Montevideo – Uruguay

Hello!

From Colonia, we caught a 3 hour bus along the coast to Montevideo. Though it seemed like a legitimate touristy coach, all the locals kept hopping on and off as we drove along. Fortunately we had reserved seats but the aisle was full of people throughout the whole trip.

The capital, Montevideo, is sort of split in to the old city and the new city. One of the main things to do is walk the beach promenade; La Rambla. It was a lovely walk in the sunshine in what is classed as the ‘new’ area of Montevideo. It must have been considered too cold for Uruguyan’s as no one was swimming (apart from a crazy dog charging around the waves whom everyone was watching). The temperature was in the low-mid twenties with glorious sunshine yet most people were bundled up in winter coats and scarves! Probably the only time in South America so far where we’ve both stuck out as clear tourists wearing our shorts! We walked on further to the lighthouse which is on the southern most point of the city. Though nothing spectacular, it was a nice stroll and we saw a stray cat colony near the lighthouse. A lady who stopped with us said that she and others who live nearby come to drop off cat food here for them.

The rest of our time in Montevideo took us to the old city. We did a walking tour with a company called Curioso which was one of our favourite tours yet. We started in la Plaza Independencia where there’s a big statue and a mausoleum with the ashes of Jose Artigas; Uruguay’s national hero who helped to liberate them from various invaders including the Brits (who didn’t we bloody invade). There are 33 palm trees around the square representing the 33 patriots who fought for independence. Around the square, there was also the same building we saw in Buenos Aires whose architecture is inspired by the Divine Comedy with floors representing hell, ascension and heaven with a lighthouse at the top. Lastly around the square we saw the offices of parliament. The guide mentioned former president Jose Mujica who was very popular with the people and who apparently was often seen without guards and eating at restaurants and cafes round the square with ordinary people.

We carried on to La Plaza de la Constitucion, where Uruguay’s most renowned fountain sits. Apparently it was created by an Italian architect and thus some fundamental words about the constitution are spelt incorrectly with Italian rather than Spanish spellings! We also learned that Uruguay is one of the most agnostic and atheist countries, thus has very few churches. We did however go to one, cathedral metropolitana. The church had the body of one of the first presidents of Uruguay – Fructuoso Rivera (1854). Our tour guide said he was the reason why most Uruguyans have light, European skin compared to the rest of South America. Rivera apparently invited all the indigenous people to a gathering and slaughtered them all. Our guide’s comment on this was that the running joke is that Peruvians are descended from the Incas, Mexicans are descended from the Aztecs and Uruguayan’s are descended from sheep. In keeping with the liberal nature of the country, our guide explained how marijuana is legal for Uruguayan citizens; their ID cards have a chip like a credit card which enables them to go to pharmacies, insert their ID and it states how much weed they are allowed to buy. He said it is usually 40g per month and said it was so amusing for him to watch his parents all of a sudden change their perspective on drugs after they realised it was state owned and now he often goes home to see his parents having a joint together!

Though Uruguay was a country we didn’t really know much about, nor knew anyone who had ever been, we really enjoyed our time there and hope to return one day and explore a few more cities and towns, perhaps not just the ones along the coast but further inland!

Thanks for reading and join us next time as we head to Brazil!

Sophie & Dave

Colonia – Uruguay

Hello

We left Buenos Aires for Uruguay on our first ever boat border crossing. It’s only an hour trip across Rio de la Plata to Colonia in Uruguay. Buying the tickets was as straight forward as any bus tickets we’ve bought, we opted for the company Colonia express as they were offering the cheapest ticket at $648 Argentinian pesos (£28pp). The coastal city of Colonia, or rather Colonia del Sacramento, is known for its quaint cobbled streets with decorative street signs written on tiles in blue ink. The historic quarter is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Colonia was colonised by the Portuguese in 1680 and used as a smuggling cove to Buenos Aires, though ownership changed hands between Portugal and Spain throughout the years. Colonia turned out to be one of our favourite cities so far in our 8 months of travelling.

