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Old 06-02-2013, 07:33 PM
Location: Las Vegas
678 posts, read 1,651,042 times
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We recently returned from a two-week vacation to Chile (03/19 - 04/02/2013) and I wanted to post some information that might be helpful to others contemplating such a trip. First - the opinions are from my perspective as a middle class retired average Joe. The facts are just that - facts. I'm no expert and some will disagree with what I experienced. We are not back packers or hostel types. We need a decent place to stay with a private bath and enjoy eating out - and by eating out; I don't mean sitting on the curb with a loaf of bread and a bag of deli meat.

I researched the trip ahead of time by reading the latest Frommer and Lonely planet guides. I took them along and used them for reference. They were somewhat helpful. I also bought and downloaded some Chile maps onto my iPad. These were not helpful.

I packed a 27-inch suitcase for the trip, my wife a 24-inch. Mine was too big - hers, just right. For a couple - two 24-inch lightweight rolling suitcases would be fine. We used AA FF points for the airfare. So the trip for two from Louisville to Santiago and back cost us around $150 in fees and 80,000 miles. The regular coach airfare was around $1500 pp, so this turned out to be a great savings.

I rented a car for the trip. Most folks on forums I asked, advised against renting a car. However, I always rent a car on our vacations and am not comfortable schlepping our luggage around in trains and busses. As it turned out, we visited places that weren't served by public transportation - so renting a car was a good thing. Best deal I could find on a two-week rental was through Europcar. The play here is to not rent it directly from their website, but to go through an outfit called VIPcars.com. Total rental cost was $635. They required $85 up front at the time the reservation was made and the rest upon returning the car. This included unlimited miles and all insurances with a couple hundred-dollar deductibles. It was for a Golf class car. The actual car turned out to be a Chevy Sonic. This price was for a manual transmission. If you aren't comfortable with a manual you'll have to pony up a little more for an auto. This price was hands down the best I found and the service received upon pickup and return at the Santiago airport was impeccable. Highly recommended.

Getting to Chile is time consuming. You leave at night. You arrive in the morning of the next day. We had to change planes in Dallas and a flight delay increased our travel time to around 14 hours. What's bad compared to flying to Europe is that you lose a day going and you lose a day returning. No making up for the lost day on the trip home because of the time change, like you would coming back from say, Germany. So we arrived at Santiago airport (SCL) around noon. The airport is quite modern.

The first thing you will experience, prior to customs or immigration is the section where residents of the USA pay $160 per person to enter Chile. Proof of your payment is stapled into your passport and good for the life of your passport - so hopefully you just acquired your passport and are now good for 9+ years in case you wish to return without paying the reciprocity fee again. You can pay with cash or credit card. If using cash - make sure you have fresh, clean US bills or they will not be accepted. If you decide to take cash with you to Chile, request new currency from your US bank prior to your trip. The Chileans are touchy about the least little mark on a bill, when accepting dollars.

When you pass through immigration, they will give you a small paper with an arrival date stamp. Don’t lose it. You need it to get out of the country. Also, at some hotels it will exempt you from the 19% VAT type tax. As a tourist you don’t have to pay this tax. However some hotels won’t tell you unless you ask. At the Hilton, whatever you charge to the room also gets 19% subtracted from the bill.

We picked up the rental car without incident and all went smoothly. Our first two nights were at the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport. I arranged this in the event that our luggage was lost, so the airline would have a couple of days where it could easily reach us, if found. Fortunately our luggage was at the carousel before we were.

On the day of arrival, the Hilton checked us right in and after freshening up; we took the car downtown to the casa de cambia to exchange dollars for Chilean pesos. It’s about a 30-minute drive from the airport to downtown. Maybe less if you know where you are going. We arrived near the currency exchange and parked on a nearby side street. There was a guy that watched after the car and charged about 3 or 4 dollars for leaving it there when we picked it up. I think he was official as he gave us a receipt and had a uniform.

