Patagonia, Part 2: Down Volcano Villarrica

~By:  Marco

PART TWO: DOWN VOLCANO VILLARRICA

When we packed our big backpacks at the beginning of this trip, I was wondering what the big round piece of plastic was used for. Due to my lack of Spanish, I had no idea and no one bothered to translate into either language I spoke. Now, all the pieces finally come together. We are going to slide down. With a big piece of plastic under our bums and the ice pick in our hands to steer (and brake!), we slide back down the volcano. As long as it took us to climb it, is was much faster sliding back down. A-MAZING! I reach the bottom with snow in my mouth, snow in my shoes and everywhere it can possibly go. Wauw!

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After being out and about the whole day, we peacefully fall asleep in our hostel. Soon, we are back on the road continuing our way further down south.

At San Martin we cross the border with Argentina, to finally reach Bariloche. As the weather was horrible we decide to make it a quick pass through and only stayed for one night. We quickly book a hostel through Hostelworld and are sorted for the night. After a short night of sleep behind us, we quickly prepared ourselves for the 25 hour bus drive which will bring us to El Calafate. Twenty-five hours.  I don’t think we realized how long that actually is. To sit. On a bus. Even after not seeing each other for over a year we could not fill the 25 hours with endless talks. Music, various naps and foremost Pisco, helped us get through the hours. The main reason why we are going to Calafate is because of the Petito Moreno Glacier. I can tell you everything about it, however, some things are better conveyed through pictures. The one thing I can tell you, it was definitely worth the 25 hour bus ride. Pictures tell a thousand words, right?

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The sound is unlike anything I have ever heard when those massive, massive, blocks of ice make their way into the water. Imagine thunder and then multiply that times ten. In-credible. Full stop. We stood there for hours. Carefully watching how those massive blocks of solid ice reacted with the elements. The continuous sounds of ‘thunder’ all around us. We all know that light travels faster than sound. But to actually see it for yourself, seeing those blocks of ice falling into the water and literally five seconds later hearing that massive ‘bang’. Very impressive. If you ever visit Patagonia, this glacier is highly recommended.

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As Calafate is more expensive than we budgeted, we decide to move up to El Chalten, which is about a 4 hour bus ride away. Nothing compared to our last ride. Funny, how travel shows you perspective. While a 4 hour bus ride before seemed tiresome, after those 25 hours it felt like a walk in the park. In Chalten hostels are cheaper, (and so are the beers) plus, there are a lot of free hikes. What’s not to like?

To start off easy, we began with the 18K hike of Torres Del Paine. The weather this day wasn’t on our side unfortunately. Very cloudy, which pretty much killed the view. Luckily, it’s just the start of a series of hikes and we can’t have it all, I’m afraid. Traveling wouldn’t be as satisfying either. You can’t always get what you want. All those Rolling Stones fans know what I am talking about! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S94ohyErSw)

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After we get back to the hostel, we quickly go to the local supermarket to buy some well deserved beers. And some dinner, don’t forget dinner. If you’re hiking around 20K a day, you will be hungry.   Bright and early the next day we got ready for our adult hike, the Fitz Roy Mountain, only 20.2 km.  After yesterday’s hike we slept like babies, or was it because of the beer?  I don’t want to bore you with our Dutch conversations. I mean, it’s not even a real language. Anyway, what it is was all about: the crazy views!

 

Sad as I was to leave those amazing views behind I was excited to move on to the last bit of our South America adventure. Buenos Aires! It will be a transition from those stunning views, relaxing atmosphere and long hikes, but I was sure it wasn’t going to disappoint.

