A rouge trip through the South of Chile. With Torres Del Paine in our sights, we discovered the true spirit of the Chilean people along the way.
I hadn’t been back to Chile in 10 years, I didn’t know what to expect. I assumed that since I hadn’t been in so long, my Aussie ways had well and truly taken over. But no matter how long it’s been between trips, Chile pulls at my heart strings and I feel right at home here.
Although I’ve lived in Australia my whole life, I’ve been brought up in a Chilean household and it’s a huge part of who I am. That’s probably why it’s taken me a whole year to write this piece, because it’s an important one. I want to do it justice. I figured that the 1-year anniversary was the perfect time to become nostalgic.
I’ve never really travelled in Chile and I have been 5 times prior to this trip. So my one condition before going this time was discovering what this country offers beyond Santiago.
We decided to venture south, towards Torres Del Paine with no real agenda other than a few pitt-stops along the way where we were guaranteed a good-feed, family & a roof over our heads. The trip happened organically, and developed as the days rolled on. Below are some of our highlights, but let the road guide your own adventure.
(86 km / 1 hour 5 mins from Santiago)
With copper mining being the number 1 export industry of Chile, this mining town holds a historical thread unlike any other. Established in the 50s by Americans, although there are still miners working here nobody stays in the village settled upon the Andes. It’s essentially a ghost town. A weird drifting nostalgia floats around, and moments of insane realisation that 1,000 of people are working below you without a peep to be heard above, makes you realise how small you are in this world. Sewell is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Although touristy it really let’s you grasp the immensity that are the Andes “cordillera."
Tip: Drive to the town of Rancagua, and buy your tickets for the tour of the town of Sewell. Even if you wanted to, you can’t drive up in your own car, unless it's an authorised vehicle past a certain point.
(320km / 3 hours 26 mins from Rancagua)
I have family who lives here, so it was an obvious stop. Chillan is famous for it’s “longanizas” (sausages) so of course we hit the markets to whip up a good ol’ Chilean asado. Chillan also boasts a pretty famous market which is on every day of the week -with a mix of produce and kitchy gifts it’s a true wonderland.
Close to Chillan: you have Concepcion (98km) and Saltos de Laja (80km) - Chile’s largest waterfall.
( 277km / 3 hours 6 mins from Chillan)
Rich with Mapuche( Indegineous Chileans) history, this city is laden with the contrast of a bustling metropole and a slow-paced holistic way of living.
Come here to visit the Mercado, which is filled with Mapuche art & folklore. It’s a great way to support the artisanal lifestyle. Also grab a bag of the traditional Mapuche spice “Merken” it’s filled with earthy flavours and a spicy kick.
A gorgeous family moment, when we visited my grandfathers old house, and in true Chilean spirit a neighbour came out to “copuchar” (sticky beak). We told her we where re-tracing his steps and we where so emotional to hear that she had known him.
From here we drove up to Cerro Ñielol where you get a panoramic view of the city, while amongst nature.
(79 km / 1 hour and 4 mins from Temuco)
En Route to our next destination (Huilo Huilo via Villarrica) we stopped at Lacteos Pelales. Which had the best cheese we ate, the whole time we were in Chile. The freshest of the fresh!
Our drive to Villarrica was magical, laden with pine trees and the Villarrica snow capped volcano in the distance it was something out of a movie. We stopped for lunch at a place called Restaurant Capri and ate the very traditional and good for the soul Pastel De Choclo, we walked down to the lake to take in the wonder that is the volcano. From here we marched on to our final destination for the day.
(50 km / 55 mins from Villa Rica)
We arrived at dusk to one of my favourite places in the world, Huilo Huilo. We stayed in some gorgeous dome cabins which where right by the river. At night you could gaze up to the stars from your bed, while you heard the river gushing by.
The next day, we drove up to the top of Volcan Mocho, and then continued up in an ice breaking machine. The view at the top was phenomenal, you could see the peaks of the surrounding volcanos, it was a moment for reflection.
We then went for a walk along the "Canopy Village." A gorgeous wilderness walk, where if you are lucky you get to see the deer & other animals roaming in their natural habitat. We also visited “Salto La Leona” which was a walk through the forest to reach a mystical waterfall. You could have stayed here all day watching the water cascade down.
All this fresh air, will surely get you hungry so head to local haunt called Cruz del Sur run by two women, this food touches the soul. You can see them making it before your eyes and we opted for a Churrasco a big Chilean sandwich which was fresh, wholesome and hit the spot.
