2016: My Year in Travel

Like most travel bloggers, I am always looking forward to my next trip. The year ahead means an open calendar of new cities to see and more passport stamps to collect. The last few years I have been so lucky to be able to travel to beautiful, amazing places, and 2016 was no different. With the past year came an exciting cross country move, along with the adventure that is traveling with a baby. From South America to mountain towns in my new home state of Colorado, here are my 2016 highlights.

CHILE: I’ve been to Chile many times since I have family there, but this trip marked an important milestone – my daughter’s first international trip. Traveling with a baby is never easy, but thankfully the ride went off without a hitch! I also ventured to Pucon for the first time, a town in the southern Lake District that is an adventure lover’s dream destination. A visit to the Santa Rita winery in the popular Maipo Valley rounded out the trip. flying with a babypucon chile santa rita chile santa rita winery

SAN FRANCISCO: Believe it or not, I’d never been to San Francisco. When friends moved to the Bay Area, it was the perfect excuse to plan a trip! Although the fog ruined a chance at any clear photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, I still loved my first San Fran experience.  Muir woods

VAIL: Since transplanting to Colorado in early 2016, I was eager to explore my new state. I was spoiled to stay not once, but twice, at the town’s lux Four Seasons during the year. The mix of small town charm and alpine architecture has earned Vail the title of #1 mountain town in my book.
Vail Four Seasons

LAS VEGAS: I always love a quick trip to Vegas. This year’s visits were a little different…because our baby came too! We made the most of the pools, great restaurants and of course, gambling. I also stayed at one of my favorite Vegas properties, the Venetian, which is always a wonderful experience.   Venetian pool

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Santiago’s Top 5 Sights

Chile may not be as popular for tourists as its larger South American neighbors, but it’s definitely worth a visit. The capital city, Santiago, has everything that you’d want to find in comparable places like Buenos Aires – culture, history, good food, nightlife. If you’re a first time visitor, there are a few spots you must check out. Here’s my list of the top 5 places to visit.

1. Cerro San Cristobal

This hill overlooking the city offers some of the best views of the city and, on a clear day, the snow-capped Andes. The funicular ride is a fun way to get to the top, and a stop at the nearby zoo is also a good way to spend the afternoon. Santiago

2. La Moneda

Chile’s presidential palace was the sight of the start of the infamous coup d’état in the ’70s, so this site is a must for any history buff. If time allows, take a free guided tour for an in-depth look. la moneda

3. Mercado Central

Looking for an authentic, cheap lunch? The market is a great place to try local cuisine at a good price, or just walk through to see the overflowing stands of fresh fruits and seafood. Look up for a glimpse of the classic wrought iron architecture. mercado central

4. The Bellavista neighborhood

Strolling through this artsy neighboorhood is one of my favorite ways to spend the days. The area has good shops and restaurants, and is also home to one of Pablo Neruda’s home, la Chascona. Bellavista Chile

4. Plaza de Armas

This square started as the original Spanish settlement of Santiago in the 1500s. Today it’s a lively plaza filled with locals, tourists, performers and street vendors. Visit the centuries-old cathedral or the  historic national post office, both located in the square. plaza de armas

5. Cerro Santa Lucía

This beautiful park is full of fountains and greenery, and is a nice escape in the middle of the city. Perfect for a stroll on a warm day.Cerra Santa Lucia

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24 Hours in Vina del Mar

vina del marI’m a big fan of day trips. Whenever I’m visiting another country, I always research any interesting towns or attractions nearby that may be worth visiting. On a recent trip to Santiago, Chile, I wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a day for a more laid back atmosphere. My husband and I recruited our local friends and decided to drive northwest from the capital to the coastal town of Viña del Mar.

