Part 1 ended as I flew to Santiago Chile. Brian Pearson, owner of Santiago Adventures, was waiting at the airport to drive me to The San Cristobal Towers, part of the Starwood Luxury Collection. Built in 1998 it is attached to the older Sheraton Santiago Hotel. The 21st floor lounge had a sumptuous breakfast spread and fabulous views of the city. My modern, large room had a bathroom the size of a Manhattan studio apartment. My friend arranged a private car and his top guide for a four hour city tour. It was winter holiday break with lots of families and locals in the streets and shops. Viewing the Presidential Palace, Plaza de Arms and the luxury estates on San Cristobal hilltop reminded me how much Santiago, with modern buildings, parks, wide streets and the warm winter weather, was like Buenos Aires.
An interesting side note to the Chilean free economy; Micros are those yellow buses that are privately owned, with the drivers working on commission, based on the number of passengers picked up. It is the Indianapolis 500 on the streets that soon will be changed as there are too many accidents; they will become a public transit system. Concesinario’s are private toll roads in and around Santiago as well as the road to Valparaiso and the Pan American Highway (drive from Alaska to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Chile). Private companies will maintain the roads; collect the tolls, with a 30 year old lease. The free roads tend to be narrow, bumpy and crowded. By the way there is an excellent Metro system.
The Andes Mountains Outside Santiago
If God had created a vineyard it would have been Errazuriz in the Aconcagua Valley, about an hour from the airport. My full wine story will appear elsewhere but having lunch on the terrace with bright sunshine, warm temperatures, the view of the snow-covered Andes and the hillside terraced vineyards made me glad to be a wine writer. There are wineries north, east and south of Santiago all within an hours’ drive. Brian, whose company organizes wine tours, offered to drive me during my two days in the Colchagua Valley two and a half hours south of Santiago. Alfredo Vidaurre, one of the owners of Montes winery, put us up at the Santa Cruz Hotel overnight. If Argentina is beef, Chile is fresh seafood (think Chilean Sea Bass). Sebastian Lopez of Concha Y Toro put me up at the Hotel Atton back in Santiago as I had a 6:50AM flight to Lima. He even arranged a car to pick me up and I zipped to the airport in 15 minutes for my TACA 3½ hour flight to Lima.
Vineyards at Errazuriz, Chile
My Gray Line connection came in handy here as a representative of Viajes Pacifico, the Gray Line agent in Peru, drove me to the Sofitel Royal Park Hotel. I never saw another guest the day I stayed there. This was still the winter holiday vacation time (think Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years period) and many people were on holiday. I walked around the San Isidro neighborhood which is residential with hotels and restaurants. I was picked up for my city tour and learned Lima had 8 million people, representing 30% of the country. It was founded in 1535 by the Spanish Conqueror Francisco Pizarro. The next day was a national holiday marking the founding of the country and everything was closed for a very long weekend. This is getting to be a habit as Uruguay celebrated their national holiday while I visited 1 ½ weeks ago. Lima is a UNESCO World Heritage city for its colonial architecture and is a melting pot of mixed-blood people and cultures, again like Uruguay. There is the obligatory Plaza Mayor (main square) with its Presidential Palace, City Hall, Cathedral and Archbishops’ Palace sitting on its four corners. It was filled with people getting ready for the national holiday the next day. Nearby are the Iglesia de San Francisco, Iglesia de la Merced and Iglesia de Santo Domingo where San Marco University- the first in South America- was founded in 1551. We visited the ruins of the old wall that once surrounded Lima and glimpsed Acho the oldest bullfighting rink in the Americas and the third oldest in the world.
I moved to the Swissotel in the same San Isidro neighborhood where I was scheduled to stay one night. I was given a room on the executive floor that had the best service I have ever experienced in a hotel. Computers, a full breakfast, lunch snacks, a full dinner and open bar. I had so much fun that I cancelled my stay at another hotel to stay here an extra night. This chain is owned by the Raffles folks and now I understand why I loved the hotel so much. My last day in Lima I was taken 19 miles south of town on the Pan American Highway to the Pachacamac Temple, built entirely of clay and including the Temple of the Sun & Moon. After lunch it was off to the Mujico Gold Museum that is world-renowned for its gold, silver and brass collection from the pre-Inca and Inca cultures. A separate part of the museum contains the very large Weapons of the World area.
I spent a day and a half in the Ica, Pisco, Paracas area that is 3 ½ hours south by luxury bus from Lima. One of the highlights was an hour and a half flight from Ica over the Nazca Lines (80 miles away). There are over 70 giant figures and 10,000 lines imprinted in the earth (monkeys, spiders etc) dating from 500AD. They are referred to as Geoglyphs by pre-Inca cultures of the Nazca and Paracus Indians. I stayed overnight at the Pacific Ocean seaside resort the Hotel Paracas. Early the next morning I joined a group on a fast boat ride to the Ballestas Islands which is home to sea lions, monkeys, penguins, otters, dolphins and many, many birds. It was back on the bus for my return trip to Lima and the end of country number four.