The Ultimate 3 Day Guide to San Pedro de Atacama

Hello everyone! I’ve been offline for a short while. Sometimes it’s important to take a break from being online, and actually getting out to explore. So that’s exactly what I’ve done, and I now have new, exciting experiences to share with you all!

A couple of weeks ago, my parents visited Chile (miss you guys already!) and we headed up to San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in the world, and famous worldwide for its moon-like appearance. I was almost at a point of worry before travelling here, because I had heard so many great things that I didn’t want to be disappointed. But once I arrived, I didn’t want to leave. Here’s how to explore San Pedro de Atacama and hit all the main spots in just a long weekend.

 

 

Saturday: Getting our bearings and astronomy tour 

 

We booked a flight from Santiago through LATAM Airlines and hopped on a two hour flight to Calama. Arriving in Calama, we booked a round trip bus to San Pedro, the main town of the Atacama desert, around one hour away. On arrival, we checked in to our apartment that a local woman was subletting around the back of her home, and began the search around town for the best tour company and itinerary for the weekend.

Note: Entering San Pedro may be a shock of your senses and you will likely get side tracked with all of the cute dogs, ancient architecture,  delicious and fancy looking restaurants, and above all – the natural alpaca wool sweaters that are the trademark souvenir of visiting here.

 

 

saturn-photo-atacama
Saturn through a telescope at SPACE

We had pre-booked a tour with SPACE: San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations (I advise this as it fills up quickly), and in the evening we met in town to hop on a bus for the tour. This was one of my favourite parts of the trip and definitely set us up for a good weekend. We learned all about the night sky, I took a photo of Saturn through one of the amazingly powerful telescopes (one of the most powerful telescopes with public access in the world – see photo below) and ended the night asking all of our nerdy questions over hot chocolate. Definitely recommend.

 

 

Sunday: Half day tour to Valle de la Luna with Flamingo Tours

What to bring: water, sunscreen, warm clothing layer, a hat and good walking shoes (some small crevices and caves to explore).

Starting at 3pm, we met at the Flamingo office on the main street and hopped into the bus on our way to Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley. On arrival we explored crevices and caves around the entrance to the park which had beautiful salt formations all around.  From there, we visited the Three Marias, three vertical rocks representing three women (photo below). We also visited the Amphitheatre and completed another mini hike before watching the sunset and heading back to town.

Everyone at the Three Marias
Our hike overlooking the amphitheatre and volcanoes.

 

Stopping for a stretch between mini hikes around the Valle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday: Full day tour to Piedras Rojas

 

This is the ultimate tour we found. Leaving at 7am and returning at 6pm, this is the ultimate tour to see amazing spots in San Pedro de Atacama. We were picked up by the bus around 7:30am and made our way to our first stop, a small historical town named. This town has a beautiful church and bell tower with a door made from a now protected species of cactus native to the area. We also stopped to meet the town’s resident llama who stole the show.

We then hopped back on the bus and arrived at Los Flamencos National Reserve. I had never seen flamingos in the wild before, and we were told it was nearing the end of the season (start of May, going into winter) and that we may see maximum 10 flamingos. We were very pleasantly surprised by the turnout of over 50!

Following this, we arrived at Piedras Rojas and explored the area, and saw a lot of wildlife including Suri which are related to an ostrich, vicuña, and a desert fox. Following this, we ended our trip at Laguna Miscanti and Miniques at an elevation of 4,300 metres (photos below)! On Tuesday we hopped on a flight back to Santiago and my (current) real world life – and work.

 

Piedras Rojas
On the way to Laguna Miscanti.

 

Laguna Miscanti

 

 

 

Have you ever been to The Atacama Desert or planning to go? Let me know below and I can help with even more suggestions.

 

 

x – Jenn, The Redhead Abroad

24 Thoughts of a Canadian in Santiago, Chile

 

These thoughts go through my head at least once every few days as a Canadian expat living in Santiago de Chile. Can you relate?

