Beaches and mountains and wineries, oh my!: More reasons why Santiago rocks

Beaches and mountains and wineries, oh my!: More reasons why Santiago rocks

Written by ryan

Topics: Chilean adventure

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While Santiago is a great city in and of itself, possibly its most compelling feature is its proximity to an amazing variety of incredible day-trips, ranging from beaches to wineries to mountains and more.  This is a tale of some of those day-trips.


I thoroughly enjoyed writing about career related topics (e.g., Career Option-value) and will absolutely be writing a lot more involving evil mongeese in the near future, but I didn’t want to go too long without offering a little travel-related inspiration…

We’ve been in Santiago, Chile for a couple of weeks now and we continue to like it more and more (see our original post on Santiago).  So much so in fact that we are now seriously considering getting jobs and living here for the foreseeable future.  Anyone have any good leads?  :)

We may sound crazy.  You may be wondering why we would consider living so far away from home.  There are many reasons.  In this post, I’ll discuss 3 of them: beaches, mountains and wineries.  Oh my.

Santiago day trip 1: Beaches

About a week ago we made plans with some friends to go skiing in some of the gigantic mountains hovering just outside/over the city.  We headed over to their house at around 9am to meet up.  When we got there, they told us that they had heard the weather was rough and it might be snowing too hard in the mountains for skiing to be much fun.  We are fair weather skiers, so skipping the slopes for the day was fine with us.  After some discussion about possible alternate destinations, we decided to drive to the coast for the day.  It was drizzling for most of the ~1 hour drive, so initially we weren’t all that optimistic about the beach.  We were in for a surprise.

We started at Isla Negra, which is a small beach town a bit south of Valparaiso and the site of one of Pablo Neruda’s houses (he’s kind of a big deal here).  The tour of the house was very worthwhile (this guy collected all kinds of crazy stuff, including a narwhal tusk!).  Beyond the house, the beach was fantastic which was helped by the fact that the rain stopped..

Isla Negra beach image

This was Pablo Neruda's backyard. I wish it were my backyard.

After our tour, we decided to drive a bit further up the coast to Viña del Mar.  Viña is a popular beach destination for a good reason.

Viña del Mar coastline image

It's always a beautiful day in Viña del Mar

The weather was significantly better at Viña.  We had an awesome lunch on an outdoor patio (keep in mind that it’s the dead of winter here) and then took to the beach…

Viña del Mar beach image

Everyone out enjoying this beautiful winter day

Also, there were some very cool sand sculptures.

Viña del Mar beach sand sculpture image

Such as this crazy dragon thing

We got some ice cream, hung out on the beach for a few hours and eventually headed back to the city.

Let’s recap:

  1. We woke up in the morning ready to go skiing.
  2. We determined that it was snowing too hard to go skiing
  3. Rather than driving an hour east for skiing, we drove an hour west to the coast
  4. We spent the day enjoying a sunny, warm and beautiful day at the beach and eating ice cream (because it was snowing too hard to ski).

Does this seem strange to anyone?  Is this sequence of events possible anywhere else in the world?  If so, let us know!  If not, join us in basking in the awesomeness that is Chile.

Santiago day trip 2: Mountains

This weekend it wasn’t snowing too hard.  With our friends at the wheel, we managed to make the ~1 hour drive east (though ‘up’ is the more accurate direction) and hit the slopes at Valle Nevado.  It was our first time skiing in the Andes and it was unlike any skiing we had ever done before (in a good way).

Valle Nevado ski lodge image

This is the lodge down at the base (yep, that's the bottom...)

Aside from the incredible views and massive amounts of snow in every direction, there is something quite unique about skiing in the Andes…

Valle Nevado slopes images

Hmmm... what's missing from this picture?

Trees.  There are no trees.  I’ve never skied without trees before.  They pretend that there are separate runs, but really it’s more of a free-for-all where you can pretty much go anywhere–there is nothing but snow and mountains for miles and miles and miles.  At the lodge, you can conveniently pay for a helicopter to drop you off further out if you’re crazy (we saw it go back and forth more than a few times), or some people apparently take a lift up and just head off in a different direction and have a friend pick them up near the side of the road somewhere down the mountain (or just hitchhike from there).

