This trip to Chile and Patagonia, to be specific, was two years in the making when the pandemic started. Our dearest friends who moved from St. Pete to Denver over ten years ago wanted to celebrate their 40th birthdays this year in style! Being the avid outdoors-people and hikers, Patagonia was the special place in the world to spend with six of their closest buds who all met in the Burg at one point and have continued to be connected through the years.
Since it was their birthdays and it was a country none of us have been nor speak the language, it was best that we hired a luxury travel planner and take out all the guesswork for an almost two week trip. Berni from Jacada Travel started the ball rolling in early of 2020 where she has put together an itinerary that would generally fit everyone’s preferences and levels of interest between places to visit, diet restrictions, down to drinking restrictions and level of commitment with things to do. We had to make sure there was enough leash for anyone who might not want to be part of all the outdoor adventures or folks who may just need some alone time. Of course, everything in “comfort”! Good thing we had two years to save up for the trip of a lifetime.
And boy, did they deliver.
With miles saved up on American Airlines, we flew from Tampa International Airport connected through Miami and headed down to the southernmost country in the world.
First stop, the capital of Chile — Santiago.
Where to stay:
For the start of our trip, our crew was booked at Singular Santiago in the middle of the historic part of the city. The upscale hotel perfectly fit its setting with its classic architecture and interior design. The spacious room included a sweet balcony overlooking the busy street and a rooftop pool with panoramic views of the city and the mountains. This will become the standard for every accommodation we anticipate for each of our stops.
At the end of our trip, we decided to stay on the other side of Santiago called Las Condes where most of the high rises including residential, hotels and offices are located. One thing to note is how clean Chilenos keep their streets which is most evident in their busy downtown area where hundreds of pedestrians walk through on a daily basis. What’s more, it was lovely to see the different inspired architecture of the buildings, each one different and striking.
That includes the Ritz Carlton where we stayed for the rest of our trip before heading home. The penthouse spa with its cupola-enclosed swimming pool which opened to an outdoor terrace was probably the nicest thing about the hotel. The service between the concierge, the bar or the restaurant could probably use some work to make the experience appropriate to a 5-star brand.
Where to eat:
Since we don’t know if we will ever be back in Chile again or at least not for a very long time, we decided to book ourselves a tasting dinner at the only Chilean restaurant to be ranked among the 50 Best Restaurants in the World — Borago. Pricey as it may be, the restaurant lived up to its uniqueness as it served some of the most unusually delicious and sometimes decadent flavors dish after dish. The restaurant presented foods that were endemic to Chile from land, air and sea along with wine selections that were also local and typically made special for Borago.
At some point, we had the hankering for pizza on the tail end of our trip. With over 10,000 glowing reviews on Google and a line of people as soon as it opens, we knew we had to try this place. Our salami, pepperoni and chorizo made on traditional and rustic Italian crust hit the spot along with their salad of lettuce, arugula, tomatoes with a whole trout! A perfect lunch for two.
Not enough time for table service lunch? (Unfortunately, by American standards, restaurants in Chile in general are notorious for leisurely service. Some, not all. Sometimes it’s nice not to be rushed especially when you are on vacation but sometimes you’re just hungry.) So keep this one in your back pocket. This fast food burger joint may be the Shake Shack of Chile. Based on great reviews, we got their standard cheeseburger with thin juicy patties on semi-sweet buns which totally reminded us of Shake Shack. And just like the American chain, Streat Burger also offer crisp crinkle fries which we literally just ate up!
Another seemingly fast food-y spot we tried was Domino. And that’s for no other reason that to try a typical Chilean completo which is basically a hotdog on a soft bun topped with chopped onions and tomatoes, ketchup, mustard and…avocados! The place was bumping when we came for lunch. Seems like it was a go to spot for your typical office worker who’s ready for a quick bite! Unfortunately, the completo was not for us but glad we were able to give it a shot.
At the tail end of the trip, after flying back to Santiago from Patagonia, we were fairly hungry but at the same time, just ready to go to bed. With the recommendation of one of our guides, we hit this place up since it was right next door to Hotel Singular in Lastarria where we were staying. With the facade being quite non-descript, we weren’t sure what we were signing up for. It was a pleasant surprise to enter the space and be ushered into three floors of dining area and an explosion of eccentric art. Every floor was different. We sat on the third floor and ordered a bunch of items of the Spanish menu which we thought were appetizers that turned out to be sizeable entrees. Our favorites were the marinated rabbit stew with fries, roasted pork ribs, and the empanadas.
For our last day before heading out to the airport, we wanted to find one of the better places to experience a good steak. Considering the luck we’ve had just by checking online reviews, we picked Don Carlos for lunch. What’s even better? Reviews mentioned to get the skirt steak and so we did. Grilled medium rare, the skirt steak was soooo tender and perfectly cooked. Definitely the star of our meal. In addition, we got the Milanesa de Pollo which is similar to a chicken parmesan that’s fried and breaded but more tender and thin.
Besides eating and drinking all the pisco sours through Santiago, we also took a drive outside and visited Casablanca, an hour away from the city and home to some of the finest white wines in Chile because of its cooler climate.
First winery was Villard Fine Wines. The family-owned business was established back in 1989 and was deemed the first boutique winery in Chile. Our group received a warm welcome from their crew and a dog named Blue who was on his back with all fours up in the air waiting for belly rubs. They sat us outside and gave us a taste of some incredible wines such as the Arganat Chardonnay, Villard Sauvignon Blanc and the Tanagra Syrah. Not a wine connoisseur by any means, but they were all delicious and perhaps made better by the setting.
