Our night bus left San Pedro at 8pm. Eight hours later (and with little sleep) we arrived at 4am into the coastal resort of Iquique. Having not planned our arrival too well, we quickly used the terminal wifi to find somewhere to stay. We had decided that it would be worth paying for a nights accommodation as at least that would mean we could sleep for a few hours before getting up to explore.
A town in northern Chile, set against a backdrop of desert, salt flats, volcanoes and geysers – sounds intriguing, right? As soon as it had entered my research radar (a few days before we were due to arrive anyway), I was excited to see what this place had to offer. Sometimes when travelling, you have an idea of the place you are going to visit in your head, but once you arrive it can be completely different and really surprise you. San Pedro de Atacama was one of those places.
For some perspective on the size of Argentina: travelling from somewhere in the north to somewhere else in the far north took 20 hours – on a straight motorway.
We were going to Salta to visit the salt flats, as we had missed the opportunity to take distorted photos with plastic dinosaurs back in Bolivia. Who knew there were even salt flats in Argentina? We didn’t. “OMG, that’s why it’s called SALT-a” we realised.
Having loved our first trip to Mendoza, we decided that the chance to travel back across the Andes from Santiago was too good an opportunity to miss. Taking the 10-hour bus through the mountains was not as straight forward as it should have been, as our dopey amateur driver managed to scrape the bus against a lorry parked on the side of the winding road. Cue a further 4-hour delay whilst we had to wait for a police report, before arriving at the Mendoza bus station after midnight with no taxis available.
If Valparaiso is Brighton, then its neighbour, Vina del Mar, is Chile’s answer to the Costa del Sol. Just 20 minutes away from the industrial port city, is a modern holiday resort complete with golden beaches, seafront restaurants and late night bars.
Just a two hour drive from Santiago is the gritty coastal city of Valparaiso. Famed for its street art, sixteen funicular railways, colourful hillside houses, and huge industrial port, this place is somewhat of an enigma. The cobbled streets showcase the city’s rich history, with architecture ranging from relics dressed in bunting, to historic colonial style, and then ultra-modern. With new speakeasy bars, pop-up restaurants, galleries and local art shops, it is the epitome of gentrified.
We were looking forward to visiting Santiago for a long time. Following a recommendation from some new friends in Pucon, we checked into Ventana Sur hostel in the east of Santiago; a great place with a swimming pool and a sociable owner.
Arriving into the hostel at an ungodly hour of 5am from our nightbus, we were greeted by a friendly-faced, tired Ivan in his pyjamas who offered us tea and the remote to his Sky TV box.
Given that it had zero competition, we were pleasantly surprised by our quirky hostel in Orsono, which had welcoming staff and a bow-legged Chihuahua. We spent a quiet night here, only leaving to find a local restaurant to buy a bottle of red (a bargain at £4, and an exciting indication of what was to come!).
What a disaster! After skipping to the office to collect our Range Rover Evoke (or similar), it turned out Danny DeVito had sold us a pack of lies and a rustbucket of a car! This 1994 Mondeo tin-can wreck had mismatched paintwork, broken brake lights and a windscreen as cracked as a Wood Green bus shelter.