12 Jun Destination Diary: Chile
Chile has been named as the top destination to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet and we had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful country. After a 14-hour direct BA flight from London Heathrow I arrived in a very busy Santiago airport, being greeted by our guides, ESA Latin America. We then took a much shorter 2 hour flight to Atacama. Immediately after stepping out of the airport you are greeted by the Andes mountain range and a sky of clear blue which made the long flight worth it. Atacama is often described as the Valley of the Moon, holding more similarities to the moon or mars than anywhere on earth. The landscape looks as though it has been sculpted into beautiful shapes with rich red colours.
We arrived at the 5 star Alto Atacama hotel which was placed in its own secluded space in the desert surrounded by the towering mountains of the Andes. On entering my hotel room, I was greeted with another magnificent view of the Andes and absolute silence. This was ‘Bare-foot Luxury’ incomparable to any other destination. The hotel fitted beautifully into the surrounding landscape and came with the luxuries of 6 individually secluded pools, Jacuzzi, spa and Inca baths which sourced water from 70m underground- perfect for relaxing in the sun after a morning exploring.
On our first evening we were treated to an excursion to Moon Valley to watch the beautiful sunset bouncing off the mountains whilst sampling some Chilean wine and cheese. The photos do not do justice to the rich colours and bliss of silence. Next came the excitement of quad biking and breakfast in the desert. An activity for the adventurous and also an alternative of a 4 person buggy provided for those not so keen on the adventurous route.
The Atacama Salt Flats and El Tatio Geysers were two more sites of outstanding beauty which were on our list for the week. Meeting flamingos at the salt flats and experiencing the natural plumes of smoke from the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere were signature experiences of this land. A visit to San Pedro De Atacama gave us time to explore a local village with all its little quirks. Walking the rustic streets of bars, cafes and shops in the glorious heat of Atacama enabled us to catch a glimpse of the local life.
A 2-hour flight later we arrived in the bustling city of Santiago. Quite a change from our previous desert lands. We arrived at the modern and classy hotel Singular where we spent our final two nights. First on the itinerary was the Casablanca Valley Experience where at Veramonte we would make our own wine and design our own labels in two teams. Surprisingly our custom wine tasted good and we won the mini competition although I don’t think we will become winemakers anytime soon.
Next a trip to Valparaiso which grasped us with is rich culture and community spirit. The town is full of vibrant colours and history. The fishermen sat around a long table by the shore having a community lunch, which we were told we could join if we had time- the Chilean people being very welcoming. We would have loved to explore the streets of Valparaiso more however we were onto our next visit to Puro Caballo. Puro Caballo equestrian show came with a typical Chilean lunch where the Huaso and Chilean horses stole the show! We were greeted with traditional Chilean dance and music followed by a skilled horse show and more entertainment over lunch. The ranch house comedian kept us entertained throughout our entire journey.
On to the city of Santiago! Here we walked the streets of Santiago exploring Its food and culture, viewing the city from many angles. A highlight had to be using the funicular and cable cars to reach great mountain heights to admire the vast area that makes up Santiago, with the Andes mountain range as a backdrop. A final sampling of wonderful local food and drink (the Pisco Sours a favourite) at The Ritz Carleton and Mestizo and we were ready to depart for home. Flying over the Andes mountain range on route home to London Heathrow we admired the beauty of Chile one last time.
I would love to return to Chile and would advise it as a great destination for a smaller incentive group. The magnificent contrast of the desert and the city and the huge variety of landscape is incomparable to any other destination on earth. The long-haul flight shouldn’t put you off this destination as BA’s brand-new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner makes the journey as comfortable as possible.
A massive thank you to ESA Latin America, All About Flights and Mags World Wide for making the trip possible.
– Katie Hollinshead