Chile: Santiago

Hello from Hong Kong!!  And now, back to Chile…We spent two wonderful days in and around Santiago (I will cover the “around” tour part in a separate post).  It is a large city but very manageable and relaxed.  We arrived Friday evening, walked around all day Saturday and did a full-day tour on Sunday to Valparaiso, Viña del Mar and the Indomita Winery in the Casablanca Valley.  Highlights in Santiago included hiking up Cerro San Cristobal, walking around the Mercado Central/Vega and Plaza de Armas and wine at Bocanariz.  Valparaiso was enchanting with its colorful buildings and alleyways set amidst the hills right on the sea.

Cerro San Cristobal
Cerro San Cristobal

Our trip down was long but smooth, though one of these days I need to actually visit Panama instead of just flying through.  I think have been in that airport for at least three roundtrip journeys in the last few years.  The greeting in Chile is less than cordial as Americans must pay $160 per person to enter.  Be sure to do so before entering the immigration line.  This is called a reciprocity fee, I guess because America does not roll out the red carpet for Chilenos.  The entry stamp is valid for the duration of your passport, so we are thankful each of us has 9-10 years remaining validity.  There is an ATM just beyond customs.  An official taxi costs 17k pesos (the exchange rate for our visit is about 520 pesos per US$) and with no traffic (and excellent roads everywhere we’ve been) we arrived at Lastarria Boutique Hotel (LBH) in 20 minutes.

LBH’s location is superb.  Lastarria is a central neighborhood filled with cafes, bars, restaurants and boutiques.  LBH is on a quiet side street just a block or two from Parque Forestal and the happening Lastarria street.  Our junior suite (#12) was pricey and not huge but well-decorated with a nice bathroom (modern + rain shower) and large balcony with quality lounge furniture.  Breakfast (fruit, pastries, eggs to order, fresh lattes and cappucinos) is served in an attractive space on the second floor or on the terrace overlooking the courtyard with pool.  LBH is stylish without trying too hard.

At reception is a bowl filled with miniature scrolls each concealing a quote.  Mine: “The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson.  Jenni’s: “Como todas las drogas, viajar requiere un aumento constante de las dosis.” Translated as “Like all drugs, travel requires constant increasing doses.” – John Dos Passos.  If only I could relate.

Friday night we walked to Bocanariz which is a very popular wine bar and restaurant on Lastarria.  They offer flights and 35 wines by the glass and an array of tapas and larger plates.  We loved the wine, especially the red Apaltagua Enervo Reserva 2011 Carmenere from Colchagua Valley.  The food was good and the scene energetic yet refined, with a young crowd of friends and couples.  We sat in the middle/bar room at a high wood table with clean lines and carabiners for hanging a purse.  Juan Pablo memorized our order from the English menu.  The herringbone-esque scuffed wood floors evoked an eccentric ballroom past its prime.

Walking home after 1 am we felt entirely safe, as we did at all times in Santiago.  The violent crime rate is very low, much moreso than your typical US metropolis.

Saturday we walked through Parque Forestal, passing the Museo de Bellas Artes and a Veet-sponsored yoga session.  The Mapocho River rushing through the city is brown as Willie Wonka’s but probably does not taste as good.

First we visited the Mercado Central which is moderately sized and loaded with seafood vendors, plus some fruit stands and several dining options.  We heard El Galeon may be the best of these.  Seafood is prevalent in this narrow nation with a coastline of nearly 3k miles.

Nearby Mercado Central are the Mercado de Abastos Tirso de Molina and the Vega with meat, produce and goods.  The former has many dining options.  We got fresh fruit smoothies for 1k pesos each at a stand run by a guy from Phi Phi, Thailand.  Water/ice in Santiago is generally safe to drink.  There are lots of stray dogs here and most appear very healthy.  We heard neighborhoods often care for them.  One looked exactly like Ryder.

I can’t tell which is Ryder?!

The markets are surprisingly relaxed, and I felt this way about Santiago in general.  The population exceeds 5 million but it feels mellow.  While there are vestiges of a developing country, it is generally more akin to Buenos Aires or Madrid than Rio or Andean cities.  Prices are surprisingly high (except for avocados and wine) and most restrooms have those fancy dryers that make your hands look like a Shar-Pei.

Just to avoid any confusion, the markets seem relaxed, but I do not mean to suggest they are the same as what you might find in the US.  When was the last time you saw something like this in America?!


From the markets we walked a few blocks on the pedestrian-only Paseo Puente to Plaza de Armas, the heart of the city.  There were some street performers, a fountain with kids swimming, Santiago’s main church, the national post office and the natural history museum.  A parade for premature babies (who knew?) preceded by batukada drummers livened the scene.

We walked through the colorful, bohemian Bellavista neighborhood to the base of the funicular at Cerro San Cristobal.

