FLASH! United to begin flying to Santiago, Chile

No longer will stick-like-glue to United Airlines flyers in North America have to fly an inconvenient routing like we did during this tour. United is beginning new nonstop service from Houston to Santiago, Chile during the ideal time for a visit! Hooray. But darn, why is it always after I’ve already “been there, done it.”

Not only that but if you book your trip from Houston (IAH) to Santiago (SCL) by November 10, 2014, and travel between December 7, 2014 and March 31, 2015, there is a limited-time savings of up to 25%.

inside the Santiago subway

inside the Santiago subway

Santiago, Chile

Santiago, Chile

Santiago kiosk

Santiago kiosk

 

 

If Chile is on your back-burner, get on the stick, book tickets and visit incredible Chile.

 


G Adventures South America Tours

Atacama Desert Tours: Barren but Beautiful Moon Valley

Both Moon and Death Valley are part of the National Reserve Los Flamencos located only a few kilometers from San Pedro. It isn’t a stretch to say all visitors in the Atacama visit both of these valleys and do the exact same route. We began in Moon Valley. This great geological spectacle has rocks sculpted by millenniums of erosion into beautiful shapes and colors, and has been repeatedly compared to the moon surface.

Part of the Moon Valley Salt Mountain Range canyon walls even resemble the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The main attractions are: the Grand Crater, Salt Canyon, Three Maries (whatever they are), salt mines, and salt caves.

 

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San Pedro de Atacama: Gateway for Touring the Atacama Desert

San Pedro is an oasis town situated at 2,436 meters/7,992 feet and used by visitors as a base for excursions into the Atacama Desert. However, it was the center of Atacameno culture long before the Incas arrived in 1450. The Quitor fortress defended San Pedro (we would visit in a few days). Cultivable land around was distributed in communities) and irrigation channels built.

A fast Atacama history: The town became a center of Spanish colonial control until Independence….an important trading center on the route to Salta, Argentina… Early 20th century economy was based around mining, with salt mines in Valle de la Luna, and sulphur mines in high mountains… San Pedro is now dependent on tourism and locals who work in agriculture have lower incomes than those who work in the tourist industry.

 

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LAN Airbus-320 Economy Santiago to Calama, Chile

LAN and TAM is part of the Latam Airlines Group and a member of Oneworld, an alliance of 12 airlines which is why we have never flown LAN before. But since only LAN and Sky Airlines fly from Santiago to Calama, jumping off point for the Atacama Desert, there wasn’t much of choice; LAN is would be even though we wouldn’t accrue any United Airlines miles. I hate to give up those hard-earned miles though they would accrue on American Airlines, a Oneworld partner.

For some reason, I decided to look at the LAN Chile reservation while in Santiago because one itinerary said departure was at 9:30a, another said 10:30a and LAN’s website didn’t show the flight at all. Daniella at Holiday Inn Express Reception called LAN for us and discovered to our horror that this flight was cancelled! Daniella then telephoned Cocha Inbound to resolve our problem. Cocha sorted out that we were now on a 12:00p flight to Calama since the original flight was permanently cancelled. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone had contacted us?

 

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A Quick Funicular Ride up San Cristobal Hill in Santiago

Full and exhausted after two churches, three large markets, cultural sights, lunch and a potent “Earthquake” drink, we followed guide Christian back on the Metro and exited near the Barrio Bellavista area. We walked through a park first and stopped for ice cream at Emporio La Rosa. Emporio La Rosa is considered to have the best ice cream in Santiago, according to National Geographic and Travel Advisor. We thought it was expensive and nothing special; don’t bother.

Our Santiago Like a Local Tour continued across the Machuco River and through Barrio Bellavista with its fourth market (a separate article will appear later in this series), many restaurants and colorful houses, to the bottom of San Cristobal Hill.

