Above photo: This isn’t Santiago. It’s Valparaiso, a beach town with colorful homes, cute shops, and stray dogs.
Yikes. Has it really been an entire half a year since I’ve updated my blog… time flies. I wish I could say I don’t get caught up in the stresses of the daily grind, but I do. It’s been a struggle to prioritize my travel, much less my blog.
This is why I’m so proud that I’m getting this done while I’m still in Santiago! (It’s all about the small victories, folks.)
Since my last international trip to Tokyo in Feb., I took a bunch of smaller trips to Tahoe to finish off the boarding season, blessed by plenty of powder!
The best thing about this past season was bonding with a crew of snowboarding experts.
Nothing against my OG crew… Alex and my sister.
But with my sister’s departure to Hawaii, a crew of two feels a bit lonely.
So, with the new crew by my side (or rather, me trying to catch up to them!), we wrapped up the season with some epic trips to Heavenly. The biggest thing was getting to know the Nevada side better, especially Stagecoach.
It’s my new favorite local spot – nothing against Northstar, but I need a change of scenery. I love that Stagecoach leads you straight to the parking lot.
So now that boarding season is done, I had to give some thought to my next international trip.
I took these factors into consideration:
- Is it cheap? I didn’t want to go anywhere expensive. I’m done with expensive cities where the dollar doesn’t go very far. (Except Japan of course.)
- What activities can I do?
- How far is it?
Then I narrowed it down even further based on my bucket list. The top contenders were Eastern Europe and Chile.
For Eastern Europe, I was thinking to fly into Germany and make my way down to Budapest. However, I knew it would require a lot of planning, and I just was not up for that.
Then I thought about Chile because I had been curious about South America. The closest I had ever come to SA was my 2009 trip to Costa Rica.
I researched Santiago and discovered you could get to the mountains in 1.5 hours. There are plenty of snow mountains, so I thought, what the heck. I booked my ticket and an Airbnb in Central Santiago.
At first, my Chilean luck was no bueno
This trip did not start off well. Maybe it was just my time for the travel gods to punish me. (Spoiler alert, it wasn’t really a disaster. I loved every minute of Chile!)
In the spirit of my blog, I don’t want to focus too much on the negative. Having the privilege to travel is something I am so grateful for. These are first world problems, but I wanted to recap because the string of bad luck was almost funny. Here goes:
1. My flight from Dallas to Santiago was delayed for 5 hours. Then canceled. I spent a night in Dallas. It took me ~ 48 hours to reach Santiago.
Nothing makes people freak out more than a canceled flight. And let me tell you, it was a freak out fest in Dallas.
2. On day 3, I was walking down some wet steps near San Cristobal and slipped and fell down the stairs. Not the entire set of stairs, but I slipped down a few. Right in front of a group of people too.
I sprained my hand in the exact same spot (my knuckle) as my previous injury two seasons ago at Kirkwood. It’s still swollen and I can’t fully close my right hand.
3. Thank God I brought my helmet to Valle Nevado. I got banged up pretty badly because it was so slippery on the slopes. Apparently, I decided to visit Chile during the driest season in 70 years. It was record-breaking!
4. My favorite flat, plastic water bottle I travel with… exploded. Yes. Exploded. I had put some mineral water in there and closed the lid. Ten minutes later, kaboom.
On to the good…
There were a lot of other smaller disasters that I won’t go into because everything else was simply amazing.
I came without any expectations but was splendidly surprised by the beautiful city, the diversity of the landscape, the warm people, and the heartfelt way Chileans take care of their stray dogs.
Tops things to do near Santiago
1. Valle Nevado: Only if there’s snow
I would imagine Valle Nevado would be a terrific place to go for the day if there was fresh powder. This year, no snow. Strategically placed snow makers (is that what they’re called?) peppered the mountain with “snow.” A layer of this stuff on top of ice wasn’t very pleasant. It made the snow slippery.
I decided to take it easy and after each run, I hung out at the bar area to eat a snack and just chill. I already took a few hard falls and I didn’t want to injure myself so early on in the trip.
A few notes about Valle Nevado:
- It’s a busy resort.
I went on a Monday and was surprised to see there were a decent amount of people there. I ran into a couple I met in Dallas and heard it was really crowded on the weekend.
- Bring your own snacks
Food options are not great. It’s either a vending machine or burgers and pizza. It’s also expensive, relative to the rest of Chile. A burger or pizza would probably run you about $12. The lift ticket was about $80.