Combined with its neighboring city of Valparaíso, the region makes up the third largest metropolitan area in the country. I heard good things about the city from every Chilean I talked to, all of which referred to it simply as “Viña.” The trip to the coast was full of winding roads that passed through mountains and by the numerous vineyards of the Casablanca Valley. We arrived after about an hour of driving and got settled into where we were staying. It was around lunch time and we’d had a long drive, so we went up a little north to the Reñaca neighborhood for lunch. Driving along the winding road that ran parallel to the Pacific brought not only views of the water, but also strolling vacationers, beachside food stands and surf shops. The cliffs that lined the coastal highway had restaurants, stores and apartments etched into the land, which was a cool sight to see. A long flight of stairs took us up to Punta del Este, a quaint restaurant across from the ocean. I knew that when in Viña I had to have seafood, so I wasted no time selecting things to try.  I chose garlic shrimp and machas a la parmesana (razor clams with parmesan). I was super excited to see the ever-present pebre brought to the table. This salsa-like mix of peppers, onions, garlic and coriander is served with bread at every restaurant in Chile, and it quickly became one of my favorite things. My husband had one of his favorite things, locos, or abalone. Between the rest of the diners at the table, most of the major Chilean specialties were present, including ceviche, seafood empanadas and caldillo de congrio (conger eel soup). seafood

After lunch we wanted to explore the city on foot. The pace here was a lot sl0wer. I noticed a lot of people walking leisurely on the streets, lingering in coffee shops and enjoying long lunches. We walked along the beach and got some great views of the historic Wulff Castle. It almost appeared to jut into the sea. The beach was empty, as the summer high season was over, so I was told it was not as lively as it usually is. After browsing some local shops, it was time to head back to get ready for dinner.

In typical South American fashion, the night started late. We arrived around 9:00 pm at Cap Ducal, a hotel and restaurant styled to look like an old ship, weathered exterior and all.  The large windows allowed for great views of the water, and we were lucky enough to score one of the coveted tables near the windows. We ordered some Chilean wine and opted for more seafood. When in Rome, right?castillo wulffVina

A short walk across the street after dinner led us to Casino Viña del Mar. My husband knows that if there’s a casino nearby, I’m going to want to check it out. The interior, with its crystal chandeliers, was old school elegance. It was filled with the standard blackjack, roulette and slots, and the dress code seemed pretty fancy. Less than an hour was all we needed to lose money, so we left to go to the adjacent club, Ovo. After trying out another local bar and too many terremotos later, it was time to call it a night.

The next morning we were in need of breakfast, so we walked over to Amura Cafe, a cute cafe and bakery located withing walking distance of our condo. We filled up on espresso and breakfast pastries like croissants filled with manjar, Chile’s version of dulce de leche. It was soon time to head back to Santiago so we packed up and hit the road. Side note – gas stations are few and far between on the highway from Viña del Mar to Santiago. We were in a rush to get back to Santiago and almost ran out of gas! We managed to arrived safe and sound in Santiago, and it was off to the airport for our flight back to the U.S. vina coffee vina beach 048

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What to Eat & Drink in Chile

These crispy, cheesy turnovers are one of the first things I need when I get to Chile. Cheese empanadas. Meat empanadas. Seafood empanadas. The possibilities are endless. Go the traditional route and try pino filling, a mix of beef, olives, eggs and raisins. empa empanadas2

I’m not one for hotdogs, but I can appreciate one every once and awhile. Hotdogs with ketchup and mustard at a backyard BBQ is quintessentially American, but Chileans sure know what they’re doing too. They take a standard dog, then add awesome toppings like avocado, tomatoes and mayo. It may sound crazy, but it works. 800px-El_tremendo_chilenísimo_COMPLET

With over 2,500 miles of coastline, trying local seafood while in Chile is a must. Try some local specialties like razor clams, congrio (eel) and locos. And don’t ask for Chilean Sea Bass – it’s called corvina here.Machas a la parmesana

These heavenly creations are comprised of manjar, which is similar to dulce de leche, sandwiched between two cookies. Homemade ones are the best kind, but you can also find them in bakeries, street carts and grocery stores.alpha

Local Fruits
Chile has some pretty unique fruits that I love. Chirimoya and the caramel-flavored lucuma are two of my favorites. What? A fruit that tastes like caramel? Yes, and it makes for an amazing gelato and smoothie flavor. There’s also a plethora of tasty juices made from the more common peaches, apricots and papayas, just to name a few.pepino dulce

This salsa-like creation is made from tomatoes, onions, garlic, coriander and olive oil. You’ll see this condiment everywhere, and Chileans eat it with everything!pebre

Pisco is a brandy made from grapes that is super strong. One of my favorite drinks is the lime flavored pisco sour, but it’s almost more common to see piscolas – pisco mixed with soda. And if you want a really fun night, try a terremoto, or earthquake. This concoction is made with pisco, wine and pineapple sherbert, and you’ll think you’re experiencing an earthquake after a few.pisco sour

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