A road then walking / mountain bike path ascend to the left and 45 minutes later we were at the Virgen Maria statue enjoying great views of the city and surrounding Andes mountains (though air quality is sub-optimal).  Food and beverage is available.  For 1,950 pesos each we descended on the funicular past the zoo.

The Aubrey Boutique Hotel is right here and I believe Pablo Neruda’s house is, too.  Plaza Camilo Mori had another public piano, confirming this is an international trend.  Constitucion and Pio Nono streets are lined with bars and restaurants, and the Patio Bellavista has many more plus shops, albeit expensive and touristy.

Back in Lastarria we had a very late lunch at La Junta in a courtyard-like area, the same place as Nolita where we met Matt for wine and tapas the following night.  The food at La Junta was unremarkable, but we did try our first pisco sours of the trip.  We split a Pisco Pica and a Pisco Normal, the former being the more Peruvian version and the latter more Chilean.  The Pica has egg white and the lemons from Peru are smaller and more sour, versus the larger and sweeter lemons of Chile in the Normal.  My pork sandwich was big enough for three, so I ate one-third and gave the rest to an appreciative old man begging in front of the church.

It was on tomorrow’s tour that we learned about pisco, but since we are on the subject…It is alcohol made of grapes and may be 120 proof before water dilutes it to about 80 proof.  There seems to be some controversey regarding what is proper pisco, and our guide said there is a controlled appellation regime (like champagne) where pisco must come from a few valleys in Chile.  On other Chilean beverages, chicha here is made from grapes instead of corn as in Peru and elsewhere, and the terremoto (earthquake) is red wine with pineapple ice cream and pisco.  Sadly we missed this one.

At night we had hoped to visit the Vitacura neighborhood for rooftop drinks at Noi, but instead we stayed closer to home.  Matt made us feel much better about this when he said that Vitacura is very nice with fancy hotels and restaurants, but it lacks the character found in Lastarria, Bellas Artes, Bellavista, Providenica, etc.  Character is not lacking at The Clinic, a lively and well-known political satire bar in Bellas Artes named for the London medical clinic where Pinochet was captured in 1998.  The ribs we shared were good, and even better was the picante traditional puree which looked like sweet potatoes but I am not sure of the actual ingredients.  It cost about $45 with a bottle of Carmenere.

The Clinic
The Clinic

The temperature was about 80 degrees during the day but it cools at night.  I thought it was funny each time one of us said “it’s chilly,” and Jenni was amused that I felt this way.

While we did not come close to seeing the whole city, it seems to me that staying in Lastarria or the neighborhoods surrounding it would be your best bet.  These include Bellavista, Bellas Artes, and Paris-Londres with its cobblestone streets.

My mom’s friend Margery recommended Opera restaurant in the area and her daughter, who lives in Santiago, also noted Tambo (Peruvian) and Mamboleta bar.  Matt lives in Santiago now and in one of those small world instances that I relish, we connected because he is from Longmeadow and his long-time girlfriend Liz used  to work with Alper.  Matt was super helpful and wrote us the email below (edited by me to avoid some repetition as we took much of his advice!) in advance of our visit, and also mentioned Manquehue for a more serious hike in the city, the rooftop bar at the W for good views and scene, and Emporio La Rosa for creative ice cream flavors.

-Very tough call re: wine tour, but I’d have to say it’s worth it. A friend of mine runs a hugely popular biking tour of vineyards called La Bicicleta Verde. They offer half-day trips, so you could still get the best of both worlds! If you want to do a traditional wine tour of Casablanca (the wine region), I hear that Uncorked is a really good company– a lot of people who do it continue onto the coastline to visit Valparaíso, a really artsy, bohemian port city.

Restaurants and Bars:

-Astrid y Gastón for fine dining. Gastón Acurio is a Peruvian chef that’s known for having the best line of high-end restaurants in Latin America.

-The Clinic…I would recommend it as a lunch spot.

-Noi in Vitacura is the best rooftop bar in Santiago with some breathtaking views. I would suggest going here for some pisco sours (the Chilean national drink) and watching the sunset. [NB I think Matt believed the W was closed but it just reopened, so he might say that is the best rooftop bar]

-Cuatro y Diez is a great low-key, intimate bar in Bellavista where you can go to see live music (mostly spanish folk music). They start playing around 11pm.

-Café con piernas (Coffee with Legs) is a tradition in Santiago. There are a number of standing-room-only coffee shops in Lastarria and Bellas Artes where you’re served by women in short skirts. It sounds chauvinistic, but people aren’t phased by it here (a lot of the customers are actually women).

-If you want the “local” experience, head to La Piojera. It’s a divebar where you’ll meet a lot of really interesting characters. They basically only serve Terremotos


-As far as museums go, there are a lot to choose from, but I’d say that Museo de la Memoria is the only one worth going to if you’re only spending a couple of days here. You can find much better art in other Latin American cities, and Museo de la Memoria gives you some really interesting insights into Chile’s recent past under the military dictatorship.

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