The border crossing from Bolivia into Chile was absolute mayhem as carloads of backpackers arrive from each side of the frontier and line up outside of the tiny office in the driving sleet. The four of us eventually get our stamps and rush out to the bus waiting for us. The driver is clearly pissed off at having to wait so long as well. I’m not sure how cold it is at this point but it’s definitely well below freezing outside and as we begin the drive down to San Pedro the snow begins to accumulate on the dirt trail.
The drop in altitude is one of the best moments in weeks. From the border the road is downhill for a full two hours and by the time we reach San Pedro we have left the snow behind and can finally take a full breath of air for the first time since Arequipa. The difference between Bolivia and Chile is also immediately noticeable. While Bolivia is struggling with a bad economy and widespread poverty Chile is the strongest economy in South America and it was like stepping into any Western country. We haven’t booked a place to stay and spend the first couple of hours roaming around town trying to find somewhere with room for us. This gives us a chance to have a look around the center while we search.
Similar to Uyuni but more developed San Pedro is another typical desert town. Its dirt streets are lined with pepper trees, tourist shops and countless restaurants. The hotels and hostels that we found were also great with most of them having a private pool, courtyard and some really original accommodation options. At some point in the afternoon Jenna and Sarah find a place that has Yurt rooms. They come back to me and Conor completely ecstatic with the find and it was hard not to agree with them, it’s still probably the coolest accommodation I’ve stayed in so far.
There are so many things to do around San Pedro; volcano hiking, the valley of the moon, desert treks, the starting point for tours going into Bolivia and historical sites. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore any of these things because everyone was moving on to different places in South America the next day. Once again it was time for another crew to split up and it was a pretty sad affair. The food in town is pretty incredible and we find a great restaurant, order some bottles of wine and have the best meal so far in South America (it might still be the best I’ve had).
The next day we fly into Santiago and with Sarah, Jenna and Conor having onward flights it was time for goodbyes. For the first time since Colorado I would be traveling by myself and walking out of the airport leaving behind such a great group of people was a low point for sure.
I didn’t spend a lot of time in Santiago. It’s definitely a nice place and worth visiting but it had a really tense atmosphere while I was there. Almost daily there were massive student protests which shut down the city center and with winter approaching the weather was dull and grey most of the time. One thing it definitely has in its favour is one of the best city backdrops you can see. Just a short hike up a hill close to the city center and you can view the city with the Andes Mountains running from horizon to horizon. The CBD is really European and is also worth wandering around on a walking tour, visiting its museums, galleries and getting a history lesson about Chile’s turbulent past.
The restaurant scene and nightlife around the university district is a must-do. San Pedro was a good teaser for Chile’s food but every meal I had in Santiago, even in pubs, was delicious and for the first time in ages I couldn’t wait to try out the next place.