Chile: Santiago & Wineries
Updated: May 24, 2019
February 14, 2019 This trip is the first ever where I had nothing to do with the planning or choosing of where we were going. The entire month away was planned by my hubby as my surprise 30th wedding anniversary vacation. It was absolutely incredible that he managed to plan the whole thing and keep it secret right up to the last 5 days in Bora Bora. He threw me for a loop because we flew into Santiago and I just never even thought that we could go to French Polynesia from there. It started off on Valentine's day where we stayed the night at the Toronto airport hotel and we enjoyed a beautiful dinner at the Keg. We were up early and checked in by 6AM. We lucked in with good weather and had only light rain in the morning! But it was cold out so we had to de-ice first. We flew Copa airlines to Panama City again. This is the 9th flight into Panama but I still cannot count it as a country I’ve been to as we did not exit the airport. Second flight was direct to Santiago and he upgraded as again to business class (as it is way more affordable on Copa airlines and definitely worth it for the long journey!) We arrived at midnight. Got through customs without any issues. All our luggage arrived but then our private driver never showed up! We waited for an hour and then a friendly taxi guy helped us (he tried to call the private driver but no response) so he took us downtown for 55$ US. We arrived around 2:30AM.
We stayed at Hotel Plaza El Bosque Ebro - Ebro 2828 in Las Condes - a really nice hotel in a great area of Santiago. Las Condes, sometimes referred to as ‘Sanhattan’, is a modern neighborhood where many of Chile’s wealthiest folks work, play and live.
Its a very clean city. Reminds me of San Diego or Vancouver. Its very modern & metropolitan and it's Chile's capital & largest city, with over 7 million people. Santiago is also the political and financial centre of Chile. It sits in a valley and is surrounded by the snow capped Andes (if you can see them! The whole time we were there, it was very hazy so that we could not see the mountains).
Santiago has a reputation for being a very safe city. But just like with most Latin American large cities, you just need to be careful with pickpocketing and petty crimes. Don't walk around and flaunt expensive camera gear or personal items and you will be fine.
Lunches and dinners are served later then what we are accustomed to. Usually around 2pm for lunch and between 8-10pm for dinner. Tipping is 10% but almost always already included in many restaurants, so check your bill before adding more! We found the city quite expensive for many things. Food, liquor & clothing were almost the same as in Canada. This surprised us quite a bit. But certain things were a much better bargain. If you want a pedicure or manicure, it was a much better deal. I had a pedicure done at Hands And Company for $24 Canadian.
We enjoyed some patio time each day for some nibbles and drinks. It was so warm and nice but with a breeze which made it just perfect.
The food scene in Santiago is great & has become one of the world's top food destinations. Just use Tripadvisor or google and you wont have a worry about finding good food. We ate out the whole time and neither of us had any issues with getting sick from the food at all. This area has more than 500 restaurants, so there's is plenty of choice and a ton of variety. There are lots of pizza places and we found our favourite called Pizza Tiramisu. It was always packed there but for good reason as the food is excellent & has a fantastic lively vibe.
Another night we treated ourselves to Don Carlos steakhouse that was rated real well on Tripadvisor. It was generally very good but my steak was a little underdone and tougher unlike John’s that was real good. We shared a bottle of wine and had a nice evening out but it was a pricey dinner.
Another day we took a very long walk through the city. We walked to the cable car that takes you up to the famous San Cristobal Hill which overlooks all of Santiago. It cost 6500 pesos for both of us (which is about $13 Canadian). It was really nice but unfortunately very hot and hazy so we could not see the mountains all around the city. But still super nice with interesting views all around.
This is a very religious Catholic city and at the top of this hill is the virgin Mary statue and a church. Being a Sunday we got up there just in time for mass to start at 12:30!
We wandered around, taking in the different views and areas of the hill, then took the cable car back down.
You can walk or bike up and down if you wish. Its quite a way but we were stunned at the number of cyclists and walkers. A major city street was closed to motorists this morning for cyclists and walkers. We werent sure if this was an every Sunday event or if this was something special today. There just seemed to be a lot of very fit people everywhere! The parks and streets were packed everywhere with people either walking, cycling or just lounging or picnicing in parks and in shade. It was a very nice atmosphere.