Some suggested pitt stops en route to Puerto Montt:
Valdivia (117 km / 1 hour 35 mins from Huilo Huilo) - Filled with German influence. Valdivia is a stunning little town, famous for it’s breweries hit up Kunstmann for a big feed and steins of beer
Osorno (110 km / 1 hour 22 mins from Valdivia) - Make sure to keep an eye out for yet another natural wonder, the Osorno Volcan.
Frutillar (65.6 km/ 45 minutes from Osorno) - A quick stop over in a small lake town, full of German influence. Come here for what Chilean’s do best “Once” or tea time. With a German cake called "Kutchen" being popular in this town, it's worth all the hype.
( 45km / 36 mins from Frutillar)
Puerto Montt is a port town. It’s filled with hard-working locals. It has an airport, so we decided that this was the best way to get to our final destination of Patagonia. We headed to the popular Markets called “Angelmo” which is famous for its “cocinerias” or mini-restaurants. Where a local makes a dish of the day and you eat it on the one or two tables setup. It’s nothing fancy, but it sure is authentic. We where recommended to go to Señora Rebbeca’s setup, a little old lady who has been cooking at the markets for over 20 years. I ate the fish of the day, with mixed salads. All lunches come with free bread and pebre (chilean chilli sauce).
Before flying over, we decided we wanted to fit in one more thing to our already extensive agenda.
GET THE FERRY OVER TO THE ISLAND OF CHILOÈ
(203 km / 3 hours 46 mins from Puerto Montt)
Chiloè, is a beautiful part of the world. This is the deep south of Chile, this is where people are working the land, creating artisanal style foods and being an island off the mainland, it’s got it’s own architectural beauties and culinary delights. Chiloè is famous for its houses which sit over the water on stilts “the palafitos”, which are covered in alerce wood tiles. The craftsmanship is beyond anything I’ve ever seen.
Dalcahue a suburb in Chiloè is where all the artisanal magic happens. Come here for wool, thick socks, ponchos, thick wooly hats all made by the people selling them. Made by the locals, for the locals ( and us, the odd tourist!) Right next to the markets is a “cocineria” full of little stalls where they sell traditional heart-warming chilean dishes. Some, more unique to Chiloè than others.
In Chiloè they love potato and their cuisine pays tribute to this. We tried 2 types of potato pastries “chuchoca” & “milcao” they are rich, fatty potatoes filled with beef, perfect for the cold weather that awaits outside. But if potato isn’t your thing, get a “Casuela” Chile’s answer for penicillin. This soup will raise the dead, it’s made of bone broth and filled with meat, beans, corn and only a little potato. It makes me want to cry happy tears, it’s that good.
BACK TO PUERTO MONTT
CATCH A PLANE TO PUNTA ARENAS
( Plane - 2174km, 2hours, 10 mins from Puerto Montt)
We arrived in Punta Arenas, and my cousin had a recommended we get in touch with a friend of his (Gabriel) who was living & working for a hotel in Torres Del Paine. We did just that, and as we got off the plane, he took us to a local eatery called La Rouca in Punta Arenas famous for its “choripan & leche con platano” - bread with chorizo & banana milkshake.
It was windy and the perfect way to start a long journey towards Puerto Natales also known as “Ruta Fin Del Mundo” - Road to the end of the earth.
(248 km / 2 hours 55 mins from Punta Arenas)
We arrived in Puerto Natales, the closest town to the Torres Del Paine National Park.
The next day we set off early with Gabriel and a packed lunch. He took us around the park to see the Torres Del Paine, endless amounts of Guanacos (often mistaken as Llamas) and swooping flocks of condors.
The magnitude and un-touched beauty of this national park, is worth all the hype that surrounds it, earthy green and bright yellows with contrasted jagged rocks and ice-capped mountains, it’s mother natures haven. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
For dinner we returned to Puerto Natales and headed to the Baguales brewery, a great spot to unwind after a day of wind and cold.
The next day we had the pleasure of going to a sheep shearing stall, and talking to the local gauchos ( the “cowboys” of this region). They said to us -
“Everything for us is North…we are the South"
We had made it.
Needless to say this was the trip of a lifetime. A big thank you to all the people who we met along the way and made us feel the warmth of the Chilean Spirit.
From The Table Top ( and the road) x