Colonia is a really popular weekend getaway, particularly for Argentinians, so we’d been warned accommodation could get booked up quickly. It wasn’t even peak season, nor a weekend, yet there was fairly limited choice. We ended up staying by the beach rather than the old city, so it was a 2km walk every time we went to and from town, but it meant we got to see the beach side of Colonia too, so no complaints.

All we really did in Colonia was wander through the narrow streets in the sunshine, watch the sunsets and eat great food.  I had the best ice cream of my life, bold statement, I know, but it was at an ice-cream shop called Bortolot, according to their shopfront, established in 1896. I had Dulche de Leche and chocolate and it was heavenly. Another day, we stumbled upon the most beautiful seaside teashop called Queriendote, with a beautiful little garden with multicoloured bunting that looked out on to the sea. Dave got a fancy tea which came with instructions and even an egg timer so you know exactly how long to brew it for. I got a dulche de leche cappuccino which makes me salivate at the thought. It was just perfect, relaxing in the sunshine with such a picturesque view.

Apart from eating, we also went up the old lighthouse for only $20 Uruguyan pesos (50p). It was actually a lot more steps than we’d anticipated so it was really windy at the top but it gave a lovely view over Colonia and the water. The lighthouse and the church are the only tall structures in the entire UNESCO site as it preserves how it was when it was first founded. Round the corner from the old draw bridge, there is the most photographed street; Calle de los Suspiros (street of sighs). Apparently this famous street has three different legends as to why it is called the street of sighs, known throughout Uruguay. For example, one of them is that a woman was waiting there for her lover, but was unexpectedly stabbed and all that was heard was a farewell sigh…

Oh and we also saw some of the nicest sunsets we’ve seen in a long while in Colonia! I think they rivalled Fiji!

Thanks for reading, join us next time as we head to the capital, Montevideo!

Sophie & Dave

Buenos Aires – Argentina

Hello

We left Córdoba and headed to Buenos Aires on an overnight bus. We chose the bus company el Turista which cost us $900 Argentinian pesos (£40) for the 9 hour tip. We arrived to an absolute torrential downpour and when we got to our hostel at 8am to leave our bags before checkin, we discovered that their whole ground floor had flooded overnight! Fortunately it cleared up for the rest of our stay. Buenos Aires is a huge capital city at 203km squared, so there’s quite a lot of public transport available. However, the city felt safe and we found ourselves just walking everywhere in Buenos Aires and ended up walking about 10-20km per day. I suppose cost effective given how painful withdrawing money in Argentina was. Firstly it was usually a faff to find an ATM that actually accepted our cards and once we had, the withdrawal fees were absolutely extortionate; the maximum you can withdraw is £100 with a £5 charge!

We did one of our favourite free walking tours ever here; Buenos Aires Free Walks. They were really professional and even had microphones which was a first. The walking tour stopped at various landmarks, all with interesting stories such as the Palacio Barolo whose architecture reflects the Divine comedy with floors representing hell, ascension and heaven with a lighthouse at the top and we saw Auguste Rodin’s statue of The Thinker (who knew there was one in Buenos Aires?!).

But the best thing about the tour was that he actually gave us a political and economic commentary of Argentina whereas most tours try to avoid too much bias. It was even better that he said off the bat, that obviously this was his opinion but it was still a really interesting insight we wouldn’t have otherwise got to see. I think we were both most shocked to learn that last year, Argentina had a 40% inflation rate! It helped to make sense of why everything was so expensive and Buenos Aires had the most homelessness that we’ve encountered in South America so far. We did a food shop for eggs, bread, ham and cheese which came to an insane £10. It was also linked to the fact that all monuments, statues and important buildings are gated due to the protests against the government in 2011.