 

  1. So. Much. Salt.
  2. I need to stop eating all the delicious bread. OK just one more.
  3. Remind me why I can’t pet OR bring home a stray dog again?
  4. I HEARD ENGLISH. Who said that?!
  5. Cheapest best wine EVER. 3$ for a bottle of carmenere? I feel like I’m stealing.
  6. How can I bring back the most alfajores and capri bars back into Canada?
  7. Am I a gringa or not? Do I want to be a gringa or not?
  8. English is so lame.
  9. I can finally full-out dance to reggaeton songs without (as much) judgement
  10. EARTHQUAKE!!! Oh right, a 6.4 is just a “temblor”…
  11. Manjar is a delicious, dangerous thing.
  12. Pisco means trouble. And a massive “caña” tomorrow.
  13. No, I am NOT from the U.S. and yes, Canada is very different.
  14. Quick, think of the few traditional Canadian songs and foods before someone compares my culture to Chile.
  15. Wait. You guys eat horse?
  16. This is way too late for me. I value my sleep.
  17. Fresh squeeze $2 orange juice in el centro is HEAVEN.
  18. I thought I was just learning Spanish but apparently I speak Chilena now too.
  19. The Mapocho River is not a river.
  20. So many allergies. This is my life now.
  21. Avocados are SO CHEAP. I eat them daily. I love my life.
  22. Bilz and Pap is un-drinkable.
  23. I want to wear wedges like all the Chilenas but I’m already a giant here. Dilemma.
  24. If I hear one more thing about Justin Bieber…

What other thoughts have you had while in Santiago or throughout Chile? I hope you had a laugh at some of these, fellow expats! 

 

Want to know more about Chile? Here are some Chilean Etiquette Tips

Here is my experience with Culture Shock in Chile

Check out some of my photos throughout Chile on my Instagram Page and Twitter

 

x Jenn, The Redhead Abroad

 

How I Survived Christmas Abroad

Have you ever experienced the holiday season away from your family and closest friends? Perhaps in a foreign country as well? The Christmas and New Years holidays are the most important time of year, when family gathers and shares over feasts, gifts, and maybe one too many rum and eggnogs. It’s also a time where we may be halfway across the world, and are just trying to have the best Christmas, knowing we are far from home. I have spent the last two holiday seasons away from my home country and family, and this post is all about how i survived Christmas abroad (and more!), and you can too!

Surround yourself with people in the same situation as you.

If you’re abroad during the holidays, there’s bound to be someone nearby in the exact same situation as you. Find fellow backpackers in your hostel, families of local friends, anyone that you want to share the holiday cheer with! A great idea is organizing an easy and fun Secret Santa gift exchange with a group of people at a small price range, make a get together to share appetizers or desserts or to watch a holiday movie together! This can help everyone have a wonderful morning filled with surprises and treats with those who are sure to soon be close friends.

Embrace new traditions.

The key to surviving the holiday season away from family and in a new environment is to immediately understand that it will be different. You’re in a new country, with a different culture and set of traditions. So let go a little bit of the traditions you have at home (keep a few!) and welcome the new traditions that come your way. It will spark the Christmas excitement again!

For example, I have just spent Christmas 2016 in Chile, where everyone waits on Christmas Eve until midnight and then opens gifts and meets family until the early hours of the morning. In Canada where I’m from, we have dinner, family conversation by the fire and then fall fast asleep only to wake up early the next morning for gifts and a large breakfast.

Viejito Pascuero (Santa Claus) en Chile

Call or Skype your loved ones.

Yes, technology seems to be taking over to a certain degree. And we should leave our cell phones and other devices to the side during the holidays to fully be present and connect with those around us ( really we should do this for the most part always!). One time where your phone will definitely come in handy this year is to call or skype your loved ones at home.

I recently skyped with my family and they showed me around the house, our decorated tree, the snow outside, and them! Although it made me miss my family even more of course, I was able to imagine I was right there with them. Thank gosh for technology with loved ones far away!

You’re doing it!

After experiencing Christmas abroad, the verdict for me is, of course, nothing is better than home. Family is the most important at this time of year, right? But at the same time, what I do enjoy about the holidays abroad with new people I meet in my travels is it opens my mind to other cultures, I learn and practice new traditions, and it makes it that much sweeter when I will finally have Christmas at home again. Travelling at Christmas has also really put into perspective the amount of material items we give and consume during the holiday season. While travelling and keeping in mind those I am usually giving gifts to are travelling as well, it helps you to think much more about what you are purchasing, and how it can be useful to that person, making gift giving that much more satisfying!

Happy holidays to you, wherever you are in the world!

Where is your favourite place to spend the holidays? Do you have any holiday traditions? Let me know in the comments! Please subscribe if you’d like to see more posts like this.

-x Jenn, The Redhead Abroad

7 FREE must-see Spots: Santiago, Chile

Travelling to Chile? Have a week or a day for some touring? Here are my favourite 7 FREE must-see spots in Santiago de Chile to choose from. Get ready to be cultured in all things Santiago. For free!

