Tag Archives: top sights in chile

Top Sights Chile

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Chiloe

The second largest island in South America after Tierra del Fuego. Chiloe is a cultural and gastronomic delight. The island has remained fairly isolated from most of mainland Chile and has a distinct feeling to it. Covered in unique and colorful wooden jesuit churches there is plenty to see. If you go at the right time of year, penguins and whales are also something you might get to enjoy. The islands capital Castro has lots of the traditional Palafitos, or stilted houses as well as a bright yellow cathedral. Chile is a country of excellent seafood, and Castro has the best of the best. If you can, head to Mercadito for some truly great food.

Concha y Toro

Concha y Toro: Wine Tasting

If there’s something the Chileans can truthfully say they excel at, it’s wine. At the top of the worlds wine producers is Concha y Toro. As one of the biggest wine producers in the world in both size and sales, the quality of their wine is truly amazing. From cheap boxes to exclusive casks they offer good wine in nearly every price bracket. A visit to the original vineyard can be easily organised on their website and can be achieved in a day from Santiago. You can go for the normal tour, or pay a bit more and sample some of their better wines with cheeses and breads.

Street Art in Valparaiso

Valparaiso

The next nearest city to Santiago, Valparaiso sits on the Pacific coast. A city that stretches up into the hills, you will find Valparaiso a city that you want to walk around. Whilst most of the grander colonial buildings sit on the thin stretch of flat ground near the sea, the real Valparaiso is in the hills. The buildings here are a mix of constructions, but it’s the street art that draws the visitors. Whilst it’s technically just graffiti, it’s the type of graffiti that improves a city. The local artists have taken every blank wall and covered it in paintings from the imaginative to the bizarre. A set of steps becomes a piano, and a rocky wall an iguana made out of bubbles.

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Las Dunas

Found just up the coast from Valparaiso, Las Dunas (the dunes) are a collection of huge sand dunes that stretch from the top of sea cliffs right down to the waters edge. Whilst they’re now being slowly overtaken by the same developers who bought the land to “protect it” you can go and get some inspiring views of the Pacific coast. Take some snacks and wine and enjoy the view.

San Pedro

San Pedro de Atacama

As one of the usual first/last stops in Chile, San Pedro in the Atacama desert is a must on the South American backpacker trail. This adventure capital is a great place to see the surrounding salt flats, hot springs, volcanoes and the world famous Valle de la Luna. The valley of the moon is an other worldly landscape of ridges and sand dunes. The tiny town looks like something out of an American Western and the night skies offer some of the best starscapes in the world. This is also the place to begin your trip into Bolivia with an unforgettable salt flats tour.

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Valle de la Muerte

Just outside San Pedro de Atacama, we thought the Valley of Death deserved it’s own mention. This martian landscape is equally if not more impressive than the Valley of the moon. If you want to this is a great place to try your hand at sand boarding. Shooting down the dunes is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon and the views from the top are spectacular. If you’ve got the time, we’d recommend cycling there on your own. Unlike the Valley of the Moon, it’s not a National Park, so there’s no entrance fee. Grab some mountain bikes and explore off the beaten path.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

Probably the best known of Chiles sites, the Torres del Paine national park is a hikers dream. The 4-5 day treks through the park feature some of the best scenery in the world, with the Torres (towers) being most peoples highlight. Whilst the weather is so unpredictable you can “experience four seasons in one day” you’re bound to have a great time. If you’re not up for the five day hike, you can do one day trips to the Torres in the summer, or even just catch a bus around. Whilst you won’t get as close this way, you’re still going to see some amazing scenery.

Santiago

Pre-Columbian Museum: Santiago

If you’re going to visit one museum to get some basic history on the South American peoples, then we’d definitely suggest the Pre-Columbian Museum in central Santiago. This museum is highly informative with excellent displays of artifacts. We came out truly astonished with the crafts of the peoples of South America. The level of craftsmanship that was being performed hundreds, even thousands of years ago is on display throughout the museum. If you’ve got little or no Spanish all of the displays are in English as well.