We also visited Bodegas RE, another small family-owned vineyard which was started in 2008. Here we were treated to a wine paired tasting menu inside what looked like a cave where they had big clay pots where historically wines were fermented and aged. The winery is known for their conceptual wines with an ethos of recreating, reinventing and revealing, hence the RE in their name. As such, they served us with some unique flavored wines aptly categorized for the combination of varieties like Chardonnoir and Syranoir.
Next stop, Valparaiso.
Valparaiso is a coastal town and seaport which is also the second largest metro in the country and considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The city reminded us a bit of San Francisco with its winding and hilly cobblestone streets, the historic architectures and its gallery of murals that covered many of the street walls.
Where to stay:
Hotel Casa Higueras is a small and charming historically restored boutique hotel perched on a hill overlooking the city with views of the seaport. It was once a home in the 1920s and only has 20 rooms with all its personnel ready to provide you with great service to make your stay as relaxing and enjoyable as possible. The hotel has its own in-house restaurant serving some of the finest meals you’ll find in Valparaiso. It also has its own outdoor pool complete with a huge hot tub, spa and sauna to help us recharge for the rest of the trip.
Where to eat:
Besides the hotel’s own restaurant, we had room for a night to dine out. Restaurant La Concepcion was a mighty fine choice. With the perfectly cool weather of Valparaiso, we got our group sat on their outdoor patio which again made for stunning views of the waters. The food from start to finish were excellent but the best thing about it was their attention to detail and service to make sure everyone on our table was satisfied.
What to do:
Discover the stories of Valparaiso through a guided mural art walk tour. As a city that has embraced public art, artistic expression through murals are a huge part of the culture. A four hour walking mural tour provided us with a look at some of the most interesting public murals, their background and their background which can be tied to the country’s history, political environment or just simple irreverence.
Next stop, Puerto Varas.
Where to stay:
Perhaps one of the most memorable experiences on this entire trip was our stay at Hotel AWA. Definitely a splurge as it is a 5-star resort right on the beach of Lago Llanquihue where the majestic and romantically beautiful Osorno volcano sits right out your window. The hotel itself was just as Instagrammable from every angle as the views of the lake and the volcano. The rooms were perfectly designed with full glass wall windows to make sure anyone staying there had the most scenic view from sun up til sun down. The hotel also boasts of an indoor lap pool, hot tub and sauna where you can retreat after a day of excursions to unwind. Easily the most beautiful hotel we’ve probably stayed in all our international trips.
What to do:
Through Hotel AWA, you can book excursions for the day depending on your level of energy or how much time you wish to expend.
One of the fun and active things we did was doing an electric bike tour through Vicente Perez Rosales National Park, the first National Park of Chile. With our amazing guides, Daniella and Felipe, we biked for a few kilometers for some of the best views of the lake and the surrounding volcanoes and mountains. Then we hiked through the park to eventually see the magnificent Las Cascadas waterfall.
On another day, we hiked through the forest, the desert and volcanic landscape to catch one of the closest views of the perfect coned Osorno volcano and end with a spectacular sight of Petrohue River known for its clear and bright turquoise waters.
Lastly, our group hopped on a small boat to experience the tranquil lake for another perspective of the volcano and its surrounding mountains and landscape.
Next stop and the climax of this dopamine-loaded adventure through Chile:
Patagonia via the town of Puerto Natales
Where to stay:
Our crew stayed at The Singular Patagonia, a resort about 10 minutes from Puerto Natales’ downtown so to speak. Similar to Hotel AWA, the rooms showed off nature with floor to ceiling windows that had magnificent views of the water and the majestic mountains in the distance. The hotel is a preservation of a century old cold storage whereby it has become not just a luxury resort but at the same time serving as a museum to remember the legacy of the historic land where it was built.
The amenities of the Singular are simply top-notch and highlights the beauty of the nature that surrounds it with plenty of windows from the rooms to the dining area and the stunning pool and spa area where part of the pool is indoor and a portion goes under the window and connects outside where all your senses feel connected with the beautiful landscape.
What to do:
Get a massage if you can at the hotel. It is quite the heavenly experience mostly because of the setting. It really takes it to the next level.
As it is the land of Patagonia, what best way to explore the amazing area and see the most stunning land masses that we’ve only seen in photos and NatGeo documentaries than to hike through Torres Del Paines National Park. The hike can be as grueling or as leisurely as you want it to be. We took one that was day long with moderate level of difficulty mostly just for the length of the hike but not the steepness.
The hike itself was a lot of fun and a bombardment of natural beauty as you walk through steppes covered in colorful flora we hadn’t seen before and fauna from lizards, bugs, condors but the most exciting for us to see was the many guanacos in the wild! It is closely related to the llama but is not domesticated.
The piece de resistance of all the hikes was finally seeing up close The Horns of Paines, or Los Cuernos, with its granite peaks which is a spectacle to behold as it was a product of centuries of volcanic eruption and plates colliding. The photos you’ve seen nor the words used to describe them will never quite give justice to the awe and astonishment we and probably all others who have made the pilgrimage have experienced.
Hope this gave anyone who might have been thinking about making that trip to Patagonia consider all the other areas of Chile which have all been a pleasant and wonderful part of the entire journey. It definitely gives us more reason to return and explore all others we missed like the Atacama desert and other northern wineries. For those trying to avoid the frigid cold of North America in the winter, Chile is ideal since winter is their summer but with cooler temps and barely any humidity. The other bonus is you get to experience summer solstice, the longest day of the year, for a second time and it is pretty glorious!