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South America

Santiago to Torres del Paine: my trip to Chile

February 23, 2020
girl in front of Magellan Strait beach in Punta Arenas Chile

After my trip to Peru and hiking the Inca Trail, I flew south. My next stop in my South American tour was to travel from Santiago to Torres del Paine in Chile before heading over the border to Argentina. The plan was to start in Chile’s capital and then explore the mountains and blue lakes of Patagonia.

Santiago

I booked my trip to South America a year out. In the months leading up to my departure I researched endlessly and came up with a list of things I wanted to see and do in each city. The week before I was set to arrive in Santiago (and while I was already on the Inca Trail in Peru with no cell service or wifi access) major protests began. By the time I learned of the protests on the trail I was not sure what to do. I had about 24 hours to decide whether or not to go on to Chile. The airport had reopened so I could arrive there, but I was very worried about safety. Ultimately I decided to do it as I would lose a good amount of money, despite having travel insurance.

Views from the cable car

Unfortunately I was not able to do much in Santiago, but I was able to explore a bit once we left for Patagonia and much more in Argentina, so I am glad I did not forgo the entire trip. I understand the reason for the protests and I am glad that the citizens of Chile were able to take a stand against corruption in their government. I am sad that I did not get to experience this vibrant city as I had hoped to, but I did enjoy a nearby restaurant and I did get to see an incredible view via cable car.

Photo of the unrest taken by Lucas Yevilaf Reyes – instagram.com/@lucasyevilafr_


Photo of Plaza Italia taken by Lucas Yevilaf Reyes – instagram.com/@lucasyevilafr_

I had tried to stay clear of the protests, but I did accidentally end up in the midst of the action trying to reach a vegan restaurant I had read about. I thought the protests were mainly in Plaza Italia and this area was not near that, however I didn’t realize that Alameda Avenue was also a major protest site and this was quite close to that area and the police were blocking everything off. It was pretty scary and I am glad I was able to navigate safely away from this area despite the chaos, tear gas, etc. I have included some photos to show you the scene of the protests and what I caught a glimpse of when I was traveling in the area. I did not take these photos but it is very representative of exactly what I saw. I was very tempted to get out and try to capture the scene myself with my camera, but I was also afraid of the reaction (being a foreigner) and I am glad I didn’t as I heard the police were detaining people and DEPORTING them if they were in the protest areas and not Chilean.

The cable car is located in a quiet and beautiful park in the hills behind the chic Providencia neighborhood. It was easy for me to get to because I was staying nearby, Providencia is a great area for hotels in Santiago. It’s not super expensive and offers amazing views from two stops. I definitely recommend going for the view, even if it is a little touristy.

chicana vegana

vegan cheesecake

El Huerto restaurant

I was a little worried about food given most restaurants were closed and I am very strict vegan, but my hotel told me about El Huerto. It was so convenient that El Huerto was only a few blocks away, but even if it had been across town I would have eaten there every chance I got because the food was so good! The first night I had verduras al wok (stirfry), which was good but not very unique. The next day I had the chicana vegana, which was tacos stuffed with black beans and topped with guac, pico, rice and veggies. This was really delicious and filling – my favorite menu item! Another night I ordered a sort of mushroom quiche type savory pie, which was also very good. For dessert I tried the vegan cheesecake and definitely recommend that as well!

 

hand-drawn divider

Punto Arenas

This small town is located on the Strait of Magellan. There is a lot of nautical history here and it is fun to explore. We walked about a mile from our accommodations to see the shipwrecks. This is also where you can see penguins on Magdalena Island, but the activity is very weather dependent and was canceled for us (also could have been canceled due to the protests which were happening in Punto Arenas as well as Santiago). Instead we visited the nearby Olga Teresa Ranch where you can see condors in the wild. It is truly chilling to see the largest flying birds in the world circling their nest.

the first shipwreck we came across, Amadeo, a steamship built in Liverpool in 1884, which was beached at San Gregorio in 1932 (nearby is Ambassador, a London tea clipper, built 1869; beached 1896)


shipwreck of Lord Lonsdale; 1899 English Frigate beached in 1909


Monumento A Tripulantes Galeta Ancud (statue honoring the crew of the schooner Ancud sent by Chile in 1843 to gain sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan)


Lord Lonsdale shipwreck

Amaranta Tea House has a good vegan sandwich and I had a good pizza at Mesita Grande (ordered without cheese). Fusiones Gastro Bar has the coolest interior and such a laidback vibe. I had a soy burger here with sautéed veggies and fries and they make delicious fresh juice, try the kiwi and apple.

pizza without cheese at Mesita Grande


Fusiones Gastro Bar has a vintage feel

Olga Teresa Ranch

 

hand-drawn divider

Torres del Paine

I was very excited to visit Torres del Paine, but when I got there found myself very miserable. The weather conditions were very unfavorable and I made the hard decision to leave early. My tour was scheduled to spend four days and three nights here camping in tents, but I left after just one night. I went back and forth on if I should and it turned out to be the best decision ever to just leave and go on to Calafate. The way the itinerary was scheduled, the others in my group did not have enough time in Calafate to do the glacier trekking, which was my favorite experience of my month in South America. So it was the best choice I could have made to escape Torres and go on. I think sometimes it is necessary to abandon plans and do what is best for you.