At the currency exchange, I changed $1500. The rate these casa de cambios give you is phenomenal. There are no hidden fees and the rate is posted with the spread. It was something like Buy 473, Sell 482 for $1.00. This beat the airport guys by a wide margin. BTW, I’d recommend purchasing a few hundred dollars in Pesos prior to leaving home. Your bank can order them for you. The rate won’t be nearly as good, yet still much better than the shysters at the airport exchanges. Then you’ll have some local currency when you hit the country. So thumbs up for the Casa de Cambios. I’ve exchanged money all over the place in various countries and this is the best deal I’ve ever encountered.

Having some Chilean cash in our pockets felt pretty good, so we went to the Restaurant Panorama. This is a rotating restaurant on the top of a high-rise in a downtown section of Santiago called Providencia. Since it was early around 6:00PM we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The views were great as was the food. We were lucky to stumble onto this place. We just asked a doorman at one of the condo buildings in the neighborhood and he pointed it out to us. Dinner cost right at $100 not including the tip for two and included a half bottle of wine, appetizer, entrees, salad and shared dessert. Highly recommended.

The next day we toured some land that is being developed for sale. It was between Santiago and Valparaiso (Valpo). It was a little too undeveloped and in the middle of nowhere for my tastes. They haven’t officially begun lot sales, but will notify me when they do. It was interesting.

We spent days three and four in Santiago at the Hotel Monte Carlo. First this place was a devil to find.

Driving in Santiago – Think “no left turns” and lots of one way streets. This pretty much sums up driving in the metropolitan areas of Santiago and Valpo.

I was driving all around looking for the Hotel Monte Carlo but kept missing it because the road upon which it is located is called one thing, and then it goes into a tunnel. When it comes out of the tunnel it is called something else. So I never entered the tunnel. Finally, we saw a local guy parked in his Range Rover and asked him if he knew where it was. He typed the address into his iPhone and said, “It’s only ten minutes, follow me I’ll lead you there”. He led us right to the front door and I thanked him and handed him ten dollars for being so kind. He didn’t want to take it, but I insisted. This was the first example of the kindness of the Chilean people. We were really impressed with them throughout our stay.

Assessment of the Hotel Monte Carlo - Free breakfast about the worst we’ve ever had. Street noise loud, if you get stuck in a room facing the street. Great off street parking. Good location. We walked from there to the top of the hill (Cerro San Cristobal) with the Virgin Mary statue – it was that close. Would not stay there again however. Rooms were small and loud. Bathrooms tiny. Breakfast bad. Cost was $75 a night for a double.

In Santiago we saw the usual stuff. Took a tour of the Concha e Toro winery and bought a few souvenirs. We visited Plaza de Armas, Mercado Centrale, rode the metro to an artisan’s village and ate at some nice restaurants. We watched a televised soccer game at an outdoor café and enjoyed the ambiance. They served beer table-side in the equivalent of our 40 ounce bottles. One bottle good for two and it was reasonably priced at around $4.

As an aside - I must say that the amount of graffiti in Santiago has reached epidemic proportions. I’ve been to other countries where I thought it was bad, but this is beyond bad. It’s everywhere – buildings, curbs, light posts, private property and public. Graffiti removal and prevention would be a business opportunity. About the only place we didn’t see it was on private automobiles and surprisingly it wasn’t apparent on the metro. I believe it may be legitimized as “street art”. Lets hope the US does not go down that road.

While in Santiago at the main plaza, someone sliced my wife’s shoulder bag in an unsuccessful attempt to extract something of value. We never saw it happen, but an older woman on a bench saw it and shouted out. In spite of this - we never felt unsafe at anytime.

We then had reservations in Valparaiso for two nights. The drive to Valpo took me about four hours. Had I known where I was going it would have taken 2 hours max. I got lost and had to pay a taxi driver to find the hotel, but she got lost and had to ask a postman. About Valpo – This is a city mostly built into the side of a steep hill. The streets get narrower and narrower the higher you go. Most are one-way. At one point the street I was on became so narrow that we had to reach out and fold in the exterior mirrors in order to clear the buildings, and I was driving a Sonic!

