It was a week ago when we started our road trip to North Argentina and back. To be honest, a week is definitely not enough to explore the incredible nature over there but our 28-day itinerary didn’t include Argentina exclusively. As we had already traveled so far then we wanted to see other nearby countries too. And being in Mendoza the perfect (and the closest) other country you can visit is Chile. After some research of travel methods we decided to go there by taking a Mendoza-Santiago bus ride.
Mendoza-Santiago bus ride
While there are many border crossing points between Argentina and Chile in the north (see the map below) we chose to use the most popular one near Mendoza and Santiago. There were many reasons for that. First, we weren’t sure what effect the altitudes would have on us. Northern border crossings were pretty high with the highest points over 4000 m. And the second, we couldn’t use our rental car to cross the border and the international “package” was way too expensive to get. Plus the road conditions in the north also had a poor reputation (considering our small vehicle).
Since there are no train traffic between Mendoza and Santiago, international plane tickets are expensive and the distance is not so long then we decided to take a Mendoza-Santiago bus ride. We chose the bus that departed 1 PM so we could enjoy the view of the Andes in a daylight. The price was reasonable 500 ARS and the estimated duration was 6-7 hours. The bus didn’t have cama suites but for a short trip it’s okay. At least they offered some free snacks. And in addition you could get a proper (over)dose of the local pop music videos that the bus driver was playing on the loop.
The Argentinian side of the road to the border crossing is pretty calm. Slowly climbing upper and upper until the highest point which is about 3000 m (according to our GPS app). The Andes are actually much higher over there but the road went through a kilometer long tunnel. Nevertheless it is still high enough for the snow. That makes a nice contrast when coming from warm Mendoza.
When you finally arrive to the border crossing everybody is asked to leave the bus and go to the customs area. Meanwhile the dogs are sniffing the bus for some forbidden goods. It’s because there are strict rules when entering Chile. For example you can’t bring in certain foods and so on (P.S. I suggest you to ditch the coca leaves if you are coming from the north).
After the bus is searched everybody is lined up and the dogs once again more personally sniff everybody’s belongings. All you can do is hope that nobody brought anything illegal because then the whole bus full of people have to wait until the issue is resolved. And that can take hours.
If you are lucky and there are no hold ups then it takes just a few hours of ride to Santiago de Chile. But before that you shall experience the dizzy Chilean side of the border crossing. The decent is fairly exciting with its steep and curvy road. There are about 20 straight U-turns going down the mountain (see the featured image of the post).
Santiago de Chile
Of all the cities named Santiago, this is the largest. With a population of more than 6 million it is the capital of Chile. Unfortunately we had only planned 1 (and a half) day in this big city. And that little time is not enough. Due to the scale of the city we managed only to visit a few places. Good thing that the taxi service in Chile is budget friendly. Matter of fact everything were way more affordable when comparing to Argentina.
What to do in Santiago de Chile in one day?
Of course it all depends on your interests. We first decided to just go for a walk around the city to get a feel of it. It didn’t take long to notice that here people speak much more English (which is not very common in South America).
The city might not have so many iconic sights but there are still lots of places worth visiting. For example the Museum of Memory and Human Rights where you could easily spend half a day due to its very interesting content. The museum is mainly about Augusto Pinochet‘s dictatorship in Chile but there are plenty of subjects from all around the world. Even my home country Estonia is being mentioned. Entrance to the museum is free and they also offer an audio guide in English (that is for a small fee).
If you rather wish to do something outdoors then I’d recommend to visit a viewpoint called Cerro San Cristobal. There you’d get a good view of the city plus you’ll get a ride in an old funicular. For more info about the activities, prices and the opening hours see here (link is in Spanish but I think you’ll find the prices and timetable).
In case you have a longer travel behind you (like we did) and are looking for a spot for a laundry service then on Amunátegui street you’ll find Laundromat. Just drop off your clothes there and the nice personnel will do the rest. The prices are also quite reasonable.
Right when I stepped in it reminded me something. It reminded me the hostels I was staying during my Australian trip. A typical backpacker-style hostel full of young folks and having all kind of events for them. So yeah, it was a nice flashback. The house has a long history and it even turned out that the hostel really was established by some Australian guy.
The place seemed pretty cool. Only little loud (youth hostel, remember) so if you are not staying up for late then it’s probably not for you. Though it all depends where your room is located.
I’m not a huge fan of vegetarian food but I am willing to try it here and there. Since this is a vegetarian restaurant then it was one of those cases. We tried different dishes and they all were absolutely delicious. The whole atmosphere and service were also on a high level. Oh, and when you are travelling in Chile I recommend you to order homemade lemonades for a drink, you won’t be disappointed.
Basically this is the place to go if chorillana (traditional Chilean dish) is not for you or you are looking for a topnotch vegetarian food experience.