If you’re a regular reader here, then you probably know by now how much Michelle and I like our wine. We not only enjoy it at parties, over dinner and hanging with friends but most importantly this blog was originally created over a glass of wine. And let’s be honest, some of the best times in our lives usually involve a glass or two. Luckily, I married a man that has fallen for wine almost as hard as I have and we have ended up planning many of our vacations around it. We have both done some extensive wine touring on both the east and west coasts but were interested in exploring the international wine scene as well. So when we found another cheap airline deal on Airfare Watchdog, to Chile we booked without thinking and planned a last minute trip to South America.
Although we only had a short time in Chile, we were able to see much that this gorgeous country had to offer. Below are my honest tips on what to do, where to stay, what to eat and drink, what to pack and how to get around Chilean Wine Country.
Travel Tips: Chilean Wine Country
What To Do and Where to Stay: Chile occupies a long but very narrow strip of land between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Chile borders Peru, Argentina and Bolivia and contains just about every type of climate zone from beaches to glaciers. We only had a few days to spend in Chile on this trip and although we would have liked to visit Patagonia, our main goal was to taste as much wine as possible.
We started off our trip in Vina del Mar, which means Vineyard of the Sea (how fitting), where we explored the beaches, had our first sips of Chilean wine, perused local markets and had a wonderful dinner at a seafood restaurant by the ocean. I highly recommend staying at the Sheraton on the beach in Vina del Mar, the views can’t be beat and you are within walking distance to some incredible shopping and restaurants. Starting our trip in Vina del Mar, was the right decision and was much appreciated after the long flight from DC.
Next we headed out into the wine country and started our tasting experience in the Casablanca Valley, which is a region known for their delicious white wines. We stopped at a few wineries and enjoyed some killer chardonnays in this area. If you are a white drinker, this is the place to be. I do recommend that you call ahead and make reservations for tastings but some of the vineyards will take you without notice. We dropped in to Casa Del Bosque for a quick tasting and they were more than accommodating and the grounds were absolutely stunning. We also were able to briefly see the Maipo Valley, which is known for its well-balanced red wines. They are particularly known for their outstanding production of Cabernet.
For more info on Chilean wine click here.
Santiago is the capital and the largest city in Chile. We had planned on visiting Santiago briefly but were not originally supposed to say the night. Our plans ended up changing due to a minor error when trying to cross the border into Argentina and being turned away due to inaccurate travel documents for our rental car. More about the border crossing dilemma in the transportation section. We ended up staying at the Ritz Carlton, which was only after my husband was trying to remove himself from the dog house after the border control catastrophe. But as you can imagine, The Ritz staff was super accommodating, the rooms were gorgeous and the hotel was located in a beautiful and safe part of the city. There were also a handful of highly rated restaurants within walking distance.
San Felipe: San Felipe is a charming town located central Chile’s Valparaíso Region. We stopped at an old winery in town on the way to our hotel but that was pretty much the extent of our exploring in San Felipe. I can’t remember the name of the winery but they were closing for the night and we stopped in for a glass of Malbec and walked their grounds, definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We stayed at the thermal spas at Termes Jahuel Hotel and Spa located on top of a beautiful mountain range. We enjoyed our stay, even though the half of the hotel staff was on strike. So as you can imagine, service was a bit slow but it was hard to feel anything but relaxed in such beautiful surroundings. The rooms are very nice and the thermal baths are even better. The food was ehhh ok, we definitely had better during our trip but the views and the thermal spas made it totally worth it. We also took their mountain bikes on a spin to explore the property before we checked out, which I also highly recommend. We experienced some breath-taking views overlooking the Andes that will be hard to forget.
For suggestions on other highly rated hotels in Chile click here.
Food and Drink To Try: Obviously the wine is where it’s at but you can’t forget about the famous pisco sour! As for wines, the Malbec was my absolute favorite but I also favored the Chardonnay as well. Love a white wine in the warmer months. It also goes without saying that you have to try the Chilean Sea-bass or as they call it Sea-bass (makes sense), you have to try the parmesan cheese topped razor clams, the steak is beyond fantastic and the ceviche was also a standout dish. But no trip to Chile would be complete without stopping at a road side street vendor to score the best empanadas de pino you will ever eat.
What To Pack (women): Chile’s seasons are opposite of ours. So how you pack will depend on when and what part of the country you plan to visit. We traveled to Chile during their summer (December to February) and it was warm and beautiful. The rest of the seasons are as follows: autumn (March to May), winter (June to August), and spring (September to November). If you plan to visit Patagonia, which we unfortunately didn’t have time for, plan to pack all seasons, as the climate there changes. But if you plan to hit up the Chilean wine country during the summer, like we did, then plan to pack tank tops, shorts, jeans, at least one maxi-dress, a casual dress, a jumpsuit, a few bathing suits, and a great hat. Make sure you bring comfortable shoes for outdoor activities and then also sandals and or wedges/chunky heels for vineyard lunches or dinners. Pack light, if possible, so that you can carry your bags on. I always recommend carrying your bag on whenever possible. It saves time, money and the headache of a lost bag and missing clothing. Been there done that…not fun.
Transportation: If you are staying in Chile and DO NOT plan to cross borders, I suggest you rent a car. Renting a car is the best way to travel around Chile, it gives you freedom to hop from winery to winery and town to town. If you do plan to cross over to Argentina or another surrounding country, then you need to obtain appropriate travel documents to cross. We learned this the hard way and were rejected at border control trying to cross into Argentina, which made for two unhappy campers, some strategic planning, a long call to American Express Travel Concierge and a quiet trip back to Santiago. If you do plan to cross the border, make sure you allow for plenty of time. It takes about 2.5 hours from Santiago to get to the border and then it could take up to 3 hours of waiting in line before you are seen. Yep, we waited all that time to be turned away, so please learn from our mistakes!! After arriving back in Santiago we ended up ditching the car and flying to Mendoza for the remainder of our trip which was wonderful. I highly suggest you avoid making the same mistake by letting your rental car company know that you will be crossing borders so they can give you proper documentation to do so. I can not express how important this is!!! More on car rental tips here.
So if you get that urge to drink some outstanding Malbed and explore all the beauty that Chile has to offer then I suggest you put this destination on your travel list. And be sure to check back next week for the lowdown on the second leg of our trip to Argentina which was equally mind blowing. Keep on exploring and please share your favorite wine destinations with us in the comments below!