Santiago Round Trip: A Taste of Chile
Santiago to Santiago
Est Driving Time10-14 days
Leg 1 Santiago to Algarrobo
Est Driving Time3 hrs
Officially known as Santiago de Chile, this vibrant capital city is a place of immense natural beauty where museums, cafes, colonial buildings, bars and restaurants all come together in front of a striking mountain range. Picking up a motorhome rental in Santiago makes a lot of sense as it conveniently sits in the centre of Chile, but don’t forget to allow some time to explore this destination before hitting the road. Your first stop should be in the heart of the city at La Moneda Palace, which is both the country’s parliament building and a stunning heritage building from the 18th century, as it was initially a mint. Not far from here is the Chilean National Museum of Natural History, which is one of the oldest natural history museums in South America, and an Aladdin’s Cave of ancient treasures such as a blue whale skeleton, Chilean wildlife, and some of the oldest mummies in the world. Of course, you’ll also need a taste of modern-day Santiago, which you can find on the streets in the city centre as you try ‘completos’ (Chilean hot dogs), ‘empanadas’ (delicious stuffed pastries), and delicious local steaks and wines from any of the restaurants around town. Before you say goodbye to the city, drive up to San Cristobal Hill for awesome views over Santiago and off into the distance.
Head directly west from the city, following Route 68 towards the town of Casablanca.
Casablanca Wine Route
Casablanca is a lovely little town, and indeed a beautiful place to stop for an afternoon – but the wine is the main draw. The Casablanca Wine Route sits on the plain between Santiago and Valparaiso (your next stop), and even though the region is only new to winemaking (having started in the 1980s), it’s already making waves on the world wine scene. Plus, the majority of the wineries around the area don’t require reservations, allowing you to walk in for a tasting at any time. As this is one of the colder climate winemaking regions of Chile, it’s notable for its whites such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, as well as reds such as Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. If you’d prefer that everyone in your motorhome be able to enjoy the delicious vinos, you can always consider booking an organised wine tour, or rent bikes to visit some nearby vineyards.
From here, it’s a short drive up Route 68 to the coast and your next stop.
Valparaiso is a coastal city, and you’ll understand the attraction as soon as you drive into the town. Its steep streets face the waterfront, and its brightly painted homes and buildings create a breathtaking scene of vibrant façades leading down the hillside to the port. Just as beautiful by day as it is when lit up at night, Valparaiso is worth visiting just to wander around the waterfront enjoying the view. The more you walk amongst the city’s bright streets, the more chances you’ll have to spot some of the best street art in the world, as thanks to Valparaiso’s quirky and colourful nature, it has a way of attracting top talent that adds even more life to the landscape. Take a look inside one of these buildings when you visit La Sebastiana, which was once the home of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and is now a picturesque museum dedicated to his life.
Before you go, make a short drive up the coastline to the neighbouring town of Vina del Mar.
Wulff Castle perches on the edge of the town of Vina del Mar, where it overlooks the ocean with a regal and impressive manner. It’s over a century old and is currently the home of art exhibits that change regularly. The castle was once the home of German philanthropist Gustavo Adolfo Wulff Mowle, who contracted the structure to be built in a mixture of German and French architectural styles. After he passed away, new owners made additions and changes to the castle, which is how it came to be an enchanting grand structure in an array of styles, complete with a turret, spire, and a medieval facade. In one section, a partial glass floor lets you look down onto the crashing waves on rocks below, and in others you can see period furniture and more remnants of the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by Wulff. The castle has free admission and is open daily, and it’s only ten minutes from the Playa Caleta Abarca beach if you fancy a little relaxation by the water before you get back in your campervan.
Your next stop is Algarrobo further down the coast, so backtrack down Route 68 then turn right onto the F-90 to begin the next stage of your itinerary.
