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…