Santiago: An Overwhelming Chilean Introduction

After a long flight, we touched down in Santiago on Thursday morning. Immigration was pretty straightforward, though we did have a little bit of a scare with customs. As we were walking to have our bags X-rayed, one of the customs dogs gave Emily’s day pack an extra long sniff. We clarified we had no food, but had to have the bag searched after the X-ray. The culprit? Vitamin C cough drops that smelled like oranges! I think the pooch had an ulterior motive; wanting to play fetch with me.

We had a shuttle arranged to take us to our apartment at Altura Suites. Our driver, Enrique, was very kind. We had a nice conversation (in broken Spanish) along the way. We talked a bit about the forest fires plaguing the Central region of Chile. You can read more about the devastating fires here. Altura Suites was located just a few blocks away from the Plaza de Armas, and Cerro Santa Lucia, two of the main attractions. It was nice being so central to the city and was a great base for exploring.

Heat and Hazeview from cerro san cristobal

The biggest hurdle for us to overcome (other than the language barrier) was the heat. Though Minnesota had been unseasonably warm for January, it was above 90F each day in Santiago. We didn’t have AC in our little apartment, so it felt like we couldn’t escape the heat the entire time we were there.

The heat and haze made us both feel a little jaded about Santiago. It’s the height of summer, so air quality in the city isn’t great. Most of the buses and trucks are diesel powered and not equipped with the latest pollution control technologies. So, we didn’t get to see the breathtaking views of the Andes mountains that you see all over Instagram. It would be better to visit Santiago during the spring or fall.

Cerro San Cristobalcable car cerro san cristobal

However, this did not deter us from a bit of an adventure at Cerro San Cristóbal. The largest urban park in all of South America is pretty amazing, even with the haze.

Instead of taking the funicular (cable car) up the hillside, we thought we would walk to the top. The path we chose wasn’t far from the funicular, but little did we know it was closed! So, what was supposed to be a 3 mile walk turned into an 11 mile adventure, complete with a stop at a local swimming pool near the top of the park. While the entrance fee was a little steep, it was nice to cool down in the pool.

Unfortunately the Cerro San Cristóbal experience wasn’t completely rosy. When we stopped at the base of the park, Emily sat on a bench with both of our bags. I was less than 20 feet away looking at an interactive map. An older man approached Emily, and pointed at pesos he had thrown on the ground. While he was attempting to distract her, his partner picked up my bag and got about three steps before Emily realized what was happening. She saw him with my bag and yelled at him. He dropped the backpack and they both took off. It was a big reminder that even in a very crowded area with families and lots of small kids, you have to pay attention to your surroundings. Lesson learned….

Making the Best of Santiagocerro santa lucia

Despite the heat and the bag snatching scare, we absolutely made the best of our time in the city. Santiago’s architecture is a unique blend of Spanish Colonial style and modern buildings. The Palacio de la Moneda (Presidential Palace) is not to be missed. This is where Salvador Allende vowed to stay instead of going quietly into exile during the 1973 Coup d’état. The Plaza de Armas is a great place to go and people watch, and if you are fortunate, take a peak inside Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago.

Santiago’s parks are also incredible. We loved walking through Cerro Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal. The parks were clean, full of beautiful gardens, and lovely fountains.

Tomorrow we are heading west to the port city of Valparaiso, a unique city full of street art and colorful houses.

Making Choices, Building Spreadsheets

Well, the departure date is finally upon us. As we sit in the Atlanta airport, anxiously awaiting our flight to Santiago, I am thinking back to all the effort that has gone into planning this amazing adventure. And for those of you that know me, it will be of no surprise that spreadsheets were our best friend as we went through this process.chris using laptop

As previously mentioned, on one of our first dates, we talked about the places we each really wanted to visit. Neither of us had traveled to South America and there were several wonderful countries that ended up on both of our wish lists. So, we started with a total “brain dump” of all the interesting, fun, exciting, and adventurous places on this vast continent we could think of.  We quickly realized that seven weeks was not nearly enough time to see, do, eat, and enjoy all of the places on that original list.  

Making Choices

After the brain dump, we had to start the difficult process of removing certain places, activities, and even countries off the list.  Once we narrowed it down to a manageable list of places, it was then time to start determining where we wanted to go, what we wanted to see, and what crazy adventures we thought we’d get into. This in and of itself was one tall order. Our approach?  Divide and conquer.