- Carsick folks, beware.
The drive to Valle Nevado was full of hairpin turns. If you tend to get carsick, this is not the drive for you. Driving up the mountain was also very steep.
Thankfully our driver was very skilled and passed up almost every car on the road. I didn’t feel scared when he would veer on the opposite lane to pass up the cars ahead of us, but there were a few moments when my heart dropped.
2. El Cajon del Maipo
Besides snowboarding, I planned on hanging around Santiago. After doing some research though, I realized I’d be a fool not to venture out to see more of the areas outside of Santiago.
El Cajon del Maipo was among the top places to go for a hike. It was like stepping on to the moon. Besides a few other hikers, there wasn’t a soul on the mountain except our group. The weather was unusually warm – about 70 degrees!
If you’re not in good shape, you probably won’t be able to do this hike. There was an overweight girl in our tour and she had to hang behind. Keep in mind, we were also almost 6,000 feet in the air, so the oxygen level was at a 3 percent deficit.
This poor gal took a few steps and after going up the first small hill, she called it quits. It was a good call because some parts of the terrain were unsteady, full of giant rocks, crunchy snow, and mud. It was also really hilly.
It was the first time I hiked with poles, which came in handy.
By the end of the almost 7-8-mile hike, I was beat. The crunchy snow was difficult to get through. Some parts were so deep it devoured half of my leg. By the end of it, we all had cold, soaked feet.
But it was a once in a lifetime view. We looked like tiny ants against the backdrop of the Andes. We saw condors flying above us, wild horses, and even a few goats perched on the hillside. At the peak, sat a giant glacier.
After the hike, we stopped by a rustic outdoor cafe in the village nearby and gobbled down some delicious Chilean pizza and wine.
3. Hike to the top of San Cristobal
I have no sense of direction.
I got lost going up the hike to San Cristobal’s statue of Mother Mary. I met a lovely British Airways flight attendant, Liam, along the way. He was also lost, so we teamed up and pretty much got lost together.
The hike up from the start of the park to the top (or at least what we thought was the top) took about 1.5 hours.
Then we traversed to area where you hop on the sky tram and rode to the top.
The smog problem in Santiago is awful. It’s similar to LA’s basin, but way worse. The dry season and virtually no rain aren’t helping the situation.
Santiago is a busy city
Traffic starts at 8-9am and the commute home traffic doesn’t end until about 9pm! Subways, buses, and streets were congested during these times.
I bought a BIP card, which allows you to get on the subway (noted by the 3 red diamonds) and buses. The buses actually have turnstiles when you get in. All you have to do is tag yourself in with the card.
Ubers are also really cheap, but I”m not sure what the exact rules are. A few drivers had insisted that I ride in the front. They tried to explain in Spanish, but of course, the translation fell short on my end.
I really like Las Condes, which is about 30 minutes outside of the central Santiago. This place is known as “Sanhattan” due to its modern buildings and well-to-do business workers. It reminded me of a modern European city.
The stray dogs (and cats) of Chile
The first large dog I saw wandering the streets made me do a double take. Sort of like when you notice a toddler without an adult nearby. I looked around, wondering if the owner was nearby. Then I noticed dogs were everywhere.
The dogs aren’t starving or malnourished. In fact, a lot of them looked a bit overweight. I also noticed a few with sweaters on. I learned that Chileans are a big animal culture and really take care of their stray dogs.
You can even find small bags of dog food you can buy at the mini-mart or corner bodega. The dogs all seem to get along with each other, and mostly, they look well-fed and content.
Chileans love their burgers, pizza, and hot dogs. There are a Taco Bell and McDonald’s on almost every busy corner. They also love bread and ice cream. That’s the fast-food world we live in, I guess.
Most Chileans consume sausages, sandwich meat (they also really love their sandwich meats!), and I heard BBQs are popular too. Just like Americans, Chileans will use any excuse to get together and fire up some meat!
I mostly shopped at the grocery store and ate their local fresh fruits, dairy, and seafood. Their empanadas are to die for.
The best thing I had was a fresh sea urchin at the fish market in Vina del Mar that was cracked right in front of me for a measly $2!
Until next time, Chile…
I’d love to come back to Chile to explore more of the southern area so I could see the penguins and get closer to the Antarctic. I had such an awesome time here.
I highly recommend Santiago, especially if you’re contemplating your first visit to South America and aren’t sure where to go. It’s a perfect blend of a large, safe city surrounded by plenty of scenic places to hike and walk around.