4,725 Miles: Chile, Part V (Last Day in Santiago)

We had hoped to spend our last day in Santiago seeing the historical district, starting off at the Palacio de La Moneda–basically the White House of Chile. I had even gone online several months before our trip to register for a tour–though the form seemed a little complicated, asking for the numbers of the travelers. At first I thought this was asking me to basically list myself and my 4 companions and designate everyone as Traveler 1, Traveler 2, and so on. Later, I read that I was supposed to provide our passport numbers instead, but that made me a little anxious–handing out passport information to a website I wasn’t even sure was 100% legit–so I just figured we’d sort it out once we got there.

I also found this very confusing description of the supposedly fantastic changing of the guard ceremony: “they have a changing of the guard ceremony every other day at 10 a.m. during the week.” Huh? It wasn’t until that very morning that I found information saying this guard changing takes place on odd days in March. I told Russ, and he said we should go for it, even though it was already nearly 9:30 in the morning. What followed was an insane up-and-at-’em where we threw on clothes, grabbed our stuff, called an Uber, and raced across Santiago to get to La Moneda before 10 a.m.

We ditched the Uber a few blocks away and huffed the last bit on foot, hoping to slide in no later than 5 minutes into the ceremony.

But the ceremony wasn’t there. Or it else it had ended mighty quickly. Or it could’ve been on the other side of the building! We sprinted all the way around this city-block sized palace only to find…nothing. We finally came upon a guard, and I asked him where the changing of the guard takes place. He said, “A aqui!” (Here!)

Then he added, “maƱana.” (Tomorrow.)

It was Wednesday, March 6…definitely an even day.

The natives grew restless. “But, hey,” I said, “we’re just here early for our tour of the palace. Let’s walk around the corner and get a snack or a hot chocolate or something.”

To find this little courtyard cafe, we walked past a row of bikes for rent. Two of the boys lost their minds, begging to rent a bike. We shut that idea down fast, which brought some tears to one tired little traveler. Luckily, a pastry and some hot chocolate calmed everyone down.

Then it was back to La Moneda for our special tour. We showed our proof of registration and made our way to the short line; as the tour was only available for a maximum of 25 people, we comprised 1/5 of the whole thing. Several armed guards came out and asked to see everyone’s registration and passports (which we, of course, had brought along with us). The guard was keeping one passport from a member of each group which again made me a little nervous…

He got to us, and we handed over all 5 passports and waited to receive our entry badges.

But instead of giving us the badges, he took our passports and walked off to confer with another guard. Then they both came back and said that our registration wasn’t right, so we couldn’t go in. Seems you really did need to input your passport number on the website. I begged and pleaded and even enlisted the help of the fully fluent woman in line ahead of me…but no dice. We were turned away.

If you thought the natives were restless after the changing of the guard debacle, then you should have seen the hostility at this turn of events. There were more than a few tense minutes where no one was speaking–except to futilely revisit the “we want to rent a bike” plea.

Eventually, Russ asked what was next on the agenda. Seeing as I was 0 and 2 for the day thus far, I don’t think many folks had a lot of confidence in my plans, but I pulled out the map and said we were heading up the road to the Metropolitan Cathedral.

We headed out across the Plaza de la Constitucion and came upon some protestors who were being interviewed on tv–for what? Lord only knows…but that didn’t stop Russ and Tucker from photo bombing them…

En route to the Cathedral, we happened upon the Paseo Bandera, a super cool urban art exhibit I’d seen featured in a random magazine but–to be honest–had forgotten about. Walking down this colorful street definitely helped raise morale.

For a pretty cool video showing the entirety of the Paseo, click here.

Keeping with the day’s theme, we arrived at the Cathedral well after an Ash Wednesday service had already begun (in one of the side chapels). We were still able to scrunch in the very back and receive the blessing at the final dismissal.

The Cathedral is located on the Plaza de Armas, the main square of Santiago. It was hot and crowded and jam packed with smokers and tourists. Morale was again fading fast. We decided to use up the last Metro trip on our Bip! card and headed out to Parque Quinta Normal and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights which is an absolute must-see though we realized afterwards that it’s something one should see at the start of a Santiago vacation, not the end.

