Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Easter Island/Santiago November 2012 - Exploring Santiago

***This post is part 8 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

I really liked Santiago de Chile. Perhaps not as famous as Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro, it is nevertheless filled with a myriad of cultural, entertainment, and culinary opportunities. I sort of liked the low-key nature of the city, and was pleasantly surprised at how friendly the people were. The metro system was particularly convenient for getting around, although it does shut down around midnight. Buy a rechargeable Bip! card for easiest access.

Santiago Metro

We arrived late on the first night and asked the hotel concierge for some dining recommendations. After a quick taxi ride, we arrived at Liguria, a noisy, chaotic, bustling bar/restaurant in Providencia filled with locals having a great time on a Thursday night. We definitely went to the right place for an introduction to Santiago! Try their famous Lomo a la Paila, and wash it down a Pisco Sour for safe measure. Sit at the bar is you don't want to wait for a table, and you'll get your food and drinks served quickly by a friendly waiter.

Bar Liguria

The next day, we decided to take a free walking tour of Santiago. I'd actually never done one of these before, so I had no idea what to expect. We opted for the afternoon tour, which met at 3:00 PM in front of the Catedral de Santiago in the Plaza de Armas. Lasting about four hours, we walked to a number of landmarks, including the Palacio de La Moneda, the Pre-Columbian Art Museum, the Supreme Court building, the Old Congress Building, the Santiago Stock Exchange, Cerro Santa Lucía, Barrio Lastarria, Barrio Bellavista, Cerro San Cristóbal, and Pablo Neruda's house (La Chascona).

Streets of Santiago

Plaza de Armas

Palacio de La Moneda

Santiago Stock Exchange

Pablo Neruda's house (La Chascona)

The central part of Santiago is great for walking, and there are plenty of things to see all within a few mile radius. Note that while we walked to a lot of these sites and our guide was a wealth of information regarding their history and cultural significance, we didn't actually go into any of them. The walking tour gave a great overview of the major landmarks in the city, but it's really up to you to decide which places are worth a more in-depth look. Make sure you give your guide at least the recommended tip since that is how they make most of their money.

We ended the tour in the early evening outside of La Chascona. Unfortunately, it was already closed and we didn't have a chance to see the interior. The surrounding area of Bellavista is a wonderfully bohemian neighborhood with tons of good restaurants and bars. It also has a fun college town atmosphere due to the numerous universities nearby. I ate at a restaurant named Galindo on the corner of Constitución and Dardignac. Their cazuela (traditional Chilean stew) was probably the most delicious thing I tasted while in Chile. There is also a huge outdoor food court nearby with dozens of restaurants to choose from.

Cazuela (traditional Chilean stew)

Graffiti is treated as public works of art in Santiago, and walking just a few blocks west in Bellavista, you can see some of the best examples. I was amazed at how intricate and creative many of them were. These are definitely not the typical tagging you see in the States, as I felt like some of the graffiti could have easily been displayed in galleries or art museums.

That evening, we ate at Astrid y Gastón, arguably the most famous restaurant in South America. Although thoroughly Peruvian by origin, the food is a fusion of Latin American cuisine, and relatively moderate in price for the quality and service. The Trio de Ceviche was very interesting and quite tasty, while the dessert presentation of apple tart with yellow pepper ice cream was fantastic.

Trio de Ceviche

The next day, we visited the Central Market, a huge indoor marketplace filled with food stalls, restaurants, and vendors selling just about anything you can imagine. Afterwards, while walking to Cerro Santa Lucía, we stopped at Emporio La Rosa for the best gelato in Santiago (supposedly). I don't know if it really is the best, but I must say the raspberry sorbet I had was ridiculously good.

Central Market

Emporio La Rosa gelato

Cerro Santa Lucía is a small hill in the center of Santiago, surrounded by a beautiful park filled with trees, flowers, and fountains. The stroll up the hill is a great way to unwind during the afternoon hours, and provides a nice view of the city from the top. There is also a fort at the very top of the hill which you can climb, although the stairway may be very crowded.

Cerro Santa Lucía

Directly to the east of Cerro Santa Lucía is the neighborhood of Lastarria, perhaps a more upscale and toned-down verson of Bellavista. Barrio Lastarria is filled with quaint cafes, restaurants, theaters and museums, and best of all, street festivals and live performances on the weekends. We spent a good amount of time just exploring the tiny streets and alleyways, and browsing the numerous stalls selling random knickknacks. Just to the south of Barrio Lastarria is the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center, a striking orange building with some interesting exhibits.

Barrio Lastarria

Street festival

Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center

The business district in Providencia has some interesting sights to see, such as the tallest skyscraper in Latin America, Gran Torre Santiago, which is still under construction. It it part of the Costanera Center complex, which also houses the largest mall in Chile. The mall contains just about every international brand you can think of, and if you love shopping, this is definitely the place to be.

Gran Torre Santiago

Costanera Mall

Finally, on our last day, we decided to climb up Cerro San Cristóbal, the highest and most visible landmark in Santiago. Sadly, the funicular that transports passengers up the hill was under restoration, so the only options were to take the bus or walk. Walking to the top isn't too difficult as long as you are not in terrible shape. The trail is wide and the elevation gain gradual. Once at the top, you are rewarded with a stunning view of all of Santiago. The 22-meter statue of the Virgin Mary at the summit provides a great place to relax and take in the view. In addition, there is a beautiful little stone chapel lined with intricate carvings on its walls.

Statue of the Virgin Mary

View from the top of Cerro San Cristóbal

Santiago was a lovely city to visit, and I definitely would like to return at some point. With a developed infrastructure, quirky neighborhoods, plenty of delicious restaurants, great nightlife, and lots of outdoor activity, there really is something for everyone. In the future, I would love to take a road trip from Santiago to Mendoza, or visit the port city of Valparaiso for a quick day trip.

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