Check out parts one and three of Marco’s South American backpacking saga and our other blogs from Chile

Check out Marco’s adventures on Instagram: Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon- I love pucon hostel
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kGXXEyIOAm0J:www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/I-love-Pucon-Hostel-and-Backpackers/Pucon/270352+&cd=6&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b-ab

Bariloche – Universal Travelers Lodge Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Universal-Traveller-s-Lodge-Hostel/Bariloche/79005?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2&sc_pos=3

El Calafate-Hostel de las Manos
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-de-las-Manos/El-Calafate/38194

El Chalten-La Comarca hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/La-Comarca-Hostel/El-Chalten/59554?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2

El Chalten-Racho Grande hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rancho-Grande-Hostel/El-Chalten/16797?dateFrom=2017-04-21&dateTo=2017-04-22&number_of_guests=1

Buenos Aires-Rock Hostel & Brewery
http://www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rock-Hostel-and-Brewery/Buenos-Aires/69163

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas
http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Bus company – Andesmar
http://www.andesmar.com/

Patagonia, Part one: Santiago

~By:  Marco

The 1st of December, a date that will never be the same for me again. A date which was the beginning of something new. Exactly one year ago, I had my first flight as an international flight attendant. It shaped me into who I am, and changed my perspective of life. On how we travel. Of what is out there.

Since then I have traveled to over 60 different airports – all around the world. To celebrate this one year anniversary, I wanted to explore a missing continent on my list: South America. Add a Spanish-speaking backpacking friend in the equation, and off I went. First stop: Santiago, Chile.

PART ONE: CHILE

At the gate I do a quick search of where I am actually going. Since this was a rather spontaneous decision, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I just booked the flight and that was it. I will see where it takes me. I find out that the area is called ‘Patagonia’ and after a quick image search, I start to smile. I always hate it when people smile at their phones, but now I am as guilty as everyone else.

Travel does funny things to me. I get a funny feeling in my stomach. The excitement of new places with new people is hard to match. As I walk towards the plane, I hear the oh-so-familiar final boarding call in the background. At the door I got assigned my seat–business class; hello job perks! I consider myself incredibly lucky, sitting there with a glass of champagne in my hand. The excitement in my stomach. Nothing booked, nothing planned. Just two weeks of adventures ahead. Why do people go to all-inclusive resorts again? I’ve never really understood.

After a smooth flight with actually a decent amount of sleep (probably due to the overflow of champagne), I meet my friend at arrivals. We have been friends since we went to school together in the Netherlands, where we both grew up. After school, he went traveling and I moved to the United Kingdom to work for my current airline. We hadn’t seen each other since, making the reunion even better.

My friend had met a family during his travels and without asking, an invitation was extended to stay in their guestroom. We were treated like family. The whole family lives close to each other. This resulted in breakfast at mum’s, lunch at a cousin’s and dinner at grandma’s. Even with me speaking zero Spanish, and them speaking zero English, you would be surprised how much fun you can have. Especially if you add in a few Pisco Sours (the local spirit). This particular family is possibly the most hospitable people I have ever met. Hearing the stories from my friend, it seems to be part of their culture. I wish we had a bit more of this in Northern Europe.

After being fed and watered, it was time to hit the road. We started with San Cristóbal Hill, one of the three hills of Santiago. I had just arrived from London where it was the start of winter and temperatures are just above zero. Here, with a clear blue sky and very little shade, the 25 degrees is quite a bit of change. A welcomed change. With one small bottle of water between the two of us (and the remnants of the Pisco Sour from last night still lingering) we definitely underestimated the 45 minute climb in the middle of the day. Luckily, we met a gardener on our way who happily brought us to a garden hose to fill up our bottle. Muchas gracias, señor! At the top, we enjoyed the incredible views over Santiago and some well deserved rest.

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On our way down we agreed on booking a night bus towards Pucón. As a backpacker, I can highly recommend night buses. It saves you a night in a hostel plus you cover the necessary miles. If you’re lucky, you can even manage to get some sleep. However I must admit, it is not the most comfortable way to spend the night but hey, we all know traveling is not always how it looks on Instagram, right? Plus it makes you appreciate the little things in life again.

After an 8 hour bus ride we arrive in Pucón. The further we go south, the quieter it becomes. The villages get smaller, the food becomes more expensive (as do the beers), and the tops of the mountains are covered in more and more snow. I remind myself of the fact that I only packed one pair of jeans and one sweater/hoody/jumper. Travel light they said. After we gathered some information from our hostel we decided to hike volcano Villarrica (pronounced Billarrica). One of the most active volcanoes in Chile, I find out later. At 6:30 the next morning we get picked up from our hostel to be kitted up, as it is freezing at the top. This being my first ever volcano hike, I must say I was pretty excited. Imagine a kid-in-a-candy-store smile.

