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With over 55% of the Chile’s population living within the city limits, Santiago is the capital and cultural epicenter of the country. We spent an amazing five days here, exploring museums, farmers markets, mountains, vineyards, and the dynamic city streets.
Our overnight bus from Pucon delivered us to Santiago at 8:30am, so we searched for a coffee shop with WiFi (not always easy to find, but a great way to get your bearings in any new city) to determine our next move. Trip Advisor tipped us off to the free walking tour, Spicy Chile, which gave us the cultural and architectural back story on city sites like Coffee with Legs (old-time coffee shops where the waitresses wear short skirts for business men, no comment) or the lovely Plaza de Armas, above. You can see the juxtaposition of native palm trees, statues commemorating Spanish rule, historic churches, modern skyscrapers, and government buildings from the colonial era….all in one frame.
Our tour (which was not the most informative but a great way to get the lay of the land), conveniently ended at the funicular to San Cristobal Mountain. With urban sprawl surrounding its slopes, this mountaintop is essentially a series of parks, pools, restaurants, a massive statue of Virgin Mary and the best views of the city.
As you know we love to get off the beaten path, and that we did. After visiting Virgen Maria, we set out to stroll through what sounded like San Cristobal’s awesome network of parks but wound up on a three-hour hike to nowhere (okay somewhere if you count this odd burned out building, closed pool, and desolate restaurant. Apparently mid-week and mid-fall is not the time to visit.) The good news is we ran into a lovely couple driving around picking wild cactus fruit and they generously offered us a ride back to civilization.
Having survived the labyrinth of trails at the top of SC, we figured that we had earned our first “completo,” which is a Chilean staple consisting of a hot dog topped with anything from eggs to guacamole to Mustaza mustard, which slid down quiet well with a local cerveza.
For lunch the following day we decided to check out Central Market and its surrounding fruit, flower, and clothing stalls. We shouldered our way past the fish mongers to find this cute hole in the wall—orginally set on the street but the popular market has since engulfed it on all sides. We enjoyed two bowls of the Santiago classic, “Pailla Marina,” at Rincon Marino, basically an ocean worth of sea critters in a mild broth.
Nearly everything you desire (or at least most things that we desire in our travels) can be purchased from someone pushing a cart around the cities in Chile. These mobile shopping malls carry everything from AA batteries to fresh papayas to soup to phone cards. We spotted this oldie but goodie outside La Vega fruit market.
The produce here did not disappoint. We had a blast trying the Cucumber melon, the gangly Choclo corn, and a few other unidentifiable veggies.
Santiago has some amazing museums (most of them surprisingly cheap around $2USD). This was an exhibit by a Chilean photographer, using his body to represent the shape of Chile in various poses all around the country at the Contemporary wing of the Museo Bellas Artes.
Day 3 After many a monument, we had an itch to explore more residential neighborhoods, so we took a self-guided tour of Barrio Brazil. The range of architecture had our necks constantly cocked skyward trying to decipher what era and country had inspired it.
By far the coolest place we visited in Barrio Brazil was the Peluqueria Francesa: An old barber shop (still functioning on the ground floor) and former home now a restaurant/antique shop. If you are into vintage décor, this is a must-see spot.
Rounding out the day, we hiked to the top of Santa Lucia Hill park to catch a smog-kissed Santiago sunset. A fort was built into the mountain in 1872, the architecture and landscape is lovely as can be, then add in city views and bottle of Carmenerre wine and you have the perfect evening.
Day 5 (yes, I am skipping day 4 as we spent that one in Valparaiso, which you can read Anne’s review, coming soon). Wine tours are being hawked all over Santiago, some on bike, most in a mini-van, but not a single one is completely self-guided….until Mike & Anne came to town. The tour companies don’t want you to realize this but the vineyards start a mere 12km from the centro and, not only is that a very bikeable distance, there is a subway that goes to this area. So we got a map and two rental Schwins and set out to the lovely Aquitania and Cousino Macul Vineyards. Between the pot holes and stray dogs, it was admittedly a semi-dicey ride…but you know we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Cousino Macul has been around since 1856 when open space and fertile land seemed endless but now the Santiago has expanded all the way to its doorstep. Sadly they have sold off much of their land to condo communities and strip malls, but you can still experience many acres of rolling vineyards, horses, a great museum containing old-school 30,000 liter Sequoia barrels, antique bottling equipment and wine tasting, of course.
Have you been to Santiago, what did we miss? Did our blog make you want to visit Santiago?
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12. A list of everything we packed