Tag: Chile

La Paz, Bolivia
Latin America

La Paz & Santiago: South America’s Dynamic Duo

At first glance, the difference between La Paz and sprawling Santiago is their scale. The compact size of the Bolivian capital is dictated by its geography; its dense position within dramatic canyon walls makes it seem far smaller than its 472 square kilometres. The metro area of Chile’s capital, on the other hand, spreads out over 15,403 square kilometres in a vast valley in the shadow of soaring Andean peaks. One-and-a-half million people call La Paz home, while there are five times as many Santiaguinos.

Visiting them both on one trip—as we do during our new Natural Wonders of Bolivia & Chile small group tour—provides an enlightening glimpse of how two cultural centres have adapted to and been influenced by their Andean locales. From arts and leisurely urban pursuits to cuisine and dress, here’s how these two remarkable cities compare.

The low-down on high altitude

  • La Paz: Your 12,000-foot elevation may require a cup of maté tea to combat altitude sickness.
  • Santiago: At an average of 1,700 feet, Santiago lies in the centre of a massive basin encircled by mountains.

Bird’s eye views

  • La Paz: Ride the Mi Teleférico cable cars, the world’s highest and longest aerial public transit.
  • Santiago: Ascend San Cristóbal Hill and share the view with a stunning statue of the Virgin Mary. 

Unique, culture-rich shopping and browsing 

  • La Paz: El Mercado de Hechiceria, or the Witches’ Market, boasts a curious collection of potions, talismans, and more.
  • Santiago: The bustling Mercado Central, a confluence of fishmongers, butchers, and greengrocers, invites wide-eyed wandering.

A snack break 

  • La Paz: Tuck into a delicious salteña, a meat-filled pastry.
  • Santiago: Go for a savory, cheese-filled empanada de queso.

A locally inspired cocktail 

  • La Paz: Try a yungueño, a mixed drink of local brandy, simple syrup, 
    and orange juice created in the valleys.
  • Santiago: Sip a pisco sour, a blend of brandy and tart pica lime juice.

Wine from nearby vineyards

  • La Paz: Sample Singani, distilled from white Muscat of Alexandria grapes in the high valleys.
  • Santiago: You’re in Chilean wine country, so uncork your favourite wine from any of numerous wineries.

The skinny on fashion 

  • La Paz: Try on traditional alpaca knitwear and bowler hats.
  • Santiago: Find 21st-century chic and sophistication at boutique clothiers in Bellavista.

Fascinating people-watching 

  • La Paz: Meander the cobbled streets around the San Francisco Cathedral.
  • Santiago: Grab a bench by the Simon Bolivar fountain in the Plaza de Armas.

Distinctive neighbourhoods

  • La Paz: Explore Jaen Street, the remarkably restored colonial district home to notable museums.
  • Santiago: Wander among the boutiques and avant-garde galleries of bohemian Bellavista.

Souvenirs and take-homes

  • La Paz: You’ll find ample offerings of coffee, alpaca sweaters and scarves, and silver.
  • Santiago: Duck into a bookstore for poetry by native Pablo Neruda, 
    or find copper trinkets in local markets.
InspirationLatin America

Chile’s Jewel of the Pacific: Valparaiso

Perhaps no other city in Chile casts a spell as mesmerising as the port city Valparaiso. Certainly, it strikes a dramatic pose, nestled on a thin strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and 43 steep, rolling hills. You might think it’s a wonder that settlers built a city on this terrain at all! But as you stroll its narrow, labyrinthine streets—among mansions that cling to their once-grandiose days, stunning ocean views, and hard-working porteños taking a break over cafecitos (small black coffees) in cafés—you will be very glad they did.

Indeed, Valparaiso—or Valpo to those in the know—is nothing if not authentic and romantic. Chilean native and Nobel prize winning poet Pablo Neruda regaled the city in his works Canto General and I Confess that I Have Lived. In return, proud locals honoured him on his 100th birthday by “composing” the world’s largest poem, an epic collection of contributions from Chileans that scrolled 65 feet long and three feet wide. Other artists have been similarly inspired: the city’s rich street art—huge colourful and beautifully wrought paintings that cover the sides of buildings—appears at every turn. And a host of world-class museums dot the cityscape.

