Disclaimer: Thank you to Chilean Rent a Car for providing us a vehicle. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely our own.
Chile is prominently known for being the longest country in the world, with over 4,000 miles of shoreline to explore. With that much ground to cover, the best way to experience a country’s true essence in our opinion is by car. That’s why we’ve partnered with Chilean Rent A Car for a 2 week long road trip exploring three major cities along the way: starting in Santiago then off to Valparaíso with a grand finale in Elqui Valley for a memorable stay under the stars.
We started our adventure in Santiago, which is currently home to a staggering 6 million people! We spent 7 days there and hit all the major travel to do’s - with so much to offer it’s hard to see it all but here are a few memorable highlights to our stay that we suggest you look into:
Wander Barrio Lastarria - a historical neighborhood in the heart of Santiago. Barrio Lastarria is the center for cultural activity, with cinemas, theaters, museums, restaurants and bars. They also have fantastic happy hours that include meal and wine pairings. Yes please!!!
Dance the night away in Barrio Bellavista at one of its many clubs - make sure to get there early so you can check out the street art! Or if you prefer daytime activities like us (cuz who doesn’t love a 10 pm bedtime), hitch a ride up the funicular to the top of Cerro San Cristobal for the best free panoramic views of Santiago.
*Travel Tip* - Pack your own bottle of wine and a few cups so you can enjoy a glass (or two) of Chilean vino for half the cost of what the bars are offering at the top while taking in the scenic views.
Marvel at Templo Bahá’i and its unique architecture. Get there around 9 am to avoid the crowds so you can enjoy the beautiful tranquility of the fountains and gardens all to yourself.
Join a daily walking tour (we loved Strawberry Tours), starting from the historical Plaza de Armas and learn about Chile’s rich and restless past. Our guide was a veritable fountain of knowledge and recommended some incredible spots such as Mulato and Bocanáriz for empanadas and wine... you can’t get much more authentic than that!
Share a kiss at Cerro Santa Lucia, a gorgeous historical fort that also happens to be a popular spot for the locals to come and show their affection towards one another... let’s just say there was some serious smooching EVERYWHERE haha so naturally we joined in on the kissing fun … why not?
Savor delicious Chilean wines during a private tour at Viñas Cousiño Macul and Santa Carolina. These wineries are both world heritage sites, whose historical roots are still ingrained in all that they do; while staying true to their award winning wines; and our favorite part was the complimentary gift we received with every tasting aka more wine. Naturally, we loved it.
After a fun filled week in Santiago, we set out for Valparaíso in our spacious Suzuki Grand Nomade rental for some road trip fun. 90 minutes into our road trip we stopped in Casablanca, distinctly known for being Chile’s fastest growing wine region. This fertile valley is characterized by the refined preparation of white wines in its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc varieties, but also for some stunning reds such as Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. Knowing this, we had to make a pit stop, I mean who can pass up wine country when you avidly love wine? The sheer freedom to stop as we please was one of the many great perks in having our own car. Without it, we may have missed Casablanca all together, but thanks to our set of wheels we were free to do as we pleased and explore the beautiful vineyard covered hills of Casablanca’s countryside.
We then continued our journey towards Valparaíso, which was only an hour away. Upon entering the city of Valparaíso, we were immediately blown away by the street art on every building, wall, alley and walkway - it was an explosion of colors, and looked like an art gallery had taken over the city! It was truly remarkable. We spent the next week exploring Valpo (as the locals call it) and its sister city, Viña Del Mar. While these two towns share a border, they have very little in common:
Valpo is an old shipping town that had its heyday prior to the Panama Canal opening in 1914. As such, much of the city is in disarray, with shuttered buildings and empty homes. The city may be struggling, but its art scene is ever growing, with some artists such as Inti gaining worldwide attention and keeping the spirit of the city alive and well.
Viña Del Mar is a modern beach town filled with trendy restaurants, a newly renovated boardwalk, and a vibrant bar scene boarding the Ritoque Dunes. The city feels like an oasis away from the busy hub of Santiago and is perfect for a relaxing weekend away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
We loved the artistic edginess of Valparaíso, but then came the serious driving; We embarked on a 300 mile expedition heading north to Elqui Valley, a wine region in Northern Chile known for premier stargazing and delicious Piscos (In case you're wondering, Piscos are an alcoholic drink made from grapes... are you seeing a pattern?). The greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving to your destination but everything in between and the Chilean countryside truly blew us away! Chile’s main highway is Route 5 which happens to run directly between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Coastal mountain ranges. The drive took approximately 6 hours but the time flew by as we cruised past stunning landscapes, gleaming modern cities, and rural farm country.
When we reached Elqui Valley, we spent several days lounging in luxury at Refugio El Molle | Hotel Boutique, Cabañas & SPA, tasting delicious local cuisine and piscos from the region while enjoying the beautiful night skies surrounding us. It was the perfect place to rest and relax after our arduous travels across South America.
After taking refuge in our desert oasis, we drove to our next destination an hour east to the world famous Elqui Domos. Unlike other hotels, here you can stay in their Pieza Domo, a geodesic dome equipped with a full living room, bathroom, and loft bed. Our favorite part to the Domo however was the detachable roof you could open at night to observe the star studded skies above, and on the clearest of nights, even see the Milky Way.
But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, so we packed up our bags and began the 6 hour drive back towards Santiago to return our SUV at Chilean Rent a Car. The Suzuki Grand Nomade was the perfect mid-sized SUV for our trip delivering a combination of city and family friendly packaging with just enough off - road ability to navigate more difficult terrain. The Chilean Rent a Car staff were incredibly helpful, quick on their feet to find us a solution when we realized we needed to transfer our car type from a manual to an automatic transmission the day of (whoopsy) and made our car return as effortless as can be. Wherever your travels may take you, rent a car if you can. Road trips provide you with a taste of the country most will never come to know. And if your travels take you to Chile, Chilean Rent a Car will be there to provide you with personalized service and reasonable prices to ensure your road trip is the best it can be. We saw Chile in a whole new light thanks to Chilean Rent a Car and we wish the same for you in your upcoming travels.