La Casa Rosada (the pink house), the main government building, is located in what is considered the heart of Buenos Aires; Plaza de Mayo, (May, the month of the Argentinian liberation). The floor surrounding the central statue is painted with the symbol of Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo (the mothers). The symbol is of a nappy made of cloth that belonged to all the lost children of the dictatorship. These mothers are praised for their silent protests when they demanded information on their missing children which brought light to the human rights violations on an international stage. During the dictatorship, newborns were taken from their mothers and given to parents within the military junta. The organisation offers blood tests to a certain age group who have questions about their heritage and who might be one of the lost children. The organisation has apparently located 122 lost children, including the grandson of one of the founding members, Estela de Carlotto. The people of Buenos Aires seemed to be really engaged in politics and human rights. We saw so many references to the lost children of the dictatorship, so many posters about a rally against Benjamin Natanyahu (Israel’s Prime Minster) to account him for his human rights violations in Palestine and finally, everywhere in Buenos Aires you’ll see “Where is Santiago Maldonaldo?”; on posters, in graffiti, in shop windows. Neither of us actually knew about this recent case but it refers to a protester who went missing in August 2017 and the mystery surrounding his disappearance, the Argentinian people fear it is history repeating itself with the disappearances under the dictatorship (1976-1983).

When you think of Buenos Aires, the main thing that comes to mind is Tango! Though there are many places, including our hostel, that offered tango classes, Dave and I (as we have 4 left feet combined) decided we’d leave it to the professionals and just wanted to watch a show. On the walking tour, we’d been pointed out Cafe Tortoni as more of a landmark. It’s the oldest cafe in Argentina founded in 1858. Whenever you walk past, there are queues round the corner for the food though apparently its more just for the experience of the cafe. Anyway, we’d asked our hostel about the tango show they offered but it was more expensive than the one hosted at the historic Cafe Tortoni! So we decided to go there instead. We went early in the day to book our tickets for the evening’s show. There’s an 8pm and 10pm performance, we opted for the earlier show and it was $400 Argentinian pesos each (£17). They led us to the downstairs area and we were seated at a table right in front of the stage. The seating must have been based on who bought the tickets first as the waiter had a specific seating plan, so definitely worth us going early. We settled down to a bottle of Tortoni red ready to enjoy the show. Neither of us had ever been to any type of dance performance so we didn’t know what to expect but it was absolute incredible! The dancing was mesmerising and we were just nudging each other in awe at how they move their feet so fast, kick so high and somehow don’t kick their partners in the crotch. The show was telling a story and there was a man singing in between each dance, but to be honest, we didn’t really understand what the story was. The only words I got from the song were ‘corazon’ and ‘amor’ (heart and love).

Our final stop in Buenos Aires was the ecological reserve. We’d tried to go on the first day we arrived but it had been closed due to the flooding from the previous night. The reserve is 360 hectares and full of wildlife. The stars of the show being Coypu who swim in in the lake. We’d never even heard of them, they are like beaver/rodents with long tails and bright orange front teeth. We also saw Brazilian guinea pigs who only stay on land. This enormous reserve is on the edge of the ocean as well. It’s very surreal seeing the outline of the buildings of the biggest city in Argentina behind you whilst you’re walking through a huge park full of wildlife and on the other side, the vastness of Rio de la plata which feeds in to the South Atlantic Ocean.

We also really enjoyed strolling along Puerto Madero, we ended up there when we were buying our onwards boat tickets to Colonia, Uruguay.  But its a lovely area for a walk, and also the terrible Westerners we are, we got Starbucks but Dulche de Leche flavour. I don’t know how I’m going to live my life after South America without Dulche de Leche.

Thanks for reading, join us next time as we head to Uruguay!

Sophie & Dave

Salta & Córdoba – Argentina

Hello!

We headed to Argentina with our first long distance bus and border crossing in South America. We booked our bus ticket in San Pedro de Atacama (it took us two attempts as we forgot to take our passports to the station and had to return a second time). All sorted in the end and we opted for the cheapest bus company offering the trip; Gemini for $18,000 Chilean pesos each (£21). It was a 9 hour trip but perfectly bearable given the comfy seats, toilet on board and 2 rounds of snacks they gave out. Getting off the bus and through border control was really smooth too, much more efficient than our Asia land border crossings like Vietnam to Cambodia. It was also throughout the day so we at least got to admire the scenery when we weren’t napping (okay, maybe just me). As we drew closer, we got to see the Cerro de los Siete colores (hill of 7 colours), which is a popular tour excursion though we were content seeing it from the bus (see photos below!). We finally arrived in Salta, a mountain city founded in 1582 in the North West of Argentina. We had anticipated it being quite a small city given its location, turn out its massive!