Hotel Las Torres Patagonia

When we arrived at Torres del Paine it was pouring rain and frigid temperatures. We set up camp and ate in the pouring rain then went to sleep. It was the worst night I can imagine – I didn’t sleep at all as I was shivering so much. The rest of our time there was also predicted to be cold, rain and snow. I had camped in cold temperatures on the Inca Trail, but this was miserable and I did not have an adequate sleeping bag.

guanacos

guanacos

I would recommend checking the weather carefully if you plan to camp in Torres del Paine. Before I left I was able to do part of the hike to the Towers. The hike was beautiful and I would have liked to do the full hike, but during better conditions. The group that went on had a lot of difficulty getting there and back as it was snowing and the trail was very slippery and dangerous.

photo taken by another member of my tour who completed the Towers Base trek

  • Reply
    Ada
    February 25, 2020 at 12:11 am

    What a cool experience! It sounds like you really made the best of your time in Chilie, despite some pretty major hiccups. As scary as the protests were, I bet they will remain some of your most vivid memories! I especially loved your photos of the shipwrecks and appreciate the honest write-up about Torres del Paine.

  • Reply
    Whitney
    February 25, 2020 at 1:45 am

    I’ve had Chile on my bucketlist for a long time. Your post just lit something inside me!

  • Reply
    Sabs
    February 25, 2020 at 5:08 am

    I would love to visit Torres del Paine – just look at the scenery! Your photos are amazing!

  • Reply
    April Key C. Rode
    February 25, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    Your journey in this trip seems hard from Inca Trail to here. I am glad you’re able to get away safely in the protest. It’s a different experience again from others and the pictures you took in this journey are beautiful! The food looks so delicious.

  • Reply
    Carol Colborn
    February 25, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    You have such wonderful photos. South America is one country we have not been to. I have a problem of choosing which country to go to. Brazil and Peru lead the pack. But Chile looks good too. Thanks to your post!c

  • Reply
    Josy A
    February 25, 2020 at 6:24 pm

    It is such a shame that you were so cold (and that made you miserable) at Torres del Paine. I would looove to see those views, so I guess if we go, I will just pack all my snow gear to try to stay warm and happy despite the terrible weather. Those views are amaaaazing! Still, I think you made the right choice by keeping warm and moving on. You have to enjoy your time!

    p.s. that vegan food looks fantastic, even if you did have to skirt a protest to reach it!

  • Reply
    Lydia
    February 25, 2020 at 8:01 pm

    Gosh those protests must have been terrifying! It’s very brave of you to have gone despite it. And that food looks amazing

  • Reply
    Melissa
    February 25, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    It looks like it was such a fun trip! It sucks that you didn’t get to see everything you wanted to, but I’m sure seeing the protests was an experience all in its own. The photos are beautiful….stunning views!

  • Reply
    Kevin | Caffeinated Excursions
    February 26, 2020 at 1:57 am

    I have been based in Brazil since January so it was very interesting to read about your experiences. I really appreciate that you mentioned the protests being a valiant effort to combat corruption and not just an inconvenience to your own travel plans. I would love to visit Chile before I head back to the US later this year but will definitely keep an eye on the situation before booking any travel.

  • Reply
    Kailyn Travels
    February 26, 2020 at 1:58 am

    Your photos are stunning! What kind of food do you eat while camping? I try to eat less meat but always find it difficult when traveling, and especially when camping!

    • Reply
      Summer
      February 26, 2020 at 8:05 pm

      Thankfully the companies I went with provide vegan food, but sometimes I was still hungry so I used the Backpacker Pantry dehydrated meals. I really like them and there are a lot of vegan options. You just add boiling water and wait 20 min! Tons of protein and very filling.

  • Reply
    Steph
    February 26, 2020 at 7:17 am

    Love the pictures you added to this post! The ones from Torres del Paine and make me want to push the date of my future trip to South America forward. And it sounds like you should return to Chile as well!

    It’s too bad that you did not get to explore Santiago. But the vegan restaurant sounds like has amazing dishes. Just reading your description made me hungry!

  • Reply
    Rudy @ Backpack & Snorkel
    February 26, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    We went to Torres del Paine on our own a few years ago and were overwhelmed by the beauty of this park. We are not much into hiking, so we only took short hikes and mostly drove from one attraction to the next.
    Getting sick when traveling sadly happens sometimes. I spent 1.5 days in a hospital in Peru once and had to go to an ER in Spain for food poisoning.

  • Reply
    Fares
    February 26, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    Such a beautiful country there! Chile with the nearby Antarctica have been on my bucketlist for years .. I need to make time and plan to visit them very soon. Great story and awesome high-quality photos! Thank you for sharing these moments with us 🙂

  • Reply
    WanderlustBeautyDreams
    March 5, 2020 at 3:56 pm

    The views are just spectacular! I need to visit Chile soon, your pictures makes me want to go ASAP! The food looks so yummy. What a fun trip you had and thanks for sharing it.

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