On my recent Chilean journey, I traveled the entire 3,000-mile length of the country. Overall, the quality of the hotels and resorts exceeded my expectations. Should you decide to follow in my footsteps, you will stay in places that offer exemplary comfort and fine service. Delicious food and fascinating guided expeditions will also add enormously to the pleasure of your trip.
Flights from the United States generally take 10 or 11 hours and land in Santiago early in the morning. (Although Santiago is on approximately the same longitude as Boston, 70 degrees west, it is two hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time). My preferred hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, has an extensive spa with a sauna, a whirlpool, an indoor pool and a sundeck on an adjacent terrace.
Should you feel sufficiently energized by a period of recuperation, I suggest a short trip to San Cristobal Hill, which offers a panoramic view of the city and the Andes Mountains beyond. Nearby, the Bellavista neighborhood is a lively area with distinctive restaurants, boutiques and galleries. For a casual lunch, I recommend Azul Profundo (see my review). Afterward, you will be close to a charming handicrafts village called Los Dominicos (Apoquindo 9085), with dozens of shops selling woven goods (sweaters, ponchos, blankets), carvings, antiques, objects sculpted from copper (which is abundant in Chile) and lapis lazuli.
The next day, we decided to embark on a full tour of the city. Accompanied by a knowledgeable and articulate guide, we followed a lovely, tree-lined avenue to the stately Palacio de La Moneda, opened in 1805 as a mint and now the seat of the Chilean government. A colorful guard-changing ceremony takes place at 10 a.m. on every odd-numbered day. From there, we headed to the Plaza de Armas, which is surrounded by historic buildings that include the Metropolitan Cathedral. A short walk to the north, the delightful Central Market is packed with stalls selling fruits, vegetables and a marvelous array of fresh fish. Later we visited the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, with works by Chilean and European artists from the 16th to the 20th centuries. For dinner, we opted for Astrid & Gastón (see my review).
A two-hour flight from Santiago brought us to Calama in the Atacama Desert. From there, it was a 90-minute drive to the little town of San Pedro de Atacama, ideally located for excursions into the most spectacular parts of the desert. Our excellent guide and driver were provided by the Awasi resort (see my review). It is important to bear in mind that San Pedro is at an altitude of about 8,000 feet, and one of our trips took us to over 14,000 feet. We met a robust young couple who were gung ho for climbing a nearby 18,000-foot dormant volcano, a feat that they achieved without mishap. We opted for less strenuous diversions, however!
Although the resort offers an extensive menu of activities, it is such a distinctive and atmospheric place that we made a conscious decision to slow down and to enjoy leisurely afternoons by the pool. We lingered beside the fire pit after nightfall, sipping a pisco sour and overwhelmed by a starry sky made even more impressive by the clear and rarified air. Although we stayed for three nights at Awasi, we certainly did not exhaust the region's possibilities, and we would have been happy to spend two or three more days.
The journey from the Atacama to Southern Patagonia generally requires an overnight stay in Santiago. From the capital, it is a three-and-a-half-hour flight to Punta Arenas. (It may seem absurd to fly from the extreme north of the country to its extreme south, but Chile's unique geography leaves visitors with little choice). Although the subsequent drive from the airport to the new Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa (see my review) takes four hours, the journey passes extremely quickly, thanks to the mesmerizing landscape of jagged mountains and sheep-dotted steppes.
The Tierra Patagonia is located just outside the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park, famous for its extraordinary granite spires. The surrounding area offers some of the finest hiking anywhere in the world, amid surroundings of scarcely believable splendor. As I am close to being a full-fledged birder, I found an excursion to Lago Azul especially rewarding, owing to the large number of Andean condors. Slightly to my surprise, I also enjoyed a tour of a local estancia, a visit that provided real insight into Patagonian life, as well as the opportunity to dine on wonderful roast lamb prepared by one of the gauchos.
Puerto Natales is a seaside town about an hour south of Tierra Patagonia. There, we stayed at a remarkable place called The Singular Patagonia (see my review). The hotel offers a full range of expeditions and hikes in the Torres del Paine National Park. However, it also affords guests the opportunity to visit some of the coastal glaciers by speedboat. The activities are particularly well-organized, and one guide managed to fill me with unexpected enthusiasm for a cave inhabited by prehistoric giant sloths! We continued our escorted hike through beech forest, during which he provided a concentrated lesson in the ecology of Patagonia.
It is a 150-mile drive from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas, from where we flew back to Santiago. We then journeyed three hours southwest to the Colchagua Valley, one of the prime wine regions of Chile. There, we stayed at the extraordinary Lapostolle Residence (see my review). It would be hard to think of a more idyllic spot in which to lounge beside a pool in the sunshine. Although there are many activities to take advantage of - including hiking, bicycling and horseback riding - we opted for touring nearby wineries.
On our last day, we idled over a late lunch and then headed regretfully to the Santiago airport. Lapostolle had provided a perfect conclusion to an entirely memorable trip.
PRICE—Based on a party of two traveling together, the price of this trip is an estimated $12,125 per person, excluding international flights. Price includes all accommodations, most meals, drinks, excursions and tours at the properties, entrance fees for parks and all internal air travel. This rate also includes transfers and applicable taxes. Price is subject to change based on availability. Should you wish to find out more about this "Footsteps Itinerary," consultants in our Travel Office would be more than delighted to assist you. Tel. (800) 375-4685 or email reservations@AndrewHarper.com