Our Journey South: Cusco, Peru to Puerto Natales, Chile

Whew. This was a LONG trip. We actually debated making the first part of this journey — bussing from Cusco, Peru to Santiago, Chile — it’s own post. After all, we initially set our “time spent in location” threshold for whether a location warrents it’s own blog post at 3 days. And, well, we just about hit that in travel time alone. Between our overnight ride through the Andes and the subsequent bus that covered half of Peru and Chile, we hit a grand total of…

  • 68 hours
  • 8 meals
  • 3921 kilometers

All. On. A. Bus.

To put that into perspective, that’s the equivilant of driving from Boston, MA to San Francisco, CA…and then back to Salt Lake City, UT.

Tried to capture all the scenery on the bus ride, turns out you can sum it up with one picture; desert
Tried to capture all the scenery on the bus ride, turns out you can sum it up with one picture; desert

Unsurprisingly, there’s really not much you can say about that much time on a bus! The positives: we saved hundreds of dollars over flying, and earned some serious backpacker cred.  Would we do it again? Probably not.  It was a lot of time spent staring out a dust-covered window. The most exciting moments came at a rest-stop with DIY toilet flushing and the surprisingly stringent boarder crossing where I had to prove that I was not smuggling in any illicit meat or cheese products under my dress. Chile is very stict about not allowing food products into the country.

This was our "home" for the nearly 3 days on a bus
This was our “home” for the nearly 3 days on a bus

With only an evening to spend in Santiago before flying south we didn’t waste any time. As soon as our bus dropped us off we taxied over to Hotel Patio Yungay and set out to explore. Our host gave us a quick tour of the neighborhood, introducing us to one of the local shop owners who ran a cafe / vintage furniture store just a block away. From here, we caught the metro a few stops over to the Plaza de Armas to check out the historic center before meanedering our way back on the graffiti-covered streets. (Sidenote: Santiago has some of the best graffiti artwork I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing.)

An example of the beautiful artwork on the streets of Santiago, Chile
An example of the beautiful artwork on the streets of Santiago, Chile

Back at the hotel we joined our host and the other guest (from Spain) for a bottle of wine and conversation, which continued through dinner at a cute little French restaurant down the street. The next morning it was a bit tough getting out the door for our early morning flight, but it was absolutely worth it. Our only regret was not having another day in this city.

The flight down to Punta Arenas was amazingly pleasant. Security lines were fast, we were upgraded to exit row seats that I swear had enough space in front to break out our yoga mats, and they fed us not once, but TWICE. We had so much food that we actually brought leftovers with us. Sky Airlines more than made up for the painful online booking experience in the actual flight experience. It’s not often you can say that!

In Punta Arenas we had more to look forward to — we were meeting up with Stef and Nick, friends from SF! After traveling just the the two of us for two straight months it was so awesome to have friends around again. Meeting new people from all over the world is one of the things I love most about travel, but it can also be incredibly draining to be constantly building new relationships. The night we arrived we met up for dinner and drinks, caught up on life, and talked about our upcoming plans for hiking the W in Patagonia.

The next day we caught a bus up to Puerto Natales, our jumping off point for the W trek. We had booked two nights here so we would have time to buy last minute supplies and get our ducks in a row before setting off on the 5-day trek. Having this extra time ended up being super helpful for a couple reasons:

  1. We dropped by a talk hosted by Erratic Rock Hostel where one of their guides went over the ins and outs of the trek — what to expect, helpful tips for packing, etc.
  2. The town of Puerto Natales was pretty cool. By the time we left Natales we felt prepared and excited for the adventures ahead!

    The trek ahead all mapped out by by the wonderful staff at Erratic Rock
    The trek ahead all mapped out by by the wonderful staff at Erratic Rock

Stay

Santiago – Hotel Patio Yungay. We loved this cute boutique hotel in the trendy Barrio Yungay neighborhood. It’s on the pricy side, but the interior courtyard, walk-able location, free breakfast, and cozy room were just what we needed after two nights on a bus. Plus the owner is unbelievably nice and even woke up extra early to make us breakfast before our flight.

Punta Arenas – This town is super expensive. All of Chile is pretty pricy for South America, but it was hard to find rooms here for under $100. We settled on a B&B through booking.com. The owner was sweet, but spoke only (very fast) Spanish and it was hard to keep up. It was also a little less the cute bed and breakfast we had anticipated, and more just a spare room in a family’s house. Next time we might check out one of the hostels.

Puerto Natales – Our hostel here was awesome, huge props to Stef and Nick for finding this place. We stayed at the Singing Lamb, first in the dorms (our first dorm-stay!), and later in a private room, after we returned from our hike. Both were fantastic – I’d definitely recommend this place.

Do / See

Santiago – The Plaza del Armas, and the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino are a great first stop to get a sense of the history and architecture. If you arrive at the plaza around mid-late afternoon, try to take advantage of “once” — the between lunch and dinner snack. We found a great spot that served a set menu which included a piece of cake, milkshake, and tea or coffee. Once quickly became my favorite meal!

Pre-dinner snack because, well, once
Pre-dinner snack because, well, once

Punta Arenas – We didn’t have much time here. If we did we might have taken advantage of one of the boating day trips to see the penguins. If you’re also time-crunched, the walking path down by the water was a great place for an afternoon stroll. From here, the sky seems to extend out endlessly over the sea.

Something about the blues of this place make it magical
Something about the blues of this place make it magical

Puerto Natales – Most of our time here was taken up with errands and preparing for our hike. There are great views from the water though, and the main plaza is a fun place to pass time and people watch. We also met interesting people from all over the world at our hostel. Southern Chile is so far from everywhere that it seemed almost every traveler we met had an interesting story about why they were there, where they came from, or where they were going next.

That's a Milodon. Yeah, it's totally a thing, look it up!
That’s a Milodon. Yeah, it’s totally a thing, look it up!

Eat / Drink

Santiago – In the Barrio Yungay neighborhood, check out Boulevard Lauvaud, a cute French restaurant with great local wines. It’s dining tables are all different styles and arranged in cozy rooms that made us feel like we were taking part in a big dinner party.

Punta Arenas – The town is full of restaurants and cafes, most aimed at tourists. One favorite was an old-style, nautical-themed basement bar where we grabbed a couple drinks after dinner. Also, the churros trucks and sidewalk fruit vendors have really affordable (and delicious) snacks.

Puerto Natales – We were here during shoulder-season and you could tell by the mostly-empty restaurants.  One of our favorites was the pizza at Erratic Rock. Since it doubles as their gear rental shop the atmosphere was buzzing with people having just finished their trek and the nervous-excited debates of those getting ready to head out — “do we rent the camp stove or stock up on the dried fruits and nuts?”.

Takeaways

Southern Chile is magical. From the minute we landed in Punta Arrenas I fell in love with the landscape – the flat open fields, towering mountains, and the sky that seemed bigger than anywhere else I’ve ever been. There was also something really cool about looking out to sea and knowing you’re almost on the “bottom” of the world, where the Atlantic mixes water with the Pacific. It was also a bit strange knowing we were so far away from home (almost 7,000 miles!) and yet Chile felt much more familiar than Peru, Ecuador, and Panama. It’s definitely on our list of places to return to…hopefully with a trip over to Antarctica next time!

Current Location: Ubud, Bali

Your move next life!
Your move next life!
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