Poor, underrated Chile. I didn’t meet a single backpacker in Latin America who reckoned Chile was their favourite country. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia…yes, frequently. Chile? Never.
They always start with a couple of obvious negatives that I must admit I have trouble disagreeing too much with – first off, it’s expensive. Compared to the rest of South America, that’s certainly true – however it’s still cheap compared to home, and anyway, it wasn’t all that hard for me to save money by eating out less, especially considering negative number two: the food. I’d been forewarned, but boy do the locals love their fast food. KFCs & McDonald’s everywhere, and a lot of rather greasy Chilean options too. Luckily there are plenty of decent foreign options (especially Peruvian), and the supermarkets are great, so I still ate pretty well despite the lack of great local cuisine.
The third negative I kept hearing is, I think, rather unfair. Santiago seems to get a bit of a bad time from traveller. I can kind of see why – it’s not the most amazing sights or museums, but despite that, I loved it. It’s got a stunning location, with the peaks of the highest point of the Andes towering behind the city. It’s a lovely city to wander around in, with loads of cafes and great shops to spend time in, and it’s clean, modern and safe too. The nightlife around the Bellavista area is some of the best I’ve come across as well, with dozens of bars and restauraunts spilling out onto the pavements. It even has it’s own uniquely Chilean form of seediness – the famous Cafes con Piernas (Cafes with legs) – a bizarre combo of strip joint and Starbucks, where besuited businessmen go to have coffee served by women in extremely skimpy bikinis, something I got to see after being dragged there by two Peruvians who couldn’t believe such a thing existed.
I’d even go so far as to say it’s the first place apart from Mexico City on this trip that I can actually imagine living in – helped in part by the fact that it’s one of the few places in the world where you have ski resorts 90 minutes drive one way, and a beach 90 minutes in the other direction.
Aside from Santiago, I’ve already noted that Valparaiso is one of the best cities I’ve been, and the landscapes of the Atacama desert were starkly beautiful. Best of all was the friendliness of the people, something I’ve found time and again in every country I’ve been to so far, but I have to say I think I found the Chileans the friendliest of all.
It’s yet another country I really want to go back to – in particular to explore further south, including the Lake District and Patagonia, especially the Torres del Paine national park, home to the region’s best hiking.
Anyway, that’s it for the round-up, onto more serious matters – the budget. Considering Chile is supposed to be the most expensive country in Latin America, and that I visited the most expensive places in the country (San Pedro, Santiago & Rapa Nui), I didn’t do anywhere near as badly as I thought. In fact, if it hadn’t been for buying a replacement camera, Chile would actually have worked out cheaper than several of the countries I’ve visited, mainly aided by my lowest activities cost yet, and all that hoime cooking kept the food spend down too. Sadly, the expense of the camera negated all my hard work at saving, and it meant the country did indeed turn out to be the costliest since my brief stop in the USA.
Misc (including that Camera): $19.07
Food & drink: $20.40
And of course on to all those other numbers:
Funiculars ridden: 6
Cash withdrawals: 3
Phone calls: 2
Postcards sent: 2
Volcanoes climbed: 2
Beaches visited: 2
Beds slept in: 6
Moai seen: dozens
Cameras broken: 1
Cameras unable to be fixed: 1
Cameras bought: 1
And onto the people I met. Interestingly, this was the second country in a row I spent more time with locals than with foreigners. Chile was also the first country so far where I spent more time with Latin Americans than I did with gringos – more than half the people I spent time with were Spanish speakers, and it was a fitting end to my stay in the continent that my last few nights out were conducted almost entirely in Spanish (although I have to admit that was mostly chatting to the Peruvians, as I can barely understand a word Chileans say when they speak Spanish to me, which would be a bit of an obstacle if I were to decide to live there). On the gringo score, yet again Brits dominated the list, but surprisingly Chile was the first country where I didn’t meet a single USian.
New Zealand: 1
That’s it now for stuff on the individual Latin American countries – just a few general South American round up posts to come, and then on to New Zealand.