1. The view from the top of San Cristóbal Hill (Cerro San Cristóbal)

You know that statue of Jesus in Rio de Janiero, Brazil everyone has photos of? Did you know Chile has it’s very own massive Virgin Mary statue? Yep! And it’s right in downtown Santiago.
This statue and the general top area of Cerro San Cristóbal can be reached by a 45 minute walk/hike up the hill from 3 different entry points. The easiest to find is just to the left of the funicular starting point. Another option is to take the funicular (cable car) to the top, which costs less than $4 USD per person.

Virgin Mary statue on Cerro San Cristóbal

Once you’re at the top, prepare yourself for beautiful views! I suggest reaching the top early in the morning before the crowds arrive, however if you don’t mind the people, at sunset it is stunning, and you have almost a 360 degree view of Santiago below. Definitely a must-see!

 

2. Santa Lucía Hill (Cerro Santa Lucía)

Santa Lucía Hill is right in the heart of the city. You can enter at multiple points around the hill. This is a great spot to do a bit of walking, or even to have a picnic and watch the passersby. Walking towards the tip of the hill you will find long, narrow steps which curve up to a look-out of Santiago and the Andes mountains.

This is an important hill because it is where Santiago was officially founded by Pedro de Valdivia, and Charles Darwin actually has a signed plaque just before the last set of stairs up to the very top look-out, stating it was one of his favourite views ever – I am a biology nerd and Charles Darwin is my hero so this was quite exciting!

Cerro Santa Lucía

Right across the street (across the Alameda), is a large artesanal crafts market where you can browse and find anything from handmade leather boots to classic souvenirs like the Indio Picaro (if you don’t know what that is, you’ll find out!).

 

3. Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes)

This museum is gorgeous. Right when you walk in, the entire building opens up into extremely high ceilings and light beams shining through to the floor. Here you can find replicas of famous statues from around the world and quirky exhibits which seem to be on constant rotation. If you’re into fine arts from around the world, this is your go-to. As a separate note, you must place your larger bags in the lockers provided to the left of the front entrance. No entry fee is required. No photos allowed in certain exhibits.

 

4. Museum of Memory and Human Rights (Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos)

Entrance is free, you must check in any larger bags at the front desk. This is an absolute must-see to educate yourself about the deep history engraved in Chile. This museum highlights Chile throughout the dictatorship between 1973 and 1990. It is powerful and packed with amazing, many sad, artefacts and details of what occurred during this time period. The building and layout itself is beautiful, and overall it is extremely well done. If you are interested in learning more about Chile and it’s history, do not miss this.

 

5. La Moneda Palace

This is the government palace of Chile. You are usually not able to get very close to the moneda due to guards and barriers, but it is a must to walk by and check out the statues of historical figures among the grass areas in front. Here is the location of the beginning of the dictatorship which rocked Chile from 1973 to 1990. Interesting fact: When the flag at the top of La Moneda also has the coat of arms on it, this means the president is currently inside the Palace.

La Moneda Palace

 

6. Parque Forestal

This beautiful park runs through the centre of Santiago city along the Mapocho River. Strolling through the trees and stopping to see various views is a pleasant, free activity for anyone. It runs alongside the Mapocho River which is a popular reference point. Whenever I am in the city I always try to walk through Parque Forestal instead of through the busy streets, hopefully with a fresh empanada in hand, and immerse myself in the greenery within the busy city of Santiago.

 

7. Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral & Plaza de Armas

Coming from a country that is very young (Canada), seeing places like these leave me in awe. Santiago is saturated with beautiful heritage buildings and cathedrals, and one of my favourite cathedrals has to be the Metropolitan in Plaza de Armas. The outside is breathtaking in itself, but once you enter it’s like you’re in a whole new world. Take your time looking at the statues, the ceiling, take a seat and absorb it! It’s breathtaking.

Metropolitan Cathedral, Plaza de Armas

**BONUS free must-see: My second favourite cathedral is the Cathedral de los Sacramentinos. Not many know about this cathedral as it is slightly out of the exact center of the city, but when it is open, it is absolutely amazing. Check out a photo I took inside on my instagram .

 

Travelling to Chile? Here are my top 5 must-know etiquette tips for Chile.

Have you travelled to Santiago? What’s your favourite spot to visit (free or not)? I’d love to hear ’em!

Did you like this article? Make sure to subscribe (look to the right) & I’ll send you a note when my next post is up.

