South America Blog Posts

Weeks 1 & 2 – Arriving in South America. Bikepacking Santiago to Valparaiso, Chile

On the 6th of June I started travelling again. Now I’m bikepacking on a continent that I’ve never visited before, South America. I packed up my touring bike (Vivente World Randonneur) and a backpack full of gear, then flew from Manchester to Santiago de Chile, via Toronto and Bogota. But, as I went through security in Manchester I realised I’d left my laptop charger behind. It has taken a month for me to get it back, so my posts have a bit of catching up to do.

Requirements for entering Chile

It was a long flight and arriving in Chile was more complicated than most of the countries I’ve visited before. This was partly due to some Coronavirus restrictions still being in place, but also an extra entry requirement that I haven’t dealt with before. With a UK passport, I get a free 3-month tourist visa on arrival. However, before arriving in the country, there were a couple of requirements to prepare for the Coronavirus situation. First was registering my vaccines. I got both of my vaccines in Vietnam, but luckily I registered them with the NHS while I was in the UK. I just needed to upload the PDFs of my certificates, from the NHS app. They checked them and gave me a vaccine passport for Chile. This vaccine passport is needed to go into some restaurants and public buildings. But it seems that they aren’t really used so much now. I also needed to fill in a C19 declaration form, which gave some of my personal details and an address that I would be staying at in Chile. After I landed in Santiago, there were a few lines of people sat at desks. They checked the C19 and vaccination passport as well as my actual passport. I got a yellow sticker and continued on to immigration. Immigration was just normal, nothing complicated. Then everyone lined up to be sniffed by a police dog before going through to collect my luggage. There was one other requirement for entering Chile, an onward ticket. I was only asked for this when I transited in Bogota. They wouldn’t let me board the flight to Chile unless I could show that I had a ticket to leave Chile. I quickly booked a bus ticket to Bolivia online, then I was allowed on the flight.

This process was simple enough for me, but Huong is from Vietnam and although the requirements are supposed to be the same for her. She was stopped for ‘random checks’ when she got to the immigration desk. They took her into a side office, turned out the lights and used a UV light to check her passport, which they seemed to think was fake. Admittedly, the Vietnamese passports are a lot simpler than other passports I have seen. But I think this was mostly down to a young Vietnamese woman entering the country alone. They then got her luggage and searched everything before letting her go. Quite the welcome.

A week in Santiago de Chile

Santiago is a great city and felt really European to me. However, this may have been because we stayed in some of the nicer areas of town. We stayed with a really cool Couchsurfing host while we were in the city. Byron was super welcoming and helped us settle into the city. We hiked to the top of a hill in the middle of the city, visited an open-air graffiti museum and visited the Persian market at the weekend. But the main mission was for Huong to get a bicycle. We went to an area called San Diego which has an area specialising in bicycle shops and managed to get a decent bike there.

Bikepacking Chile

With the bikes ready, we left Byron’s place and headed across town to another host before we left Santiago heading towards the coast. We decided to take a mountain road because it was supposed to be a lot more scenic than going the long way round. On the second day of cycling through the mountains we reached a really steep section and started looking for a truck to hitch a lift to the top. We were really lucky. Someone stopped and they were actually really kind, he tried to help us find a campsite, but then offered to let us stay with his family. The next morning he was working in the same town we were headed to, so he also gave us a lift to Vina del Mar.

Vina Del Mar is a tourist city with a beautiful beach, lots of hotels and restaurants. We stayed with a Couchsurfing host while we got the bicycles serviced. The bikes had a couple of small issues after being in the back of the truck.

On the south side of the bay from Vina del Mar there’s an older city, Valparaiso. This city has an interesting past and a bit of a shady reputation, but I think most port towns and cities have that kind of reputation. Our host in Valparaiso runs a sustainable tourism company. In exchange for staying in his place, we painted over graffiti in the neighbourhood.

I really like Chile so far. I didn’t know much about Chile before I arrived and I didn’t really know what to expect. But the culture is much more European than I was expecting. The only part that I knew about was the south of the country. The south is beautiful with mountains, rivers and forests. But we have arrived in winter time, so the south is much too cold now. So the plan is to head north through the desert and back into the tropics.

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