Santiago, also known as “Santiago de Chile”, is considered to be one of the most developed cities in South America. It is a large city, but amidst this, it remains easy to get around because of its excellent and fairly modern public transport system – one of the best I have experienced, in fact. All you need to know is where to start and end your travel. It is easy to catch a cab, and the underground metro services are frequent. Other options to get around are buses and “colectivos” (a shared taxi which runs along a fixed route). Fares are inexpensive ranging from 510 to 600 CLP depending on the time of the day. You need not to worry if you miss a metro, since the waiting time is only five minutes.
We arrived in Santiago at 10.30 pm on Friday, March 18 for a 7 night stay at a modern apartment hotel located in Providencia area, only two blocks away from Metro station Pedro de Valdivia. The apartment was in a prime location, close to shops, restaurants, metro stations and Tourist Information Office. It was fully equipped with everything you could possibly need for a pleasant long stay.
Saturday, March 19, was our first day out to explore the city. After visiting the Tourist Information Office on Avenida Providencia, and getting a quick lunch at a nearby vegetarian restaurant, El Huerto, we ended our first afternoon by taking a Metro ride to Los Dominicos, an upper end suburb, to Pueblito Los Dominicos, an artisan craft market featuring 170 stalls/stores and an array of charming selections of souvenirs, antiques, and handicrafts. One thing that was obvious was the high prices, but you pay for the peaceful and safe surrounds. Make sure to look around before purchasing and make an offer. Should you want a quick bite to eat, or to tea/coffee there are various choices of restaurants/cafes located in the square (plaza) of the village, a pleasant spot with live music played by local artists.
There are also treats available for kids such as sweets and fairy floss in the snack carts. Yes, even Jo and I indulged in fairy floss and end up with blue tongues.
Since Chileans start their evening life quite late, we were fortunate to have time to visit some nice places in Bellavista (the bohemian area), including some of the acclaimed historical houses such as the home of well known Noble Prize winner (1971) Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda and the home of multi talented Chilean folk singer, Victor Jara. We also enjoyed wandering inside “Patio Bellavista” – a popular hangout spot for locals and tourists. The neighbourhood was filled with funky bars, gorgeous boutiques, shops, great restaurants that offer local and international cuisine such as Peruvian, which is highly favoured by Chileans, to satisfy your famishing stomach. This is the busiest and most frequently visited neighbourhood by tourists, it is important that you take extra precautions, as pickpockets frequent the tourist areas as in all cities, targeting wallets, mobile phones, and cameras.
We ended the night with a visit to the relatively new W Hotel, which is located in the heart of El Golf neighbourhood, a trendy and expensive part of Santiago. If you are looking for a touch of style and spectacular views of all Santiago as well as the Andes mountains the bar on the roof top is the place to order a cocktail and unwind for the day, however, note that this hotel is on the high price end.
After a quiet Sunday, we spent Monday, March 21 taking advantage of the four-hour free walk tour (offered from Mondays to Saturdays twice a day). The tour started from Plaza de Armas, the main city square, we made our way through the city and ended up in La Moneda (the offices of the president of Chile), when we arrived at La Moneda we noticed the presence of a number of security personnel and media crews, we later found out that US President Obama was visiting Santiago with his wife and family during a tour of South America. La Moneda offers a free-guided tour but you must pre-arrange the tour at least 4 days prior to the actual tour. Arrangement for the tour can be done through the ‘Gobierno de Chile’ website (www.gob.cl).
We only did a short version of the tour as we had planned to do our own walking tour in the afternoon with Marcela from Valparaiso, who graciously paid us a visit. By 2 pm we were back at our apartment to meet Marcela and after taking a much-needed break, we decided to continue exploring the city mid afternoon. From our apartment, we walked towards the Cerro San Cristobal (San Cristobal Hill) where you get a panoramic view of the city and the Andes mountains. We took the funicular railway to the top. On the first level of the hill is a little patio with binoculars, a small souvenir kiosk and café. Then further up the top is the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a small church with an amphitheatre. For zoo and garden lovers, you will find your haven on the foothills of Santo Cristobal where Santiago Zoological Park is located.
Travelling generally does take some preparation and planning, and it’s definitely recommended to always check the weather of your destination online. I must say that we have been lucky when it comes to the weather since our first day in Santiago. Everyday has been a beautiful sunny day with blue skies. For this reason, the capital of Chile prides the continued success of its agriculture and its great Wine Routes. On Tuesday, March 22, Jo and I started our day early to begin our 2 days/1 night Wine Route tour through the vineyards of the Colchagua Valley. It was a 2.5 hours drive from Santiago along with our personal tour guide, Luis. Our wine tour started at 8 am from Hotel Galerias located in San Antono0 65, Santiago.