-Jenn, The Redhead Abroad

 

Culture-shocked Gringa: The awkward & awesome culture of Chile

Any new country you travel to is bound to have a few cultural surprises waiting for you to discover. After all, that’s why we travel, isn’t it? To be experience new cultures and learn more about the world? But, as I’m sure you’ve experienced as well, some of these culture shocks are exactly that – a shock!

I have been living and travelling around Chile since this past September, and have definitely encountered a few culture shocks that I would love to share with you! Use this as a prep for your travels to Chile, for a little laugh from an awkward Canadian’s mishaps, or just to take a slightly deeper look into the culture of this beautiful, unique latin country.

Note: These are my personal experiences since living in Chile and of course are not displayed by each individual in Chile, nor does any country have a cultural characteristics that every single person in their population displays. These are my findings and maybe you have experienced them too! Happy reading.

Shock #1: Commenting on your looks

I made this number one because this is the culture-shock that my family found funniest.

In North America, we can be quite self-conscious about our bodies and particularly keep subjects like weight and if someone’s getting fatter/thinner out of our casual conversation. We view asking about someone else’s weight as inconsiderate and private information, especially for those we don’t know so well.

But Chileans tend to be very quick to comment on your weight. It’s normal to greet someone you haven’t seen in a while and mention if they’re fatter or skinnier! And many use the words “gordo” or “flaca” to describe others, whereas in Canada we tend to avoid that at all costs, instead saying hair colour, height, or their friends etc.

In one moment I even weighed myself in front of my partner’s entire family at their request! So now my entire boyfriend’s family knows how much I weigh and ask for updates every so often. So beware, fellow North Americans, don’t be self conscious in Chile!

 

Shock #2: You’re 24… how many kids do you have?

In Chile (and most of Latin America), the smallest unit is a family. Whereas in North America and many western countries, the smallest unit is an individual. For potentially this reason, and also a seeming mixture of absence of sex-ed and other circumstances in Chile, many women tend to have children very “young” by North American standards.

When first meeting my partner’s family, many would ask how old I was. When I said I was 24, the natural next question was, “and how many children do you have?”. I was confused, and I replied with “none! I am way too young to have children right now. I’m living in random countries on work visas and haven’t even thought about kids in the very near future to be honest!”.

However, after speaking with the family and discussing my living situations in more depth and the differences in our cultures, they are now much more understanding.

It seems,  at least for those I know in Chile, many tend to have children quite young by western standards and definitely doing so before marriage seems quite common.

 

Shock #3: Speak Spanish? Speak Chilean? Introducing Chilenismos

No matter if you are a fluent castellano speaker or beginner, once you touch down in Chile, your spanish world will be challenged! Chileans have use many phrases and words unique to their country. Here are a few below. Listen out for them and use them as you please, but remember you will likely not be understood in other spanish-speaking countries! You can find full dictionaries of Chilenismos through a google search.

Weon – meaning too many things to write down. Can mean thing, buddy, mate, and more, depending on how you say it and context. other forms: wea, weona, etc. eg. Hola weon!

Po – this is not necessarily a word in itself, but is added at the end of sentences as a sort of emphasis. It’s like the stereotype that Canadians always say “eh”. eg. Si, po!

¿Cachai? – This is a phrase loosely meaning “catch what I’m saying?” or “you know what I mean?”. It doesn’t require a response, but you can still say “yo cacho”.

Check out more Chilenismos on google!

 

Shock #4: Everyone is flirting with you!

In Chile, it seems that everyone loves to gossip. Everywhere in the world there is always much gossip as well, it’s just human nature to an extent. But in Chile, they even have a verb that is uniquely used in the country, “pelar” meaning “to gossip”.

As an example, I was looking at the map of train stops while riding a train with family members to calculate how long it’d take us to get to our stop. A man beside me asked if I needed help, I said no, thank you. As soon as we exited the train, immediately I was asked about the man and was told that he was “flirting” with me because I’m a gringa.

In Canada, it’s simply seen as being friendly, unless it’s clear flirtation. And we are always quick to say “they were just being nice”. I guess it’s all the telenovelas? They can be quite addicting though.

 

So there they are! These culture shocks are always shocking, for lack of a better word, initially, but I like to see them as funny and quirky characteristics and the necessities of getting to know a new and beautiful country such as Chile.

 

What is the biggest culture-shock you have experienced? Let me know below!

x – Jenn, The Redhead Abroad

Top 5 Etiquette Tips: Chile

Interested in Chile and want to learn more about the culture? Chile is a beautiful country rich in deep history and well-engrained etiquette. Here is a list of the top 5 essential etiquette tips to have when visiting Chile – and to fit in with the locals!