Chile in Photos…

Cycling and Sandboarding in Valley de La Muerte

Having spent one of our days in San Pedro touring the Moon Valley we decided to get a little more energetic for our remaining two days. We had heard the Valley de La Muerte was worth a visit so on the first day, spurred on by the boys enthusiasm I committed to an afternoon of sandboarding.

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As I stood at the foot of the sanddune and looked at the height regret started to sink in. As I reached the peak, puffed from exertion and altitude, vertigo kicked in and the prospect of fixing my feet to the board filled me with panic. You can see from the pictures below that some of us were more confident than others…

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Yet after watching Iain and Sam go first and after some spurring on from our instructor I took the plunge.

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I look about as confident in this picture as I felt at the time. Though after the first run and the first few falls I really started to enjoy it! Even if I was a little uncoordinated and tried to take out those walking up the sand dune…that’s me on my arse…

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It’s fair to say I never looked quite as elegant as this pro, who made it look so easy…

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But on the flipside I didn’t fall quite as spectacularly as the boys did either…

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And nor did I end up with teeth full of sand…

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To finish off the afternoon…as if sandy teeth and acing ankles weren’t enough…we were treated to a couple of pisco sours and were once again whisked off to watch the sunset at Moon Valley. The drinks and the view were well earned and made a perfect end to the day!

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We choose to go sandboarding with Inca Tours, who are located on the main square in San Pedro, and we can’t recommend them highly enough. Unlike other companies they provide you with an instructor, instead of just dropping you off with the sandboards and picking you up a few hours later, and you get a short video of your best runs and falls thrown in for good measure.

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Having been amazed at the beauty of Valley de La Muerte on the previous day, on day two we decided cycle there once more and explore further. The cycle to the valley is a pretty flat tarmacked road…

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But once you’re in the valley the scenery really speaks for itself…

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Surprisingly for a desert there was a lot of sand flying around in the wind, so my wardrobe had to be adapted accordingly…

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But don’t let that put you off, as the scenery really was amazing! Words do not do it justice so here are a few more photos…

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The cycle to the valley was about 30mins and the entire return journey was about 3 hours. Rent a bike and give it a go!

Walking the Moon: San Pedro de Atacama

Our night bus from La Serena saw us rolling into San Pedro de Atacama at about 9 in the morning. As we awoke and peered through the curtains for our first glimpse of the desert, we were all a bit bemused. The Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on the planet was covered in snow. This rare event occurred two days before and due to the low temperatures there was plenty around to play with. Sam had survived his first overnight bus despite a brief spike of fear when he found out he was sitting in front of a 10 month old baby.

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San Pedro de Atacama sits at around 2,400 metres on the Bolivian and Argentine borders. This tiny little town sits on an oasis and is one of the biggest traveller hubs in Chile. The town has a dizzying number of natural wonders within easy reach and it’s proximity to Bolivia makes it a popular stop for backpackers heading out on to the Bolivian Altiplano.

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From the moment you get off the bus, you get the impression of the old American wild west. The setting of the tiny town is on an oasis, with small single story buildings and one long main street. There are plenty of horses wandering around and numerous rustic drinking establishments. The only thing missing was a gun duel…yet the whole effect was somewhat ruined by the snow…

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The whole town is set up for tourism. Tours operators, hostels, hotels, restaurants and tourist shops are found all down the main street. Most importantly there are plenty of places to buy those supplies for your trip in to Bolivia. San Pedro might be rustic by Chilean standards but compared to the three day salt flat tour it’s luxury.

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Tours and excursions can be arranged all over town and we quickly set up our expedition to El Valle de la Luna. Moon valley is well named as the landscape is surreal. The whole valley is a national park and there are wardens to make sure you don’t walk (or sandboard) on the giant sand dunes. All that perfect sand is incredibly tempting but the lack of human marks really does make it a stunning view.

