Abroad, Explore with Gretel!

Not-So-Chilly in Chile

For those of you who don’t know, Kyle and I met at Arcadia University, where were we both graduated with a major in Sociology! We both share an interest for understanding society and people, so inherently, with an interest in people, we have longing to know more about different groups of people, places, and customs. I believe this is where our wanderlust began.

Arcadia University has an awesome “introduction to travel” experience called Preview where freshman get to pick a place to study abroad for a week during spring break at a very reasonable, low cost. (The cost of the program was $500 and this included airfare for a round trip flight, 7 days worth of transportation, 7 nights of accommodation, and most food), so it’s almost impossible for any student to pass up this opportunity. Kyle chose to visit China, and I chose to visit the wonderful South American county of Chile.

It was hard for me to pick a location, as there were so many options available, but I finally chose to visit Chile because of a few reasons. One reason was because it was the unknown: I’ve never had any preconceived notions about Chile, so why not explore the unknown? I also speak Spanish relatively well and wanted to put it to use. The most important reason I chose Chile was because it had everything that I could ever want in terms of landscape diversity.

There were several diverse landscapes I wanted to explore in Chile and they were as follows: The coast, the mountains, street art, and big city life. Luckily, I was able to see them all.

Here were my favorite things in each of the landscapes I visited in central Chile.

1.) Beautiful Coastal Scenery: Viña Del Mar

When it comes to Chilean beaches, Viña Del Mar does it best. There’s something special about the rocks that come jutting out of the ocean, and the way the humongous ships pass you by on their way to the Valparaíso port. This is the beach town where Chilean politicians have their summer homes. It’s more on the “luxurious” scale of beaches, which means it might be a bit more expensive if you’re planning on staying here for an extended period of time. Along with the beach itself, make sure you check out the cute town of Viña Del Mar, and be sure to stop at one of the many ice cream shops on a hot day!

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I don’t know about you, but when I think of castles, I don’t typically think of the ocean, nor do I think of Chile. Nevertheless, one exists here, in Viña Del Mar. Not only is Wulff Castle incredibly picturesque, but it also has some great history tied to it with the local shipping industry. A German coal trader built this castle after he decided to migrate to Chile!

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2.) The Andes Mountains

Ever wonder what it’s like to take a coach bus up to the top of the Andes Mountains on bumpy, switchback, dirt roads with no railings to protect you from steep drop-offs? Me neither, but this was the experience that I received when I took a bus tour to the Andes for a day. Even though the bus ride was quite scary, I’m glad I got to experience this rather than renting a car and driving in the Andes, as this way I was able to sit back, “relax”, and enjoy the views!

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If you’re going to make your way all the way down to the Andes in South America, you would be almost crazy not to take a hike! Unlike many bustling National Parks worldwide, the hike I experienced somewhere near the town of San José de Maipo was almost desolate. It’s one of those places where unless you were intentionally trying to get there, you would never end up there “by accident”. And because you can’t just stumble upon this place, there are virtually no tourists. Enjoy the views and get your hike on!

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3.) Street Art, Murals, and Valparaíso

I remember trying to decide where I wanted to go on my first international trip, and when I googled Valparaíso, Chile, I was absolutely sold! Nowhere had I ever seen a city that looked this colorful. It looked so vibrant that I had to see it with my own eyes! I was not disappointed when I arrived. From the rainbow staircases leading to nowhere, incredible street art on every corner, and hills that seem to have only one direction (that direction being UP), Valparaíso is every adventurers’ dream! Most of the street art is abstract, but there are also some pieces dealing with the political climate in Chile (as there is still much tension from the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1980’s). This street art pictured below spoke to me, as I was feeling both like a hippie while roaming around the streets aimlessly, as well as very happy from my travel high!

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Valparaíso is more of a “hipster” city than its next-door-neighbor Viña Del Mar.  Valparaíso is home to a beautiful Catholic University where many international students choose to study abroad in Chile. I’m convinced that there are not any bad views in Valparaíso. The hills all overlook the colorful houses, the sea port, and also the Pacific Ocean.

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4.) City Night Life: Santiago

Santiago: the city where catcalling is considered “polite”, and empanadas are made fresh on every corner! Santiago is a big city where you can find a plethora of bars, universities, restaurants, and parks galore! Seriously, when I say “parks galore”, I mean it. The parks turn into a playground for adults at night time! They are bustling with entertainment and people might try to sell you hamburgers out of a giant trash bag (this happened to me). While you’re in the city at night, you should definitely participate in one of the many Karaoke nights that you see advertised. However, do not choose to sing “Livin’ La Vida Loca” because chances are, it’s not the English version you know, and you’ll probably end up making a fool out of yourself (this also happened to me).

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If you want great city views, there’s no better way to get them then to go directly to the center of the city to climb Santa Lucía Hill. This beautiful building below is at the base of the hill, so if you see this, you’ll know you are there! It’s a long, winding way up, but oh so very worth it. Be careful though, as there are always tons of tourists, and the top can get quite packed. Beware of pickpockets here as well as on the subways — one of the people in our group got her wallet stolen on the subway near Santa Lucía.

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From my experience, Chile is an incredibly diverse country filled with kind people and adventure in all senses. I would love to return to visit their famous Atacama Desert or Patagonia in Southern Chile. Whether you want a day of hiking, relaxing by the beach, art-centered entertainment, or just the plain and simple Big-City-Life, Chile is a great country for any kind of trip! I highly recommend visiting if you’re looking for a culture shock, and an adventure!

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¡Adiós!

-G

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