We loved Chile. Santiago was fascinating but I wish they would remove all that graffiti. La Serena was interesting and I hope they recover from the earthquake. We just missed it. The ocean is cold and rough, and there are jellyfish all over the beaches and red flag warnings about not going into the water. Still people did go in. The beach was clean. We liked the hotel in La Serena though they had a faulty fire alarm in the middle of the night for several hours that kept everyone awake. The Elki Valley was special and the guides were very good. We enjoyed seeing the desert north of La Serena but I would skip the Humboldt excursion because it was really cold. The Lagos area around Puerto Varas was spectacular and the excursion to Todos Los Santos by boat was fabulous. That is well operated. The Hotel Cabana del Lago was very good, great location and views. We enjoyed going to Frutillar, especially the German colonial museum and the guide was fun. He spoke to us in understandable Spanish, which we greatly appreciated. Indeed, we preferred guides who spoke slowly and simply in Spanish to those who spoke English. We were lucky to have good weather for Chiloe but frankly I wouldn't go back. The trip was interesting but I can imagine in bad weather how hard it would be. It was a long trip and we saw several areas that were interesting but I think there would be other things to see around the lake district instead. We loved Vina del Mar. Valparaiso is interesting in a strange way with chaotic colors, a mishmash of buildings, unpleasant surroundings. Again we found the beaches to be clean but it was too cold and rough for us to go into the ocean. There were red flags and lots of lifeguards watching people so we didn't even venture to try. The hotel personnel at all the hotels were very nice and helpful. The drivers were all very accommodating and one took us to a restaurant in his neighborhood. The people we met in Chile were so pleasant and welcoming. We appreciated the positive growth of the economy and optimism of people. We would go back to Chile.
All of the drivers were wonderful and spoke Spanish with us so we got to practice. We loved Chile, the people, their warmth and sincerity. We were lucky to have great weather in Puerto Varas. The hotels were all good. We loved the excursions to the Elki Valley, Todos los Santos, and Frutillar. The weather in Chiloe was good but I wouldn't return there. We loved the agency contact in Puerto Varas: Rebecca. She was wonderful. She was the only one who got us boarding passes. When we arrived, she took time to go over our schedule and to respond to all our questions.
Inattention to detail on the part of the local agency. We asked for local contact information of the guides and drivers that we would have in case of problems but all we were given Guadeloupe's number and an emergency number in Argentina to call. We couldn't reach her on weekends and the person who answered the phone was not able to do anything. We were sent an itinerary in advance without any detail of names or phone numbers of local guides, or pick up times. We needed a lot of detail some time before we departed and an actual working itinerary to be sent right before we left for our trip. It is fundamental to receive a working itinerary but the local agency never did this. Instead, they told us we would be given all the information we needed by the agency contact each day. That system left us without any recourse when, as happened in Santiago, the guide did not show up at the airport.When we arrived in Santiago, we waited for over 20 minutes but didn't see the driver and guide though we looked everywhere so we tried to call Argentina but didn't have the right information to call from Chile. Therefore we just got a cab and went to the hotel.
Secondly, we were not advised of LATAM's policy of overbooking internal flights. We were told by our local agency to buy our own internal flight tickets, and we did so.We paid for luggage and reserved seats. Our guide set the time for our departure from the hotel in the morning to go to the airport. When we arrived at the airport, however, we learned LATAM had given our seats away. We were supposed to have checked in on-line but no one told us so. The local agency in Santiago should have done this for us, as the local agency did in Puerta Varas. In Santiago, LATAM told us we could go standby and maybe get on the next flight that evening. We called the local agency in Argentina but it was a weekend so there wasn't anyone in the office who could help us. Fortunately, standy by cleared, so we were allowed to board the flight to La Serena, but not in the seats we had reserved and paid for in advance.
In La Serena we went on the tour to the Elki Valley but no one could tell us if the tour to the Humboldt Reserve and Isla Damas which we had paid for was going. We were told to keep calling the tour company. Finally we got help from our hotel and learned that the tour was cancelled because the tour company didn't have enough people signed up. They told us to get a refund from our local agency and I could imagine how hard that would be. The hotel helped us to get another company to take us, Eco Tours and they were great. The local agency was no help at all and we couldn't reach them anyway. However, Eco Tours evidently worked out payment from the company that the agency had originally engaged, so we did not have to pay anything more to Eco Tours.
We loved the Cabana del Lago Hotel in Puerto Varas. When we were leaving they informed us that payment had not been received from the local agency. Again it was a weekend and I think there is some problem between Argentina and Chile in bank transfers. The hotel said they would call them to straighten out the problem so they didn't demand we pay them.
However when we got to Vina del Mar, the Atton hotel said the credit card they had received from the agency had exceeded its llimit, so they asked for our credit card. They agreed to continue to call Argentina to make sure that payment was transferred,and eventually, they told us they would not be using our personal credit card.
You need a local agent in Chile. You also need to make sure attention is paid to detail. Tourism is all detail. We were fortunate that we had a good trip but there were many problems that a competent tour company would have avoided. The clearest suggestions for improvement are these: 1) get clients an itinerary that includes local contact information and precise times of pick-up; 2) either check-in your clients for internal flights or inform them that they must do so; 3) never leave clients in doubt as to whether they will be double billed; get your payments to the hotels and tour operators in advance, not dependent upon a credit card that had exceeded its maximum.