Traditional tourism, sitting on a comfortable bus and taking pictures of the main landmarks of a place can certainly be fun and interesting. But there’s nothing better than going in deeper into the local culture of a destination and exploring off the beaten path. At least that’s what I try to do whenever I travel and what my company offers people who sign up for tours with us in Chile.
After years of working for several large inbound tour operators in Chile, first as guides and then in other office roles, my sister Paula and I realized that these companies all offered pretty much the same itineraries and destinations, including the same attractions (wineries, museums, etc.). But people were eager to try something different.
The first thing we learned was that most tourists were annoyed when we took them to a fancy jewelry store at the end of their city tour because they could tell that things were overpriced and they felt a pressure to buy. Now, we were forced to do this by the company, but since we were the ones with the angry customers, before we got to the shop we started asking them whether or not they wanted to go. Most of them said “no” and we learned that they preferred to visit a handicraft market where locals usually get their jewelry and where they could see the artisan at work.
Another thing we learned is that they really wanted to taste local food. So we started taking them to the places where we would go to with our families to have some “mote con huesillo”, for example, a traditional summer drink/dessert made of boiled dried peaches and barley, usually with molasses. Everybody loves it!
Once I had a group of British travelers that was worried because we would be visiting the Chilean-Argentinean border at 2,800 meters (9,186 feet) and they had never been at such altitudes. I told them that Andean peoples chewed coca leaves to avoid altitude sickness but that usually a coca tea would do the trick. Guess what? All they wanted was to taste the coca tea! So the driver and I arranged everything. We prepared a thermos with hot water and bought the coca tea bags. When we were half-way up, we stopped to drink it with the Andes Mountains as a backdrop and everybody enjoyed the moment. And no one got sick!
So, these unique experiences are what we try to offer in Chile. We love to take visitors around Santiago on the subway and they like getting a sense of how Chilean people move throughout the city -even if it’s on a packed train during the rush hour- and doing things that local people do.
With our tours to the countryside and the coast, as well as to other regions in Chile, we take visitors to places that are not usually on the radar for foreign tourists. Trekking with llamas in the Atacama Desert, enjoying a traditional meal cooked in a solar oven in the Elqui Valley, learning to make typical Chilean pastries in the Curacav? Valley, seeing how an artisan works with lapis lazuli and copper or just spending quality time with locals from north to south are all part of our offer.
That’s why we’re so thrilled to be part of The Local Travel Movement. We believe it makes a big difference to get a sense of what it’s like to move around, eat and live in a place like a local. It’s certainly enriching for both hosts and tourists and helps people better understand each other’s culture while also having fun and sharing an unforgettable moment. What more could you expect from a trip? Happy travels!
Guest blog from SBy Marcela Torres