Day one was a visit to Viña MontGras (MontGras Winery), best known for their excellent quality Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery is also a holder of multiple accolades in the wine industry. I have visited many wineries in my life, but this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to do a full tour of the vineyards where you actually get the chance to pick some grapes from the vines and eat them. It was an exciting experience for both Jo and I. We also had the chance to find some behind the scene secrets of wine making from Cristian, our personal guide. After tasting some of their produce, I am still of the opinion that Australian red wines are so far the best I have tasted. But if we were given the opportunity to taste their award winning wine, I would assume that it could be equally as good as the Australian wines. We left our signatures in one of the wine painted barrels to mark our visit.
We stayed the night at Santa Cruz Plaza Hotel, located opposite the city square of Santa Cruz. The hotel is nestled in a small town and gateway to the Wine Route of the Colchagua Valley. For a peaceful and calm night, make sure you request a room at the back of the hotel. The room was quite spacious.
Aside from the casino attached to the Santa Cruz Hotel, make sure to visit the Colchagua Museum. It showcases the archaeological and cultural history of the region. However, on a personal note, I would certainly suggest a day trip instead of an overnight.
Day two of our wine tour was at the very well known and beautiful Viña Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Winery) owned by the same person who owns Colchagua Museum and Santa Cruz Hotel. The visit to this spectacular winery included a visit to the wine cellar for wine tasting and a cable car ride to enjoy a breathtaking view of the stunning valley. From the top, you can visit an out-door representation of Chilean history and a chance to feed a couple of llamas.
Santiago offers a generous number of gastronomic choices, however, my personal favourites are the following:
(1) Tiramisu, an Italian restaurant located in the up market area of El Golf and an ideal place for nice informal dining. It offers a great ambiance and has a good selection of appetizing pizzas. My absolute favourite from this restaurant was the scrumptious grilled trout with grilled vegetables. This place was packed even on a Monday night.
(2) The El Naturista in downtown Santiago if you are up for an affordable healthy and delicious vegetarian treat served either at the traditional seating table area or at the bar counters, which was rather unique.
(3) The Liguria in Providencia, popular for its classic wall collections of memorabilia of famous international and local artists, and a place to spot local and international celebrities.
And don’t forget to try Pisco Sour, the national drink to pair up with some of the local Chilean and international cuisine, such as the famous empanadas and the yummy traditional‘postres’ – desserts. For a cheaper meal option, check out the ‘Menu del dia’ (menu of the day) when dining. It is a very common offer in most restaurants. A gentle reminder, it is customary to tip 10% in restaurants. Supermarket packers and parking assistants also expect a small tip for their services.
Friday, March 25, was Jo’s last day in Santiago and had to say goodbye to my wonderful and fun travelling buddy Jo. When she left, I decided to move to Meridiano Sur Petit Hotel, a very charming, comfortable and homey hotel in Providencia. This hotel is a cute little gem with fabulous and very helpful staff.
If New York City prides its Manhattan area, Santiago has its Sanhattan, which is also known as Manhattan de Santiago. This developing little Manhattan is located in the northeast part of the capital city of Chile. It houses modern high-rise architectural commercial and residential buildings, five-star hotels and modern shopping malls and offers everything that you can possibly think of.
By Monday, March 28, I moved into an apartment with my warm and most accommodating Chilean friend, Travel Counsellors Veronica Hunt and her gorgeous daughter Ashley. The residential apartment was located in Las Condes, an up market part of Santiago. During my stay in this apartment, I totally felt at home and like a local, which gave me the opportunity to walk to the nearby local supermarkets, cinemas, restaurants, modern shopping complexes like Parque Arauco and Apumanque Shopping Centre in Manquehue. The apartment was also within close proximity to both Escuela Militar and Manquehue Metro stations. One of the highlights of staying in an apartment was the opportunity to cook two of my favourite dishes (Thai green curry and Pork/Chicken ‘Adobo’, an authentic Filipino dish), which my friends enjoyed.
Veronica and I had a day out on Thursday, April 7, visiting Cerro Santa Lucia (Santa Lucia Hill), which is accessible via the red line Metro (Santa Lucia Metro stop). The entry is free but you will be required to sign in on their register log. Many years ago, a cannon was fired every day at midday from the top of Santa Lucia Hill, which made this historical site popular. Get to the top of the hill via steep stairways to capture a great view of Santiago. Across from Cerro Santa Lucia is the Artesanal Santa Lucia market where you can buy souvenirs and artisan handicrafts. Our afternoon ended with a visit at the Iglesia de San Franciso – San Franciscan Church, declared as a World Heritage Site of Humanity by UNESCO. It is located stoned away from Artesanal Santa Lucia market. There is also a museum attached for your liking.
My stay in Santiago ended on Tuesday, April 12, and I was ready and looking forward to venturing to the last part of my South American trip, Columbia then Galapagos.
© 2012 by Michelle Riel, retains sole copyright to her contributions to all the contents of this site.