Empanadas galore, churros and fancy wine
04.05.2015 - 19.05.2015 20 °C
Don't get me wrong, Bolivia was great, but it was also cold. Really cold. As in -5 °C, with the wind feeling as though it's tearing your face off.
Imagine our relief, then, as a van took us across the border into Chile and down almost 2000m in little more than an hour to the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama. Stepping out of the van and into our hostel still in five layers confirmed that it was most definitely shorts and t-shirt weather.
After a little swing in the hammocks, we set off to explore the rustic streets of this tiny town, tucked away in the north of Chile. Having visited just six years ago, it was reassuringly familiar - the wooden signs, dusty narrow streets and the domineering presence of Licancabur volcano all remain.
The sun was almost too much of a temptation, but we pulled ourselves away from the suntrap of the main square for long enough to join a tour to the Valley of the Moon. If the landscapes of the salt flats were surreal, then the Valley of the Moon was otherworldly. Jagged rocks jut out from the valley floor and all around red sand lays on the ground. Watching the sun set over the desert was on a par with the salt flats of Bolivia, which is high praise indeed.
We'd just about got settled in San Pedro de Atacama when we had to head south to Santiago. A quick glance at a map of Chile tells you it's an incredibly long, narrow country. Travelling anywhere takes a long time. However, in order to travel less than a third of the length of Chile meant taking a 23-hour bus. To top things off, we'd booked it on the day of our three-year anniversary. I'm such a romantic...
In all honesty it wasn't that bad. We passed the time by gorging ourselves on crisps and empanadas, dozing and trying to translate the Spanish films.
The romance wasn't over yet though. When we finally arrived in Santiago, I whisked Sophie off to get a takeaway pizza. We shared, of course - I'm not made of money!
We stayed in Santiago for a couple of days and tagged along on a tour of the city. Much of Chile's capital has a distinctly European feel, but Felipe's Local Pulse Walking Tour takes tourists slightly off the beaten track.
He led us through the huge fish market, where gawping fish heads the size of melons stare at you from icy shelves, before taking us into the Old Town of Santiago. He saved the best until last, though.
At first glance, La Piojera looks like a subway tunnel, with graffiti adorning the walls. For those familiar with Sheffield's West Street Live, it's similar, but even more rough around the edges.
Felipe told us to try an Earthquake, so we thought we'd give it a go. When he brought the drinks over, we were a little concerned.
"Don't worry," he said. "It's white wine, grenadine and ice cream."
Let's just say it's an acquired taste, but despite the dodgy drink it was a really fun bar and a must-see place for any visitors to the city.
The next stop was Valparaiso, a port city just two hours west of Santiago that has been bestowed the honour of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The neighbourhoods of Cerro Alegre and Concepcion are the very definition of bohemian. Incredible graffiti paintings brighten up pretty much every external wall and one afternoon we spent an hour or so reading on the clifftop next to a guy playing the didgeridoo - he wouldn't have been out of place in The Inbetweeners 2.
We've been yearning for a beach since we left England, so we thought we'd try out Viña del Mar, Valparaiso's more polished and orderly neighbour.
Except we hadn't quite done enough research. After a half-hour walk from the metro station, we found ourselves at the seafront, but the beach was nowhere to be seen. We trudged along the promenade, but when we eventually found the beach it was just a small strip of sand in front of tired-looking apartment blocks.
For our return to Santiago, we'd booked an incredible apartment through Airbnb for little more than £20 a night. This meant we could save money by cooking ourselves, as Chile is quite a pricey country.
Along with whipping up culinary sensations, we visited a number of museums and art galleries and visited Concha y Torro vineyard, the home of Casillero del Diablo wine. I know, how sophisticated are we?!
Amidst our cultural experiences, we squeezed in a visit to the zoo. For £1.50, I expected a couple of llamas and a rabbit. Much to our surprise, there were elephants, flamingoes, penguins, giraffes and white tigers! All of this was in the most incredible setting, perched on the side of Cerro San Cristobel, with views overlooking the whole city.
After two months in South America, it's time to leave. We've had a blast in Peru, Bolivia and Chile and all three countries have quite comfortably exceeded our expectations.
We're incredibly sad to be leaving, but with a week in Sydney next, it's not all that bad!
Kristian and Sophie x