Leg 2 Algarrobo to San Vicente de Tagua Tagua
Est Driving Time5 hrs, 30 mins
Sun-worshippers rejoice: Algarrobo is your chance to lay down a towel, snap open the sunscreen, and spend blissful hour after blissful hour relaxing in the sunshine. The village itself is small and pretty, with whitewashed buildings and all the essential amenities and facilities you could need, but it’s the beaches where you’ll spend most of your time. Playa el Canelo and Playa el Canelillo are two of the more popular spots, both of which also have shady pine forests set just back from the sandy areas, which make for a quiet strolling area if you need a break from the heat. You can also visit Playa Mirasol or Playa El Pejerrey – there’s really no going wrong when the entire coast is a long beautiful string of golden sand beaches.
Your next stop is a lesser known attraction, so you’ll need to take the Route 66 headed southeast, then turn off onto Camino A Rapel.
The Rapel Dam is a massive arch dam next to the Rapel Lake, and while its primary purpose is to create hydroelectric energy, it’s also quite the sight. At 112 metres (367 feet) in height, it’s almost exactly half as high as the famous Hoover Dam in the United States (221 metres) but doesn’t see nearly as many tourists. Like the Hoover Dam, you can drive across the arch for phenomenal views over the sides. The Rapel Lake was created as a result of the dam’s construction in the 1960s and has since also become an attraction in its own right for watersports and scenery – its shores are perfect for a picnic or a stroll before you continue on your way south.
Continue along the main route, then turn off to the west to visit Pichilemu on the coast.
Pichilemu is a town that lives and breathes for its beach. The summer crowds arrive from December through March to soak up the sun’s rays while laying on the dark sands, but it’s the town’s waves that makes it world-renowned. Pichilemu is widely considered to be the best surfing spot for year-round surfing in all of South America, and even hosts multiple surf championships each year. While you can certainly spend your time relaxing on the sand, it’s also a prime opportunity to get out into the sea and learn the sport (or ride the waves if you already know how). The small town is brimming with bars, cafes, and restaurants, and has that off-the-beaten-track charm (some areas are still not much more than dirt roads), all which help create a hippy surfer vibe about the area.
After Pichilemu, it’s time to say adios to the surf and the sand and take Route 90 inland for roughly two hours to your next destination.
San Fernando is a small city known for its agriculture and rodeos and makes for the perfect way-stop during your campervan tour for a little sightseeing. If you’re still reminiscing about the wine from the Casablanca Valley, you can visit the Vina Koyle vineyard for a tour to learn about their organic and biodynamic wines and appreciate the view of the Andes with a delicious vino in your hand. Or to visit a vineyard with a unique draw, head to Casa Silva, a winery, hotel, and restaurant, but also offers many activities, too. The manicured front lawn in front of the restaurant is a playing ground for the Casa Silva polo team, so you can watch this traditional sport after a bite to eat. Or, head over to the rodeo stadium to see the Huaso cowboys practising their skills. You can even learn the local Cueca dance, or learn to horse-ride at this multi-purpose location.
It’s only a 45-minute drive to your next destination from here, so head north and veer off onto the I-90-H to reach San Vicente.
Leg 3 San Vicente de Tagua Tagua to Santiago
Est Driving Time6 hrs, 30 mins
San Vicente de Tagua Tagua
Take the chance to stop by one of Chile’s small towns in San Vicente de Tagua Tagua. It sits on and around the remains of an ancient Paleo-Indian archaeological site, where it’s believed humans lived during the Ice Age and used the area to butcher hunted animals. Artefacts such as chipped stone tools have been found in the area, and you can see some of these relics at the Museo Escolar Laguna Tagua Tagua, which is free to enter. Another of the city’s must-sees is the observatory - Observatorio Tagua Tagua - where you can look through professional-quality telescopes, watch an astronomy presentation, hold a meteorite, and (simply because it’s Chile), taste the famous Meteorito wine. Meteorito wine is the result of observatory director Ian Hutcheon’s passion for both astronomy and a good vino – he aged a Cabernet Sauvignon for a year with meteorites to give each glass a splash of the cosmos.
