Northern Chile: Miles of Sand and Fantastic Santiago
We’d had quite enough of high desert after the Lagunas Route in Bolivia so we didn’t tarry in San Pedro de Atacama, despite the fantastic number of activities and incredible landscapes in the surrounding areas. After our time trudging through the wilds of Bolivia, we found San Pedro to be an overwhelming (and expensive) tourist town. We ate gourmet pizza, washed our underwear in the hotel sink, and hit the road.
We didn’t make it far: we got a smokin’ deal at a hotel in the industrial Chilean city of Antofagasta, a metropolis that rarely gets attention thanks to its origins as a port city for the nearby copper mines (all our fellow hotel guests were engineers, miners, and such) but it suited our purposes perfectly. We restocked at the Walmart-sized grocery store, enjoyed a palatial hotel breakfast every morning, and watched too many movies on netflix. It was a good break. Suddenly, Bolivia seemed like a long time ago.
We spent the next week working our way south to Chile’s capitol city: Santiago, which is roughly located in the middle of the country. The coastline is wild, the inland is barren, but the valleys around Santiago are lush and fertile. We bought a wheel of goat cheese from a one-eyed man in a truck stop and fresh strawberries from a roadside shack. We were off to a grand start in Chile!
Fully 30% of Chileans live in the capital; and 90% live within 200 miles. Santiago was a bustling city with lots to offer our little family. We parked the camper at the airport, caught an Uber into the city, and checked into our small Airbnb. Vendors hawked their wares in the street below, Chris and Ben got long overdue haircuts (they both came home sporting the ‘David Beckham’ do) , and we gorged ourselves on Chilean wine, produce, and salami.
In Antofagasta we stayed at the GeoTel, which is normally a bit pricey for us but the internet was fast and the breakfast spread was incredibly plentiful. Right on the beach and good parking with a secured lot (although probably tough for big rigs).
We loved this Airbnb in Santiago; it was in the heart of the city with nearby access to transit, parks, and restaurants. We then stayed at another Airbnb in a different part of the city but it was a total bust in terms of location and amenities (think barking dogs all night and a water leak); I won’t recommend it here.
We parked our vehicle for $15/night in the secure lot at the airport. It was a little pricey but Santiago is notorious for chaotic traffic and high tolls. We were happy to leave the camper behind in favor of public transport and Ubers.
Buin Zoo – About 45 minutes outside of town, we found this zoo to be a perfect afternoon after leaving the city for points further south. It’s not overwhelming in size and it was enjoyed by both children and adults. There is also a zoo in the center of Santiago on San Christobal Hill.
KidZania – We had friends that went here and had a blast. We’ve had a few KidZania experiences (in other cities) and found them all to be somewhat similar so I’m sure it would have been fantastic for our ninos.
Gondola – Located in town on San Christobal Hill, the gondola carries people up to the Virgin Mother statue. It’s not cheap but the views of the city are spectacular. They have an excellent playground halfway up the hill and two public pools (which we didn’t try).
Museo Interactivo Mirador – A drive from the city center but our family enjoyed our outing to the kid’s museum. Most displays in spanish but a few things offered in english; lots of hands-on activities. Get there early to avoid the crowds.