (Or twice.  Or every year, until forever.).  The lovely owners Ivor and Patricia treat their guests as honored family and their retreat centers on thoughtful hospitality, understated luxury, amazing food, and conserving the precious natural gifts surrounding their lodge.  They excel in all categories.

Every dish at Aguas Arribas was astounding!

If you can tear yourself away from the cozy cabin, sun filled porch, and gorgeous views of the lodge, the trails around Aguas Arriba take you through forests truly untouched and untarnished by man.  This is it.  This is what you dream of when you dream of Patagonia.  The few days we spent there added years to our lives and we’ve never been more sad to leave somewhere.

The hiking was over, but there is much more to Argentina and Chile.  We’ll take you there, next post.