Three Months Abroad: Welcome to South America

Santiago, Chile

Time flies.

We’ve already spent a full three months away from home. We’ve said goodbye to Europe and skipped over to a new continent — a fresh start; a new route; an endless oasis of new possibilities.

Traveling in South America is a lot different than traveling through Europe. Things work in Europe. While the hot water runs out, at least the hot water exists. The trains are on time. The food is generally safe to eat. Pickpocketing aside, its tourist areas are safe.

South America is a whole other animal.

The sprawling continent is home to the Andes, the globe’s longest continental mountain range; the Amazon River, the world’s largest by volume; the Amazon Rainforest, the largest of its kind; and La Paz, the highest capital city in the world. A tropical paradise with unbearable heat. Exquisite cuisine that’ll put your body to the test.

Flights can be ridiculously expensive, but if you avoid them, traveling here can be dirt cheap.

Our Route

Rio de Janeiro
View of Rio de Janeiro from Morro da Urca.

We began the second leg of our round-the-world journey quite comfortably.

We flew from Frankfurt to Rio de Janeiro and spent 10 days with Guil’s dad and step-mom in Brazil. This was my second time in Rio, and I’m convinced it’s the most beautiful city in the world.

Unfortunately much of our time there was marked by ugly, grey skies and a lot of rain. There were a few hikes we wanted to tackle that simply weren’t possible due to the crappy weather. We had one day of good weather, which we used to hike up Morro da Urca with the intention of taking a cable-car over to Sugarloaf Mountain, but it was closed.

We did indulge in delicious, homemade food, and spent quality time with Guil’s family.

After Rio we flew to Chile, where we spent two weeks exploring the sprawling, smog-covered city of Santiago and the towering, snow-covered mountains that surround it!

Two Weeks in Chile

Flying over the La Cordillera de los Andes
Flying over La Cordillera de los Andes.

The most exhilarating flight of my life led us to Chile’s large capital city, Santiago.

Landing in Santiago requires you to fly over the Andes mountain range, known as the Cordillera de los Andes. The capital city lies in a valley created by the mountains, so as soon as the pilot crosses them he begins a quick, steep descent toward the airport.

Ten minutes before flying over the Andes an announcement was made asking everyone, including flight attendants, to take a seat. Everyone glued their noses to the airplane windows to catch a glimpse of the snow-covered giants below us. Let’s just say it was a bumpy ride.

It was terrifying! But beautiful.

The next couple of weeks were marked by pure adventure in central Chile.

Cerro Pochoco summit in Santiago
When we reached the summit of Pochoco.

We hiked up two hills within Santiago before venturing to a taller mountain on the outskirts of the city. While climbing Cerro Pochoco knocked the wind out of me several times, proving that I am more out of shape than I could’ve imagined, it gave me an immense feeling of accomplishment. (Especially after seeing the proud look on our tour guide’s face when he found out we hiked it alone.)

We ascended 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) in three hours on a dusty, rocky and unkept trail. We’re very proud!

However, not all moments were rosy. We stayed in our dirtiest hostel yet in Viña Del Mar, a city next to the famous port city of Valparaíso. That’s probably where I contracted ring worm on both my arms!

Paradise Found: Pucon, Chile

Volcano Villarica seen from Huerquehue National Park
Volcano Villarica as seen from our hike in Huerquehue National Park.

Then we found paradise: Pucón, Chile’s self-proclaimed adventure capital; a small mountain town whose streets are lined with cute wooden cabins and bohemian cafes, the kind of place you’d expect to find in Colorado.

There we hiked 12 kilometers in the Huerquehue National Park; survived level 3-4 white-water rafting; and took a late-night swim in thermal baths located in the middle of the forest. We witnessed an active volcano breathe at night, burnt-orange smoke puffing from its crater.

Huerquehue National Park in Pucon
HIking through Huerquehue National Park in Pucon.

Guil and I got into an argument about whether or not we (he) should climb Volcano Villarrica, one of the most active volcanos in Chile standing at 2,860-meters-tall (9,380 feet). I would later learn that a remarkable number of people with no climbing or trekking experience, especially in icy conditions, conquer the hike on a weekly basis. We even met a non-hiking, Brazilian couple on our rafting trip who planned to climb the volcano the following day.

We’ll have to come back for that, I promised.

After Pucon we returned to Santiago, and unfortunately the Airbnb home we stayed in was absolutely filthy. (Hmmm, sensing a trend here?)

Guil and I spent our last day in Chile touring the Andes with AndoAndes, our first partnership with a tour company!

While we had originally planned to go on a 16-kilometer hike through a national park in the Cajon del Maipo region, there weren’t enough people for the tour to happen. Instead we took a full-day road trip to the heart of Andes — the most exciting drive of our trip so far!

AndoAndes took us to a beautiful, emerald-green reservoir called Embalse el Yeso, and then wined and dined us at a local restaurant in the middle of the mountain range.

A Reflection on Chile

Our time in Chile was made up of many highs and a few lows, just like the Andes.

The sun was unusually harsh, but the views were breathtaking. The food was particularly unhealthy, but we did splurge on the tastiest seafood risotto in a seaside restaurant. The accommodations weren’t the cleanest, but the night buses were extremely efficient.

Chile proved to be a healthy transition for us as backpackers traveling from Europe to South America. It’s where we concluded our third month abroad.

Next stop: Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Have you backpacked South America? We’d love to hear from you! Comment below!
Is there anything you’d be interested in knowing about our trip, aside from the things mentioned in this post? Tell us below!

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