Clearly I’ve been really bad about keeping up with the blog because we went through the whole country I’m just getting around to writing about it. We spent about one and a half months driving from the very top to the very bottom of Chile. We entered in Arica, which was a feat for us. Chile is notoriously strict on monitoring what enters the country. That meant that we had to do extra paperwork to bring Leia with us. We even spent a few extra days in Peru just making sure we had everything in order since we had been warned that some people have been turned around for not having the correct documents.
We got to the border late in the afternoon and got in line to do all the necessary steps: get stamped out of Peru, turn car paperwork into Peruvian customs, drive to the next building to get stamped into Chile and get car paperwork from Chilean customs. As we’ve seen up to this point, every border is different and everyone seems to think that you should know what to do even though most borders are not clearly marked. We got up to the Peruvian agent only to find out we should have already filled out a form. We filled it out, got back in line and luckily everything was filled in correctly and we got stamped out. We went to customs, turned in our papers and drove to the Chilean building where everything seemed very confusing. There were lots of cars parked in a line, then a booth with a long line of people and their suitcases. We parked, got in line, and waited our turn. When we got to the agent, again we needed to fill in a form. We filled it out, got in line, and finally got our stamps in. We then had to see the agricultural agent about Leia. I was really nervous that he would give me a hard time, but he barely looked at the papers and looked her over for all of 10 seconds.
The real fun began when we found out we had to put all our belongings through an x-ray machine, which explains why everyone was in line with their suitcase. This seemed like a big feat for two people who are living out of their car and have much more than the average person passing through the border. Still, we needed to pull out all our bins, put them on the belt and then put everything back in. Thankfully they let us pull the van up to the building so we could get stuff checked more easily. They also had a dog check our car and looked through our Thule box for contraband. We finally got through, got our car paperwork and were on our merry ways after that 3 hour ordeal.
It’s really interesting how things can be so drastically different across a border. We went from crazy drivers in Peru to drivers who actually obey traffic signals and stop for pedestrians. I felt like I was back in Europe. The roads were also a lot better and well-lit and the buildings seemed very modern. Even the time was different. We lost two hours by just crossing a border. This actually was really nice for us because the sun was setting at about 6:00 in Peru, but in Chile it would be setting at 8:00. The sun also rose at about 5:30 in Peru (ridiculously early when you are living in a van and can’t close the blinds), but was rising at 7:30 in Chile (a much more reasonable time). We also came to realize how expensive everything is. Even taking money out from the ATM, I was charged $8 for every withdrawal, but in Peru there was no fee. Food was also much more pricey. We were paying $5 for two people to eat lunch in Peru and $10 per person for lunch in Chile. Things were definitely different.
Chile is a really diverse country with a large desert in the north, beautiful forests and lakes in the center, and snowing mountains and crazy wind in the south. We were able to see all of that and more. One of our favorite places was Valparaiso, a hilly city on the coast with tons of personality. We got to do some urban camping there right next to a cemetery with great views over the port. Leia had a ball on a graffiti tour of the city and even got to try out one of the funiculars (which she didn’t enjoy very much). Valparaiso also has one of Pablo Neruda’s residences. After driving up one of the incredibly steep hills, we took a tour of his home that overlooks the city and the ocean. There’s no shortage of streets to wander down or neighborhoods to explore.
On the other end of the spectrum, we loved the 7 Lakes region, about 8 hours south of Santiago. The views were amazing, lots of greenery and snow capped volcanos. We visited the Lago Villarrica first, which has a couple really lovely towns on its shore. This is where we had one of our best camping spots to date. We drove up the back of the Villarrica Volcano and found a nice little spot overlooking 2 volcanos and the valley. After that we drove a little south to Lago Panguipulli (which, incidentally, is very fun to say). We stayed at nice little campground near the lake for Christmas and hung out with another traveler who was there. The whole area was very laid-back and relaxing.
Overall, Chile was well worth all the time we spent there. We really could have spent another month and a half visiting all the parks and visiting other cities and villages. We didn’t get a chance to visit Torres del Paine which is the most popular destination in South America. Since we were traveling with Leia, we couldn’t enter Chilean national parks. Andres and I decided to make another trip there someday so we can hike the park and get the full experience. This won’t be our last trip to Chile and I’m looking forward to getting to see more in the future.