February 9, 2018
This post starts a series on a 3 week Patagonia hiking trip hitting the highlights of Torres del Paine in Chile and Mt. Fitz Roy in Argentina. This is my second time to the region having hiked both these areas independently with Don in April of 2010, unfortunately before I started blogging.
As one of my favorite hiking regions in the world I jumped at the chance to explore it again. This time I would be traveling with three other women on guided private treks. But first we needed to get to Puerto Natales, the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. To break up the long journey we spent a day and night in Santiago and the following morning flew to Punta Arenas, the closest airport.
Arrival at Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL), Santiago, Chile
After a long flight through LAX and Lima, Peru we landed in Santiago at 6:30 in the morning. It took another 45 minutes to get to the gate, first waiting for the bus and then a longish ride past the cargo area to the gate. It should be noted that at the time of writing the airport was undergoing major renovations.
Immigration went fairly quickly and the hefty reciprocity fees have been suspended for Americans and Canadians.
We only had carry-on luggage so there was no waiting for bags and passing through customs went fairly quickly as well. Still, for those thinking about a tight connection through Santiago, it took us about 2 hours from the time we landed to clearing customs.
As recommended by the guide book, we stopped at the official taxi desk near the airport exit and took a metered taxi into town. To Bario Bella Vista the clerk told me it would be about 18,000 to 19,000CLP. It actually cost something under 15,000CLP ($23USD).
Sights around Bario Bella Vista
Bario Bella Vista is a bohemian neighborhood of tree-lined streets with mural covered buildings. It is especially pleasant in the late afternoon and into the evening when the harsh midday light softens and the street livens up with tourists and locals hanging out at the many eateries and bars.
It really hasn’t changed much since I last visited the area in 2008. Maybe more murals and more lively, but still a seedy feel that diminishes in the fading light.
La Chascona, the whimsical house located at the top of Barrio Bella Vista, is one of three homes of Chile’s beloved poet Pablo Nerudo. Arriving around 2pm it wasn’t too crowded. They now do self-guided tours with a hand held audio guide instead of the mandatory guided tours of the past. The small rooms, however, can still get quite crowded.
I’ve always loved the Pablo Nerudo houses filled with his collections of a wide range of curiosities along with collections of art by famous friends, including Diego, Leger and the Italian designer Piero Fornasetti. A short film shown at the beginning of the tour covers his life and is also a good introduction to Chilean history during its troubled years of the mid to late 20th century. No photos are allowed inside.
Cerro Santa Lucía is a pretty city park about a 20 minute walk from Bella Vista. A little crumbly but with an interesting collection of plant material and hardscape, mostly dating from the early 20th century, that winds up the hill with views overlooking the city. In the middle of summer it was not the clearest day with the mountains in either direction cloaked in brown haze. Although the Santiago skyline is a collection of non-descript tall buildings, if you are looking for a pleasant walk in a green space Cerro Santo Lucía is a good destination.
Sleeping and Dining in Bella Vista
Bella Vista Apartments with a decent location at a reasonable cost this is a good option for those who are budget conscious but don’t want to sleep in a hostel.
The apartment has a small kitchen including a refrigerator, cooktop, microwave, minimal cookware and a water boiler with instant coffee and tea. We didn’t try cooking, however.
The bathroom is average sized but has a slight moldy smell. The living area, bedroom and furnishings are fine but the place is in need of fresh paint and a good scrub. There is also a balcony, but those sensitive to noise will find the city too loud to sleep with the balcony door open.
The apartment is located on a relatively quiet street two blocks from the center of the Bario Bella Vista action on Constitution. I say relatively as there were loud drums playing as we were getting ready for bed that suddenly stopped at 10PM.
With the long overnight flight from LAX, we were especially pleased with apartment’s offer of an early 9AM check-in for an extra $28. We also arranged with the apartment office for our taxi departure, leaving at 7AM on a Saturday morning. Taking the expressway we arrived back at the airport in 15 minutes.
Dinner at La Piccola Italia is a good option for vegetarians with several meatless pasta options. Food was tasty but not exceptional and the service friendly and efficient. Portions are large and can easily be shared. We split a ensalada primavera followed by a pasta pomodoro and the cannelloni stuffed with spinach and topped with half bolognese sauce and half cream sauce. We could have easily shared one salad and one pasta. Located on a quiet street it was pleasant dining on their sidewalk terrace.