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We spent 3 hours travelling around the valley running down our camera batteries before heading up to the cliffs that overlook it for sunset. As the sun sets the shadows and colours change all across the valley. After the sun has set you get the incredible colours all along the mountains that form the Chilean – Bolivian border.

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Whilst it was warm in the sun, the moment it set the temperature dropped sharply. We bundled back in our bus and headed back to the hostel. Like most of Chile, the hostel of course had no central heating. Our fears were calmed when a wheelbarrow full of wood was rolled out, lit and everyone cosied up around it. Plentiful Piscolas (pisco and cola) definitely helped as well.

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The next day we’d booked on for a stargazing expedition. Even just standing in the lit streets of San Pedro the nights sky is stunning with the full sweep of our galaxy clear to the eye. We’d managed to be in San Pedro when there was no moon (intentional of course) so the spectacular sky was even more visible. We’d be viewing the stars from a spot just outside of town. Upon arriving we were served some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had by the worlds most enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. Over the next two hours we looked through the two powerful telescopes at nebula, white dwarves, star clusters, the rings of Saturn and even other galaxies.

Tune in to see how we got on on the Bolivian Salt Flats…

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Drinking Pisco in the Elqui Valley

After visiting Santiago we intended our next stop to be San Pedro de Atacama. However the prospect of facing another 24hr plus journey didn’t appeal to any of us. Also since Sam had only just joined us in Santiago we figured we had better break him into South American bus travel slowly. So the three of us, with the advice of our good friend Tomas, settled on breaking the journey in lovely La Serena.

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La Serena is one of Chile’s coastal cities. Situated about six hours north of Santiago, it made the perfect place to break our journey. It is Chile’s second largest city so offers the usual supply of city comforts, decent restaurants, shops etc. As well its fair share of beautiful architecture and churches.

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During the summer people flock to La Serena for the beaches. It being winter we choose to admire the empty beach (and the wind) only briefly. Nevertheless the beach and the walk from town are definitely worth stretching your legs for.

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Apart from being a base to frequent the beaches, La Serena is also used as a base for exploring the Elqui Valley. So on our full day here we set off on one of the many tours.

Upon greeting us, our guide inquired if we all spoke Spanish – “Hablan Español?” I jumped in and replied “Hablo un poquito” or “I speak a little”. Understanding me, the guide unfortunately took the others silence to mean they were fluent…most were not.

First stop was to a Papaya Farm. Unlike the Papayas that spring to mind, these Papayas are smaller, sour and are used mainly for tenderising meat or making many Papaya based products: Jams and chocolates etc. For my benefit alone the guide continued to speak his clearest and slowest Spanish. However as Iain and I understood more than most of the Brits, at this first stop on the tour we quickly became interpreter for the group…

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Further into the Elqui Valley we stopped at a hydroelectric dam for a few photos. The electric station was a bit of an eyesore but the view over the valley was worth the visit.

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Next stop was the Aba Pisco distillery. It is one of the smaller family run distilleries in the area but gave us a good overview of the Pisco making process. Fermented from grapes and often matured in oak barrels it is not unlike the wine making process.

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Naturally we took the opportunity to stock up on a few bottles after the tasting, thinking we’d try our hand at making Pisco Sours later…

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On route deeper into the Elqui Valley we stopped at a viewpoint to admire the vineyards growing in the base of the valley. Having gorged myself on Avocados whilst in Chile and Argentina (they are 100 times better than any in the UK) I was interested to learn they grow on the mountainside in the valley, note the dark green triangle in the picture below.

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A quick stop off in the sleepy towns of Vincuna and then Pisco Equi concluded the tour. Over lunch in Pisco Elqui the “fluent” Brits were exposed. The guide asked our friend Sam where he had learnt his Spanish and the game was up. The guide, of course, was fluent in English and thought it was fairly amusing that none of us had had the heart to correct his assumption.

After lunch there was just enough time to take in a few sights and the Gabriela Mistral Museum. Gabriela Mistral is Chile’s Nobel Prize winning poet born in the Elqui Valley.