On the way to the volcano my friend is speaking crazy-fast Spanish with the local guides. I am enjoying the time ‘on my own’. Carefully listening to what they say, to see if I can pick up any words I might understand. All the while enjoying the incredible views and mentally preparing myself.

The whole group takes the cable car up to the base of the volcano. But not us! If you do it, you have to do it right. As confident as we are, we decide to hike from the start. With an additional 30 minutes of hiking, the guide is taking the lead at a pretty speedy pace. And I find myself regretting our decision already. Luckily, it isn’t all too bad and we join the rest of the group at the base of the mountain. The pace changed. As fast as we initially hiked, we are slowly climbing now. Everyone climbs the mountain in one big chain. And you know, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

As we get higher and higher, the temperature gets colder. Heavy winds start to blow into my face which forces me to continuously look down. Step by step, meter for meter. Focused on the two feet in front of me. We slowly make our way up until suddenly, we stop. Used to the pace, I fail to react quickly and bump hard into the backpack in front of me. How exciting is hiking again?

As we slowly reach the top, I quickly put on my gas mask as the smell is now unbearable. The weird sulfur smell makes people gag. I am glad to finally be released of my heavy backpack. Curious by nature, I detrimentally walk to the edge of the crater. Within seconds I see lava squirting out of the crater below us. This is what I came for; this is what I wanted to see. I look around, taking it all in– snow is everywhere, mountains as far as you can see. Smoke is billowing out of the crater now. It’s crazy knowing boiling lava is right below me. I sit down and appreciate the view. It was all worth it: every meter, every step. Even hitting the backpack in front of me over and over again.

Then the guide brings me back to reality. We have to make ourselves ready for the trek down. Or at least that is what I thought……..

Check parts two and three of Marco’s South American backpacking saga and our other blogs about Chile

Follow Marco’s adventures on Instagram:  Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon:  I love Pucon Hostel http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kGXXEyIOAm0J:www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/I-love-Pucon-Hostel-and-Backpackers/Pucon/270352+&cd=6&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b-ab

Bariloche:  Universal Travelers Lodge Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Universal-Traveller-s-Lodge-Hostel/Bariloche/79005?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2&sc_pos=3

El Calafate:  Hostel de las manos
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-de-las-Manos/El-Calafate/38194

El Chalten:  La Comarca Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/La-Comarca-Hostel/El-Chalten/59554?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2

El Chalten:  Racho Grande Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rancho-Grande-Hostel/El-Chalten/16797?dateFrom=2017-04-21&dateTo=2017-04-22&number_of_guests=1

Buenos Aires: Rock Hostel & Brewery
http://www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rock-Hostel-and-Brewery/Buenos-Aires/69163

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas
http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Bus company – Andesmar
http://www.andesmar.com/

 

 

Bolivia: Embracing the middle of nowhere.

~By:  Amanda, Anna and Julie

Nobody likes early mornings, but at least with this tour you awake at 0 Dark 30 to a glorious breakfast prepared for you. We were on the road by 7:30 am. Besides being friendly, our favorite thing about Miguel was that he kept us on a good schedule. We were always the first group to arrive at many of the stopping points along the way. On our way out of town we hit up a convenience store, where we grabbed a few Coronas, because what’s vacation in the middle of nowhere without breakfast beers?

Our first stop of the day would be a hidden gem in the middle of the desert, where hundreds of boulders are stacked on each other. The scenery was breathtaking and we were able to take more unforgettable pictures…noticing a pattern?

 

Pulling up to Laguna Canapa, we spotted several black specs sprinkled thoughout the water. As we neared the shore, we realized these were the promised pink flamingos. The real thing, not the tacky plastic decorations that Floridians like to use as lawn decor. Miguel let us off on the far shore to enjoy the birds while he prepared lunch. Getting close to these creatures was tricky. They are quite docile animals and there is a parameter set up around the lake to keep visitors from getting too close.  Our picnic lunch was set up next to a hotel on little tables covered with thatched straw roofs. The adjacent hotel promised wifi for a small fee, however it was in-operative. In actuality, most of us were happy to stay in our little bubble off the grid.

