Stunning South America: Central Chile & Sao Paulo

Chile has always been synonymous with Patagonia to me. Then, I discovered Carmenere wine and everything else Chile has to offer. It’s one of the most unique countries with such varying topography – from the glaciers in the south to the desert in the north.

Thanks to an el cheapo flight deal to Brazil I found (cough $450 cough), Adam and I decided to visit Chile! Because we didn’t have very much time (about 6 days total) and Chile is so spread out (actually, the second longest in the world at 2,653 miles), I did a ton of research to help solidify our plan.

Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to see Patagonia the way we wanted to, so we decided to save that for it’s own trip. Instead, we decided to spend 2 days in Santiago (including 1 day in the Wine Country), 3 days in the Lakes District and 1 day in Sao Paulo before our flight home.

After a long day of traveling (close to 20 hours…blah) we arrived in Santiago surprisingly well rested and well fed thanks to our upgrades!

Our day in Santiago started at the Mercado Central, a huge seafood market with a ton of different seafood stands (similar to Pike Place Market in Seattle) and restaurants where you can eat the seafood fresh off the boat.

We had lunch at a locally recommended spot – Donde Augusto. Here, we discovered parmesan baked clams – holy shit! We also discovered that the $12 glass of wine we thought we ordered was actually a bottle of wine (HELLO, Chile!) so after we were sufficiently full and buzzed from our leisurely lunch, we hit the town. We actually went on a walking tour called Tours4Tips, which is a completely free tour throughout the city led by a local in exchange for a tip!

After the tour, we walked through the Barrio Bellavista (which has tons of amazing street art) to a funicular that takes you to the top of the San Cristobal Hill (which has stunning city views)!

Pro tip: to get up this hill, you can drive, bike, walk or take the funicular, but the last funicular is before sunset so if you want to stay up there for the sunset, you need to plan ahead and take one of the other modes of transportation up – I hear it’s magical!

For dinner, we headed to Mestizo, an amazing outdoor restaurant on a local park for some Pisco Sours, more baked parmesan clams (sorry, not sorry), ceviche and empanadas.

Our next day was spent wine tasting in the Colchagua Valley – about 2 hours from Santiago. This region was put on the map from the amazing Carmenere wine, made from a French grape varietal that was thought to be extinct everywhere in the world, but was rediscovered growing in Chile. We hired a driver to take us from Santiago (since there’s zero-tolerance in Chile for driving after alcohol) and had an amazing day exploring 3 local vineyards.

The amazing thing was that in addition to our tastings, we also got full tours of the vineyards, production facilities and barrel rooms. We started out at Montes, then had lunch at Viu Manet and then ended the day at Lapostolle Clos Apalta, famous for their blend that’s 57% Carmenère, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot.

Even though we were exhausted from our long day of wine tasting (rough life), we had reservations at Borago, a top-rated restaurant in Santiago…well, actually #42 ranked in the world. It was beyond amazing, drawing all of its ingredients and dishes from Chile – from ancient civilizations to present day. All in all, we ended up having 18 courses with wine pairings and I love that I tried so many new things. If you’re in Santiago, it’s 100% worth visiting.

Sadly, our Santiago leg quickly came to an end but next up was our flight to Temuco, the gateway airport to the Lakes District of Chile. Now, I know this sounds like a beautiful place to be, but you can’t even imagine because in addition to lakes, it’s also full of volcanoes. Active volcanoes!

We arrived at the Temuco airport to a cancelled car rental reservation. After using my (horribly) awesome Spanish skills, we got a replacement car…ahem…pick-up truck.

We made our home base in the town of Pucon via Villarica, lakeside towns with amazing views of the Volcan Villarica.

Our first night was in the town at a hotel made completely of wood.

We went to an amazing spot for lunch that used all local ingredients (including fresh salmon) and then roamed to the black sand beach (made from the volcanic ash).

After sufficiently tiring ourselves out, we went to bed mesmerized by the views of the volcano, which was stunning by day (below) and by night.

We set out the next day to go on amazing hike we heard so much about, which required about 40 minutes of gravel, winding road.

Of course, we get there and the parking lot is full so we detour to another spot and do a short hike up to 3-stacked waterfalls. In hindsight, I think it was a happy accident because I am not sure our bodies were prepared for the 4-6 hour hike we set out to do…

We then just kept driving around to see what we could find…

We then spent some time at local natural hot springs (heated from the volcano) which was a relaxing treat to our sore muscles.

After our long day, we drove up the path to the volcano to our next hotel, the Lake Lodge. I usually don’t assume a hotel’s name has anything to do with the actual experience (marketing skepticism), but this literally was an amazingly beautiful lodge with sweeping views of the lake.

The owner (who I am hella envious of) recommended that we spend the night watching the sunset from the top of the volcano. I mean, that didn’t even sound like a real thing. After a windy ride up the volcano (praise the 4×4 pick-up truck) we arrived at the top. It was truly breathtaking and unlike anything I have ever seen. We proceeded to have a photoshoot while watching the sunset over the other mountains and lake. I think that will be forever engrained into my memory as a special moment in life.

But, the night wasn’t over yet. We stopped into a local Uruguayan Steakhouse for dinner where we again ordered a bottle of wine for the price of a glass and THE best steak I have ever had. I have no idea why it was so damn good, but man, it was worth the meat sweats I got afterwards. Of course, in honor of our favorite volcano, we also got the waffle volcano dessert…I mean DUH.

You would think we spent the next day exploring more of the area but after we spotted the infinity pool at the hotel, we knew this would be the day’s activity. Adam had to pry me out of my lounge chair to head back to the airport…and I even made a last ditch attempt while we were driving to convince him to head south to Patagonia, miss our flight and stay in Chile for a few more weeks. He decided to be responsible. Blah.

We headed into the friendly skies and landed in Sao Paulo. To be honest, neither of us reallyyyyy wanted to go there since (sorry to any Brazilians reading this) but since our flight back home left from Sao Paulo we figured it would be the safe bet.

I actually love it when I set expectations low because that leaves room to be blown away, which is what happened! We had two unbelievable meals there (one of which was at Mani, #41 restaurant in the world, yet very affordable) – and saw some amazing city sights on our tour.

And just like that, our time in South America came to an end. I spent most my travel day back home planning how/when I could go back to explore Patagonia and the Atacama because I knew if I was so in love with what we saw (which wasn’t even what Chile is known for) then we’d surely be in for a treat!

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