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Silversea Cruises’ Silver Nova – Goldring Travel Checks Her Out: Atacama Desert, Wine & More Silver Nova Cuisine

Silversea’s Silver Nova continued to impress both as a cruise ship and the delivery of a unique travel experience as we sailed down the western coast of South America from Lima, Peru, to Valparaiso, Chile.

Atacama Desert
Atacama Desert

I have wanted to visit this part of the world for a long time. These ports are not easily visited other than on a cruise and are a bit esoteric. With guidebooks being of little value and tours other than through the ship very limited, my pre-cruise reading about the ancient history of these areas prepared me as to facts, but hardly for the uniqueness and beauty. 

Having left Peru, our first stop in Chile was Arica, Chile. I chose an extra-cost Silversea tour that traveled fairly far into the Atacama Desert and the Elqui Valley.  The desert was breathtaking and ever-changing and our guide was excellent.  I wish I could have spent more time there, but I was fortunate to be one of the relatively few that have been able to experience it at all.  It was, again, a “put the camera down” experience as the desert leaves you without sufficient words and photos just can’t really capture its beauty, power, starkness, or how vast it is.

Atacama Desert, Chile
Atacama Desert, Chile
Atacama Desert, Chile
Atacama Desert, Chile
Atacama Desert, Chile
Atacama Desert, Chile
Atacama Desert, Chile
Atacama Desert, Chile

I found it interesting that the colors of the desert are not from plants (nothing lives there other than a few cacti) but from copper (green), lithium (blue), and potassium nitrate (white); all of which are mined and a primary source of Chilean wealth.

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We made three stops along the way: A sort of artist installation, a “cairn nursery” of sorts, 

and the tiny village of Codpa for a bit of a touristic shaman ceremony, some time in the church from the 1600s (of course there was a church!), and an unremarkable lunch. The local wine, however, was good…especially the fortified version. But the village was basically a rest stop for me. 

Shaman performing a ritual with smoke, coca leaves, and wine.
Shaman performing a ritual with smoke, coca leaves, and wine.

There was an instance of “guests behaving badly” that I do want to mention. Silversea had three 50-person buses with about 22 people per bus. Each bus had a toilet, specifically only for No. 1. Unfortunately, somebody on my bus decided to ignore that strict warning, making our bus unusable, which resulted in our return being on one of the other buses, now crowded and with a different guide. Sadly, this was not the only example of Self-Entitlement that I experienced on this cruise. I will never understand that sort of conduct.

Silver Nova's The Marquee/Grill
Silver Nova’s The Marquee/Grill

With two sea days, it was time to get more work done, but also check out more of Silver Nova’s dining experiences. 

Silver Nova's The Grill (Hot Rocks) Restaurant
Silver Nova’s The Grill (Hot Rocks) Restaurant

The Grill (Hot Rocks) – reservation required – has never been something that appealed to me…until this cruise. I guess a combination of the comfortable sofa-seating, the more finished and classier decor of The Marquee, the warm temperatures, and the desire for laid back dining all converged into making this a relaxing dining venue I visited twice.  (And you know I love to cook, so I have literally no stress about cooking my steaks to perfection.)

Silver Nova's S.A.L.T. Kitchen Restaurant
Silver Nova’s S.A.L.T. Kitchen Restaurant

The S.A.L.T. Kitchen is a misnomer. It is a no-reservation restaurant that focuses on ingredients from the area you are cruising; complimenting the S.A.L.T. Bar and Chef’s Table. It was a nice evening, and I loved the more intimate setting and its theme. To be fair, after all of my culinary experiences in Peru, even with the wonderful service and creative presentations, it wasn’t a home run for me. That said, most of the guests I overheard really enjoyed themselves.  I would definitely head back there on another cruise!

I snuck a photo of the area of our pisco distillery tour we never took.
I snuck a photo of the area of our pisco distillery tour we never took.

As I mentioned, private tour guides in the more remote parts of Peru and Chile are hard to come by. Also, I wanted to try out Silversea’s included tours and Colquimbo, Chile was a good opportunity.  The tour was to a Pisco distillery and then to the village of Vicuna.  Because there were a number of buses (none crowded) on the same tour things got staggered, so we visited Vicuna first. There really was nothing of interest there and it seemed to be pretty much a staging area for the tours. But then we were off to the Pisco distillery.  It started off fine with a nice guide. As we entered the distillery building itself, the presentation was interrupted twice by two of the earlier groups coming around the corner and heading out. But that was the end of our “tour”…ten minutes. We “had” to get to the restaurant for lunch, so they just didn’t give us the tour. Oh, but we did have enough time to have a tiny pisco sour and then, of course, plenty of time to shop in the distillery store. Not Good!

Making the most of it, I did “sample” a few piscos in the shop, bought a very nice bottle of pisco, and a “roadie” (Oh, I miss those college ski bus rides! lol). 

I appreciate that included tours are not going to be the best ones, but it is important to be sure that everyone gets the tour they signed up for.  However, I didn’t really need to see much of another distillery, had my “samples”, came home with some excellent pisco, and did my own “tasting” in the shop and on the ride back to the ship!

Silver Nova's La Dame Restaurant
Silver Nova’s La Dame Restaurant

I did not dine at La Dame. Even though it is for many a high-demand dining experience, at $160 per person extra cost, a menu that didn’t excite me, a fabulous experience at The Chef’s Table, and other restaurants that made me happy, I gave it a miss.