As we set off, our surroundings transformed into a red rock desert. There was no road, only rows of tire tracks etched in the sand. Miguel knew the way, as he has driven the route hundreds of times; he’s probably able to trace the path in his sleep. Based on our GPS, we realized the line of mountains skimming by our right side window was the border to Chile. This is where we get diabolical. Miguel knows Julie grew up in Chile, having immediately peppered her with questions upon learning this gringa spoke perfect Spanish. We asked hopefully, “Can we go to the border?” After a moment of consideration he mentally made a couple small adjustments to the itinerary and determined it was possible. He also made the recommendation that for the equivalent of 5 dollars more we could stay in a better hotel that evening, which would also make more efficient use of our time. We immediately agreed.

Today we got as high as 15,650 feet elevation! We had kind of became obsessed with checking our elevation. Snapchat and the iPhone Compass app both show accurate elevation, even when your phone is in airplane mode. At one point Miguel stopped the car to hand over a bag of coca leaves. We all took a few even though we felt fine, determining do as the natives. This was the highest point of elevation any of us had ever achieved outside of an airplane. We used to see lots of alpaca herds when at lower elevations, where there was an abundance of more greenery. The natives live off the alpaca herds for everything. But up here we are in complete desert; we we keep describing it as being on Mars, because of the red color and all the martian rocks scattered over the landscape. We really haven’t seen any wildlife other than a few odd looking ducks and a few wild alpaca. They look almost like antelope, they are very thin and lanky and only white and cream colored. Miguel called them cuña. Who knows what they survive on because there is very little vegetation. 

After cruising along the endless red sand for hours, we entered the national park, which costs an additional 150BOB. Be careful! One of the sneaky officials attempted to keep 50BOB in change he owed me, when I handed over 200BOBs. Once again thankful for Julie’s Spanish, I walked back out with my cash… my beer money for the evening.

Just past the park office is the Laguna Colorada, an amazing red colored lake home to more flamingos. We learned the lake receives its color from mineral deposits which generate a red hue. This is also how the pink flamingos are so uniquely colored, as their primary food source also contains these same red minerals. Sitting on the rocks overlooking the laguna, we all had pensive solo moments. When your eyes capture something this beautiful, silence takes over….

Our final stop for the day was the geysers. We parked first at the smaller of the two, a small plume of white smoke jetting out from the tiny hole in the earth’s surface. You are actually able to touch the vapors evacuating from this small geyser and we all took turns jumping thought the warm vapors. Two minutes further down the road, a larger geyser gushed searing hot steam from the vent in the rocks. We were careful to steer clear of the mist as it was hot enough to cause serious burns.

Exhausted, we arrived at our accommodations for the evening. We played cards as we waited for our afternoon tea and those amazing cookies. Dinner was served with a complimentary bottle of wine and the food was as equally delicious as the night before. It was all clean, wonderful and locally grown. This is where we made our mistake. We had originally planned to visit the hot springs adjacent to the hotel after dinner. However, we all developed food comas, and coupled with the long day and the freezing temperatures outside, no one could muster putting on a bathing suit. Instead we quietly returned to our room and snuggled under our warm blankets.

Our final morning started with pancakes! What better way to start a morning then pancakes? — is Anna’s philosophy on life. Our first stop was the Laguna Verde, but to be quite honest it was not too exciting. Later we googled it and found pictures online with much more intense colorization, so perhaps we arrived during the wrong season. We started debating the difference between lagoons and lakes–  no cell service for three days brings on some strange conversations. We concluded, thanks to Anna, lakes have to have a fresh water source. Finally on to Chile…

 

I have never been to Chile…based on a group consensus we determined if you make a memory in that country you can claim it. Figure out a better way than to grab hands with one of your favorite people and illegally run across a border, likely no! I also did a cartwheel, just in case. So in my mind it counts and I guess that is all that really matters, country number 60!

