No one can bring our tours to life better than those who have seen, done and experienced it all first-hand, so we’re opening up the blog to our wonderful customers who want to share their amazing Wendy Wu adventures!
John & Margaret
Chile Top to Toe
We were full of anticipation and excitement for our journey from London Heathrow to South America for our Chile Top to Toe tour. We had decided beforehand to use British Airways for two main reasons, one for the non-stop flight, and secondly for the chance to fly on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner which did not disappoint.
Great First Impressions
As we came into land in Chile’s capital, Santiago, we had our first glimpse of this fascinating country that we had heard so much about. Santiago looked wonderful in the morning sunlight as we touched down. Surrounded almost completely by mountains, it was quite glowing and magical.
We were greeted by our local guide, Sergio, who came to meet us at arrivals and introduced himself. He was very courteous and professional in taking an interest in where we had come from and our how our journey was. Sergio then proceeded to escort us to our selected hotel in the Merced 84 Barrio Lastarria district. This was on the edge of the commercial district and right by the beautiful Parque Forestal making it an ideal location for our stay.
As we were the first of our small group to arrive, we had plenty of time to relax before we all met in the afternoon for a tour of the city on a pre-arranged bus. On viewing the old and modern buildings in the city squares, the sports park, and taking a cable car ride up to see the famous statue of the Virgin Mary on San Cristobal Hill, we were given a great insight into what was to come during the rest of our trip.
In the area of our hotel, many of the buildings were adorned with amazing street art making it a pleasure to explore on foot. The nearby Barrio Bellavista area had plenty of bars, restaurants and nightlife for the young and old alike and we felt perfectly safe at all times.
The next day we headed to the coast to the stunning city of Valparaiso stopping at a world-famous vineyard on the way. Valparaiso is built on hilly ground so there are excellent views of the Pacific Ocean from many spots across the city. There are cable cars to help visitors get around and there was even an updated one to transport us to the hotel in the restricted traffic area. This town is extremely famous for its vibrant street art and nearby is the resort town of Vina del Mar and Castro Island with its colourful stilt houses and charming wooden churches.
The group said goodbye to Sergio the next morning after seeing us all safely through the airport where we were starting our journey to Calama. On this journey we were joined by many miners going to Calama for work in the copper mine so it gave us a great opportunity to speak to the locals.
Calama is the gateway to the Atacama Desert so we left here for our next stop, San Pedro de Atacama. Here we were met by Aneka, our local guide for this area of Chile. Our hotel was constructed mainly from adobe mud like many other traditional buildings in this area. This would be our base for the amazing Salt Flats – our next treat with a promise of seeing flamingos and geysers at El Tatio. Remember to look out for the famous observatory on the plateau on top of a far distant mountain and the extinct volcanos.
Nearby Moon Valley and Rainbow Valley were true highlights of our trip, both with amazing mineral deposits which were constantly changing colour throughout our visit.
Our next stop was Puerto Varas, the Lake District of Chile. Here we headed to Lake Llanquihue to see the impressive, snow-capped Osorno Volcano which reminded us of Mount Fuji in Japan.
We were guided in this area by George who was a member of the Civil Defence Volunteer Team and had plenty of fascinating stories to share with us. He was extremely knowledgeable of his hometown as well as the surrounding park areas. All of the hotels on this trip were excellent but in many different ways. For example, some were chosen for their stunning location whilst others offered fantastic facilities. But the hotel in Puerto Varas had it all – stunning views across Lake Llanquihue, the main town and the old fishing wharf, plus great everything we needed for a comfortable stay.
George took us to the local National Parks to see the many species of birds and animals which reside in the area, and often stopped at llama farms whilst we were on the road.
We were recommended to take in the views of the snow-capped mountains surrounding the whole area and it was spectacular. The early settlers of Puerto Varas were mainly German and you can see the German influence throughout the town through the different styles of housing, it’s so pretty.
On reaching further south to Puerto Natales you will definitely notice a distinct chill in the air, especially after the 35C heat of the Atacama Desert. We dug out our warm clothing which we last wore when visiting the El Tatio geysers at dawn – remembering at this point how extremely cold it was!
Insider Knowledge is Key
Our next guide, Wendy, lived just outside the town and, lucky for us, she knew everything about the area! She recommended to us the best coffee shop in town – it had lovely blue window frames and was located on the waterfront, and she was right…the coffee and cakes were excellent.
This was another interesting town with a lovely waterfront, and also the base for our boat trip on the Last Hope Fjord to see the sealions and the glaciers of Mount Balmaceda. The trip on the fjord was followed by a wonderful lunch at a restaurant on the return journey where we had barbequed lamb and it was honestly the best we have ever tasted!
The Torres del Paine National Park was the next treat with wildlife everywhere, numerous lakes, and mountains which made you feel like you were on the edge of the world. The weather here is constantly changing, snowing one minute and sunny the next with winds also blowing in at times, but always truly magical.
The lunch today was truly exceptional with picture windows providing the perfect views whilst we ate. We were recommended the southern Hake fish dish from the menu, it was nothing like our Hake back home, it was delicious. After a short walk around the restaurant to stretch our legs we visited the Grey Glacier which we viewed from a shingle bar stretched right across the lake, taking in mini icebergs with a glacier in the distance between the towering mountains.
One of our last stops was the Milodon Caves where a Mylodon (an extinct type of ground sloth) was once found along with ancient human remains and rock drawings. We all had great fun trying to identify the animals from the rock drawings. After the caves we even managed to squeeze in a trip to the ski centre on a nearby mountain where you can ride the chairlift if you wish to venture to the top – another spot for fantastic views.
On returning to Santiago, Sergio met us again to take us to our hotel and was eager to hear about our trip. We had decided to stay in Santiago a little longer and we’re so pleased we got to explore the city for an extra couple of days, it was definitely worth it. With Sergio on hand to escort us back to the airport for our flight to London, even after our additional days in Santiago, our whole trip was so enjoyable and completely hassle-free.
Thank you John for this fantastic write-up and such a great selection of photos!
Chile Top to Toe
Travel the entire length of Chile, from the barren beauty of the Atacama Desert and Altiplano of the north, via the scenic landscapes of the Lake District, to the spectacular mountains and glaciers of Patagonia in the south.