I had contacted our B&B (The Yellow House) ahead of time and gotten directions that were pretty useless. They also told me there was no parking lot but plenty of street parking. In this case the street turned out to be a dirt and stone alley – very narrow, that truncated in a dead end. The hosts at the Yellow House were terrific and could not have been nicer. They just don’t have much to work with – which is unfortunate. Breakfast was ok.

Two nights in Valpo were two nights too long as far as I was concerned. The neatest thing we did was take a boat around the harbor and looked at all the sea lions. Sea lions are a real nuisance to the local fisherman who find them flopped down in their dingys that are moored in the harbor.

We also went to a famous hole-in-the wall restaurant called J. Cruz that serves a local greasy dish of chorrillana (a mountain of French fries under a blanket of fried pork, onions and egg) and desmechada (stewed beef) on top of that. It was one of those dishes only an unemployed cardiologist could endorse. It tasted ok and the restaurant was somewhat eclectic. Lots of antiques and every square inch of the walls and tables were covered with writings and pictures of former patrons. Supposedly a must see. My opinion – meh…

Frankly, my advice would be to pass on Valpo. Go to Vina del Mar – the sister city just north and you should have a much better time.

Since it was March and in the slow season we had not made further reservations for rooms and decided to just “wing it”. We were unsure whether to head south to the “Lakes District” or north to the desert areas. We chose north and do not regret it.

Leaving Valpo behind us, we intercepted the Route 5 toll road and were enjoying a virtual traffic free beautiful roadway. I mean truly very little traffic. These toll roads need to be explained in a little more detail. In the US, when you are on a toll road, you expect limited access and a controlled traffic situation. In Chile, not so much.

It took us around 6 hours to get to a beach resort called La Serena. On the way were several unusual sightings. A couple hours north of Valpo we encountered some young ladies running out to the edge of the road waving white flags on sticks at us. When I pulled over they approached with baskets full of sweet breads they were selling – so we bought a few. We also noticed several fruit and vegetable stands right along the toll road – no turn offs, just pull over to the shoulder and go shopping. We saw an energy wind farm that was a tourist attraction down a dirt road to the sea. We also ate at a fabulous restaurant overlooking the ocean – think “Big Sur” type views if you are familiar with California. Only this restaurant had a play area where the tots shared a playground with roving foxes. It was interesting and a little scary.

In La Serena we stayed at the Mar de Ensueno. We had a room with a balcony and sea view. They have a good breakfast, heated pool, playroom for kids, plenty of parking and a good location. They charged me $120 a night and it was a nice room. I did have to haggle a bit to get them down as they started out at $150.

The problem with this coastal town was that the marine layer kept it dreary and cloudy all the time. So after two days we moved to a B&B called Casa Puka Yana that was located in a little town in the mountains called Paihuano. We were lucky to get this place and liked the atmosphere and owners so much that we stayed four nights. It cost about $75 a night and that included a nice breakfast on the patio under a grape canopy. The weather was beautiful – sunny, dry, and no bugs! We just relaxed and took it easy. The owner, Alvaro Rodrigo Diaz Parada was super friendly – even going so far as changing a flat tire for us. Then taking us to a garage to get it repaired. His wife washed my clothes – all for no additional charges.

One night he arranged for a trip to a local mountain top where astronomers offered viewings to tourists. We got to see the Milky Way from the Southern Hemisphere and instead of the North Star, I discovered the Southern Cross that seamen use for navigation. It was really neat. I especially liked seeing Saturn. You could actually count the rings and the sky was crystal clear up there in the Andes, so no light pollution.

