Greetings from Santiago, Chile! It's my first time in Chile and South America and so far I've been fascinated by this country and my experiences in Casablanca Valley, Valparaíso, Santiago, Cajon del Maipo and - at the top of my travel bucket list - Torres del Paine. I also had the opportunity to pop over to Argentina for a bit and will return there after Chile but that's a post for another day.
I've only seen a small part of Chile but, of course, I already have some initial impressions. Here's a rundown of my top seven:
1. The people of Chile are nice and welcoming - I sometimes write this and think, "well of course people are nice and welcoming," but, to be honest, that is not always the case. I've said it before, but particularly as a woman of color, I'm cognizant of how I'm treated in other countries (as well as my own!). And it was my first time in South America, so I went with some nerves. However, I found the people of Chile to be nice and welcoming. I don't say Chilean people because I've actually met a variety of South American people from Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and elsewhere who now reside in Chile, in addition to Chilean people, so it's the people of Chile instead who are nice and welcoming.
2. The street dogs are abundant and don't look like street dogs anywhere else - I am a dog lover and am always aware of the street dogs wherever I travel. Usually they're your sort of standard street dog, except in Cuba where I thought they were all petite and cute. Chile is another anomaly. The street dogs look like big suburban dogs that should be laying in front of the TV in some nuclear family's living room. My friend and I asked about it because we noticed how numerous the street dogs were and it made us sad to see so many, but one of our tour guides told us that the street dogs are taken care of by so many people, which is why they're so big and well-fed. They're also generally pretty mild. Who knows if they really are all taken care of like the tour guide said but what I do know is that Chile has more than its fair share of big dogs.
3. Food is very flavorful - I've had a strange mix of flavorful Chilean food and on-the-run sandwiches (and a salad). I hope to have much more Chilean food before I leave because so far all the actual Chilean food I've tasted has been great. I had some delicious shrimp and reneita ceviche (different from the ceviche of Peru), a beef with mashed potatoes and ham dish, a seafood soup and two kinds of empanadas - chicken and cheese and the classic empanadas de pink aka Chilean-style beef with an egg and olives. All of the Chilean food I've tried has been full of flavor without being too heavy. Though there was a small Chilean place near me when I lived in my last apartment in New York, I wasn't sure what to expect in Chile since Chilean cuisine isn't as popular as some other Latin American cuisines, but so far, so good!
4. Chile has naturally stunning landscapes - I've only seen a fraction of Chile, both from above and on the ground, but I already know that Chile has naturally stunning landscapes. From the Andes mountains that border Santiago, to the valleys and beaches, to the dry desert of Atacama and the imposing peaks of Torres del Paine, this is a truly and naturally beautiful country. I'm already trying to figure out how I can come back here to go north and visit Atacama and return to the south to explore more of Patagonia and Punta Arenas.
5. Santiago is a city city - I had no preconceived notions of Santiago and wasn't sure what to expect upon arrival. I've read in travel magazines about Buenos Aires and Lima and Cartagena but not as much about Santiago. My first impression of the city is that it's very much a city, with an efficient metro system, Santiaginos commuting from work to home or vice versa, parks with people walking their kids and dogs, young boys performing outside the mall, and so on. I always love observing how a city and its people operate, and Santiago is no exception. I even came upon a neighborhood festival with a live band, and it was fun to see people gathered in groups or couples with their beer and sangria, nodding their head to the music or eating a taco from the taco truck (!). It's perhaps an obvious observation but for someone who wasn't sure what to expect, it was a pleasant surprise to observe Santiaginos in their daily lives.
6. All the Chilean wine is great - My first day in Chile, I checked into one of the most charming boutique hotels, Hotel Le Rêve, before heading to Emiliana Vineyards in Casablanca Valley. Emiliana is the largest organic and biodynamic vineyard in the world with more than 1,000 hectares divided across four different valleys. I tried three reds and two whites. All were very enjoyable. Since then I've tried several Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines, the famous Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon and a sparkling Pinot Grigio. All of the wine has been good. I've always liked Chilean reds so I knew I would at least enjoy that but I've also really loved the whites and sparkling wine I've had as well. When I leave, I'll most definitely be taking plenty of Chilean wine with me.
7. There's so much to do - Santiago is a city that's in a prime position. Drive 1.5 hours or so west and you have the beach, drive the same length of time in another direction and you have the mountains where you can go white water rafting, paragliding, skiing and more. Drive anywhere from one to four or five hours in various directions and you have several valleys and vineyards. Fly north and you can do the Atacama desert. Fly south and you can do Punta Arenas and the penguin colony (or maybe hop a flight to go even further south to Antarctica) or Chilean Patagonia. Point being - there's much to do in Chile. It's all a matter of what adventure you want and how far you want to go.
That's it for now but stay tuned - more to come with Chile (and Argentina)!
Thanks to Chile Travel for hosting me for a day at Hotel Le Rêve, Emiliana Vineyards and Valparaíso. All opinions of my experience are my own.