We spent by far the most time (almost 3 months) of our South American adventure in Chile. Trip started in Santiago but things did not go as planned - rather than quickly buy a car and start cruising, we had a fruitless 2-week car hunt followed by a backpacking tour of the arid desert north. We returned 4 months later for a completely different experience in the lush, fresh south, including amazing Patagonia.

Chile

More Chile pictures to come

Quick Summary

Time in Chile: Aug 22 - Oct 1, 2009; Jan 19 - Jan 22, 2010; Feb 7 - Mar 6, 2010; Mar 14 - Apr 14, 2010

Route: first visit - two weeks in Santiago, then backpacking through Valparaiso and the north to Arica;

second visit - back to Santiago, quickly down to lake Villarrica, a full month in Chilean Patagonia, back by boat to the lakes region (exploring lake Llanquihue and the Cochamo valley)

Food: fresh but bland, although by the end of the trip we were really valuing Chile’s freshness when compared to the rest of the continent; had great home cooking with friends and family in Santiago; pisco sour = delicious; restaurant food generally good but rarely spicy or strong; best country for travelers cooking their own meals since tasty, super-fresh and reasonably-priced produce (especially avocado) is readily available in modern markets throughout the country; great beef and seafood can also be found, cheap if you shop around

People: friendly but conservative; extremely patriotic (extra because we were there for the national holiday); straight-shooting and clear which made it easy to get honest answers, prices, directions and deals (helpful when traveling long-term); not sure why other South Americans have a problem with Chileans, as we found them efficient and easy to deal with (may not be the “exotic and colorful” South Americans we imagined but neither were any other nationalities we met except Colombians); best/funnest hostels in South America

Roads: South America’s best - excellent freeways and very good city traffic, even in Santiago; downside is expensive tolls and super expensive gasoline; only good and courteous drivers we found in the continent; all in all easier to drive in than most European countries; the Careterra Austral is tough but great

Highlights: first visit - dinners with friends and family in Santiago, dancing with Gabriel and Juan Carlos at "Los Buenos Muchachos", strolling Valparaiso’s bizarre streets, star gazing in Vicuna; landscapes surrounding San Pedro de Atacama

second visit - Ed’s log cabin, lamb roasts, our entire time in Patagonia, through the Cochamo valley by horse

Low-lights: first visit - failed car shopping, the miserable Santiago winter weather and pollution, the ugly cities of the north (especially Arica and Iquique), empty nighttime streets of Santiago

second visit - getting robbed, the crappy police response to the robbery, big earthquake; TianMa breaks down

Impression: the north and south are like 2 different countries so hard to generalize; we had a strong love-hate relationship with Chile as we experienced both our highest highs and lowest lows here; overall, it is very clean, safe and easy for tourism, primarily for natural sceneries; if you like desert scenery and isolation (as many Germans we met apparently do), the north of Chile is hard to beat; we much prefer the lush forests and mountain isolation of the deep south and definitely plan to visit there again; beauty always has a price and Chile is rather expensive and has too much private enterprise (capitalism run amok)