Just…wow. This place was fascinating. We lingered around way longer than we thought we would which meant we’d missed the critically important window for lunching.

Remember back in an earlier post wherein my carefully plotted itinerary was upended by an audible to visit the Mirador first instead of the museums around Quinta Normal? I’d planned for us to head out here to the far western edge of Santiago first thing in the morning and then to work our way back into town because my painstaking research had shown there was a dearth of eating establishments out here.

Well, I was right. There is indeed a restaurant shortage out here (well, to be honest, it’s probably more correctly termed a “shortage of restaurants suitable to the tastes and hygiene requirements of 5 different individuals” problem). Russ whipped out his phone, googled restaurants, and we spent the next half hour walking down Matucana towards the middle of nowhere. We finally stopped at a hardware shop to regroup and scour the backpack for snacks and the majority elected to throw in the towel. Back to Costanera. No Museum of Natural History. No real walk through Parque Quinta Normal. No Planetarium.

Instead, we toured the fifth floor of the Costanera once again.

After lunch, we walked down the road a ways to the U.S. Embassy which was pretty much as non-event as we were not in need of the U.S. Embassy, thank goodness. Then back to the sweltering apartment to pack up, shower, and figure out dinner plans.

We took a family vote and decided to head back down to Bellavista for a last stroll and meal.

we are escape room addicts (well, 4/5 of us are), but we had to skip this one…

We hit up Vendetta once again, but opted to sit outside and tried our best to ignore the smokers. We called it an early night due to our flight the next morning–which required us to be at the airport by 8 a.m.

Chile was amazing, adventurous, and definitely one of the most unique places we’ve ever been. If we had it to do over again, we’d probably ditch the craziness of driving up to the Embalse el Yeso and instead would spend one more day in Santiago. We would also probably roll the Customs/border crossing dice, get the international documents for the rental car, and drive through the Paso International Los Libertadores into Argentina.

Due to its massive sprawl, Santiago is a tough city to cover–especially in just 3 whole days–and I feel like it has enough really cool nooks and crannies deserving of exploration. And while our entire spring break didn’t come to an end on Thursday morning, our Chilean section of it was going to. We were off to Lima for a few days before catching the red-eye of all red-eyes back to Atlanta on Sunday morning.

Chile, you’re the bomb; am I right?

4,725 Miles: Chile, Part IV (Into the Andes!)

Tuesday arrived and so did–thankfully–our last day with the car. Not only was Russ growing weary of being our chauffeur, the boys were also growing weary of sitting three across in the backseat.

Our last day trip out of Santiago was a short one, distance wise–only 102 miles or so–but we were going to another once-in-a-lifetime place and on a once-in-a-lifetime road, so I was quite excited.

Located at 9,450 feet above sea level, Portillo is one of the go-to destinations for snow skiing during the North American summer, especially for Olympic-caliber skiers. As we were there near the end of the South American summer (and, um, are not Olympic-caliber skiers), we weren’t able to ski, but that didn’t stop me from really wanting to see this place.


The first hour or so of the drive is a piece of cake. We barreled down the highway out of Santiago and parallel to the Andes mountains.

Every once in awhile, we’d come upon areas that were bright green and lush–a huge change from the rest of the scenery. On the other side of the highway from this green area (above) were the most pitiful looking brown squatty bushes somehow growing on brown dusty land.

Once through the bizarre truck-stop of a town called San Miguel, you’ll hang what feels like a complete U-turn onto the infamous Chilean Ruta 60 and begin the journey up the mountain.

The landscape began to change dramatically.