On the way back we walked through the Providenciales section (which is referred to as the Bohemian section). Located between the Mapocho River and San Cristobal Hill, this area is a haven for local artists and free-spirited travelers with all its boutiques and art galleries. The brightly-painted buildings, tree-lined streets and numerous sidewalk cafes make it the perfect place to get lost for a few hours. We stopped and had a cold beer at one of the outdoor patios.
We also walked over to the famous shopping mall called La Costanera Center. It has hundreds of retail outlets, cafés and restaurants, and is one of South America’s tallest buildings (984 ft - 300 meters). The complex also has four skyscrapers which are occupied by hotels and offices.The shopping mall has 7 floors and each floor has shops according to a theme. Everything from bookstores and jewelers to sportswear and luxury fashion and food and wine. It was absolutely massive and we gave up after a couple of hours. But it was a very impressive mall with lots of great shopping there.
On another day we decided to head to the mountains and do some sightseeing and wine tastings. John hired a private driver for the day who came highly recommended when he did his research on Tripadvisor. Segio, the owner of Chile Car Service, was our actual driver & he showed up in a brand new BMW fully loaded SUV & very comfortable for the two of us. I was quite impressed with hubby once more!
Out first stop was at Il Situ winery at San Esteban. They are famous for the glyphs which are found all around that mountain. Angelina was our tour guide of the winery. Very nice lady who spoke english and was very informative. She gave us a private tour of the winery and we learned so much. Of course, I tasted a lot and bought a few bottles to take with me as well :)
Next stop was Errazurris winery. A top notch, high end winery. Beautiful site and house. We tasted and bought two bottles. We walked around the entire site but it was very hot & draining, especially after all that tasting!
After that we drove for another hour to Laguna del Inca (Inca lake) up in Portillo, which is a ski resort. Crazy curvy roads to get there. The mountains are all barren, dry and rocky.
Portillo is basically at the Chilean and Argentinian border. Shame that we couldnt go over. Sergio told us that there is a way to cross over for a few kms and actually be in Argentina but you dont go through border crossing. You get to go to 15,000 feet at Aconagua volcano, get to see some crazy views and come back through the Chilean border. We didnt have passports but he said he could get us back through. Yeah... John didnt want to take the chance, but I would have! LOL
We walked around the lake, took photos and then had a delicious lunch of chicken and avocado sandwiches and the most delicious, real fries that I have had in a vlong time.
By the time we got back through Santiago’s rush hour traffic (which normally is not too bad) it was 7pm. We decided we were still full from the late lunch and chose to stay in for the night. We sorted our clothes and repacked as I was told we were leaving Santiago in the morning!
I was surprised to see Sergio in the morning again. We piled our luggage into his SUV & left Santiago. They were both having a laugh with me & still not telling me where we were going. We drove for about 50 minutes and arrived in the Casablanca wine region. Its northwest of Santiago and towards the coast. He stopped at Veramonte winery and insisted we do more tastings. The wine was really good and it was an organic winery.
This region mostly does white wines due to the cooler temperatures and fog areas. But some do reds, mostly Pinot Noirs.
I’d been trying a lot of Carmenere’s as that seems to be the predominant red for Chile. So I had 2 more wine tastings and bought 2 more bottles. Now I had 6 bottles in tow and a bottle of 12 year old Flor de Cana rum. (Little did I know that I would not need these wines!!)
We continued on and arrived at Valparaiso. This is a port town that very much resembles San Francisco and its nicknamed that for that reason. At first it appeared run down and not too safe - he drove us through the downtown area and where the shipyard & container ships are. Not very pretty because of that. There were a ton of military ships in the harbour too which was kind of neat to see. There was also 1 cruise ship.
He made us take the original old funicular up to the top of the hill. It was very cool. Very ricketty but it did its job and slowly pulled us up via the pulleys. Sergio drove around and picked us up at the top.
We then drove around the steep streets and he would let me out to take photos of the really cool street art and all the wall murals everywhere. They have more art here then Cuenca does and Cuenca has a lot!
Lunch was at a beautiful restaurant called Cafe Turri de Valparaiso where we had a great view overlooking the entire city. The food was really fancy but extremely good. We both had seafood. We treated Sergio to lunch as I was told that he would be leaving us shortly & we would be parting ways.
After lunch, around 1:15 pm he drove us back down and to my absolute shock he took us to the cruise ship! He dropped our bags off at the terminal and then us at the check in gate. We said goodbye and off we went to check in. I was so shocked and stunned! At this point, I had no idea where we were going from here.