During the last week of work before I became a “stay-at-home-mom”, we received an offer we could not refuse- a 14 day cruise on the Norwegian Sun beginning in Valparaiso, Chile and working our way around the tip of South America towards Buenos Aires. It would depart the following Tuesday. With some frantic phone calls, transfers of points and booking of flights, we were heading to Santiago. So much for staying at home…
The most daunting parts of the trip were the flights. Red-eyes to and from South America would be no problem for us, but 10 hours would seem like an eternity for our very curious 19 month old. Luckily, with much prayer, shushhhhing and almost lay-flat seat to himself, we managed to get him to sleep for 2/3 s of both flights in and out of New York.
We were allowed to check into our room at the Grand Hyatt Santiago around 10:30 am, just under an hour after we arrived. Some notes about getting there: It seems that much of Santiago is under construction, which makes walking around this area fairly tricky. Public transportation also sounded complicated to get to where we wanted to go, so in order to avoid transfers and added stress while traveling with a toddler, we opted to hire taxis or drive ourselves. The taxis from the airport can be particularly tricky, as the drivers tend to switch the “agreed-upon” price upon arrival. Stick to your guns, and get someone to yell at them in Spanish if your language skills are lacking (as ours were).
The Parque Arauco mall about a five minute walk from the Hyatt, with a nice assortment of restaurants throughout the outside boulevard area. Here, we capitalized on our napping baby to savor a seafood platter at La Perla del Pacfico. After a trip to the supermarket to stock up on bottles of wine and milk, we ravaged the hotel happy hour and called it a day.
The Central Market, Plaza de Armas, and Museo de Bellas Artes are all within walking distance of each other, and a 20 minute taxi ride from the hotel. Though I love a good market, we kept moving in search of somewhere to eat and rest out of the summer sun.
The Bella Vista neighborhood is a funky slice of Santiago, full of street art and yummy food. We stopped at Patio Bella Vista for a late lunch, sampling a round of Chilean wines and tapas at Barrico 94. This helped us to better understand which wine regions we might want to visit the following day.
We were not too far from the funicular, which provides access to the Zoo, the summit of Cerro San Cristobal, and the statue of the Virgin Mary of Immaculate Conception.
The views from the top are spectacular, and the crosses that line the final ascent to the statue are quite beautiful as well. Keep in mind that there is still a bit of a hike to the top once you dismount the funicular, so bring water and comfy shoes.
Another 5 minute walk from the park was La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s house which he built for his secret lover. The name comes from a Quechua word meaning “unruly”, and he apparently referred to her as Medusa for her wild head of red hair. The architecture mimics the hill it was built into, with the rooms gradually climbing up the rock face and punctuated with outdoor seating areas. This served as a serene respite from the rest of the city, both for the poet as well as visitors.
We hired a car for the following day, requesting a pick-up/drop-off rental from Santiago to Valparaiso where we would be embarking on the ship. This almost doubled the rental fee, but was still less than what we would have paid for a private car one way, and we basically got the day of sightseeing for free. Ignoring the hotels recommendations for wineries (and busloads of touritsts at Concha Y Toro), we chose Undurraga and Vina Aquitania.
We were the only ones doing a tour at the time we arrived at Undurraga. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, and we actually learned a lot- specifically, about a grape called Carignan which is usually blended with other varietals as a fixer for irregularities. It can be grown without a trellis, but is quite tricky to successfully produce great wine from. Here, they highlight it as part of the Terroir Hunter project, along with the subtleties of Chilean winemaking regions which contribute to the terroir.
Aquitania is accessible by public transportation from the city, but feels miles away. After a long day of driving, we canceled the formal tour of the vineyards and went straight to the tasting. The wines had a certain funk that we found disagreeable, and though we didn’t buy anything, the setting made for a beautiful afternoon of relaxing.
We wanted to maximize the final hours with the car before embarking on our 2 week cruise, and had heard that the Casanova region produced great wine. Since it was directly en route to Valparaiso, we stopped off at Bodegas Re for one final tour.
Think we are crazy for bringing a baby to vineyards? Think again…. mommy and daddy get to drink while the baby enjoys a cheese plate. Everyone is happy.
This was our favorite of the three, and wished we could have stayed longer. The “Re” is for reinvention, recreation, and revelation. They make their wines using ancient methods, aging them in clay pots that have been passed down over many generations. We purchased a very interesting Chardonnoir to bring with us on the ship, and continued towards Valparaiso.
We had arranged with the rental company to have the car picked up at the port, so though we did not explore Valparaiso itself, we had a much easier time getting to the ship than we would have if we needed additional transfers. We also had the benefit of arriving to Chile a few days prior to the start of the cruise, and therefore felt much more at ease than the other passengers in our company. Ignoring the pushing and shouting surrounding us, and we were officially on our way to the end of the world!!