I began contemplating where to spend my 30th birthday right about the time I blew out the candles on my 29th birthday. I LOVE my birthday, and there was no way I was letting one so monumental slip by without doing something big and exciting. When Rufio suggested visiting South America for the first time, I initially dismissed the idea because we were so limited on time. But, I decided no day than the present was better to get a first taste of the continent. We set out to determine where we could get the most out of a short venture, and eventually settled on a long ski weekend in the central Andes. Here is our Santiago and Central Chile 4 day itinerary and guide.
Chile, the long and narrow stretch of South American land bordered to the east by the Andes mountain range and the west by the Pacific Ocean, offers a huge variety of terrains to explore. From the arid Atacama desert in the north to the glaciers of Patagonia in the south and the rich culture and history in between, adventurers could spend years experiencing all Chile has offer. When you only have a few days, deciding how to spend it can be overwhelming, but it is absolutely possible to have a remarkable Chilean adventure in a short time. Here is our itinerary and some helpful advice for exploring Santiago and Chile’s central valley in just 4 days.
Day 1: Casablanca Wine Region to Valparaiso
Casablanca Wine Tasting
Once you land in Santiago, head directly to the Casablanca wine region for a half day spent tasting Chile’s cool climate varietals. The Casablanca Valley is situated between Santiago to the east, and Valparaiso to the west. Newer to the wine industry than other notable regions in Chile, Casablanca is home to just over a dozen wineries, and most are boutique or small production. This enables the vintners to lovingly craft some really exquisite and unique wines. The cool and misty Mediterranean-like climate produces wonderfully crisp Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as some of the country’s best Pinot Noir, Syrah and Merlot.
Guided tours to the region are available from Santiago, but navigating on your own is easy thanks to ample signage and easy access from Ruta 68. A bit of serendipity led us to Bodegas RE for our first tasting of the day. (Sojourner‘s Note: We tried to go to Loma Larga but were not admitted without reservation, so the gatekeeper sent us down the road, much to our benefit!)
The “RE” in their name signifies “REcrear, REinventar y REvelar”, or “REcreate, REinvent, REveal”. Bodegas RE is using modern technology to reinvent ancient methods of wine production, including the use of clay jars for fermentation. The operation is family-run, spearheaded by Pablo Morandé, whose family has worked in the Chilean wine industry for generations. The production is small, but the wines are inventive and expertly crafted. Bodegas RE specializes in unique blends and co-fermentations that exemplify the best aspects of each varietal.
Our next stop was the more widely known Casas del Bosque. Reminiscent of our wine tour in Cape Town, we left the small, quaint, familiar winery for a more elegant and refined estate. While still a boutique winery, Casas del Bosque does produce enough of their wines to enter international competitions, and has received many renowned accolades for their premium reserves. They are best known for their crisp Sauvignon Blanc, but their Syrah steals the show among the reds.
After the wineries, drive another 30 minutes to Valparaiso. Valpo, as it is lovingly known to locals, has historically been Chile’s most important seaport. The historic quarter is an UNESCO World Heritage site, featuring colonial architecture, bustling markets and vibrant neighborhoods.
Valparaiso is heralded as one of the most colorful cities in the world. In addition to the brightly colored facades dotting the 42 cerros (hills), Valpo retains a gritty bohemian aesthetic that is exemplified by the art adorning every inch of city wall. The city is duplicitous, as gritty street art and corrugated tin shanties are back-dropped by hilltop mansions. For a unique experience, take one of the iconic 19th century funiculars between the two worlds, ascending steeply from the coastal plain to the pinnacle neighborhoods of this amphitheater-like port town.
Valpo’s bohemian spirit attracted the attention of many of Chile’s most influential people, including Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda. His home, La Sebastiana, is preserved as one of the three museums in Chile honoring the life and works of this larger-than-life poet. Use the audio guide, complimentary with admission, to navigate each floor of this architecturally unique home, and enjoy the stunning view from the first floor patio.
A recent push for tourism has led to an epicurean revolution in Valparaiso. The city is now dotted with trendy cafés and upscale restaurants, although its simple empanada stands remain an important facet to the Valpo food scene. For a wonderful view and a modern twist on traditional Chilean seafood recipes, check out La Concepcion in the historic district. When the weather is warm, opt to dine in their outdoor garden overlooking the bay, and don’t forget to start your meal with the national drink, Pisco sour.
Days 2-3: Ski Holiday in Tres Valles
Wake before the sun for the easy and scenic three hour drive from beach to mountain. Located approximately 70 km northeast from Santiago, the “three valleys” is home to the El Colordao, La Parva and Valle Nevado ski resorts, as well as the neighboring Farellones ski resort. Deciding where to stay and ski in Tres Valles can be a little tricky, so here’s a mini guide to help you plan your trip.
Where to Stay
Typical ski holidays last 4-7 days, but if you’re limited on time you can manage anything from a day trip directly from Santiago (as many locals do on the weekends), to a two or three-day stay. But, you need to do a little extra research for these shorter-than-normal stays.
Ski season runs from June-October, with high season running the month of July. Weekends and holidays from August-September also incur high season prices, although by mid-September the crowds aren’t too bad, depending on the snowfall. During these months, certain hotels and apartment rentals will require a minimum night stay. So, if you’re planning a two or three day holiday, you’ll need to check the requirements.