Founded in 1536 by a Spanish conquistador, Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrated for its improvised urban design of late 19th century hillside structures and seaport architecture. The most glorious buildings were constructed during its heyday, when it was a major stopover for ships sailing between the Atlantic and Pacific. Immigrants from Britain, Germany, and Italy poured into the city during this boom, each bringing its distinctive culture and architectural styles into its own hillside neighbourhood. When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, the ships and the people stopped coming, but the city remains Chile’s second most important port and today is affectionately known as “Little San Francisco” for its many hills.

Its historic center is a maze of winding cobbled streets, all of it overlooked by towering cliffs crowned with richly textured suburbs. These hilltop residences are linked to the barrios below by steep stairways or by ascensores, or funiculars. No matter how you decide to ascend, you’ll marvel at spectacular vistas, but riding the funicular is rightly heralded as Valparaiso’s most distinctive and thrilling experiences.

Though they are traditionally called elevators, only one of the city’s renowned funiculars runs in a true vertical direction. The rest carry visitors and locals alike up angled tracks. The original ascensores, introduced in the 1880s, ran on steam. As many as 28 have operated since and about a dozen still operate. Fifteen have been declared National Historical Monuments as local organisations work to ensure that they continue to play an active role in the city’s rich heritage.

You’ll fall under the spell of Valparaiso during our new Natural Wonders of Bolivia & Chile small group tour. Join us!

Gate 1 ConnectionsInspirationLatin America

The Mysteries of the Atacama

Chile’s Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on earth. Yet it is teeming with beauty and plenty of surprises. Our Discovery Tours small group takes you to its fascinating heart, where you’ll gain remarkable insight into its wildness, its history, and its culture. Here’s what we find most fascinating about this mysterious place. We look forward to sharing it with you during our new Natural Wonders of Bolivia & Chile small group tour.

  • This vast desertscape stretches for some 49,000 square miles between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Scientists believe the Atacama saw no significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971. Further, they call it the oldest desert on earth—at least three million years old!
  • The landscape has been compared to that found on Mars, so much so that movie crews have used it to stand in for the Red Planet and NASA has tested out some of their Mars rovers on its terrain.
  • The metallic-blue lakes of Miñiques and Miscanti were once one large lake, until lava flow from an eruption of the Miñiques volcano separated the two. Today, they occupy a starkly beautiful landscape that is home to flora and fauna found nowhere else.
  • Remarkably, about a million people call the Atacama Desert home. The vast majority of them live along the coast. But inland, people still eke out a living in tiny villages such as Socaire, Machuca, and Toconao. The latter boasts a welcoming market of textiles made from alpaca and other handicrafts, as well as a striking bell tower that is pure Atacama in its architectural style. 
  • With its clear skies, high elevation, and freedom from light pollution, the Atacama is one of the world’s best spots for stargazing. As conditions permit, you’ll visit an observatory and turn your gaze skyward with an astronomer.
  • At the desert’s edge, a 12th-century pre-Inca fortress provides remarkable insight into an ancient civilisation while the site of Tulor, with its circular dwellings, lets you imagine life here as long as 2,000 years ago.
  • Geysers, hot springs, mud pools, and fumaroles steam and bubble and burst forth from the earth at the Atacama’s El Tatio geyser field, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the third largest in the world.
  • Wind and time have sculpted the jagged contours of Moon Valley and Death Valley, a pair of geological wonders rich in vast breathtaking landscapes and colours.
Latin America

Patagonia: Love, Feuds, Fossils & Treasures

With more options now to reach Chile and Argentina from Australia, Patagonia is within reach more than ever before. But if you’ve been worried that the world has run out of wild, unspoiled places, don’t fear, Patagonia is still as magnificent. Here, massive walls of granite huddle around emerald-green valleys. Crystalline waterfalls cascade into babbling brooks and rivers. Glaciers crawl into turquoise lakes, sculpting landscapes in their path.

It’s easy to forget that a rich history has unfolded in places of such beauty, that such a stunning backdrop has been a breathtaking stage to discovery and drama. In the spirit of insight that only Gate 1 Travel’s tours can provide, we’re delighted to share some of it with you here.

There Be Giants

Ferdinand Magellan first brought this splendid part of the world to Europe’s attention when he landed on its shores in 1520. No doubt the magnificent beauty of the land was breathtaking to him and his crew. But you might imagine that its towering rock massifs and labyrinthine waterways were a bit intimidating.

