Meet Your Tour Leader
Q & A with Juan Pablo Mansilla
Juan Pablo or “Jata” has been leading ExperiencePlus! tours in Chile and Argentina since 2005. He was born and raised in Santiago, Chile and now lives on Chiloé Island – a highlight on our 10-day Patagonia Lakes District tour. His expertise and enthusiasm for all things Chilean seems to be contagious among ExperiencePlus! travelers.
How did you decide to start leading bicycling tours?
Like most of us I learned how to bike when I was a kid, but after I finished school I stopped cycling, and only rediscovered the joy of cycling when I started working with ExperiencePlus!. Bicycle travel is a great way to explore a place because you move at a slower speed which allows you to see and feel more of your surroundings.
You were born in Santiago, Chile and grew up in several of the towns that we visit on our Chile Wine Country Plus! the Pacific Coast trip. How has the area changed?
Santiago has grown a lot, it seems to get bigger and bigger with each passing moment. It has also become very modern in places. There are too many people in my opinion – half of Chile lives there.
The central area has grown too, but maintains the charm of being in the countryside. The old colonial construction still exists, and you can still find very good fresh fruit everywhere.
You live on Chiloé Island which we visit on our Patagonia Lakes District Plus! Chiloé tours – what took you to the island and why have you stayed?
I visited Chiloé for the first time when I was at University and fell in love with the place. A couple of years later I bought seven acres on a little Island south of Quellón (Cailin Island) dreaming that one day I would go there to live. I was working as an agronomist in the Central Valley and was starting to lose my hair because of the stress! Some years after I ended my agronomist career I moved to Chiloé and began working in tourism as a guide and later founded my own company: Chiloétnico. In 2009, my life and business partner, Karin and I decided to re-launch Chiloétnico focusing our efforts on bike trips and outdoor activities with a strong emphasis on exploring the local culture of Chiloé Island and the Lake District.
We are really happy to live here, Chile has some astonishing landscapes from the North to Tierra del Fuego, our country is a great place to travel. There is also a really good quality of life, and there is a strong sense of community. Our son and daughter, Diego and Amalia, were both born in Castro on Chiloé, so they are “chilotes.”
Our travelers are always astounded by how much you know about both Chile and Argentina including the history, flora and fauna – how have you become so knowledgeable?
Well, part of the knowledge about flora and even fauna came from my agronomist studies, but most of it came from my experiences as a guide. I took courses in bird watching and I’m a nature lover so I always look for opportunities to get out either alone, or with the family, to look for birds or animals. I can also observe nature just driving my car – I’ve seen many pudús (the world’s smallest deer) while driving in Chiloé.
What surprises you the most about Chile?
I hate to keep repeating myself but the variety of landscapes from the Atacama Desert in the north, to the Central Valley, all the way south to Patagonia – it’s amazing!
What do travelers say surprises them the most when they visit Chile?
For ExperiencePlus! riders there are two things – when we cross from the mainland and arrive on Chiloé Island on the Patagonia’s Lakes District Plus! Chiloé tour. I am surely biased but I believe that the four days in Chiloé are very special for them. The second is in Constitución on the Wine country tour – the cabañas where we stay seem like they are literally just inches from the Pacific Ocean.
What’s your favorite experience on the Patagonia Lakes ride?
The day when we cross the border from Argentina to Chile, as it is always is my turn to ride! For me the sense of challenge is very stimulating – and the views and landscapes are amazing. I also love it the day we arrive in Chiloé, because I’m back home!
What about Chile Wine Country?
It’s a great tour! This area of Chile is charming, and so many of the towns have the colonial style architecture that I love. Though the 2010 earthquake impacted this area enormously – the colonial essence has been maintained during reconstruction.
The Central Valley is the “breadbasket” of Chile and the fertile soil produces all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and, of course some amazing wines. The wineries that we visit on the tour are some of the best in Chile: Casa Silva, Miguel Torres, and Neyen, who produces a very limited edition of wines each year. Viña Gillmore, rescued the old vine (Carignan) and the hotel here was built using Feng Shui principals to provide a complete experience not only for the quality of the wines that you’ll taste but also for the character of the place.
What would be included in your favorite meal?
Sausages of all kinds…and beer!
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise most people?
I love to read Batman comics.