Andrea Vidler: The best Chile travel experiences
Looking for some insider Chile travel tips? Just ask Andrea Vidler, the Chilean-American co-founder of LocalAventura, a travel tech startup that connects local guides with travelers in various Latin American destinations.
In this exclusive interview, Andrea shares some of her favorite Chile vacation experiences, including the most mouthwatering Chilean food.
What’s the first thing you’d tell someone who knows very little about Chile?
Every tourist who comes to Chile realizes that Santiago is extremely underrated internationally. So many people don’t think the city itself as a travel destination, rather a stop on the way to more popular spots like Patagonia. I like to tell people that if they are planning on coming to Chile, they need to spend at least 3 days in Santiago. The city and its surrounding areas is magnificent, and in just about hour and a half drive, you can be on the beautiful pacific coast, touring world-renowned vineyards, or skiing or hiking in the Andes Mountains.
What are the biggest misperceptions that some travelers have about Chile?
Many people don’t realize how friendly Chileans are, and because of the language barrier, a lot of travelers are somewhat nervous to approach locals. However, Chileans are always willing to help a traveler out. They stop what they are doing to direct you on the street, or if you need help learning a Spanish phrase, they will work with you until you get it.
I also think a lot of people don’t realize how good the food is in Chile. It’s not a world-renowned foodie destination like Italy or Thailand, so when people come they are often surprised by how good it is. Chile is a really agriculturally rich country, with an array of fresh produce produced very responsibly, making the food fresh and delicious. Santiago is also catching on to many creative food trends, and so there are plenty of unique, high-end spots popping up all over the city. In fact, San Pellegrino named Santiago as one of the five foodie destinations to visit in 2016.
What are your favorite Chilean foods — and what are the “must-try” foods?
As I mentioned before, I would describe Chilean food [as] simple and delicious. It utilizes the rich natural resources to create hearty and flavorful meals. For anyone going to Chile, you need to try pastel del choclo, empanadas de pino, and anything with avocado (or pasta, as Chileans call it). If you are heading to the coast, make sure to try marchas con parmesan — parmesan-covered clams — for an appetizer and then get reineta or congrio, two local fish, as your main course. In Patagonia, you must enjoy a traditional asado, a Chilean barbecue. While you can get asado throughout the country, the south does it best. Traditional southern style is slow-spit roasted lamb, with plenty of fire-grilled vegetables and many other different kinds of meats, like sausage.
What to love about each of the following regions.
Santiago: A lot of people don’t spend much time in Santiago because they don’t realize how much there is to do in the area. Santiago is such a diverse city; each neighborhood has its own personality, which represents the many sides to the city. For example, Lastarria is the bohemian neighborhood, Providencia is the financial district and feels like a mini New York, and Barrio Brazil is very a classic neighborhood, true to its strong Chilean identity. Moreover, just outside of Santiago there’s even more to do, like hiking, skiing, wine tastings, horseback riding, etc. There’s really no way to get bored with a place like this, because if you take the time to search, you’ll always find something new.
Valparaiso: Hands down, the street art. Everytime I visit Valparaiso, I fall in love with a new piece of street art. I think the artistic identity really epitomizes the spirit of the city, because each work of art represents the passion and love that the people have for the city. The best part is that the city supports the art, which is why it’s such high quality work.
Viña del Mar: Viña is where all the locals go in the summer to party, and so there’s always so much rhythm and spirit coming out of the city. Walking down the streets, you can hear the music pouring out of nearly every building. Young and old, it doesn’t matter — everyone’s energy is so high. And how couldn’t they be; the city is clean and beautiful and it’s right on the water.
The Atacama Desert: The Atacama is so unique and is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been in the world. Many people think of the desert as being very monochromatic. Yet the Atacama is full of the most incredible array of colors and incredible natural marvels such as volcanoes, geysers, salt flats, and sand dunes.
Patagonia: Patagonia is the best place to disconnect from society. While it is a top tourist destination, it’s easy to escape the crowd and feel like you are completely isolated from the world. Everywhere you turn looks like a postcard. For me it’s one of the last destinations you can go to for pure, untouched nature. I also love the culture of the gaucho there. Growing up, my mom was always telling me stories about the gaucho, and when I went to Patagonia and actually met them I realized why this culture is so important to the Chilean tradition. I think if you want to add an authentic experience to your trip, you should go spend some time in their estancia and go horseback riding.
Your company offers unique vacation experiences in Chile. What types of tours and experiences are the biggest sellers?
Right now, our most popular experiences are trekking in patagonia, wine tours, and day trips to Valparaiso. While many tour companies may also offer these experiences, we are always searching for guides that do it differently. For example, our trekking guide in Patagonia has been working in the industry for over 12 years now. Because of that, he knows the best off-the-beaten-path locations to take travelers. Our wine guides also only take travelers to the small vineyards for a more personal experience.
Lately the most up-and-coming tours are the really niche tours like foodie tours, photo scavenger hunts, and fly fishing. People are looking for really unique ways to experience the country and its surrounding areas, and we are already in the process of more tours like that. We are also getting a lot more requests for tours in San Pedro de Atacama. This region has so many guides and agencies that it’s really hard to know who is reliable, because many aren’t. Keep an eye open on our website, because soon we will be adding some truly superb guides in San Pedro, that we have personally vetted and interviewed.
Latin Flyer | by Mark Chesnut