It’s believed that one of Magellan’s first human encounters was with the Tehuelches. Members of this indigenous tribe were much taller than the Europeans of Magellan’s day, and they wore oversized leather moccasins that left larger-than-life footprints on beaches and in marshes. Legend tells us that when the Spanish explorers first saw these footprints, they thought they had landed in a land of giants. They noted in their journals that they had discovered the land of patagón, or “big foot.” The name stuck, and even maps of the New World drawn up after those first voyages depicted this largely uncharted area as regio gigantum, or “region of the giants.”

Later expeditions proved that the indigenous people of this newfound land were not literal giants, though at 6-foot-6, they did tower over Europeans. Still, everything here is gargantuan and dwarfs any human, no matter their shoe size. Vast plains stretch to forever. Monolithic rock faces reach to the heavens. Glaciers advance and recede over landscapes like icy sloths. And serpentine waterways wind their way through it all, coursing past fertile shores and feeding forests of exotic lenga and coihue trees and ferns. It must have seemed a lost world to those first explorers, far removed from anything they had ever witnessed. And so it is for today’s travellers, too.

Darwin Explores and Europe Expands

Though known mostly for his Galapagos Islands exploration and subsequent theories of evolution, Charles Darwin spent his early days collecting and cataloguing rocks and local species in Patagonia. His colleague Robert Fitzroy — a scientist and vice admiral of the Royal Navy — had invited him in 1831 to accompany a voyage on the HMS Beagle to chart South America’s coast. During their time in Patagonia, the young Darwin not only gathered substantial insect and marine samples; he also became fascinated by fossils and explored inland with local gauchos to pursue his curiosities further.

While Darwin was busily collecting samples, Mapuche nomads (a collection of indigenous tribes) were migrating into Patagonia from the north. They settled throughout the region to raise cattle or — with Europeans gaining more control and more land — to steal cattle from settlers. As the decades unfolded, conflicts erupted, with concerns from Argentina that the Mapuche would ally themselves with Chile, which seemed more sympathetic to tribal causes. At one point, Argentina even dug a huge trench and erected watchtowers — a barricade known as the Zanja de Alsina — to deflect cattle raids on Buenos Aires.

By 1870, Chile had established its authority in the western half of Patagonia by founding the city of Punta Arenas. As for Argentina, tensions with the Mapuche rose to the point where they marched into the eastern regions and called them their own, a conflict known as the Conquest of the Desert. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that a firm Patagonian border was agreed to between Chile and Argentina; by then, the British had formed some Welsh settlements in search of gold. The Crown stepped in to mediate any remaining dispute.

Priceless Natural Treasures Preserved

The 20th century ushered in the modern development of Patagonia — though, truth be told, it remains one of the least developed parts of the world, thanks to both local and international preservation efforts. The Argentinean outpost town of El Calafate, once a place for wool traders to simply hang their hats for a few days, was officially founded in 1927 to bring attention to settlement opportunities in the region. To be sure, it must have been very tempting to live in such a pristine place, with Lago Argentino, the country’s largest freshwater lake, right outside your door.

Little did the locals know that just ten years later, in 1937, the Perito Moreno Glacier would attract international interest among the pre-war leisure set. As the crowds grew in number, it became clear that this unspoiled region was at risk, and so the Perito Moreno National Park was established. Its massive glacier spills into Lago Argentino and is a remarkable sight to behold: a glistening three miles wide and up to 240 feet tall, almost as high as a football field is long. It is the largest ice cap outside Antarctica and Greenland and is actually growing year to year.

Just across the border in Chile, the rock-wall massifs of Torres del Paine National Park reach to the sky like so many fingers. The world was introduced to these spectacularly jagged mountains by British travel writer Lady Florence Dixie, who in 1880 described three particular granite towers as “Cleopatra’s Needles.” She and her party could well have been the first foreign tourists to visit. You can be sure that many more followed, including curious scientists, geologists and adventurers. Since 1978, the park’s 700 square miles have been protected as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Cleopatra’s Needles and the park’s countless other granite pillars form massive rings around the great Patagonian Steppe. Many have compared the visual effect of these natural walls to that of a mighty cathedral. One thing is certain: their transporting beauty is made more transcendent by the park’s azure lakes, emerald forests, thundering waterfalls, and ice-blue glaciers.

A History as Grand as its Setting

History, indeed, does whisper within this spectacular setting. We invite you to peel back its layers on a Gate 1 Travel journey into the remarkable region.

Learn more about our South American Glaciers, Forests & Lakes small group tour or explore Chile & Argentina with Patagonia’s Glaciers.