Surrounded by soaring snow-capped Andes, Chile’s sprawling capital was our next destination. We weren’t sure what to expect from Santiago but we were here for two days to see what it had to offer. Would it be the poor cousin to the more popular Buenos Aires or a city with its own cultural identity and unique charms?
As had been our MO whenever we visited a new city, we decided to take advantage of the wonderful and informative free guided walking tours to get an overview of the city’s attractions. Since the tour did not start until 3pm we pretty much had the whole morning free, which gave us the opportunity to explore some of the city on our own. We started off with coffee and yummy half-moons at Cafe Neustro, stopped off at Central Market for flavorful Pino empanadas and visited the fantastic Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino.
The museum, which is dedicated to the study and display of pre-Columbian artworks and artifacts from Central and South America, houses an impressive collection of pottery, jewelry, sculptures, textiles and various other artifacts representing different cultures from those earlier periods. It was amazing how well preserved some of the artifacts were, including a rare Inca gold piece, that managed to survive the destruction and plunder of the original tourists from Spain.
Santiago Free Walks
With 3pm upon us, we joined the hustle and bustle of the Plaza de Armas and met up with the tour. There were about 15 to 20 in our group with a few couples who were obviously hooking up during their travels. Our guide Felipe, who is an actor, was very animated throughout the tour and entertained us with his expressive and theatrical storytelling. We took in all the star attractions, got a lesson on Chile’s political past, including the 1973 military coup, and most importantly learned which restaurants to go to.
Plaza de Armas: Buzzing with activity from street performers, artists, lost tourists and locals on the go, Santiago’s main square is the pulse of Old Santiago, accessorized by the Catedral Metropolitana, City Hall, Post Office, museums and statues.
Palacio La Moneda: Chile’s presidential offices are located in the Palace La Moneda. During the 1973 military coup, Chilean Armed Forces attacked the palace with missiles to force then president Allende out.
Barrio Lastarria: The cobblestone streets of this pretty little neighborhood is lined with artist stalls, and upscale and trendy shops and restaurants.
Barrio Bella Vista: A colorful and hip neighborhood known for its student population and nightlife. It’s also where you can find one of the many homes of the nobel prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda. Felipe pointed out some of his favorite restaurants in the area.
During the tour we watched a group of amazing street drummers called Chinchineros and a street performance of a couple dancing the Cueca (Chile’s National Dance). We tried a drink called Mote con Huesillo, a weird concoction consisting of wheat and peach slices and stopped for a Chilean pisco sour (G) and coffee (D) at a local cafe in the cutesy Barrio Lastarria.
For dinner, we went back to Barrio Bella Vista to have dinner at Galindo, one of the restaurants that Felipe recommended. Bella Vista was even more lively during the evening when all the Chilean hipsters and tourists mingle together. This was D’s favorite neighborhood.
Cerro Santa Lucia, Central Market Cats & Chinchineros
The next day we walked through Cerro Santa Lucia, since we didn’t have a chance to explore it during yesterday’s tour. A small rocky hill that previously served as a fort, Santa Lucia was transformed into a park back in the late 1800’s. A network of pathways and stairs lead to ornate buildings, tranquil plazas, and sparkling fountains plus numerous viewpoints of the city. We kept disturbing couples who were making out at every viewpoint and dark corner.
Our next stop was at the Museo Bellas Artes which turned out to be a big disappointment. We must have caught it between exhibits as there wasn’t much art on display and many rooms were closed. There was a mediocre exhibit showcasing plaster replicas of famous sculptures but for a national museum we expected original art not copies.
The museum itself was quite beautiful, though. The main hall was a massive atrium with beautiful dark wooden floors and a balcony topped by a beautiful glass ceiling that made up for the lack of exhibits.
From there we walked back to Plaza des Armas to check out the cathedral
and then back to Central Market for a seafood lunch. G wanted to try Paila Marina a Chilean seafood stew and D the Pastel de Jains, Chile’s version of a crab cake. The Paila turned out to be just a seafood soup but the Pastel de Jains was like cheesy crab dip. So much richness and goodness. The best part of the Mercado, though, were the lucky market cats standing guard over their seafood stalls.
Walking back to the Plaza de Armas we caught another amazing Chinchinero show.
Check out this video. These guys are just awesome!!!!
We ended our day with ice cream from Heladeria Emporio La Rosa, supposedly the best ice cream in Santiago, and walked around Bella Vista to check out the shops and markets. Unfortunately, by the time we got there everything was closing and that pretty much ended our night and time in Santiago.
Santiago has its charm but two days here were plenty to explore the city.
Free Tour Santiago
Great tour of the city. You hit all the highlights and then some. The tour is about 4 hours long but includes a half-hour break midway at a cafe in Barrio Lastarria where you can order a drink. Of course you can leave anytime during the tour. It was a little tricky to find the tour group as the plaza is huge and crowded with people. Also the directions on the brochure specified to meet in front of the cathedral but they were on the other side of the plaza. They are tip-based and recommend a $10 per person tip. So pay what you want but don’t be like the group of 4 who just paid $5 for their group. And don’t be like the obnoxious American who complained about how expensive Chile was but has been traveling around the world for 2 years. Douche not everyone can travel for 2 years, so shut-up!
Chile Apart Santiago
Nice apartment in central Santiago. About 2 blocks away from Barrio Lastarria and Santa Lucia Hill. A 15 minute walk to Plaza de Armas and Barrio Bella Vista. Rooms are a little dated and furnishings are a little worn but totally worth the price. Chile Apart is part of a large apartment complex and rooms face a courtyard that tends to amplify noises. The setup is weird as you have to go to Bldg A, 8th floor to register. They have laundry facilities but they were out of order during our stay. There is a supermarket on the ground floor.
El Galeon/Don Javier Fuente de Soda
Central Market, Santiago
We wanted to go to Emporio Zunino but they were closed. So we found this place and had cazuela or beef soup. It was good and satisfying.
Cafe with good coffee and half moons.
Central Market, Santiago
Place is only open during the day. We went here to try the famous pino empanadas (ground beef, onion, egg and raisins). Very savory and tasty. You order at the caja, get a receipt and show the receipt to an employee behind the counter who will then get your food. You eat standing up around marble tables or counters. It was crowded.
Bella Vista, Santiago
One of the restaurants recommended by Felipe for traditional Chilean dishes. G had porotos con longaniza (beans with mashed corn, pumpkin, basil, red pepper and pork sausages) and D had the pastel de choclo (corn pie made of mashed corn, grounded beef, onions, egg, chicken, black olives and raisins), a very popular and traditional dish in Chile. The porotos con longaniza was simple but good. The pastel de choclo was very rich but was luke warm.
Cafe serving French food. We had eggs and a whole baquette. Can’t go wrong with that.
El Muelle 19
Central Market, Santiago
We went back to Central Market to try some Chilean seafood dishes. See above. G wanted to try Paila Marina a Chilean seafood stew and D the Pastel de Jains, Chile’s version of a crab cake. The Paila turned out to be just a seafood soup but the Pastel de Jains was like cheesy crab dip.
Emporio La Rosa
We went to get ice cream at Emporio La Rosa in the Lastarria neighborhood supposedly the best ice cream in Santiago. Not very flavorful and very disappointing.