We took several tours of pisco distilleries. Pisco is a grape brandy that is used to make a drink called a “Pisco Sour”. This is virtually the national drink of Chile. As far as I know, just about all the pisco grapes come from the Elqui Valley. That’s where we were staying, so these pisco tours would be the equivalent of winery tours if we were staying in Napa Valley.

After four nights we headed back to Santiago as I had booked a room at the Hilton for the night before our flight home. On the way we were pulled over by the police. I think it was a checkpoint or something. I handed him my Kentucky driver’s license. He was the nicest most polite policeman that I have ever run across. He asked how we were enjoying our stay and we chatted for a bit. Then he waved us on and told us to come back some time.

We spent a bit of time at the Hilton bar and one bartender, “Enrique” was one of the nicest I have ever met. He was pouring ample drinks, free refills and was very interesting to talk to. He didn’t want to take a tip – but finally accepted one.

The flight back was through Miami and went well. My general impression of Chile is very favorable. You can drink the water everywhere. The people that I encountered were very personable and friendly. The prices were on par and maybe a bit higher than in the US. Service was good. Outside of Santiago and Valpo driving was fun and easy. Lots of development going on in Chile. It might be a good place to buy some beachfront property. The area a couple hours North of Valpo looks very promising. Chile is just so darn far from home that it makes travel there difficult. Now if Mexico ever gets its act together…
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Old 06-07-2013, 06:59 PM
974 posts, read 1,832,343 times
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Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences to Chile'. This is very good info as it is on our destination list.
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Old 06-09-2013, 11:43 AM
Location: Milan, Italy
263 posts, read 819,378 times
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So, do you think Chile was pretty devoloped? Somewhat comparable to home?
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Old 06-09-2013, 07:35 PM
Location: Las Vegas
678 posts, read 1,651,042 times
Reputation: 597
Originally Posted by FightForFreedom View Post
So, do you think Chile was pretty devoloped? Somewhat comparable to home?
It's very much like Italy. I would not consider it a third world country, at least the areas where we traveled.
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Old 06-10-2013, 12:49 AM
Location: The North
5,088 posts, read 9,111,385 times
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Tourists are unlikely to see much evidence of lack of development in many countries if they stick to the big cities and follow tour guide advice about staying away from rough parts of the city. Santiago has some rough areas where you'd say things look a little more third world. Same for some of the edges of the other bigger cities and some of the farming areas, but poverty is far less a problem than almost anywhere else in Latin America. For the most part its a country on the verge of officially being declared first world or whatever wording they want to use for it. It pretty much got the ultimate stamp of approval by its recent inclusion into the US visa waiver program.
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Old 06-12-2013, 01:20 AM
Location: Europe
89 posts, read 206,362 times
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Great post. Very detailed and informative.
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Old 06-13-2013, 10:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Croce View Post
It's very much like Italy. I would not consider it a third world country, at least the areas where we traveled.
I was there for a month in Chile during feb 2013

Wow! It was like being in the u.s and europe at the same time. I had a rental car, was great!

Payed for everything with VISA (heck, even small kiosks were accepting visa). I had no problems with anything really. The poverty I saw in the central region of the country was mainly isolated and contained. Some parts of the south-west fringe of santiago was also not that great. (Mind you that the infrastructure was uniform throughout the country) The poorer areas were (I was told) mostly populated by peruvians, colombians and other fortune-seeking Latino/Asians. But those areas didn't look 3rd world, they looked like french/spanish slum... in other words, they had a dish on their roofs, electricity, water etc.

For me the biggest surprice were the Chileans themselves... they were polite, quiet, well mannered and highly fashion-aware... in other words a very developed society.

Oh, btw the reason most poverty still exist in chile (14% pop) is because of their own fault; they being marxists. There are possibilities for everyone, but most of the poorer refuse to integrate themselves with the society and to capitalism for that reason. They rather spend their productive time demonstrating and/or smoking pot.
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Old 08-28-2013, 09:23 PM
447 posts, read 846,199 times
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The prices you quoted in the original post....were those Chilean pesos or USD?
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