We had a bit of a nightmare as we got off the bus, our hostel was 5km away and it was getting dark so we wanted to get a taxi. Unfortunately, the ATMs near the bus terminal didn’t work with English credit cards (same happened to all the other Brits on the bus). So we had to walk into the city centre where we eventually found an ATM that worked for us, though by this point, we decided we’d just persevere and walk all the way with our backpacks.  Though slightly out of town, the hostel we stayed in (All Norte), was awesome and one of our favourites from this trip. We met some lovely people and Dave was especially thrilled as he was able to actually speak English with other humans. Fernando, the owner, was also so kind to us and literally helped me practice Spanish in conversations for like 2 hours! The best part though was the two sweetest dogs (one was called Uma Thurman – ha). Turns out they are both former street dogs, and one of them, up until 4 months ago could only crawl until Fernando adopted him and got him surgery to fix his crushed spinal column. Now he’s running around and the transition from the videos we saw of him are insane! We spent a whole day at the hostel where we just chilled and did some proper planning. We discovered a website called Platforma 10, which has been a total life saver helping us work our bus routes and how much the tickets are going to cost us. We originally thought we’d go East in to Paraguay but after our research, we concluded it was best to stay in Argentina and head South.

Anyway, Salta itself we really enjoyed, though it is a city, it didn’t feel too busy and there were some lovely parks, one with a huge fountain and really unique looking ducks. There was a huge supermarket near our hostel so we tried to eat in and make a packed lunch as much as possible though we did have one really good meal out. Of course, given we were in Argentina, it was meat galore. I opted for a steak, where the waiter asked awkwardly ‘definitely this one, it’s 445 grams?’, to which I said that’s fine by me. Dave had a local speciality of llama steak in red wine sauce which sort of tasted like a mix between chicken and a tender red meat. We headed to Cerro San Bernardo, a hill where you can get a cable car or walk the 1000 steps to the summit overlooking the city. We decided to walk (slowly) despite the heat. I also realised I’d forgotten a hair tie so had to make do with shoving sticks in my hair to keep it up, did the job though. The hill boasts 126 species of birds, and it made the walk much more enjoyable for me getting to take photos of a few on the way up. We were really surprised to find a pretty impressive and big fountain/waterfall display at the top of the hill and of course, some great views over Salta.

We went to the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (high altitude archeology), renowned for housing the best preserved mummies. The museum had lots of information (though not everything was translated to English) about Inca rituals and sacrifices. The mummies are of three children who were found 500 years ago at the top of Mount Llullaillaco, at the incredibly high 6700m above sea level! The Incas used to select young children from different tribes, often the most beautiful or intelligent. The children would journey to the main tribe and after a celebration used to strengthen the bond between tribes, would be offered as sacrifice to the mountain. The children were drugged and then taken up the mountain and buried alive, though the Incas didn’t believe they would die, rather join the mountain in Spirit. Due to the altitude (and thus temperatures), the children were preserved and found virtually intact in 1999 (apart from one who had been struck by lightening some time in the last 500 years). We thought we’d see all 3 mummies but there is only 1 on display at a time and are on rotation to help preserve them and allow for more scientific study. Simultaneously horrific and fascinating.

We went to the bus station to book our onwards tickets to Córdoba (we chose it as it broke up our journey to Buenos Aires). Whilst at the station, a little girl with Down syndrome came up to me and said that she’d lost her mum. I’ve never been more grateful or seen the importance more of learning to speak the language of the country we are in than that moment! Fortunately, we were able to take her to a security guard and explain and then she soon found her mum. Anyway, the bus. There’s only one bus company that does the route; Balut and holy sh!t it was incredible. The most ridiculous bus either of us have ever been on. There were only 3 chairs in a row and it was huge leather seats that reclined to a fully horizontal position and basically turned in to a bed. We also got served a hot meal, tea and coffee on board, your own personal tablet with fancy headphones and English films! Dave who notoriously struggles to sleep on night buses said it was the best night sleep in transit he’s had yet! It was an 11 hour trip, $1579 Argentinian pesos (£71) each and definitely worth the money especially when you consider we skip the cost of a night’s accommodation.