The rest of the day was mostly spent in the car, we made a few stops including the Desert of Dali, which was named after a Salvador Dali painting. We keep spotting small herds of the Alpaca-Antelope far across the empty fields. Every time a big huge truck passed us going in the opposite direction, we held our breaths going through the large dust clouds, generated as they speed down the road. We hoped those big trucks were carrying road paving supplies.

Our final stop before Uyuni was San Cristobal. Historically this town laid further to the west, however when an Australian mine company wanted to drill the mineral rich land; the town was re-located to its current location. The caveat was the beautiful church must be moved stone by stone and precisely re-erected. San Cristobal also has an amazing market, of course we found a stall with a working refrigerator and grabbed a couple of beers for our ride back to Uyuni.

We rode into Uyuni on a dust cloud and Miguel dropped us off at the bus station to drop our bags. We said a remorseful goodbye to Miguel. We will never see him again, but will never forget the magic he showed us in this beautiful and often forgotten part of the world. We settled down for dinner of pizza and beer before heading back to La Paz. We are so predictable! Coming back into “civilization” and having cell phone signal was not even all that grand. I called my mom, assured her of proof of life, shared a couple photos and resigned to not really caring about being reconnected with the world.

This was by far one of the most incredible trips we have ever taken. Absolutely a once in a lifetime kind of experience; I can’t believe we only paid $130 each. Still, we rather roughed it. We learned that electricity, running water and flushing toilets are luxuries in many parts of the world. We toured across the country in a Nissan Prado through salt flats, shallow lakes, heavy mud, creeks, prairie, roads of solid boulders, mountain tops and desolate dry desert. Arriving back in Uyuni completely covered in dirt, having lived and learned  a little more, experiencing an amazing new culture and with fuller souls.

See part one of our adventure: Bolivia-The “road” less traveled and our other Bolivia blogs

 

The Fourth Region of Chile

~By:  Julie

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“Where are you from?” That has been the hardest question to answer since I was a little girl. I’ve never felt like I was “from” anywhere. My parents were Californians that moved to Tennessee for just long enough to make it my birthplace and we picked up our nomadic lifestyles again shortly after. I hated that question when I was a kid as there was no quick response and I didn’t like the attention. When I was 12 years old, I moved to Chile. I stayed in Santiago with my mother and siblings for 6 months while my father branched out to find the perfect home for us up north.

By the time I was 13, we moved to the coolest house I’d ever lived, which was a block from the beach, directly between the twin cities of La Serena and Coquimbo. This was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere. Maybe it was that adolescent time when you’re finding yourself or it was what I learned from the people I met that made me feel like this was my true “home.” I always say that my passport is from the United States but my heart beats for Chile.

I’ve never met a person traveling through that didn’t fall in love with the 4th region. We have everything you could need. We are safely nestled between the glorious Andes mountains and the sea that Pablo Neruda so often referenced. It’s just directly on the bottom of the Atacama Desert, known as the driest desert in the world, but not dry enough that you don’t have interesting wildlife and nature. It’s kind of a secret oasis on its own. Being between two smaller cities instead of one big city is a plus because it keeps the feeling more quaint.

The fourth region is home to so many famous wineries, pisquerias, the Valle de Elqui, the home of Nobel peace price winner Gabriela Mistral and at even at one point in history a landing spot for the infamous pirate Blackbeard. There are a few reasons you should either hop on the 45 min flight to La Serena (LSC) or book your 8 hour lay flat bus seat:

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1. First things first— food! Order la reineta frita for lunch at El Mar Adentro in Peñuelas. Peñuelas is a quaint little fisherman village located between the main cities. You can watch the fishermen make their nets with their hands and feet. Take a minute to watch the colorful boats also being handcrafted. It’s incredible and humbling.

2. After lunch, head down town La Serena for shopping in the main square. Here you can find beautiful silver jewelry and lapislázuli stones, alpaca sweaters and even out of the ordinary gifts for the person who has it all. Make sure to grab some homemade manjar sweets and catch some live Andean folk music on the streets.

