Puerto Varas and Santiago, Chile

by Pete Barba

Our amazing visit to Bolivia came to an end too soon.  We truly loved the amazing beauty of the high desert and the warmth of the people in Bolivia.  After 3 flights and one overnight hotel, we made it to Puerto Varas, Chile. 

Chile is probably the wealthiest and most European feeling country we have been to in Latin America. The water is safe to drink, the architecture is modern and well kept, and the standard of living is much higher than much of South America. For us, this meant it felt very comfortable, but also comparatively expensive.  

Puerto Varas

Our first stop was a week in Puerto Varas, a small tourist town in the lakes district of Chile at the northern end of Patagonia.  Imagine Lake Tahoe, but surrounded by 3 volcanoes instead of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  We stayed at a very new AirBnb, with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, a lovely living space and a porch.  The apartment was within a short walk of the town, which could best be described as a touristy but also an outdoor adventure oriented town.  Lots of cafes, restaurants, and shops full of outdoor clothing and local crafts.  

Our week in Puerto Varas was planned as a “down” week, to work on schooling and catch up on living (aka laundry, bills, etc).  Our days started with coffee and reading, followed by a walk or run, then school, lunch, more school and then an evening stroll.  While there was plenty of opportunity to do more adventurous pursuits, we also had to balance our other obligations and limitations.

This isn’t to say we didn’t do anything adventurous!  One day we went whitewater rafting in the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park on the class III & IV Petrohué River rapids. We chose Ko’Kayak and had an amazing time.  They were safe, well-organized and the guides were full of fun.  This was Kate and the kids’ first time whitewater rafting, which is ironic considering we live 15 minutes away from some of the best river rafting in the United States.  We all had a wonderful time, full of smiles, laughter and sometimes a little bit of healthy fear.

During our trip, we met a lovely family, Ted, Sally, Eva and Isaac, from Chicago.  They are starting out on their own around the world adventure, taking a different path than us by beginning in South America and heading east.  The dad, Ted, is an airline pilot, and the mom, Sally, is a school nurse.  During our ride to and from rafting, we shared stories and lessons we have learned from our adventures, and heard about their plans, goals and dreams.  It was so nice to meet another crazy family like ours, knowing we aren’t alone in pursuing such a wild dream.  We had such a good time with them that we met them again 2 nights later for dinner.  We wish them well on their journey and sincerely hope we meet up again in the future.

Also during the week, we hiked to a local waterfall, drove up and hiked around a crater on Osorno Volcano, and did an all day road trip around a local fjord.  That last bit included the kids’ first ride on a ferry.  During the drive, we stopped at a local restaurant where the menu was steak or chicken, and that’s it.  The meat was paired with potatoes or rice, steamed veggies, and live (and outstanding) music.  Simple and authentic.

I wish all of life’s choices were that easy, 2 things, both good, nice and simple.  That’s one learning from this trip that I hope sticks with us, simplicity.  So many times in life we unnecessarily make things complicated with way too many decisions.  Which shoes am I going to wear from my vast collection?  Am I going to have chicken, pasta, fish, sausage, steak, pork, shrimp, pizza, burgers, or tacos for dinner?  Am I going to go skiing, sailing, biking, hiking, running, or do nothing this weekend?  In our blessed modern society, we are burdened with choice overload, and probably not for our benefit.  On this trip, we each have about 5 outfits for a particular climate; that makes getting dressed in the morning very easy.  When we go to the store, there’s often only 3 types of milk: whole, light and no fat.  Our dinner at night is the only meal we bought at the market the day before.  Our exercise choices are walking or running.  Now don’t get me wrong, there are still a ton of choices that went into this trip, where to stay, what flight to take, which restaurant to enjoy and what activities to do, but the things we have simplified have taught us an important lesson on the joys of less.  Less choices, less stuff, less clothes, less hectic.  Which translates into being more content, more time to relax, more money to save, more sleep and more joy.  Something to ponder……


After an enjoyable week in Puerto Varas, we moved on to the cosmopolitan capital of Chile, Santiago.  During our four days we walked, explored, ate and sweated (a lot!).  The hotel we stayed in was wonderful with great staff, lots of local charm, a reasonable price, free breakfast, a room that fit the four of us (unusual to find in a hotel) but unfortunately no air conditioning.  While it cooled off nicely at nighttime, the days were sweltering hot which made schooling the kids more uncomfortable than usual.  Santiago is a modern city, with lots of new construction, contrasted with colonial architecture and extraordinary amounts of artistic murals and graffiti.  As per usual, we walked miles and miles each day exploring different neighborhoods, such as Bellavista, the Barrio Italia, and Lastarria.  

We also ate delicious meals, some simple, some extravagant.  The simple meals consisted of sanguches (the national food of Chile), which is a monster-sized sandwich weighed down with piles of meat and mountains of mayo.  We also continued our love affair with loaded fries at Papachecos. Definitely not heart or weight healthy, but delicious!  Kate and I had a date night “wine tour” at Bocanáriz that specializes in wine flights from around Chile.  Finally but not least, we immensely enjoyed the Ambrosia Bistro, a restaurant we found from watching “Feed Phil” on Netflix (if you haven’t seen that show, it’s worth a watch for foodie travel with a healthy dose of quirkiness). The meal was outstanding.  We were lucky to sit at the bar to watch the open kitchen making our food.  The owner and head chef Carolina Bazán chatted with us and treated us like honored friends; she even let us try a dish that wasn’t even on the current menu (stuffed squash flowers).  Drew continued to explore his new found love of burgers, Kate and I ate fresh tomatoes, garlic gazpacho and steak with mole, and Gwyn tried a little bit of everything including Uni (sea urchin) and the flowers..  We left feeling loved, stuffed, and a little star-struck.

We left Santiago, and Chile as whole, with a newfound appreciation for South America.  As Americans, we tend to go east or west when we travel, heading to Europe or Hawaii, but we neglect flying south.  We forget that a whole continent lies nearby, one that is filled with natural beauty, great food and wines, friendly people and a culture that feels familiar yet unique.  Argentina was filled with sexy dancing, great food, a horse culture and affordable prices.  Bolivia was stunning with high mountain and desert landscapes, beautiful indigenous culture and history that dates back thousands of years.  Chile was modern, comfortable and has a coastline and volcanoes that stretch on for thousands of miles.  I feel like we only touched the tip of what South America has to offer and I know that we will be back to explore more in years to come.

Thanks for reading to the end.  Next up: New Zealand: North Island!  Don’t forget to check out our past stories and subscribe for future articles as well.  Find us on Facebook and Instagram for bonus content!  Please note that any links or business names provided are for information only, we did not receive any compensation for our opinions or recommendations. As always, if you are planning a trip to any location we visit we are happy to provide more details and opinions, so feel free to contact us.

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