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It’s also worth noting the Elqui Valley is one of the worlds top star gazing destinations…unfortunately for us, our trip to one of the many observatories that evening was cancelled, as we had managed to visit on one of the rare cloudy days! This would have made the day perfect but we hear there are plenty of other star gazing opportunities in San Pedro, so look out for the next blog!

 

Stalking the Street Art in Valparaíso

As mentioned in our previous post we took a few days away from Santiago and travelled to Valparaiso. Valparaíso is one of Chile’s major cities and seaports.

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A section of the city is now a UNESCO world heritage site and in recent years more and more artists have taken residence here. With stunning architecture and street art to be discovered on almost every corner, it was hard not to spend every afternoon strolling around and photographing everything.

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From Santiago, Valparaíso is about 60-90 minutes away on a bus. We recommend taking the Metro in Santiago to Pajaritos and taking one of the buses from just outside the station. (This way you skip a lot of the Santiago traffic!) They are very frequent, about every 10 minutes, so unless you are travelling at peaks times there is no need to book in advance.

Once in Valparaíso we stayed just inside Cerro Conception, the UNESCO area. Some choose to stay in nearby Viña del Mar, famed for its beaches and connected to Valparaíso by local bus or metro, a great day trip if not staying there, but we preferred the rugged charm of the Fischer Steps.

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Apart from taking a day trip to Concon, read more about that here, we spent many hours exploring the hills. There is so much street art it is impossible to find it all, but certainly during daylight hours Valparaíso is safe enough to explore to your hearts content. Here is a handy map to get you started – this map can be picked up in most hostels and tourist information desks.

Map of Valparaiso

It’s hard to do the place justice in words, so here are a few of our favourite finds in photos.  In our next blog look out for our very own walking tour of Valparaíso street art, which will tell you where to find some of the below.

Sandy Shoes: A Visit to Concón and Las Dunas

After the snow, wind and rain of our days in Patagonia, we were pleased to find the sun shining in Santiago. Naturally we did the only sensible thing and made our way to the coast, to Valparaiso one of Chile’s major cities and seaports. With its UNESCO status and with street art to be discovered on almost every corner Valparaiso is a charming place to visit. Valparaiso and all its charm deserves an entire blog to itself so for now here is just one of the things we got up to during our stay…

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On the advice of a good friend, we decided to take a trip to Concón to visit Las Dunas (The Dunes). Although not mentioned in our guidebook we were keen to try out a local’s recommendation, as often these turn out to be the best and most memorable experiences…and this was definitely one of those times…

One morning we jumped on a local bus marked Concón, paid for our tickets and hoped for the best. We had no idea where to get off or if the bus would take us to the dunes but we figured we would work it out as we went. The bus driver was clearly running behind schedule, so we held on tight, closed our eyes on the hairpin bends and made it to our destination in half the expected time. About 30mins.

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Despite our fears, you can’t miss the dunes. When you see them jump off the bus near the Jumbo supermarket (they all seem to take the same route) and cross the road and you’re there.

It doesn’t look like much but once we began to ascend the first dune our excitement grew. It was a bit of steep scramble…

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But once we made it over the top, our perilous bus journey was forgotten, and our jaws dropped in amazement.

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Naturally we filled our afternoon photographing and pulling our best poses.

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Boys will be boys…

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With water reserves running low we started to wonder if we would ever find civilisation again….

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Truthfully we were never more than a 30-minute walk away from the main road, but once on the dunes enjoying the silence it was easy to forget.

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All posed out, we made our way down the opposite side of the dunes, towards the sea, and took in the views of Valparaiso and the rocks.

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We also took the opportunity to free ourselves of the extra weight we’d picked up along the way, before flagging down another bus back to Valparaiso.

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Part 2

When our good friend Sam joined us in Santiago we decided he had to visit the dunes so once again we set off for Concón.

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This time we picked up a dog along the way…

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Cue more posing…

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A break for some lunch…

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Then some motorcycles ruined the peace and quiet. But the puppy thought chasing them was great fun! And honestly we quite enjoyed watching them…

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We were amazed just how much the landscape had changed the second time around. It certainly proved to us sand dunes really do move a lot in a few days. Take a trip and see for yourself!

