A buffet of contrasts: Magnificently diverse Chile

I’ve never been to a country with so much variety until I visited Chile. People always say that different regions give you different flavors of what a country has to offer – for example, in Italy, Milan / Como would give you a totally different experience compared to the Tuscan region of Siena and Florence, and they are both different to the laid back attitude of the south in Naples and the Amalfi Coast. You can also say that Gaudi-decorated Barcelona is vastly different from gothic Madrid, and Islam-inspired Granada and Cordoba. I agree – but to a certain extent you see similarities – the piazzas, the churches, the food. And this holds true in most small or mid-sized countries around the world.

If you really want a real buffet of choices – go to Chile. Its geography makes it so – it is perched as a stretch of skinny long coast and also includes islands near French Polynesia. This makes Chile such a wonderful country to visit, because you’ll never be bored with such a variety.

1. Deserts and altiplanic lagoons

The northern tip, in San Pedro de Atacama, offers you beautiful scenery of deserts and altiplanic lagoons. Just like its neighbor Bolivia, the high altitude (2,000m to 4,200m above sea level) provides a landscape that is totally eerie and different. It has a very dry climate typical of any desert.

The highlight of the region is Valle de la Luna or Moon Valley in English. The arid landscape is dusted with salt deposits, resulting in a red and white scenery. The hikes are easy and pleasant, and just like the rest of Chile, tours are organized and easy (unlike its neighbor Bolivia!).

The theater

The theater

Salted Grand Canyon

Salted Grand Canyon

More views of Valle de la Luna

More views of Valle de la Luna

Worth the hike!

Worth the hike!

Beautiful sunset. Does the figure looks like road runner to you?

Beautiful sunset. Does the figure looks like road runner to you?

It has beautiful altiplanic lagoons, too. The scenery is a bit bizarre at the same time really, really beautiful.

Travel tips:

If you arrive before 2pm, suggest booking your tours in Atacama. There are so many agencies to book from so you get a good price. I probably paid more since I booked with an agent in Santiago.

Also, if you’ve seen the glaciers in Bolivia, skip El Tatio. They’re very alike.

2. Colonial metropolitan city

Santiago de Chile is one of the most metropolitan cities I’ve visited. Roads and public transportation are efficient. It reflects its colonial past with majestic plazas and churches. And of course, the hustle and bustle of a big city.

Cathedral - a deadringer to its more elaborate version in Santiago de Compostela in Spain

Cathedral – a deadringer to its more elaborate version in Santiago de Compostela in Spain

Really tall!

Really tall!

More statues

More statues

Travel tips:
– if you’re traveling on a budget, this is a place to not spend the extra dollars. Stay in Ibis Providencia for convenience , price , service and clean rooms. And make sure you don’t pay tax because tourists don’t need to!
– if you’re tight on time, don’t stay more than a day. There’s nothing much more than the plaza and cathedral. I only stayed half a day while waiting for my flight to Easter Island.
-No need to stay in airport hotels. They cost USD 200 per night. Take the airport shuttle which takes around 30-45 minutes and you get to see the city too.

3. The eerie ambience of Easter Island

For context, Easter Island is far from Mainland Chile. It is 4 hours by air. It’s more Polynesian than Chilean. Even the locals look more Polynesian than Chilean. So everything you see there is vastly different.

No one really knows how the moais were developed. There were many theories but none of them was proven. The reason why I ventured into Chile was to see them. I fell in love at first sight when I saw one of them in the British Museum. I told myself then that I need to see them in their “natural habitat”

Moais by the beach!

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Aren’t their hats cute?

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Sleeping moai

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Moais in a row

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This is my favorite site – different shapes and sizes perched on a hill

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I am sorry to UNESCO and all. But I just need to hug!

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Moai on a diet

Travel tips:
-Everything is expensive in this place, and efficiency and service leave much to be desired. So I did the right things to spend only two full days and exit as soon as I could on the red eye flight to Santiago.

4. Torre del Paine

This area is glacier-ville! Think snow capped mountains, pristine lakes, glaciers and ice on the lake. I don’t have the stamina to hike so I did the touristy route. But I was blessed to see the three peaks from the plane because it was one of the rare moments where we had clear weather!

I did a total of 3 day tours. Torre del Paine, Balmaceda glacier, Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, and a penguin colony tour.

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Aerial view of Torre del Paine on a clear day! A rare sight!

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My favorite travel buddies on my TDP tours!

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Awww so cute!

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Just beautiful wildflowers

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Balmaceda glacier… wait til you see Perito Moreno!

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Lamb chops

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A colony of penguins in Punta Arenas

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Another small glacier

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My favorite B&B of all time.

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Natural ice sculptures in Torre del Paine

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Another one!

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I love suspension bridges!

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Such beautiful scenery. Just outside our lunch spot

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Random scenery

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Another random one

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A small waterfall!

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Perito Moreno

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Perito Moreno

Travel tips:
– Perito Moreno is a must and worth the 11pm arrival from the day trip. It is one of the most breathtaking glaciers I’ve seen. Even better than the ones I saw in Alaska.

– Ditch Balmaceda. After Perito Moreno, it looks so tiny!

– Allocate only half a day for the Penguin tour. Leave full days for the other trips

– No need to stay in hotels in town. Your operator will pick you up from wherever you are. I stayed in the best B&Bs in both Punta Arenas (where the airport is, penguins are near) and Puerto Natales (they’re closer to the parks) and they’re scenic but not central. Two of the nicest places I stayed at in my travels. Only USD 40-50 per night. With cooked yummy hot breakfast. Beats a central soulless establishment.

Are you impressed with the variety? I sure was! Not sure if any other destination can beat this!

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