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Our trip was organized by Visit Chile and we recommend them highly.
We were met by Cliff Mishler, our guide for the Santiago and Valparaiso leg.
This guy deserves his own chapter. We travel a lot, but we have never had a pathological liar for a guide! As interesting as this may seem, annoyingly, not a single word that came out of his mouth was true.
The tour of Santiago was wrapped up in about an hour. The most memorable place he took us was the back side of the Hippodrome. He needed a stop to smoke a cigarette. He couldn't take us to San Cristóbal Hill due... to the municipal strike he invented! Fortunately, our friends took us there for the beautiful view of Santiago.
According to our guide, no museums were open due to the strike which our research has shown ended... in August 2013!! The pictures we took inside of the art museum are a further testament to Cliff Mishler's total lack of professionalism. If you get him as your guide - best of luck, you'll really need it!
He charged us an additional $80 US to change our itinerary from Isla Negra and the Pablo Neruda house to Colchagua Valley which he insisted must be paid in cash! Allegedly, his tour company did not have credit card processing equipment.
I doubt the owners of the company saw this money.
Every place we went with him he wanted a piece of the action, be it a restaurant, or winery or even museum, he was adamant that we pay him first and then he would pay the establishment. One time he followed Sue into a store where she was shopping and introduced himself as an interpreter who helps her shop. Sue speaks decent Spanish so she just kicked him out of the store, being fed up with his officious intermeddling.
The company he works for is STTChile and I can not recommend them as long as he is working there.
But enough of Cliff, he was just a fly in the otherwise well made ointment.
S A N T I A G O
Very modern city, lots of new construction, skyscrapers and one of the strongest economies in the South America.
Not spectacular but still interesting art museums and lots of good restaurants. Our favorites were Liguria and a Peruvian seafood restaurant LaMar.
V A L P A R A I S O
This city on a hill reminds me of the La Boca area of Buenos Aires, New Orleans and San Francisco all mixed into one. Colorful city with painted building facades & sea food restaurants second to none.
C O L C H A G U A
We visited a couple of good wineries, but this was not what brought us there. The main attraction was Museo de Colchagua, one of the largest and the most interesting private museums we have ever visited.
There is a whole room dedicated to the legendary rescue of the Chilean miners and the capsules used to extract them from the mine. I recommend it highly!
A T A C A M A
Cliff Mishler took us to the airport in the morning. After assuring us that we wouldn't be seeing him again we felt obliged to give him his tip on the spot. (You can imagine our surprise, and dismay, when he picked us up at the airport after our return from the desert.)
The two hour flight took us to Calama and one hour after landing we were in San Pedro de Atacama, our base camp for exploring the different areas of the desert.
This part of our tour was handled by TurisTour. The tours were conducted by bi-lingual guides who spoke excellent English and were very knowledgeable about the area and they were run with a military precision which we greatly admired! This is a top notch operation!
We took the following tours and each one was better than the last. This kept us on our toes day after day:
Geyser del Tatio y Machuca
Atacama Salt Flat & Toconao
Puritama Hot Springs
If we had more time, we would have taken more. We'll definitely be back to Chile within the next year or so.
Serge & Sue, Dec 2013.