Santiago de Chile
European culture in the middle of the Andes
So far Santiago has been one of our favorite destinations from all the South American metropoles we have visited. With almost 6.5 million inhabitants the primate city is home of almost 40% of all chilenos and with that the 5th. largest city on the whole continent. If you have now a run down, dirty and criminal concrete jungle in your mind, you have never been so wrong. It is actually compared to its population quiet small. In the center for instance you can reach all important places more or less by foot. It has a great and really easy going metro system (a single ticket is a little less than a euro) as well as a good infrastructure of busses. Santiago is on around 500m over the sea level and surrounded by the Andes Mountains, which already gives it its own charm. It doesn't matter where you are, but you have a great view on the mountains in almost all directions.
During the summer you have an amazing climate with an average of around 25°C, the winters are quiet mild as well, it’s really rare to have temperatures below 0 °C. It is a very international place with plenty of hostels and activities like free walking tours, bike rental services and interesting sights which are attracting backpackers from all over the world. Besides that the city is very safe, clean and offers several parks to relax. The mayor problem which Santiago is suffering from is the pollution. The high density of inhabitants brings a huge amount of smog each day which can´t escape because of the surrounding mountains. On some days it’s so extreme that you can’t see across the street, which can happen at around 6-7 am in the morning.
But don't let that scare you off, Santiago is a great place and has lots of things to offer, for example a really cool food culture, with a huge variety of international cuisines and some awesome traditional Chilean dishes. Besides the usual North American and Italian restaurants you can find several Arabic or Asian restaurants or takeaways. Very typical dishes are fish and seafood, empanadas, asado (BBQ) and the italiano, a hotdog with onions, tomatoes, avocado cream and a thick layer of mayonnaise. This combination of mayo and avocado is a big thing in Santiago, the people there go really crazy for it, you will get it on several dishes, like hot dogs, hamburgers and other fast foods. Hotdogs in general are kind of popular, you will find them on the streets in all variation and sizes. Another really typical snack / drink is mote con huesillos, you can get it everywhere all over Santiago. It consists of peach juice with grain and a dried peach inside. It’s very tasty and gives you good energy for some hours.
The food at all is quiet cheap, in the center you will find quiet a lot of takeaways or people who are just cooking on the streets. A full meal including a drink is available from 3-4 euros while the prices in the supermarkets are quiet high, 2-3 days of groceries for 2 persons with wine or beer can be easily up to 30€. The best and cheapest places for your weekly shopping are the mercado central, which is specialized on seafood, fish, meat and la veca, 2 huge markets with all kinds of agricultural products and especially fruits and vegetables.
Santiago in general is great for shopping, you can find there some amazing offers and interesting things. One of the first things which comes to my mind when I think of Santiago are the plenty street venders for clothing. Especially the Barrio Patronage is outstanding for that. It’s quiet a huge district which is dominated by clothes stores, boutiques and people who are selling clothes on the street. You will find there everything from casual clothing to trekking gear and sportswear for really really good prices. Other nice places are the artesenal (handmade) street fairs in the barrio lasteria, where you can find besides countless tourist souvenirs some really nice, traditional and handmade accessories as well as clothes.
The people of Santiago love to go out at night to party and for that they prefer some certain drinks, which you definitely should try. Really common is the pisco, a Peruvian spirit which gets consumed with sugar, lime and ice as pisco sour or mixed with cola as piscola. Another interesting cocktail is the terremoto (earthquake) which consists of young white wine, fernet and pineapple ice-cream. The city is also surrounded by several bodegas and has a great culture of good and affordable vines. One really expensive thing by the way are cigarettes, if you have the chance, bring your smoking ware from Argentina or Bolivia, where the prices can be up to the half and even less.
If you are on the search for a good and affordable place to stay we can really recommend you La Casa Roja, where we stayed and volunteered for almost 3 weeks. It’s a nice and huge hostel, in an old colonial building with lots of places to chill, a pool and two bars.
Top things to do in Santiago:- Take a free walking tour - this is a great way to get to know more about culture, architecture and history of the city for as much money as it’s worth it for you.
- Go snowboarding - Santiago is so close to the Andes, during the wintertime it takes you less than an hour into the winter wonderlands of the Andes. With a lot of snow comes lots of skiing and snowboarding. For less than 70 euros you can already book a day trip to ski resorts like Valle Nevado, El Colorado or La Parva including transport, gear, food and a ski pass.
- Spend a night out in Bellavista - The barrio is located on the other side of the river Mapocho from the center and is famous for its nightlife. The entrance for a club will be between 5 and 10 euros and besides very common Chilean music - raggaeton you can find some nice gigs. From live music over techno to rock and reggae there are places for every taste. Besides that there is a great variety of bars, restaurants and parks so it definitely won’t become boring.
- Enjoy the view from Cerro San Cristobal - The hill with a height of 300m offers a 360° panorama all over the city. For 4 euros you can use the historic funicular to bring you there and back. I would actually recommend you to take the ride up for half the price and walk back down, cause of the several stages with their own great view. The best time to go is in the late afternoon during the week. At first it’s cheaper than on the weekends and you have the chance to enjoy the city from above at day and night. Make sure you choose a sunny and clear day for your visit otherwise you won’t be able to see the Andes behind the city. On half the way up to the cerro there is the national zoo of Chile, it’s also possible to pay less and only use the funicular to the stage of the zoo.
- Learn about the military dictatorship of Pinochet - Visit the Museo de la Memoria and find out more about Chiles brutal history, the government takeover of Augustino Pinochet and his fascist regime between 1973 and 1990. It’s pretty depressive but at the same time very informative, the museum shows several interviews of survivors, presents handcrafted products made by prisoners and gives lots of information from the takeover till the fall of the dictatorship. If history is not your thing, you can find plenty other museums around the Museo de la Memoria and the city center about art, design and way more. All the public museums in Chile are free to visit.
- Visit the Gran Torre of Santiago - With 300m of height the Tower is the highest building of whole South America. Inside there is not much to explore, except of shopping mall after shopping mall and some offices. Anyway it’s a nice piece of architecture and you can take a lift up to the top and enjoy a view over the whole city including the Andes.
- Have a walk through the Cemetery - yes you heard right, the Cementerio General de Chile was founded in 1821, and has more than 2 million graves on an area of 86 hectares. You will see different statues, parks, beautiful tombs as well as a memorial for the desaparecidos (the lost ones) of the military dictatorship.
- Get lost in the several streets of Santiago’s center - Walk along the river, see the center and the barrios of Bellavista and Listeria. Enjoy the bohemian atmosphere, nice architecture and have a tasty ice-cream at Plaza de Armas (the central park). Once there, take a small detour and have a look at the Palacio de La Moneda (the governments’ palace).
- Visit Valparaiso and Viña del Mar - Take one or two days off from the big city and enjoy a little trip to the pacific coast. Busses to Valparaiso are leaving every half an hour, each day and are taking less than two hours. The city of almost 300.000 inhabitants is a UNESCO world cultural heritage and has a lot of culture and architecture to offer, it’s also very famous for its street art. Once in Valparaiso you can basically walk to Viña del Mar because there is no border between the two cities. There you will find endless beaches, sun and palm trees so just grab a cool cocktail and enjoy your time!
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