San Pedro de Atacama – the newly snow-covered desert

We got to San Pedro the Atacama around noon, starving and pretty salty. Therefore, the first day was mainly consumed by activities such as looking for food, washing our clothes and processing the many impressions of the recent days. The next morning however, we were ready again for more. Thus we rented bikes and road off to explore the Atacama desert. Our first destination was a place called “Quebrada del Diablo”. This is a canyon, where hardly any tourists seem to go (or at least on that day). Thus, we were the only ones making our way through it. Amazed by the stunning scenery, we somehow managed to loose our originally planned track, due to which we got an extra workout session by having to carry our bikes down a steep path back to San Pedro de Atacama. In the afternoon of the same day we had recovered enough for another bike ride, this time to the “Valle de la Luna” (the “valley of the moon”). There we climbed through salt caves and hiked up sand dunes, to get an overview of this out-of-space-like landscape. We were super lucky, as just recently it had rained in the area for the first time in 80 years or so (according to the lady at the park entrance). Due to that, the whole place was covered by white salt evaporations that looked a lot like snow to our Tyrolean perception.
We got back in the evening, quite exhausted but happy and packed our stuff for the next bus ride back to Argentina. We had decided to go to Salta and the nearby towns of Tilcara and Humahuaca as it was a great opportunity to explore some bits of Argentina’s North while working our way back to Bolivia. We did not regret our choice as the scenery was amazing and we had time to do some great hikes which took us up to peaks of over 4200 m above sealevel. We are now writing this on our bus ride to the Bolivian border where we probably have to say goodbye to Argentina for good – at least for this trip, but who knows!?

When in San Pedro de Atacama
Where to sleep: Hostel La Ruca – small and cozy with a great breakfast included.
Where to eat & drink: Try the local empanadas. We found them to be the best so far and you can get them on every corner in San Pedro de Atacama.
What to see & do: Rent a bike and ride around the area, there is loads and loads to see!

Big city life in Santiago

We got to Santiago on a Saturday and took it easy during the day in order to fully indulge in the city’s pulsating nightlife. Due to doing that quite thoroughly until the next morning, we kind of had to take it easy the next day too. After having sufficiently recovered, we started our sightseeing tour. We, of course, hiked up the San Cristobal hill, Santiago’s major tourist attraction, had a lovely fish and seafood lunch at the Mercado Central, strolled along the shopping streets in the city center and spent lots of time laying around in the city’s many parks, usually while enjoying delicious ice cream. The ice cream was necessary, as despite it being fall, it was still really hot. We furthermore explored Santiago’s outskirts, by hiking in Parque Natural Aguas the Ramón and Parque Mahuida, from where we got impressive overviews of the sheer size of this huge city, of the not less impressive layer of smog covering it and also of the snow-covered peaks of the Andes surrounding it. Moreover, we had a great time exploring the city’s various “comunas” (that’s how the different neighborhoods are called here), of which many have squares full of constantly crowded bars and restaurants. After 5 days in this beautiful and slightly European-vibed city, we were relaxed, happy and ready for new adventures in Bolivia.

When in Santiago de Chile
Where to sleep: The Princesa Insolente Hostel – quiet, welcoming and clean!
Where to eat & drink: Mares de Chile – delicious fish and seafood and super friendly servers in the Mercado Central. Plaza Nuñoa – a favorite after work spot for locals with lots of bars and restaurants.
What to do: Nightlife in Bellavista – the #1 party area. Parque Natural Aguas the Ramón – scenic hike to a beautiful waterfall.

Valparaíso – The paradise valley?

… maybe! For us, not so much, but we heard, that it used to be quite a great place for love-hungry sailors back in the day – maybe that’s where the name comes from!
As you may have noticed by now, we were not the biggest fans of Valparaíso. But to be fair, it has its nice areas: The colorful houses of the UNESCO protected old town are charming and some pleasant time can be spent in roof top cafes and bars, overviewing, well, the “beautiful” port of Valparaíso. Some beers probably would help to increase the city’s flair, however, make sure not to just buy some cans of beer and drink them on the streets – that could earn you a substantial fine as drinking in public is a felony unless its New Years Eve or the major national holiday.
We enjoyed the free walking tour through the town as our guide was able to point out some interesting details about the city’s history. For instance, that prostitution used to be a major business in the city which can be recognized by the meaningful names of some neighborhoods like happy and pleasure hill. Also, we learned a lot about the omnipresent art in Valparaíso: Graffiti. Furthermore, we expanded our culinary horizon once again, when he took us to one of the best Empanada places in town – a stuffed pastry of which we prefer the fried version (we have dumped all our health consciousness by now).
We also went to explore Chile’s supposedly #1 beach town (according to our guide book) – Viña del Mar. We strolled along the beach for a while and decided to like it – at least more than Valparaíso.
Despite really having tried to like this place, we never found out why so many backpackers come here and sure enough we could not help but feel quite happy to board our bus to Mendoza (Argentina).

When in Valparaíso
Where to sleep: Hostal Tricontinental – very friendly host and safe location right across the police station.
What to eat & drink: Try a “Chorrillana” – that’s Valparaíso’s most popular dish and especially great if you like onions and french fries. The healthier choice would be to dine at one of the fish restaurants in Portales and try some Ceviche – raw fish in lemon juice, and again: lots of onions.
What to do: Free Walking Tour – friendly guides make sure you get to see Valparaíso’s nice corners…

The never ending search for the path in Cochamó Valley

If you want to stay in Cochamó Valley, you will have to first earn it: go to Puerto Montt, take a bus to Cochamó, then a cab to the trailhead and then hike for around 4 hours to the camp grounds or the Refugio. If you come with quite some luggage, you can rent a pack horse. We did, mainly because it just sounded really cool to rent a pack horse. We were happy we did in the end, because the trail into Cochamó Valley, which took us through amazingly beautiful rainforest, was quite an obstacle course due to recent heavy rains. The valley, which is surrounded by mighty granite walls, is a paradise not only for trekking, but also for passionate climbers, especially because many of the routes have not been climbed yet. When hiking here, it is wise to bring some kind of GPS device – the paths are not well marked and we ended up getting lost repeatedly in this humongous green labyrinth. However, talking to some fellow hikers and climbers, we found that that happened to everyone. Getting lost was not a bad thing though as it showed us just some more hidden corners of the valley which we had not planned to see. Most hikes here are quite challenging not only regarding finding the path but also because they are steep and often exposed. The most amazing hike we did was up Cerro Arco Iris. This hike lead to a fantastic overview of the whole valley and surrounding mountain ranges, however, it also included some serious climbing which at home would have been categorized as a via ferrata for sure. This place is super remote, and thus, on clear nights, the sky is overwhelmingly crowded with stars. On our last night we thus sat at a camp fire with some new friends, happily glancing at the sky above.
We had a wonderful time here but now, after some of the most intensive hiking of our trip so far, our legs are looking forward to some relaxing days on the coast. Also our clothes are soooo ready for laundry service after all the muddy trails.

When in Cochamó Valley
Where to stay: Refugio Cochamó – family-run mountain hut offering delicious homemade food in a spectacular environment.
What to do: Cerro Arco Iris – rewards advanced hikers with an unforgettable view.