From here, continue along Route 66 (the Chilean version) east, turning left onto Route 5 to head north.
Rancagua is a city of major national importance, as it’s the location of the Battle of Rancagua, which was part of the country’s War of Independence. Chilean forces were defending the town, an important strategic position in defence of the capital, but ultimately lost it to the Spaniards. Nevertheless, tales of heroism and honour are still a significant part of the city’s identity. At its centre lies the Plaza de los Heroes, a quiet square adorned with statues. For more information on the local history, stop by the Regional Museum of Rancagua, where the country’s fight for independence is chronicled, including a section dedicated to the city’s role in the battle. Another historic site is the Rancagua Cathedral which was originally built in the 1500s, but was damaged in the Battle of Rancagua in 1814 and rebuilt in the 1860s.
Before you get too far out of town, turn off the main route to the right to dive even deeper into the region’s history.
Pukara of La Compania
Pukara of La Compania is a little-known historic site not far north of Rancagua that has been estimated to have been in use around 1440AD. It was a fortress of the Promaucae tribe, later used by the Incas, and now notable as the most southern remains of any building from the Inca Empire. It has been named as a National Monument of Chile and stands in La Compania Mount. Here you’ll find the ruins of seven structures – the main building and the other smaller constructions. There are also signs of perimeter walls around the summit of the hill. The access road is not well maintained however, so you will either need to have a campervan that is capable of taking on dirt roads or take part in a tour for a ride to the site.
Next, you’ll begin your drive north towards Santiago, but you still have one more detour to take before calling it an end to your Chilean road trip.
Prepare for one of the most spectacular natural sights of your road trip as you take the drive into the Maipo Canyon. Sitting on the edge of the Andes Mountains and after driving near them for so long, it’s the perfect excuse to adventure into these rugged peaks. The drive itself is a beauty, so it’s worthwhile even if you don’t leave your motorhome. For the adventurous, however, an outdoor playground awaits. You can go cycling, rafting, hiking, climbing, horseback riding, and skiing in the area, all the while keeping an eye out for the local wildlife such as foxes, pumas, and the Andean condor. Rafting tends to be popular around the time most travellers will stop by from November to March as the upstream glaciers melt and create exhilarating rapids for daring visitors. Skiing and snowboarding are best from June to September in winter, and hiking is exceptional throughout the year. Due to the popularity of the canyon with travellers and Santiago weekenders alike, a number of craft breweries and restaurants have popped up, so you can reward yourself after a tough day’s work. That said, an even better reward is waiting just a little farther up the road.
Before you turn back towards Santiago, continue following the route through the mountains – the Banos Colina Hot Springs await.
Banos Colina Hot Springs
What more could you want from the end of a whirlwind motorhome tour of Chile than a dip in a natural outdoor hot spring at the base of the Andes? The Banos Colina Hot Springs can get up to 50 degrees Celsius, although there are multiple pools found over a series of terraces, and each one can be a different temperature to the next, so you’ll enjoy hopping between them all to find the one that suits you best. Make a day of it by bringing a picnic to enjoy during your time at the baths, and aim to leave an hour or two before sundown, so you don’t have to make the drive back to Santiago in the darkness.
When you drive back to Santiago, you may be able to find a little time to see a few more sights that you may have missed during your first visit. It will be hard to believe that you only just left this fascinating city, but you will have seen a diverse and beautiful portion of Chile during that time. Hopefully, you’ll have picked up a few souvenirs along the way to remember the trip, and have a camera filled with amazing shots of all your adventures – and memories to match. If you’re struggling with the feeling of saying goodbye to your motorhome as you arrive back in the capital, just remember that there are many more itineraries around the world waiting for you.
● Spanish phrase book
● Swimming gear
● Physical map
● Notepad for wine tasting
● Hiking boots
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