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February 2018, Santiago, Chile
Santiago de Chile is, with no doubt, the most surprising capital we’ve seen so far. Whatever your travel preferences are, Chile’s metropolis will not disappoint.
There are tons of reasons to visit Santiago. But first, let’s see how we ended up here.
The 20 hours journey
We leave San Carlos de Bariloche having mixed feelings. On one hand, we are excited to begin the Chilean adventure, but we have to say goodbye to Patagonia for good. This time, the bus is full of all kinds of people, not just trekkers like in the south: families with 3-4 children and noisy toys, crying newborns, baby trolleys … it seems that everyone is abandoning the city (or Argentina?). We have movies running on a TV screen, but they reset on every bus stop. We occupy our seats, prepared for 20 hours of chaos.
On the border with Chile, we are all evacuated for control. Trained dogs detect suspicious luggage, while we are being questioned by the police and fill out forms. Pretty soon, all you can hear are dogs barking and people talking in all languages.
Ready to go, but we have two suspicious backpacks!
Terrified, I recognize one as being mine. The puppy who discovered it, wagging his tail, is waiting for a reward. The cops rush like hawks and search it centimenter by centimeter. Next, they start to smell: “Did you have a sandwich around here?” they ask puzzled. Relieved, I smile and nod: “Si, si!!!”.
We are allowed to follow everybody else to the bus.
The second backpack is not so lucky. The people of law pull out dozens of transparent bags full with peculiar dust. The guy claims it’s dehydrated and powdered food, but he’s allowed to continue the journey only after he gives away almost everything.
Santiago at first glance
We arrive in Santiago de Chile the next day at noon.
Out of the terminal, we can’t believe our eyes! It’s like a New York with Spanish vibes. People are standing in a cue at the bus stops, simply out of habit.
We quickly find the metro and reach the accomodation. This time we felt like being pampered and rented an apartment in the city center. From the 21st floor we see the whole city and the surrounding Andes covered by snow. The owner, a gentleman about 60+, señor Victor, with a perfect English, takes us on a tour around the neighbourhood, and leaves us a phone for the time here. Where are we? Are these people for real? 🙂
Here are just 10 reasons that will make you visit Santiago. We surely fell in love with it.
The Latin America success story: from Inca empire to dictatorship to democracy
The Inca empire, when expansion was at its peak, stretched to the north of Chile, where Santiago is now. The cold southern part was called Chili (“chiri” in Quechua dialect).
The Chileans have endured difficult times until the 1990s, like the other countries we crossed: dictatorship, thousands of missing people, assassinated president, politicians deceased in suspicious circumstances.
Nowadays Chile stands out from the South American countries, being a model of economic stability.
Mapuche tribes, never defeated by the conquistadors
There are tribes that have never been conquered by the Spanish, retreating into isolated areas. Archaeologists have found evidence that suggests the Mapuche occupied Chile’s south-central zone early as 600 to 500 BC.
Small Mapuche communities still exist today, fighting for cultural preservation.
Cerro San Cristobal, a park with a view
A huge green oasis right in the middle of the city? Santiago has that!
The best views over Santiago are from the peaks of the Parque Metropolitano, known as Cerro San Cristóbal. With 722 hectares, the park is Santiago’s largest green space, but it’s still part of the urban architecture: a funicular carries you between different sections on one side, while a teleférico (cable car) swoops you away on the other.
Torre Costanera, highest tower in Central and South America
Hundreds of skyscrapers form the business district of Santiago, bordered by suspended motorways. The Costanera Tower, tallest building in Central and South America, stands right in the middle.
Dare climbing 62 floors, with the elevator running at 7 meters/ second!
Home of Pablo Neruda
Being in Santiago means you’re just a stone’s throw from three of the homes of Nobel Prize in Literature winner, Pablo Neruda.
In 1953, Neruda started to build a house in Santiago, for Matilde Urrutia, his secret love at that time. He called the house “La Chascona” (=tangled-haired woman) after Matilde.
The other two houses are in Valparaiso and Isla Negra.
Rich food: churrasco, chorrillana, mote con huesillos, torremoto, pisco sour
We end each day with a feast of senses (and stomach pain).
Chileans love food. The more fat and sweet, the better: empanadas, churrasco (beef sandwich with mayonnaise, tomato and mashed-up avocados), chorrilana (a plate of french fries topped with layers of fried onions, meat and eggs).
The culinary scene is so vibrant, that we don’t have any problem eating Peruvian, Thai or Chinese food right on the nearby street.
We cool down drinking motes con huesillos (dried peaches with sugar, water, cinnamon and boiled wheat).
Another local drink is torremoto (= earthquake, a type of sweet fermented wine with pineapple ice-cream served in a one-litre glass). Sorry, we have to say ‘no’ to this one.
However, no meal is complete without a pisco sour (the South American classic cocktail, claimed by both Chile and Peru).
Coffe with legs
I try to find a decent coffee shop, but what do you know?
Chileans only like extra sweet drinks, so the only way they have coffee is in the places called “Cafe con piernas“ (=coffee with legs; cafés for men, where coffee is served by almost naked women, usually wearing just bikinis or miniskirts).
We cannot leave without checking out the impressive collection of artefacts from ancient Central and South America. The Museum of Pre-Columbian art is a jewel among world museums. It really puts all the Indigenous culture into context. Such an exhaustive history lesson!
Street art in Valparaiso
The last day finds us running to bohemian Valparaiso. We stroll along its narrow colorful streets, climb its endless staircases, ride its historic funicular elevators and enjoy street art at its best.
Relax in Viña del Mar
Chic boulevards lined with palm trees, a sprawling public beach and beautiful parks have earned Viña del Mar the nickname of Ciudad Jardín (Garden City).
As we inhale the salty fresh air, we really start regretting leaving Santiago. But we’re not entirely done with Chile. Atacama, here we come!
How to get to Santiago
- By plane: flight to Santiago de Chile
- By bus: long distance bus connections with San Carlos de Bariloche (Andesmar Chile, 20 hours) and San Pedro de Atacama (Turbus, 24 hours).
Where to stay in Santiago
We rented an apartment at Trivento Apparts, in a residential complex right in the city center. The place was the best accomodation we had on the whole South American continent.
- Long distance bus from Bariloche
60 USD/pers/1 way
60 USD/night/double room
- Local transportation
1500 CLP(~3 USD) for Bip! rechargeable card +
660 CLP(~1 USD) metro trip
- Entrance tickets
Funicular: 6 USD/ pers/1 way
Costanera tower: 25 USD/pers
Pre-Columbian art museum: 10 USD/pers
Bus tickets Valparaiso and Viña del Mar: 7-10 USD/pers/1 way
=> Total spendings in Santiago: 750 USD/2 pers in 4 days
In January 2018 we booked one-way tickets, took our backpacks and left cozy old Europe, for (hopefully) the greatest adventure of our lives: South America. If you like our story, don’t forget to spread the word!
Happy travels and stay safe!