I didn’t fall in love with Chile’s capital the same way I did Buenos Aires, however the Santiago has plenty to offer and we found the best way to introduce ourselves to the city was to do the free (for tips) walking tour. The tour runs from Plaza de Armas (directly in front of the church) every day at 10am and 3pm. The guys in the red shirts are impossible to miss.
Our guide Felipe, spoke excellent English and was very knowledgable about Chile’s history. Although he could have made it up if he wanted to. I realise that I know almost nothing about Chile’s recent past and its conflicts. A communist country until the 1973, it was then forced to submit to dictator Pinochet until 1990.
The tour is supposed to last for four hours, however we started at 3:15pm and finished at 6:15pm with a 30-45 minute break in the middle. In the break we were led to a nice restaurant, Mulato in Lastarria. The restaurant offers a special menu for people on the walking tour so it’s reasonably priced. I tried my first pisco sour and a Pina empanada, a typical chilean version of this fried pastry with mince, sultanas and a boiled egg. The tour officially ended in the Bella Vista neighbourhood.
The day after our tour, we put Felipe’s recommendations to the test. We visited the Mercado Central and ate lunch inside the fish market, eating at one of the cheap restaurants on the perimeter of the market (the internal restaurants are up to 3 times more expensive – especially those on the upper floor). We tried the traditional fish soup and the crab cake. I’m not a hug fan of shell fish so Josiah ate 80% of the food, but it was very fresh and authentic. We proceeded to wander the various markets, caught up in the crowds of the lunchtime rush. Food Vendors hollering, locals lining up for empanadas and scouring the fresh produce, musicians busking on street corners and jugglers performing for tips at traffic lights.
At La Piojera, another recommendation by Felipe, is THE place to try a TerroMoto. A beverage that literally translates as ‘Earthquake’ is a powerful mix of unfiltered white wine, vermouth and pineapple ice cream (a sweet version is also available, replacing the vermouth with grenadine, but we found it too sweet for our tastes). I expected a lot of tourists but the place was brimming with locals and the staff are exceptionally friendly. A drawcard for rich and poor alike, barriers are broken down in this eclectic bar with art and graffiti plastered all over its walls, everyone leaving their mark, drinking from plastic cups and engaging in lively conversation.
One drink at La Piojera was more than enough, especially for the middle of the day! We burned off our alcohol calories by walking the 3 kilometres to Museo de la Memoria los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Human rights). I am not a museum person and will ashamedly admit I’ve visited few on this trip. Art galleries and anything pre-1900’s I struggle to find interest in. However give me WWII, communist regimes and the dictatorships of the 20th century and I’m absorbing every detail, especially when it involves the stories of the every day people just trying to live their lives in such intolerable circumstances. It was very sad and moving. There is a three story wall of photographs of the people who were killed as a result of the dictatorship. You cannot take photos inside, and while this new museum is rather drab and modern on the outside it was so worth the visit. It is free to enter and Ch2,000 for an english audio guide. It is helpful but it doesn’t go into the same depth as the written and video content, which is all in Spanish. After the museum we climbed Santa Lucia Hill, which is home to a number of interesting monuments including two forts.
We returned to nearby Lastarria in the late afternoon to sample wines at Bocan Vaniz, a restaurant showcasing some of Chile’s best boutique wine. Felipe had said we could buy 3 glasses for $10USD. He was misleading on this one. Restaurants have a license that require you to purchase food with alcohol. The 3 ‘glasses’ are actually tasting samples (3 glasses x 50ml) and cost between $4,200 and $5,800 depending on which group of wines you choose. For just over $11,000 we shared a salad, and while expensive to be honest it was probably the loveliest meal I ate in Chile.
Josiah spent a day visiting the University of Chile. They have a team that competes in the same robotics competitions as Josiah’s University and it was a great opportunity for him to network and collaborate on ideas. This left me with a day to myself to to explore. I decided to hike up San Cristóbal Hill. Atop is a 22 metre statue of the virgin Mary and 360 degree views of the city. There is a vernicular that for a price will take you quickly to the top, but I found it unnecessary the day that I visited.
All in in all, we were happy with the tour, and Felipe’s recommendation’s certainly gave us the opportunity to have a well-rounded overview we could pick and choose from.
Santiago can be quite popular, especially in the Christmas holiday season when Australian students and tourists begin to land in South America. It is a good idea to book a few days ahead at these times, as the best and most convenient hostels can fill up very quickly.