 

Tip #1: Permiso!

 

In Chile, saying “permiso” (english: “excuse me”, literally “permission”) is the key to following all polite etiquette in chile. When to say “permiso”:

  • You’re on the metro (train), it’s crowded, and you need to get off, say “permiso” to those in your way. They will politely step aside and allow you to exit.
  • When entering a home or a room. When entering someone else’s space, whether it be an apartment, home, room or otherwise, always announce “permiso” as you enter. This is the equivalent of saying something similar to “permission to enter”.
  • When reaching for something or asking anyone to move ie. reaching slightly across someone to grab something on the table,  or to pass someone in any situation they need to move or you will be in their personal space.
  • When you’re about to eat with your hands. See tip #2 for this one.

 

Tip #2: Fork and knife. Even for “finger food”.

 

If given a fork and knife with your meal, DO NOT eat with your hands. I found this out the hard way while eating pizza. In Canada, we dig right in with our hands. Unless it’s extremely hot or we are in a more formal situation, then we might use a fork and knife. In Chile, it is considered very bad manners to not use a knife and fork to eat, including with what other countries consider finger food (pizza is the biggest one).

A good idea is to wait until someone eats with their hands, ask, or at the very least say “permiso” before picking up something to eat ie. a piece of meat, pizza etc. The only foods I have seen Chileans eat with their hands, and without saying “permiso” first is ice cream cones, empanadas and completos (see my post on these traditional chilean foods if you’re unfamiliar!).

 

Tip #3. Greet (and say goodbye to) each individual.

 

This is a very important tip. It is crucial here in Chile and varies a lot around the world.

In Chile, you individually greet each person. The size of the group, the people, the environment, it doesn’t matter. If you arrive to a party of 20 people and you don’t know half of them, you go around the room and kiss each individual on their right cheek (right cheek to right cheek) and say hello, and your name if you haven’t met before. For women, you greet everyone with this cheek kiss, and add in a hug for people you know well, or whenever you want! For men, you greet with a cheek kiss to women and shake hands of other men- unless he is a close friend or family- then give a kiss on the cheek if you wish. This is common courtesy and is expected of everyone! When you are leaving, you say goodbye in the same manner to each individual. This is very important as you may be seen as cold or impolite if you forget!

Coming from Canada, arriving to a big get together consists of waving and loudly saying hello to everyone, especially if you have recently seen everyone and you are a very casual group. This is seen as very awkward in Chile! Kisses on the cheek are always a good idea.

Extra tip: This form of greeting/departing someone is still valid in an office or interview setting. I learned the hard way!

 

Tip #4. To Tip or Not to Tip.

 

In Canada, we tip everyone. Taxi drivers, waiters, 15% no matter how the service is. Everyone! It’s engrained in our nature now. But in Chile, everything’s a bit more vague.

At restaurants, make sure to check your bill. Usually, the waiter automatically adds the tip into the total, so make sure NOT to tip on top of that! Although this tip has been added in, it is still up to you to decide how much of a tip to give, and it usually depends much more on the service and actual experience you had. Feel free to pay the full tip or discount it a bit.

Do not tip taxis. I haven’t heard of anyone tipping a taxi driver, but if you’re feeling extra generous of course you can.

In other cases, you can tip someone whenever you like, just keep in mind it isn’t necessary and usually they aren’t expecting it.

 

Tip #5. Don’t take your shoes off.

 

Just don’t. Before arriving in Chile, I was used to living in houses where it is very rude if you don’t immediately take off your shoes at the front door. This is usually due to general cleanliness or carpets etc. However, as soon as I started living in Australia with my Chilean boyfriend, my world was turned upside down!

Chileans don’t take off their shoes in their own homes (unless they just rolled out of bed- but they still wear slippers or flipflops), and definitely not in other’s homes. Whenever I don’t have shoes on in the house (I love going barefoot), there is always someone quick to say that I might get sick, even during Chilean summer! So, final word is: keep your shoes on.

 

There are my 5 etiquette tips for Chile! I hope you enjoyed this article and I was able to prepare you in some way for your future South American travels, or that you were slightly enlightened by these cultural differences!

Please comment, share if you like this post, and subscribe for more travel and wellness tips from myself!

For photos of my travels around Chile and other countries, find me on instagram !

x – Jenn, The Redhead Abroad