A Date in the Devil’s Cellar: Concha Y Toro Winery

After our days in Pucon we travelled to Chile’s capital, Santiago. We will let you know in a bit more detail about what we got up to in the city in a further blog soon, but for now we want to tell you all about our trip to the Devil’s Cellar….

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Having heard it was one of the best tours around we set off one afternoon with great expectations. The winery was founded in 1883 and is situated in Pirque in the Maipo Valley, a key wine-producing region in Chile. The best bit…Concha y Toro is assessable entirely by public transport in just under an hour from central Santiago. We took Line 4 (Blue one) to La Mercedes and then it’s a short bus journey from there*.

And once we entered the grounds we could already see why it was worth the visit. It’s hard to believe this place is so close to a bustling city…

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The basic tour includes a tour of the grounds, including a visit to the manor house and summer residence of the company’s founder, Don Melchor de Concha y Toro.

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Next it was off to see the vineyards and the variety garden. Unfortunately it being winter the vines looked a little sad but don’t let this put you off going.

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Then it was time for our first wine of the tour. A mixed grape that we sipped as we admired the view over the vineyard.

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Next it was inside for a (short!) lesson in the ageing process and a tour of the oak barrels. The barrels are shipped in from France and North America and make for a very good photo.

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Then it was off to the famous Casillero del Diablo or Devil’s Cellar. Where we were lucky enough to catch a sight of the Devil himself…with some help from the handy light show. Sounds corny but it’s a lot of fun!

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After the ordeal of meeting the Devil our nerves were calmed with two more wines to finish of the tour.

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However our experience wasn’t over yet. We had opted for an additional section to the tour – so at the end we were welcomed into our own private tasting room where a Sommelier conducted a further tasting with cheeses. Here we got to taste four of their more premium wines.

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We highly recommend opting in for this, as it doesn’t cost much more, the cheeses are delicious and being walked through the wine tasting process step by step meant for once I could actually distinguish a few of the smells and tastes everyone keeps going on about!! Before whenever I’d be asked if I could smell the berries or the leather I would sniff and nod enthusiastically.

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If you don’t get chance to go further afield and visit any of the other beautiful bodegas of South America then we highly recommend taking an afternoon to visit Concha y Toro. Our expectations were certainly exceeded!

•Full travel instruction can be found on the Concha y Toro website but we assure you it’s a really easy journey!

Crab Claws and Yellow Cathedrals: Chiloe Island

After a few days on the Chilean mainland we decided to head out to try some island life. Chiloe island, the second largest in South America after Tierra del Fuego is just a short hop from Puerto Montt. A 20 minute boat ride across the Chacao straight will take you to an area of Chile still new to the tourist track. The island is noticeably different to the southern Chilean mainland. Maintaining strong links with its native heritage along with a heavy dose of 17th century Jesuit missionary influence, Chiloe has charm, culture and colour in abundance.

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For a few days we’d be staying in Castro the capital of the island, located half way down the east coast. The weather predictions were as we’d come to expect from southern Chile, bleak with almost constant rain expected. As we pulled into Castro in the dark and rain the only thing we could make out through the haze was a brightly lit building. It was only as we got off the bus we realised that this pink and yellow structure was in fact the towns Cathedral and in addition to it’s psychedelic colour scheme was also built entirely out of wood.

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Chiloe is famous for it’s colourful wooden churches, there are more than 150 spread across the island, each one unique. The Jesuit missionaries and later the Franciscans are to thank for these remarkable structures, but probably not the colours.

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The hostel we were staying in was in the traditional style for the island, a “palafito” a house on stilts, which at high tide leaves you sleeping above the water. As with most of Chiloe’s architecture the palafitos are brightly painted and made of wood. If you’re heading to the island we’d definitely recommend trying to stay in one of these traditional houses. As we arrived with the rain hammering down outside and a lovely log fire going all we wanted to do was sit back and enjoy the Chilean national drink, the Pisco Sour!