Unfortunately, the bus was the best part of Córdoba. Sorry to any Córdobians, but this was the first place on our travels that we unanimously did not like. Perhaps it was in part due to the shite hostel we stayed in, which didn’t even have windows. But it was also the fact that it was a huge city that somehow managed to feel so congested and busy, coming from two Londoners! Córdoba is renowned for being a student city with 10% of the population at university. It’s also where the current Pope Francis is from apparently. We did a free walking tour with a company called La Docta. We’ve done quite a lot of walking tours now, and we can honestly attest that this was the worst tour we’d ever done, both tour guide wise and location wise (avoid if you ever go). It was through the historic part of the city centre. We started at Plaza San Martin, apparently every city in Argentina, Chile & Peru has multiple statues, plazas, squares etc named after him. San Martin was the liberator of the three countries, awarding them independence from the Spanish empire in the early 1800s. Most of tour revolved around visiting various religious monuments; a cathedral, jesuit crypt and church – to be fair, of course the interiors are very impressive but it’s just not either of our cups of tea. The final stop on the tour was to the University of Córdoba where we learned that education is completely free and also available to absolutely anyone which I definitely endorse. The tour guide said the city treats students really well and they enjoy a lot of perks, even subsidised daily steak lunches costing $4 Argentinian pesos = 17p! Our highlight from Córdoba was finding a really quaint cafe called Fellini Cafe where we got an incredible spread when we ordered Brunch for 2!

Thanks for reading, join us next time in the capital; Buenos Aires!

Sophie & Dave

San Pedro de Atacama & Piedras Rojas – Chile

Hello!

We saved ourselves the 24 hour bus ride from Santiago up to the Atacama desert in the North of Chile and instead decided to fly (because it wasn’t too dissimilar cost-wise). We flew to Calama, the closest airport to San Pedro and then took a shared minivan an hour and a half to the town. Landing in Calama had to be one of the strangest flights we’ve done, we looked out the window and there was just desert for miles and we couldn’t even see the tarmac to land on. The drive to San Pedro as well was very surreal as we just kept driving on and on through this one straight road surrounded by cracked earth, sand, rocks and dust. A desert landscape is one that neither of us have ever seen before (other than the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, though that was quite different).  The Atacama desert is considered the driest place on earth and the landscape is truly jaw-dropping.

We chose a great place to stay, Hostel Ayni, and we arrived too late in the afternoon to do anything properly so we just enjoyed the sun from the hostel’s garden and had a poke around the town which is basically one big strip with all the tour agencies and restaurants. All the tour companies offer similar trips and try and compete for your custom by discounting if you book multiple tours. The tours are all a bit pricey, and though there are loads of things to see and do, we narrowed it down to just one tour which included our top attraction; the flamingos on Lake Chaxa. We opted for the Piedras Rojas tour through the Flamingo Travel Agency (the most legit looking one on the strip). It was initially priced at $45,000 pesos with an additional $5500 pesos entrance fee to the parks but we got it for $35,000 each and entrance was only $2500 pesos; making it about £50pp for a full day (7am -6pm) including breakfast and lunch, a trilingual geologist tour guide and 400km worth of driving to altitudes of 4000m! Not bad really.