I’ve skied all over the US, but I’ve never seen this much fresh powder–certainly none that is this light and fluffy.  Also, it doesn’t get that cold (rarely below freezing) and apparently the day we were there was the most crowded our friends have ever seen it–sometimes we waited in lift lines for up to 2 minutes.

Valle Nevado lift image

This is the 'most' crowded it's ever been...

And another thing…

Echaurren glacier at the top of Valle Nevada image

At the top of one of the lifts you get an incredible view of the Echaurren glacier (top left) which is hanging out at around 17k feet

If glaciers aren’t your thing, there are also some spectacular views of the city way down below.

Santiago view from Valle Nevada image

That's Santiago city down there in that valley. If you look closely you can see the buildings... completely surrounded by mountains

Not only that, but the drive home offered some pretty spectacular sunset views.

Sunset on road to Santiago from the Andes image

Sunsets in Chile do not mess around

Let’s recap:

  1. 1 – 1.5 hour drive from city
  2. Amazing powder skiing, wide-open runs, not crowded, warm
  3. Incredible glacier views
  4. Incredible city views
  5. Incredible sunset
  6. If we were feeling lazy, we could have gone to the beach instead

Convinced yet?  If you still don’t agree with us that Chile is awesome, that’s fine.  There’s plenty more…

Santiago day trip 3: Wineries

On another day, with some other friends (people are friendly here), we headed north to the small town of Los Andes.  It’s about an hour, maybe 1.5 hours north, nestled in between the Andes and the Coastal Range (more mountains) and more or less surrounded by the vineyards of the Aconcagua Valley (you have to be specific because there are like 7 wine valleys within an hour or so of the city).

Los Andes, Chile vineyard image

The views were ok

Frankly, there wasn’t really any need to have a particular destination in mind, you can basically just start driving and stare in awe out the window at the amazing scenery beyond every turn.

We had been pretty fixated by the Andes, but we learned about a whole new mountain range on this trip.

Coastal range from Los Andes image

Those are part of the Coastal Range. Also awesome.

We stopped at one point and did a little hiking through vineyards to get to the top of a hill (which happened to be the site of some very interesting petroglyphs).

Los Andes winery and mountains image

This is what we saw

After we managed to tear ourselves away from these incredible views (and of course buy as many bottles of wine as we could carry after some wine tasting) we headed to our friends’ favorite lunch destination in the area…

Los Andes lunch spot image

Decent place to have lunch -- try the drunken chicken

As if the above wasn’t enough, we also were treated to a brief performance by these guys:

Huasos image

Huasos - Like guachos, but Chilean

Once again, let’s recap:

  1. 1 hour drive
  2. Spectacular scenery along the way
  3. Not one, but 2 mountain ranges (Coastal Range and Andes)
  4. Cool wineries that make great wine in unbelievable settings
  5. Drunken chicken for lunch
  6. Chilean cowboys

What more could you want?

In Summary

We used to live in San Francisco.  San Francisco is known for having lots of incredible day trips you can do near the city.  While we are big fans of San Francisco, the day trip possibilities around Santiago make San Francisco day trips look a little silly (in diversity, intensity and proximity).  We’ve only just begun exploring this city/country and so far we are blown away.

Where else can you do all of this and more so close to a major city?  Why doesn’t everyone live here??  :)

Check out more photos in our gallery:

Beach day photos

Ski day photos

Winery day photos

Please leave a comment, it will make us feel special!

  • Brad Culwell August 9, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    There are also some sand dunes just north of Viña in Con Con (I think, it’s been a while). The people there (Viña) say that the only statue to leave Easter Island is in Viña, too. I think the beaches in La Serena are nicer than the ones in Viña, but definitely less convenient from Santiago. The sunsets (and mountains, and beaches, and people, etc) really are amazing down there.

  • Frances August 10, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Great photos and comments. I think we probably take a lot of things for granted.
    I am glad to see you were properly bundled up for skiing!

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