Emily had certain regions that she didn’t want to miss, and I did too. So, we each took the lead on those regions, deciding what we most wanted to do.  Once we had an outline of stops on the itinerary, we needed to determine how many days to spend in each place. We started by creating lists of the things we wanted to do and places we wanted to see in each city. We consulted websites, blogs, and travel books from The Lonely Planet and Frommers. Mostly, we guessed, and I’m sure there will be times when we wish we had more or less time in a place. Finally, we built in some downtime so we don’t arrive home needing a vacation from our vacation.

With the rough schedule planned, I was free to do what I thoroughly enjoy doing: figuring out the transportation, working with Emily on accommodation, and putting together the trip budget. And that is when the spreadsheet morphed into a beast of it’s own!

Planning Tools and Planning Lessons

Our itinerary covers large sections of Chile, Peru, and the Galapagos Islands. With this much ground to cover, we had to rely on airline travel. One of my first trip mistakes was not realizing there are two different price points for airline travel in Peru. There is one price for those with residency in Peru, and another for non-Peru residents. I thought we were going to get flights from Lima to Cusco and back for less than $100 each! When I went to book flights a few weeks later, I realized I had been looking at the prices for Peruvian residents. So, our flights ended up being more expensive than I had originally budgeted. It’s probably not the first mistake we’ll make on this trip… 

As for accommodation, we ended up using Booking.com for all our non-tour based travel.  We both spent a lot of time looking at various travel sites trying to find good deals on accommodation, only to come back to Booking.com. The site is really easy to use, has reviews from other users, and keeps our itinerary all in one place (aside from a spreadsheet, of course). We also used Google Flights to do research and find flights in and between countries. Finally, we also had help from friends and family who have traveled to this part of the word. Thank you for your advice!  

It’s hard to believe we’re just a flight away from this once in a lifetime adventure. I’m looking forward to sharing more once we’re on the ground and making our way through Santiago, Chile, our first stop. ¡Hasta luego!

South America, Here We Come

Okay, everyone. We’re one week out. To say things are a little chaotic around our house would be an understatement. We’re squeezing in time to say goodbye to our friends and family, packing up for our new life in Australia, and loading up our packs for fifty days in South America. To kick-off our blog, here’s where we’re traveling over the next seven weeks:

Chileatacama desert

A historic and bustling capital city, funky beach towns, lush wine growing regions, and the driest place in the world – Chile is where we’re starting our South American adventure. I’m most excited to explore the Atacama Desert and Atacama Highlands. The appeal of this region is its total weirdness. There are places in the desert that haven’t seen rainfall since humans have been recording rainfall. The soil and landscape have been compared to Mars. NASA is even testing soil life-detection equipment in the Atacama that might be used on future missions to Mars. Crazy, right?!? This post from A Brit and a Broad beautifully captures the dramatic landscape and the flamingos who inhabit the highland lagoons.

PeruMachu Picchu

Visiting Machu Picchu is one of those bucket-list places for both Chris and I, but its not the only place we’ll visit. We’re spending a few days in foodie-heaven Lima, where I’m dying to nosh on some amazing ceviche. Chris and I both love to hike and so we’ve carved out time to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Finally, we’ve splurged on a private tour of Manu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the Crees Foundation for a sneak peek at some of the wildlife we might encounter in the Peruvian Amazon.

Ecuador and the Galapagos Islandsgalapagos sea lion

The Galapagos Islands are must-do for both of us and we wanted to take our time visiting one of the most ecologically and geologically unique places in the world. We’re splitting our time between a cruise with Adventure Life as well as hotels on Islas Isabela and Santa Cruz. In total, we’ll set foot on five different islands across the archipelago. I’m geeked out about the idea of swimming with sea lions, finding birds with bright blue feet, and iguanas that swim in the ocean (what?!?!). We have a little bit of time in Quito and Guayaquil, but that’s about it for mainland Ecuador. I wish we had more time and were able to explore all that Ecuador has to offer.

I still doesn’t feel quite real that we’re about to do this, but we’re ready to soak up every minute. If you’ve been to any of the places on our list, we want to hear from you. What restaurants must not be missed? Where should we hike? Tips for taxis or other transport?

Leave a comment below or contact us with your advice and ideas!