Our first stop on the tour was to Lake Chaxa, a salt lake where three types of flamingos live; the Andean flamingo, Chilean flamingo & James flamingo. The lake is surrounded by the salt flats (Salar de Atacama); the third largest salt flats in the world! Lake Chaxa sits at 2300 metres above sea level. We had an amazing geologist tour guide who gave in depth explanations in Spanish, English and French, so it was quite good language practice for me too. He explained that the salt comes from the volcanoes underground and mixes with the underground currents. Though there are multiple volcanoes in the Andes; the Atacama plain only has one active volcano; Lascar and we could see the steam rising from it. As the Atacama basin is surrounded by different mountain ranges, the water has no drainage outlets and is continually evaporating to create the natural salt crystal phenomenon. We absolutely loved seeing the flamingos and that was without a doubt, the highlight for us. Seeing them in person, they are such bizarre creatures with their stilt-like legs. They basically stand in the water and constantly do shuffling 360 degree turns eating the food that they disturb. We weren’t sure whether we’d see any close up but we were thrilled to see a few who were only about 20 metres away. And we did see a huge flock (the collective noun is actually a flamboyance of flamingos) in the distance moving as one and we caught sight of a few actually flying against the backdrop of the Andes. We also saw an Andean Avocet, a white and brown bird with the craziest pointed beak (see below!).

Next up was the main attraction of the tour; las Piedras Rojas or the Red Stones. Situated at 4000m above sea level, there’s lake Miscanti (altiplanicas) which is only 30-40cm deep and was covered in strong ice that you can walk on. Around the lake, there are red rocks that are actually lava stones flung kilometres from the neighbouring volcano Aventura! The reason they are red is due to the oxidised iron within them. I started to get my first ever taste of altitude sickness though, I had such a bad headache it felt like my brain was going to explode out of my head. Also throughout the time in San Pedro, I seem to have started to get a bloody nose which I never normally never have and apparently its a symptom of altitude sickness too. To give you a comparison of how high we were, Machu Pichu is only 2430m! Only 10km further along, we stopped at Laguna Tuyajto, also at 4000m above sea level. It was another salt lake and the aqua colouring reminded us of the glacial lakes of New Zealand.

Throughout the tour, the guide pointed out some wild, desert animals to us. We saw a couple of Vischachas who belong to the chinchilla family except they look like rabbits with long tails and very long whiskers! We also saw quite a few Vicunas which are similar to llamas and alpacas but they are the proper, wild, mountainous versions. Finally, we even saw a Gray fox, native to South America (all photos below!)

We then pulled up to the place that marks the Tropic of Capricorn; the imaginary line parallel to the equator on the Southern Hemisphere. It’s also the start of the Inca trail which goes all the way North to Cusco in Peru. I suppose it was a fun photo op in the middle of the desert that denotes such renowned co-ordinates, but not much else to say on it really. Our last stop was Toconao, a small village where ancient traditions and crafts are kept alive. The town is built with Liparita which is volcanic stone. The town is tiny so there isn’t much to do, we just got an ice cream there and looked at the Bell Tower built in 1750. There were also some giant, phallic cactuses. Apparently the inside of the cactus is used as a type of wood-like material and was used to build the door of the local church.

The next day we had a fairly slow morning after the day before’s jam-packed day. We headed to the town’s French bakery for some great croissants for breakfast. Mine had Manjar in it which is another food that is really popular in Chile. It’s made from condensed milk and it sort of tastes like salted caramel and it is heavenly. We had a few admin bits to do like book our onwards bus journey to Argentina for the following morning and then we went to rent bikes. You can get them for around 3000 pesos for 6 hours or 5000 for a full day. We chose one that cost 4000 for the 6 hours just because it was conveniently located near our hostel. They are supposedly ‘mountain bikes’ though there is no suspension on the back. We planned to cycle to Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) but it was a bit of a disaster really. I’m not the most athletic person anyway, but with the altitude, the mid-day sun of the desert, and crap bikes, it was awful. We followed a view point on our map and ended up pushing our bikes up a gravel/rock/dirt track hill. At the top, there was a giant cross which gave a tiny bit of shade, the only shade for miles – we’ve never been so grateful for a religious structure. Despite the horrific push-bike-up-a-hill-fiasco, the view was amazing and so iconic to Atacama. We then went back down the same disastrous hill and actually cycled through the valley and then back in to town. The loop wasn’t far at all but my god, our arses were so bruised by the end of it.