Silver Nova's Atlantide Restaurant
Silver Nova’s Atlantide Restaurant

Another restaurant I skipped, and I always do, is the main dining room, no reservation, Atlantide. Now I acknowledge that for many Silversea guests it is their “go to” and really enjoy it. However, for me, it is just too large and too loud. Even with a very diverse menu and other guests loving it, it just didn’t have the vibe I cared for. 

In fact, the night I planned to dine there I decided to have room service…which I guess is another restaurant of sorts and I was more than pleased with its cuisine!

BTW, the movie selection onboard Silver Nova is excellent, as is the variety of television channels…including the NFL playoff games!

Silver Nova's Kaiseki Japanese Restaurant
Silver Nova’s Kaiseki Japanese Restaurant

The only restaurant that was a real disappointment – and not only for me – was Kaiseki, the $80 per person extra cost Japanese restaurant. I nabbed a last-minute reservation on the only formal night.  When I walked in I saw a sushi bar and thought I’d sit there. Nope. It is not functioning and, unfortunately, I saw a number of premade sashimi platters sitting on the counter behind the illuminated and pretty empty display case. 

The saki choices were cold or hot (same not very good saki); no saki list. I was offered one Japanese whiskey to start and, again, it was not very high quality – better were available in the S.A.L.T. bar.  The cuisine was kinda-sorta Japanese and pretty uninspired. But what really just depressed me was the sashimi platter that was low-quality tuna, slimy salmon, a strange hunk of sliced squid, and a bit of seabass skin, all seemingly dumped on the platter and served at room temperature (from sitting out).  Thankfully the lighting was dim!

Considering all of the wonderful meals and venues on Silver Nova, one that didn’t make the grade doesn’t give me a negative impression; especially since the venue itself is nice and the necessary changes aren’t difficult to address.

As my cruise was coming to an end, I did spend a good bit of quiet time reflecting back on the magnificence of the natural beauty and cuisines of Peru, as well as Chile and the Atacama Desert that without Silversea having this itinerary and the Silver Nova (plus the riots in Ecuador!) I otherwise never would have had the opportunity to experience it.

However, I was not done!  I still had Valparaiso, Chile to explore along with my Wine tour on my way to the Santiago, Chile airport.

Valparaiso, Chile
Valparaiso, Chile

I had been looking forward to visiting Valparaiso.  I figured I would take a shorter included Silversea excursion to get the lay of the land and then venture out on my own later in the day. It was, again, an issue of trying to have a number of tours juggle their itineraries so that there wouldn’t be crowds. While admirable, I spent far too much time waiting around. Making that worse, there was “That Couple”; you know the ones that were late every single time we had a stop and were oblivious to the fact that it screwed up our timing…and didn’t care.  

Street Art in Valparaiso is everywhere (and so is graffiti).
Street Art in Valparaiso is everywhere (and so is graffiti).

Anyway, there is a great disparity of wealth in Valparaiso, and we tended to walk the streets above where the real population lives. At the same time, I took in the history of this city through its now weathered and worn buildings.

Valparaiso, Chile
Valparaiso, Chile

After a stop at a small, but excellent museum that highlighted the ancient past of Chile (no wonder I found it interesting!), we eventually – and thanks to “those people” belatedly – arrived in Vina del Mar, an upscale and tourist seaside community for lunch on our own…but now with far less time to enjoy it. 

While everyone else went to the closest place, I quickly went to the further place (ironically called Tierra del Fuego) for a delicious seafood lunch of king crab, shrimp, octopus, scallops, oysters, and three types of ceviche. I just wish I had more time to enjoy it and my pisco sour, but I had to get back to the bus…only to wait over 20 minutes for “those people”. Ugh. 

Upon returning to the ship, I didn’t feel the need to head back out into the city, so I headed to The Dusk Bar on Silver Nova’s stern for a gin & tonic before unfortunately having to pack…but rewarded myself with an after dinner last visit to the S.A.L.T. Bar; my favorite venue.

The next morning it was a leisurely disembarkation (especially since the vast majority of guests were continuing on to Buenos Aires, Argentina).

It is always a good idea to break up a 2-hour transfer to the airport with over five hours of wine tours and tastings and lunch in Chile’s Casablanca Valley.

Bodegas RE Winery
Bodegas RE Winery

The first stop was Bodegas RE, a boutique winery and pet project of the owner of Concha & Toro…so he can afford to do whatever he wants to!

I, obviously, opted for the premium tasting. It was really interesting and creative. Even though these wines will never make it to the United States due to limited production, I didn’t purchase any. However, I do recommend a visit!

Just a few minutes away was a larger, more touristic winery, Casas del Bosque. 

The setting was beautiful, but the wines were less impressive (Oh, but I drank them!). The upsell to the best wines was an option I declined. The outstanding lunch made up for the wines.

Beetroot Pasta with Mushrooms
Beetroot Pasta with Mushrooms

It was then off to the Santiago, Chile airport for a seven-hour wait to board my 9.5-hour flight…the first of three flights ahead of me. While expensive, after all the wine and an already long day, a room at the Holiday Inn at the airport was well worth it.  (I can’t believe I started this luxury journey at a Holiday Inn in Quito, Ecuador, and ended it at a Holiday Inn in Santiago, Chile.) As I say, “What is Your Luxury?”

Next up: Reflections!

Interested in a Luxury Journey by Cruise, Expedition, or Land?

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