Santiago the capital of Chile, according to the Rough Guide is described as by no means the highlight of Chile. By others the pollution and heat caused by the Andes mountains surrounding the city make the air unbearable
Perhaps I was in luck with my timings but Santiago is one of my favourite cities. It was stiflingly hot at times but it architecture, food and culture were interesting. The people friendly, and helpful the city relatively safe and the Andes mountain make a perfect backdrop to the city.
Chile is an extraordinary beautiful country and there are more beautiful places within but Santiago is great in its own right. I want to return some day for sure.
The trip got off to a mixed start. I booked an apartment through ChileStay Apartments.
This was a mistake. The apartment’s location itself was great, in fact the apartment itself was mostly OK if not quite up to the picture on the website but it was not cleaned. Initially not their fault (we arrived a day early) but in the 5 nights we stayed there it was only cleaned a day or so before we left despite our protestations and their continuous promises. And what I mean cleaned is clean bedsheets and towels etc. Not acceptable at all.
When we arrived it took us a little while to be acquainted with the map and underground and bus system. Neither is complicated but staff often could not speak any English.
We found the local people very friendly and helpful and through their help we found the apartment without difficulty.
Santiago’s buildings are beautiful Especially but not only Barrio Brasil. However it is also like Valparaiso a city of graffiti. At least much of it is artistic but unfortunately a lot is just signatures and cause some of the aesthetic beauty of the city to be lost.
Santiago is also a city of skyscrapers. However these actually don’t spoil the city but blend in perfectly. One of the highlights is to view the city from Santa Lucia Park.
The park itself is pleasant and a walk up the fort, the view point itself is beautiful but it has another rival for the best viewpoint. The view near Cerro San Cristóbal, a church at the summit with a 22 metre statue of the Virgin Mary. You can take cable car up here and the view from the car it is also very picturesque.
The squares in Santiago are also wonderful places to wander or sit in an outside cafe and people watch. The cultural elegance of the city is easy to admire, and there are several interesting museums the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino
is a first class museum in fact one of several that I enjoyed. In addition there is no shortage of beautiful church architecture and places to eat and drink.
What is very Chilean though is the Cafe con piernas, a kind of contradiction to the traditional conservatism that Chile is said to have.
Coffee on legs
“Cafe con Piernas” or coffee on legs is described by some a Chilean cultural institution.
Recognised as the best places to have great coffee* they are not like the normal coffee shops.
Made to pamper to the average older businessman the servers as all women, all tall with attractive figures and skimpy clothing which in some can be close to nudity.
There are lots to be found in Santiago and the ones in the main streets such as where we visited are the more tame, and main stream the more ‘revealing apparently have blacked out windows. Despite being popular with men they are of course open to women and some do come for the coffee. Despite the concept from the experience of one review I read and from the experience I had when Jinhee and I visited, the patrons did not seem to be ogling the waitresses but involved in their normal conversations with their business partner or friends.
* Oh a disclaimer I don’t drink coffee I had hot chocolate though and that was fine. The thick Spanish variety.
We were in Santiago for the new year but had hoped to make it to Valparaiso for what is reputed to be the best place to see the New Year. However tickets to get were sold out so we had to put odd our trip to Valparaiso until after the new year and celebrate it in Santiago.
As we headed for the TV tower many people were out and the mood was jovial. You could buy headbands of flashing lights. This seemed the norm and so we did.
At the TV tower there were a huge crowd, a concert with a big screen. I presume Chilean pop stars were playing but knowing nothing about Chilean pop music or celebrities I could not say more. The countdown began and then did the fireworks. A mass firework display with colourful explosions resonating in sound and sky was beautiful to watch.
There was another kind of explosion as the clock hit midnight and bought in the new year, some of the the energetic crowd began to spray wine everywhere! I got soaked. Be forewarned don’t wear anything that can be stained as plenty of wine was sprayed in the air and people began to congratulate each other and us with Feliz Año Nuevo (Happy New Year).
The police presence was in new year mood too, there were smiles all around and the firework display might not be as impressive as nearby Valparaiso but it is hard to imagine it is any less friendly.
Chile has an abundance of cuisine.
The Wikipedia pages has as good a summary as a read, so I won’t describe everything
The food is certainly tasty but it is also high in calories and portion. in fact fast food is big business and to the traveller at least seems to be the cuisine
Don’t get me wrong. I like Chilean food but you need a very active life style (if not opting for the salads).
Chips and I mean the real chips or more correctly french fries nearer to the real chips seems to be more prevalent than those thin french fries and that is a good thing.
Chorillana is a huge bed of chips with sauted beef strips and onions and egg. I like it but he portions are massive.
Pastel de choclo is a favourite of mine and classic Chilean cuisine, made of ground corn (choclo) with basil (mine was mixed with chicken) and served in an earthenware bowl.
The Italiano and Completo are very popular hot dog variants. The former adorned with dressings ( avocado, mayonnaise and tomatoes) forming the colours of the Italian flag.
Mote con huesillo – Cooked dried peaches and stewed corn served as a drink.
Food is cheap and plentiful.
I did have one awful experience though in what appeared to be a good restaurant in a shopping centre.
I ordered hot chocolate which seemed to taste OK when I felt something in the drink. I spat it out – a whole cockroach! They apologised and and offered to replace. Needless to say we decline and left there as soon as possible..
Chile is of course famous for its wine. And it would be like going to Paris and not mentioning the Eiffel tower not to mention anything about the wine or wineries.
On another day we visited the famous winery Concha y Toro about 45 minutes from Santiago
The tour is informative and one of the things too is the devil’s cellar.
The founder had began to notice that his wine was going missing so eh started a story that the devil lived within the cellar and people believed and the theft stopped!
After the tour a generous selection of wine is made available for tasting with cheese on a cheese board which is given as compliment
The guide explained each different kinds of wine, the taste and smell. I enjoyed the tour although not being one to drink such wine is wasted on me.
Jinhee really enjoyed the Merlot.