The road signs began to change dramatically, too. For the record, Chile doesn’t play around with their road signs. We saw Volcano Evacuation Routes, Earthquake Evacuation Routes, Horse-and-Buggy Crossing signs, and this gem…

…the old Watch Out or Your Car is Going to Go Careening Over the Edge of the Mountainside sign. (I just wish I’d gotten a better shot of it…)

The most famous part of Ruta 60 is the 29-curve switchback that leads the final few miles up to Portillo. Our good friends over at the Dangerous Roads blog (mentioned a few posts ago) have also listed this highway on their collection of potentially disastrous roads for you to even consider visiting, and even said this portion of the trip “demands 100% concentration.” Love the doom-and-gloom, btw. The authors of that blog must be a real joy to hang out with.

Russ did use 100% concentration, and we all found this part of our journey absolutely fascinating. The photos we took do not do it justice…

…nor do my photos do the Andes Mountains justice. The scale of these guys is ineffable.

We pulled up to the resort, and the Vacation and The Shining jokes began.

“Sorry, folks; park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.”

The resort wasn’t closed (thank goodness; I would have endured family mutiny if that had been the case), but it wasn’t exactly hopping, either.

Petra the St. Bernard is the official greeter at Portillo, but she was taking it easy today.

We moseyed into the dining room–which was completely empty–and sauntered over to the windows to take a peek.

The view was spectacular.

We turned around and were spooked greeted by a waiter who’d snuck up on us like a Prius. He ushered us over to a table, and we sat down for lunch.


It’s hard to see, but if you look through the wine glass on the left, you’ll see a small white ramekin with a tiny spoon. Inside that was some of the most delicious deliciousness I’ve ever had (my mouth is watering just thinking about it): a garlic-tomato-olive-oil mixture that I would have bought gallon jugs of if they’d only sold it.

Bonus: no vampires (or family members) messed with me for days afterwards.

After lunch, we walked around the resort a bit. It was crisp, clear, windy, and amazing. And, again, these photos don’t do the scale of the mountains justice at all…

straight down the mountain, folks
seeing it without snow is sort of like seeing how the sausage is made…
in front of Laguna del Inca–which is supposedly haunted

Looking around at all the incredibly steep slopes–that lead straight to that lake–we really couldn’t imagine skiing here.

Interesting tidbit: we were just 3 miles from the Argentinian border. Crossing the border is apparently a mega-hassle, so I reluctantly cast this pipe dream to the side when planning our trip. At one point, I’m certain I mentioned this to Russ and the boys, and they agreed that it was a little crazy to possibly endure mayhem just to say we’d been to Argentina.

Apparently, the family forgot that I told them it could take hours to get through Argentinian customs only for us to get a passport stamp and turn right back around. Before we turned out of Portillo, there was a whole lot of chatter about just going for it and making a run for the border. As we had not gotten a permit to cross the border from the rental car office (and as an Argentinian gulag wasn’t on our vacation destinations), any further discussion of such an attempt was a moot point. Then we watched an 18-wheeler pick up two backpackers and continue its slow journey towards the Tunel Cristo Redentor , and our talk shifted from how bad a life choice it is to make a sketchy border crossing to how bad a life choice it is period to hitch-hike, much less to hitch-hike on an 18-wheeler across a border. Egads.

So when we passed the Welcome to Chile sign, we did a little happy dance even though we’d actually not left the country.

The drive back down Ruta 60’s 29 curves was just as thrilling as the drive up.

good gracious, you all are so thankful you’re not on that bus!

Once back through San Miguel, the rest of the drive back to Santiago was perfectly uneventful. Russ dropped us off at the apartment and braved rush hour traffic to return the car (not sure anyone has ever been happier to ditch a vehicle than he was) while we showered and caught up on our screen time.

Dinner that night was back at Patio Bellavista; Theo finished up with a dessert crepe while the rest of us did some souvenir shopping.

Road tripping in Chile was tiring, to say the least, but we’re glad we did it (at least some of us are…our driver might dissent). Our trip up to the Andes was refreshing and unique and surprisingly non-motion-sickness inducing. I’m going to branch out and say driving around (and navigating) the outskirts of Santiago was manageable as long as there were actual roads (looking at you, Embalse del Yeso). That doesn’t mean we weren’t ready to be done with the responsibility of wheels, though.

We had just one full day left in Santiago…