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Southern Chile has yet to see the advantages of central heating, this is especially odd considering it has a cold climate most of the year. Wood burning stoves are fairly standard in homes, shops and restaurants. Whilst they make you feel warm and cosy, they also mean that after a few days you’ll smell rather strongly of wood smoke. So does everyone else though so you don’t really notice.

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The next day started…surprisingly…rainless. As this was a rarity this time of year we were up and out, ready to explore within twenty minutes. Apart from it’s colourful architecture Chiloe is also famous for it’s cuisine. A little unsurprisingly for an island that cuisine is seafood and the fish market is where all the restaurants and locals come to get their supplies. A colourful building surrounded by colourful fishing boats you’ll find yourself amazed by the size and range of fresh catch for sale.

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Whilst there is plenty of fish on offer what impressed us the most were the more unusual items for sale. Whilst I know seaweed is edible I rarely eat it outside of a chinese. Seaweed is however clearly put to good use on Chiloe. Loose seaweed, seaweed cakes, cooked, dried, smoked and even thick kelp like tentacles that were wrapped around themselves ready to go. If we’d had a clue what to do with it we’d definitely have bought some!

Directly next to the fish market is the central market selling a great selection of local hand crafts. If you’re only just starting to head south, this is a great place to pick up some warm jumpers and socks. Or you could always pick up a poncho if you’re feeling adventurous…but since we’ve yet to see anyone wearing one, we gave it a miss.

 

If you fancy sampling some of the local seafood the restaurant we’d recommend is El Mercadito, near the fish market. Specialising in seafood, the restaurants sharing starter is a great way to get a feel for Chilean seafood and followed by one of the huge mains it’s a hearty meal. For those who aren’t fish lovers, there are of course steaks on offer as well. The Frozen Pisco Sour at this restaurant is a must have, probably the best we’ve had in Chile. Book or arrive early as it’s nearly always full by 9:00.

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A Few Lazy Days in Bariloche and Puerto Varas

After a few days hiking in El Chalten and a 30hr bus journey we arrived in Bariloche. With the weather set to be pretty poor for the next few days and with Bariloche having a fair amount on offer within walking distance, we settled in for a few days of relaxing, blogging, eating and sampling the chocolate.

Bariloche is famed for its natural beauty but with the weather turning pretty miserable and having done our fair share of hikes over the past few weeks, we settled for Bariloche’s next best things, restaurants and chocolates. And what’s better than good chocolate, good cheap chocolate! It being the week after Easter most chocolate was reduced by 50%!

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Despite our few days being fairly quiet there is plenty on offer to do in Bariloche: there are lots of hikes and lots of organised tours available in the nearby areas. On the one decent afternoon we strolled though the town and lake, and were lucky enough to see sights like this…

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As for the rest…we got, pretty much, up to date with our blogs and spent our evenings sampling the locally brewed beer. We highly recommend anyone visiting spend an evening at Manush, a great atmosphere and delicious food and beer!

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After Bariloche, we set off for Chile and this time we intended to start exploring the country…unlike our brief trip over to visit Torres Del Paine. So we planned two nights in Puerto Varas.

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Puerto Varas is 12 miles from the much larger Puerto Montt and is located on one of the largest natural lakes in South America, Llanquihue Lake.

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Once again the weather was mixed…the first afternoon we arrived was brilliant sunshine, but on our only full day there it didn’t stop raining!

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We don’t seem to be having much luck with the weather in Chile so far! I guess this is what we get for travelling in off-season! So due to the weather yet again we failed to make it out to the National Park, but we did manage to get a pretty good view of the Volcano over the lake…

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Despite the weather Puerto Varas is a lovely place to spend a few nights. With an excellent selection of restaurants on offer and its fair share of Argentina’s natural beauty, it’s certainly worth a visit. We can assure you it made a pleasant second introduction to Chile and a lovely start to our trip through the country. Next stop the island of Chiloé…