Each resort offers different accommodation options. La Parva exclusively offers condominiums for rent, and most require a minimum night stay. Valle Nevado, El Colorado and Farellones each feature one or two hotels and a number of apartments, and again minimum stays are required for many, particularly in Valle Nevado. Most hotels offer half-board, which includes breakfast and dinner.
We elected to lodge at Hotel Posada Farellones because, among accommodations that didn’t require a minimum stay, it was the best value. From the hotel it is an easy 10 minute drive to La Parva or El Colorado, and around 20 minutes to Valle Nevado. You can arrange a transfer to the hotel from Santiago, with daily ground transportation to each of the three resorts. If there is snow and ice when you arrive, consider arranging the transfer, as the 30 curves leading to the hotel can be treacherous in icy weather. However, if the road conditions are favorable, rent a car for cost savings and flexibility during your holiday.
The accommodations and staff at Hotel Posada Farellones were remarkable. Because we booked late, a double room wasn’t available both nights, but the staff arranged for us to stay in a different (though unnecessarily large for us) room the first night for a decent price until our room was available. The lodge is small and intimate, with rustic mountain charm. The view at sunset overlooking Santiago is amazing, and an English setter and a Ghost-from-Game-of-Thrones doppelgänger bravely guard the premises in exchange for pets. The absolute best feature of the hotel is the hydromassage spa, which soothes snowboard-worn muscles at the end of a long day on the slopes.
Where to Ski
The resorts of the Tres Valles are so close that they are connected by a series of lifts (although either three individual or one combination lift ticket is required, which can be pricey), and it is possible for intermediate to advanced skiers to ski between them. That being said, depending on your lodging you really have a choice of where to ski.
We decided to snowboard/ski both days at El Colorado specifically because our hotel offered a combination ticket, which included a 2 hour ski/snowboard lesson, rental equipment, and a lift ticket for a really great price. El Colorado offers an “international ski school”, with varying class options for both ski and snowboarding. I took both a group snowboard class and a private ski class, and fully recommend a private class over a group class for a true beginner. It may cost more, but the special attention provides a better return on investment in my experience. However, if you’ve snowboarded or skied in the past and just need a refresher, the group class will be more than adequate.
The prices for lift tickets and rental equipment are comparable between the resorts. El Colorado offers ample food and beverage services, with several cafés and restaurants located in their central El Parador building, and two restaurants located on the mountain, where you can enjoy a mid-run beer with a panoramic view.
Sojourner’s Note: If not for the great deal offered by our hotel, we may have opted instead to ski Valle Nevado, which offers Chile’s only Burton-sponsored “Learn to Ride” program. We did spend some time scoping out Farellones and La Parva in case we get to plan another ski holiday in Chile. Both provide more off-resort dining options than El Colorado, and the pistes at La Parva looked really great.
Day 4: Santiago
After three days of exploring central Chile’s wine, history, vibrant culture, and mountain adventures, spend your final day in Santiago immersed in the tumultuous history of the capital city.
Fuel up for your day with a visit to the historic Mercado Central, a beautifully designed market steeped in history. Sample some of the best Chilean seafood dishes from the multitude of stalls and restaurants housed in the wrought-iron building.
After lunch, walk around the nearby Plaza de Armas to admire the colonial architecture and fountains of the main square, the historic seat of the local government. For a sobering look at the more recent history of Chile, visit El Museo de la Memoria, which honors the human rights victims of the Pinochet regime from 1973-1990.
Spend the rest of your afternoon ascending Cerro San Cristóbal for the best view of the city. The hill, the second highest peak in the city, is located within the sprawling Parque Metropolitano, which offers a number of hiking trails, gardens and a zoo to explore. The highlight of the park is the 14 m gleaming white statue of the Immaculate Conception. Pilgrims and tourists alike flock to the iconic statue and adjacent chapel en masse for a little inspiration.
More Information for your Sojourn
- English is not widely spoken, so brush up on some Spanish before you go. Hospitality staff will typically be able to speak some English, but not always. To that end, if you plan to take ski or snowboard lessons, it is likely your instruction will be in Spanish.
- Like Loma Larga, wineries may require reservations even in the low season. If you plan to visit a different winery than the two mentioned, check their website for reservation requirements. Learn more about Chile’s wine regions here, and the Casablanca region in particular here.
- Valparaiso’s hillside location means the roads are narrow and winding. Be prepared if you plan to drive, and make note that some access roads are not accessible by car. Taxis, bus, metro and funiculars are available, but the city is best explored on foot. It is a port town, so do be alert for pickpockets when walking.
- Check out Powderhounds for an overview of Chile’s ski regions. Websites specific to La Parva, Valle Nevado, and El Colorado offer plenty of information on lift tickets and ski schools.
- On weekends and holidays, the mountain road from Tres Valles is closed to traffic winding down the mountain between the hours of 8 am – 3 pm, so plan your departure accordingly.
- Cerro San Cristóbal is extremely packed on the weekends. While you can drive directly to the peak, it is advised to either walk or use the funicular to avoid driving through the crowds of two-way foot and bike traffic on the narrow roadway.
Do you have any other recommendations for a quick getaway to Chile? Leave a message below!