 

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Visit a Popular Restaurant and Bar in Santiago, Chile

After eyeballing all the fish and a few strange-looking and unidentifiable sea critters in La Vega Mercado Centrale’s oldest building, guide Christian escorted us into Galeon Restaurant for lunch included in our “Santiago Like a Local” tour. I’m not sure if El Galeon Restaurant is the most popular sea food restaurant for tour groups but there were groups from Japan, Europe, and Brazil along with us.

A personable waiter immediately brought breads and a delicious cerviche with fish and mussels inside, small shrimp outside as a starter. Entree choices were eel, salmon or  a flat and mild fish called “Reineta” – our choice. A huge dish of French fries/chips, vegetable, and salad accompanied the fish course followed by pears, apples and strawberries for dessert and a Pisco Sour, considered Chile’s national drink. It also wouldn’t have been a meal without a huge pour of a nice crisp Chilean wine, $3.50 US a glass.

 

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Santiago, Chile has Massive and Fascinating Markets

Santiago is filled with markets and we visited four different ones with guide Christian in just one day: Textile Market, La Vega, Bio Bio, and Bellavista. If you exit the Metro at Patronato and walk to your right out of the station, you’ll be in the center of the Textile Market; this is where to go for cheap anything. Christian said that primarily Indians and Koreans operate the shops and stalls. People wander through the many indoor markets and outside sidewalks into infinity and beyond buying knock-offs. Fake Shambala bracelets were being sold, 12 for $20 US, such a deal and they haven’t fallen apart yet.

If you walk to your left when exiting Patronato Metro Stop, you’ll see Mercado Vega Centrale ahead. The Mercado Central (Central Market) is a national monument and was built in 1872. It has a high, steel structure that was prefabricated in England and assembled here. Almost every tourist comes to walk around Chile’s vast assortment of fruits, vegetables and seafood in different buildings.

 

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Magnificent Santiago Cathedral or Catedral Metropolitana

It is important to know that 68% of Chile is rigidly Catholic with no wriggle-room for any circumstance,  Abortion, even for medical reasons or in cases of rape, is illegal. The Cathedral was vandalized in July, 2013 after approximately 5,000 protesters marched through Santiago in support of an 11-year-old girl who was raped, became pregnant and not allowed to have an abortion. Some 100 demonstrators entered the cathedral, wrecking confessional booths and shouting insults at worshippers.

All worship was banned during the rule of General Augusto Pinochet, the military dictator who governed Chile from 1973 to 1990.

 

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The Lively and Fun Plaza de Armas, Santiago

The Paseo Ahumada is a four-block-long pedestrian mall filled with retail shops, handicraft vendors, musicians, cafes, restaurants, shoeshine stands, and blankets spread on sidewalks selling everything from Christmas wrapping paper to stacks of yellow underpants. (What’s with that?) The promenade eventually leads to Plaza de Armas, a gathering spot for Chilean immigrants and the city’s social hub since 1540. The Metro L5 Green Line stops right beneath the square, at Plaza de Armas stop; how easy is that!

Plaza de Armas is in the heart of Santiago de Chile’s historic district and the city’s most important buildings can be found here around the square:

- Palacio de La Moneda (Presidential Palace) seat of the President of the Republic of Chile.

- Correo Central (Central Post Office) dating from 1715 was the former Governor’s house, rebuilt in 1882 in a rococo style.

 

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A Santiago Like a Local Walking Tour

Yum… Steve and I l-o-v-e food, all food whether it be a high-class restaurant or a McDonald’s and have recently started booking private tours to learn about and taste local foods as well as to feel more like an insider. I don’t remember where we ate, stayed or even saw on two previous trips through Santiago; one in 1986 and another in 1996 but now looking forward to a more in-depth experience, I booked “Santiago Like a Local: Private Walking Tour with Coffee, Markets, Street Food” through Viator.

A negative with Viator was confusion over what time the tour would begin. Viator told us to call the night before to confirm timing; we did and were told 9:30a. Guide Christian then telephoned us a short time later to say 9:15a but didn’t actually arrive until 9:45a. No worries. We were prepared to cancel the tour and set off on our own to explore Santiago if he didn’t show.

 

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