Chile came as a complete surprise to me. Santiago was filled with the familiar architecture of old world Spain but the surrounding snow covered Andes mountains were a constant reminder that this was like no other place on earth. It was hard to pin down as hip new hotels and restaurants sat comfortably alongside a native culture strongly influenced by invasions of Incas and then Spanish conquistadors.
Valparaiso on the coast similarly had its own unique vibe. As a once proud port for the world's merchant navies, it was built precipitously on the surrounding hills overlooking the bay in an era of sailing ships and schooners. These days the funicular railways and steep stairs up into the town seem like a quaint throwback to those bygone times.