 

3. At night stroll the Avenida Del Mar and hop in the various restaurants and pubs serving traditional pisco sours, a South American classic cocktail that Chile specializes in making with pica lime juice. Eat as many french fries as you can. This is my favorite country for French fries, especially a lo pobre which comes with a fried egg on top!

4. If you work your way from the lighthouse all the way down the Avenida Del Mar and you still have space for dinner, I highly recommend Gladys’. She’s a dear friend of my family and makes incredible empanadas and just about anything you can think of.

5. Take a whole day in Coquimbo and start at the Fisherman’s Warf. There, not only can you buy fun trinkets, coca tea and jewelry but it’s also a fully functioning and very active fresh seafood market. There you’ll find the freshest ceviche and incredibly huge empanadas stuffed with literally every meat of your choice.

6. Take a boat tour from the fisherman market in Coquimbo out to Isla de Lobos and yell at seals and penguins sunning on the rocks. It’s a short 2 hour tour but absolutely worth the price. When we did it, the Captain loved us so much he invited us into the wheelhouse to steer the boat!

7. You can walk to Coquimbo’s main square from here to see some interesting art sculptures, and more trinkets and jewelry stores around Plaza Prat. There is a pretty cool interactive museum called the Centro Cultural Palace Coquimbo where you can learn about the history and culture of the region, and where they showcase some of the best local photography and art. You can also see where the US Navy docks for fleet week once or twice a year.

8. Take some time to check out Blackbeard’s Point. There are some fun history facts on placards, a giant old canon, a cute cafe and lots of places to go hiking out on the huge rocks. (My sister got engaged here!)

9. There are so many day trips you can do from La Serena, for instance, if you want a nice beach day, grab a boogie board and head down to our white sand beach named Totoralillo! It’s absolutely beautiful! If that’s too crowded, head to Tongoy. Either way you choose, the water will be freezing, so suit up or just enjoy a day of tanning and eating more empanadas!

10. For a good hiking day trip, head north past all the wineries, and stop at El Puntoclaro for a photo opportunity and take in the expansive scenery. When I first moved to Chile this dam didn’t even exist! It’s incredible to see the change. Make sure to stop and get a scoop of Lucuma or chirimoya ice cream or get both, you’re going to burn it all off anyways!

11. Head east inland on route CH-41 to the famous Valle de Elqui to explore the beautiful valleys and mountain sides covered in vineyards, and along the way, stop in the little town of Vicuña where Gabriela Mistral was born. There is so much history and so many sites to see. Look closely because you can see houses built of mud that look like they are held up by nothing but sticks. You can see locked doorways leading into the mountain. Take as many fresh juice stops as you can, because nothing beats fresh watermelon juice on a hot day. Across the street you can see one of my favorite colorful cemeteries with the most priceless view of the mountains and fruit and vegetable filled lush hills.

12. You can do the Valle de Elqui as a day trip, but what I really recommend is camping over night. This valley is famous for being clear 360 days out of the year, which is why there are quite a few international observatories tucked away into the mountains. Surrounded by the peaks of the Andes, at night in the pitch black with no light pollution you can spot satellites and planets with crystal clear clarity and the shooting stars just never seem to end. My friends and I just laid flat on the ground all bundled up in a circle and took it all in with complete silence.

13. If you’re fortunate enough to have locals for friends, see if you can get together an authentic Chilean asado (barbecue). Chileans are very easygoing and hospitable; it’s quite easy to make fast friends with whole families. Grill an assortment of chorizo and steak over an open flame while drinking maté and watching a beautiful sunset. And get ready to bundle up, because once the sun sets… its freezing! It warms up pretty quick in the morning and make sure to try and take a dip in the glacier melted river. There is no way water could possibly be cleaner.

Chile is as long as the United States is wide, making it so diverse, there is literally something for everyone! Every time I go back it feels like home, buildings change, streets get bigger but the vibe never changes. The bread is always hot and fresh, the fruit is always grown to perfection, the people are always welcoming. Two years ago I was able to bring my close friends and they all fell in love with the fourth region just like I did so many years ago. Two of my best friends even fell in love with each other on that trip, which makes my home town even more special.

Read more about Chile: