Santiago, Chile’s cosmopolitan capital is two and a half hours from Valparaiso by bus. Leafy and laidback, it’s a great place to end your trip before heading for home
You can of course continue south, to explore the rest of this stunning country but you need at least three more weeks to do it justice.
To get an idea of what Chile has been through in recent decades, start your tour at the Museo de la Memoria de Derechos Humanos at Matacana 501.
This compelling museum is moving and disturbing but sympathetically mixes horror and history to enlighten visitors. Allow time here to really take in the different aspects of this exceptional tribute.
Then take the funicular from Plaza Caupolican up to the Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago’s largest park, for amazing views over the city. A statue of the Virgin Mary stands at the top while botanical gardens and two huge swimming pools make a heavenly hang out for hot days.
It’s easy to rent an apartment in Santiago and many tower blocks have rooftop pools and stunning Andean views. Self-catering is a pleasure, especially if you visit the Mercado Central for fresh fruit and vegetables as well as amazing fish. Try a seafood lunch in one of the market restaurants where the crab stew was once a favourite of Pablo Neruda.
Neruda had a house called La Chascona in the Bellavista district and today it’s a museum where you can learn more about his life. Or you can just amble around this pretty, bohemian district which has lots of cafes and restaurants, clubs, bars and theatres.
A few days in Santiago should do the trick before you fly to Rio de Janeiro, a stopover on the way to London, if you’re flying with British Airways. Soaring over the Andes is magical – you can see them so clearly as you head east to Brazil.
The world is very familiar with Rio de Janeiro now after the 2016 Olympics but it’s really worth seeing with your own eyes.
It’s a sumptuous city, steamy, tropical and magnificent. Buses from the airport take you to various districts in the centre. An excellent tourist information centre can direct you to the right one and supply maps and timetables. Bus stops are just outside the airport
The traffic is crazy but once you hit Copacabana you forget all about it. The air smells of sunshine and jasmine. It’s sultry and sexy and sensual. Women in teeny bikinis show off their splendid curves and round bottoms as they run into the waves. Even a few streets back from the beach everyone is in swimwear, languidly hanging out in bars and cafes, drinking cold beers and caiparinhas.
Tropical fruit is easy to find here, made into refreshing juices at street corner stands, blended while you wait.
Pineapple, papaya, passion fruit and mango are ripe, fresh and bursting with flavour. Or try Acai fruit, whipped up into a wonderful concoction that tastes like healthy ice-cream.
There are plenty of local cafes in Copacabana, serving set lunches for around £5. Try the Fejoida, Brazil’s national dish. This tasty pork stew, served with rice, greens and manioca, a kind of maize, is filling and will set you up for an afternoon nap, out of the heat.
There are fancy hotels along the seafront but for £50 a night you can rent your own apartment with a pool on the roof. Booking.com has a good selection.
Ours was super clean, bright and fresh and a few paces from a great neighbourhood bar, where the waiters were always laughing and the customers all wore shorts and swimwear, no matter their age or time of day.
Rio is 11 and a half hours from London by plane, but a world apart. It’s a dazzling city to end a South American trip and to start one too.