San Pedro de Atacama
The Atacama desert is considered the driest desert in the world, measured by precipitation and rock formation. It’s like walking on Mars. Several valleys close by offer a variety of activities such as sand-boarding, hiking and stargazing. Valleys are easily accessible by trekking bikes, which can be rented in San Pedro.
My take on San Pedro as a city is that it is very lively and tends to attract a younger crowd. Lots of casual and fine dining, several of these restaurants throw parties in their basements. Additionally, people tend to gather in the desert (mostly the camping grounds) and throw parties there. You bring your own drinks and speaker.
Two days well spent in Atacama, took a shuttle that was pre-arranged with the hotel to Calama. Calama is the nearest city with an airport to San Pedro. Trip takes about an hour.
Flew from Calama to Santiago, which was another step closer to our quest back to sea level. Due to the fact that the weather was actually hot, almost all food and drink establishments had outdoor seating. Some neighborhoods I preferred were Barrio Lastarria, Barrio Italia, Plaza Brasil and Bella Vista; all having great food and nightlife. Generally, my energy level in Santiago was low, after a few weeks in high altitude and lots of moving. However, on the last day managed to make it to ‘After Office’, a party thrown every Wednesday on the rooftop of a public parking with a great view of the city. Was definitely a good time. I recommend also going on wine tours; the wineries are not far from Santiago and have quite decent history and exquisite wines. The one we went to was ‘Cousino Macul’. On another note, didn’t take my camera out any day either (for some reason I don’t know) and took only one photo with my phone. Here it is.
Last stop in Chile was Valparaiso. Very young-hip coastal town, conveniently located from Santiago (90-minute, $6 bus); very comfortable. Several neighboring towns along the coast had California-like beaches; was very impressive to say the least. Viña del Mar was about 15 minutes away and Reñaca was 25 minutes away from Valparaiso.
In Valparaiso, almost not a single wall is left without graffiti. Most houses are built on hills and due to the amount of graffiti on them, the view from far looks outstanding. Since the overall average age of the city is very young, there are lots of cheap food options. Food trucks offer a variety of stuff and were surprisingly delicious (try churrasco italiano con queso). Generally, Chilean food to try: Pastel de Chocolo and drinks: PisCola, made with Pisco Mistrall or Alto del Carmen (goes down easily – watch out).
The graffiti detail in Valparaiso is on another level; more than any graffiti I’ve come across. Here are some that I captured.
Chile was a great place to visit, it actually needs more time than what I could spare. Very friendly people that speak their own version of Spanish. I recall trying to use my broken Spanish, and I hear this most times “Yes, it’s the right word.. But in Chile we say….”. There is a Chilean version of almost every word, reminds me a lot of the version of Arabic I speak, which is the Egyptian dialect that has very little to do with actual Arabic. ‘Weon’ is a very popular word that has no meaning in particular and can be used in lots of contexts. (Arabic similar word is: Beta3). In closing, I would say Chile needs another trip to explore the southern parts, Patagonia especially.