In the evening, we did perhaps the stupidest thing we’ve done this trip. Atacama is notorious for star gazing and though there are astrology tours that take you out safely in the night with telescopes etc, we decided we’d try and walk out of town where there are no lights to try and see the stars ourselves. We basically took a very dodgy route and were walking in some very sketchy backstreets, not even streets really, just back dirt roads. Just as we were both starting to feel properly on edge, there was this blood-curdling, high pitched yelp from right next to us which was a dog behind a fence. We absolutely shat ourselves. Fortunately, all was ok, but we decided to walk back on the main road instead. Oh, and in terms of stars, we did managed to see them a lot better without the town lights but there still weren’t that many/ that bright. There is a photo below, though not very impressive given that it was taken hand-held without a tripod. We hope we’ll get a couple more chances at stargazing in other parts of South America.

Thanks for reading, join us in Argentina next time!

Sophie & Dave

Valparaiso – Chile

Hello!

We decided to do a little weekend trip to Valparaiso after our Spanish course. The bus from Santiago was a pleasant surprise; super cheap (£5pp) and quite fancy with the bus company Turbus. Valparaiso is a seaside city, formerly the main port of Chile. Now it is infamous for its coloured houses on steep hills, street art and being a UNESCO heritage site.

We’d been told to only stick to a very small area because Valparaiso is supposedly very sketchy, but we didn’t really stick to that. I was a little cautious and didn’t walk around constantly with my DSLR round my neck but other than that, it was fine for us and we felt quite safe. Even our hostel was a little bit separate from the normal ‘safe zone’ tourist area and it was lovely. The woman who runs it was so kind and helpful and really patient chatting with me in Spanish. We also became best friends with the cat, literally the nicest cat in the world that only wanted to sit on our laps and have cuddles. We were also fairly high on a hill so we had an impressive view of the port and surrounding hills from our window.

We arrived fairly late in the afternoon, so we just pottered around our area, starting to take in the magic of the street art and went for dinner at Cafe del Pintor. It had the most impressive art murals of any cafe/restaurant we’ve ever seen (see photos below). In Chile, most places offer a set menu of starter, main, desert and drink for a fixed price, this is ‘menu’ in Spanish as opposed to ‘Carta’ which would be our version of a menu with all options. Not only the art but the food was great too.

The next day, we headed to the house of Pablo Neruda, a world renowned Chilean poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. We rode the number 612 bus to get there; notorious as an experience in itself because it goes at break-neck speed through the windy hill roads of the residential section of Valparaiso. The bus driver had one hand on the steering wheel and one on the pole to support himself when he turned corners. Pablo Neruda’s house can only be described as quirky. The shape of the house, the rooms, the furniture; everything was quirky. They had an English audio guide which was a little disappointing as I was expecting more information about his actual poetry but the tour focuses on the design of the house, how he chose to decorate it etc. It was still interesting nonetheless and had some of the best views of Valparaiso from its’ different floors. After the house, we walked through ‘the dodgy’ part of town (perfectly fine) to get back to the city centre.

In the afternoon, we did the 3pm walking tour with Tours 4 Tips. Our guide spoke perfect English and was really passionate, one of the best walking tours of this year I think. We hadn’t yet rode any of Valparaiso’s infamous funiculars that take you up to the top of various hills. Throughout the tour, we stayed predominantly on Cerro Alegre (happy hill) & Cerro Concepcion. Just like Santiago, there are so many stray dogs and cats, there were even 2 stray street dogs that followed us for the whole 3 hour walking tour. Our guide led us down some beautiful alleys where every inch was covered in some sort of art. He was knowledeagble about the street artists names though I can’t remember them now. He led us to one of the more recent murals created about a month ago which depicted all the different types of people/professions/influences in Chile – there’s even a Donald Trump in it. What was most interesting though was the firefighters at the top; apparently they are regarded as the most valiant among the Chilean people as in Chile, it is an entirely voluntary service and given that Valparaiso is a city very prone to fires, they are all the more important. He said the firefighters raise funds through raffles and that nearly everyone always donates to it.

We ended our time in Valparaiso with empanadas and tea in hand, sat on the steps of a hill with a view of the sun going down over the port.

Join us next time as we fly from Santiago up to the driest place on earth; the Atacama desert in the North of Chile.

Thanks for reading,

Sophie & Dave