Chile’s capital of Santiago presented us with surprises both good and not so good. Like most large cities Santiago has some higher end neighborhoods juxtaposed with lower-income areas that are just as lovely in their grit and character. We were able to experience both ends of the spectrum while visiting this city a little longer than expected.
Our first lovely surprise was a one-night stay at the luxurious Hyatt in Vitacura. A week before arriving in Santiago I coincidentally received an email warning me that my member points were about to expire in March. I quickly looked up hotels in cities we were to visit and found this great hotel that I was able to book with my points. There’s a backpackers miracle if I ever knew one. The $300 dollar room was ours free for just 5000 points and I slept like a baby that night!
The next day we were flying out to Easter Island and would return to Santiago the following week to delve into it further. This was a fortunate decision as I became ill and had to return to Santiago anyways for some medical care (our not so good surprise). After a lovely 8 days on the island we were back in town and had to stay a bit longer than planned. I won’t bore you with details but will say three things: I am thankful for the excellent medical care I received in Santiago, over the moon that we decided to buy that travel insurance (DO NOT leave home without it!) and glad everything turned out beautifully.
I wish I could say we visited all of the sites we wanted to see in Santiago but that was not the case since I was recovering for most of the time we were there. What I did see in the bits and pieces I explored was a colorful, beautiful modern city full of culture and lovely people. The best and most extensive market I have seen thus far could be found here along with a metro enviable by any rail system found in the States.
We were lucky to be able to do a free walking tour with Tours 4 Tips, the same great company we toured Valparaiso with. We visited the General Cemetery, Parque Forestal, “La Chimba” neighborhood, and finally a bar to try the famous Chilean drink Terremoto. It was also on this tour that we discovered the magnificent market named La Vega. It encompasses numerous blocks and is broken down into a fish, produce and meat market.
I have never seen such an extensive, gorgeous and colorful array of fruits and vegetables in my life. The fish market, which we frequented numerous times since we were cooking at “home”, served up some of the most fresh and mouth-watering fish I have tried. The market has character and heart with its hard-working locals at the backbone of the operation. Its slogan “Despues de Dios esta La Vega” (after God there is La Vega) is a testament to the fact that you could always find a friendly hand at the market, especially after a tragic event (such as Chile’s frequent earthquakes). For a high-quality cooked meal we tried Tio Willy at the market as recommended by our guide. The portions were huge, delicious and a good value for the price.
While I recovered we stayed at a comfortable apartment we found on Airbnb in the area of Cal y Canto. We were near the metro station so getting to different areas of the city was a breeze. We easily visited Patio Bellavista, Museo de la Memoria, Cerro San Cristobal and Barrio Bellavista.
One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to La Chascona, the home of Pablo Neruda in Santiago. An interesting fact we learned on the tour is that the house was lovingly dubbed after a Quechua word meaning despeinada or disorderly. Neruda poetically named his house this way as an ode to his wife Matilde’s wild curly hair. The house is just as dreamy and creative as that notion.
While in this area we also visited Cerro San Cristobal. A funicular takes you high above the city where you can enjoy fantastic views and some fresh air. The round trip ride costs around 2,000 CLP and is quite fun. Once at the lookout there are plenty of kiosks where you could grab a snack, visit the souvenir shop or watch the sun set over the city.
For another breathtaking view we checked out Gran Torre Santiago in Costanera Center. This magnificent building known as “the tallest tower in Latin America” gives you 360-degree view of Santiago from 62 stories above the city. After paying the 5,000CLP entrance fee a fast speed elevator quickly whisks you up to the observation deck where there are free tower viewers all around for use.
Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is a powerful and moving museum that commemorates the victims of human rights abuses under dictator Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990. There were many facts from this period that I was not aware of and it was a deeply informative exhibit. I would highly recommend visitors make a stop here when visiting Santiago. The city has numerous green spaces to relax; don’t miss out on visiting Parque Quinta Normal near the museum.
We visited Patio Bellavista both during the day and night. They have great little shops here that offer unique crafts, bars and plenty of restaurants. On the day we visited there was even a lovely book fair happening. At night this is a great place to hang out. They have multiple bars serving up good drinks and beer along with some very upscale and delicious restaurants. For late night fun the main street along the Bellavista neighborhood fills up with a plethora of visitors and locals alike. It is a great place to meet up with friends, listen to a live band or have a midnight snack.
You know I couldn’t leave you without mentioning a few great places to eat. Try Amadeus near Plaza Baquedano for delectable pizzas, sandwiches and a great selection of craft beers. For a strong and mouth-watering sangria head over to Galindo, it will knock your socks off! Oh yeah, there’s some awesome grub here too.
I loved Santiago with all its modern commodities and hometown feel. For being such a large city I found it to be quite clean and organized not to mention the transportation was top-notch (they even have Uber!) From modern marvels to historic gems there are many sites to visit and surprises to uncover in this city. It is definitely on top of my list as one of my favorite capital cities in South America.