Santiago de Chile: a smog filled, architecturally-diverse, bustling city nestled between the Andes Mountains and the Coastal Cordillera. As I stepped off the plane, the city was dark, cold and the people brusque. However, most airports aren’t friendly (I’m looking at you, Dulles!). After paying out my you-know-what for a taxi, and chatting away ignorantly with the quite-pleased driver, I arrived at my hostel for a 24 hour adventure in the capital city of Chile! The morning was cool, but not freezing. It is winter here and at night temperatures drop dramatically, sending me into a sort of shock. It was near 100 degrees every day in Maryland when I left!
I called Barrio Bellavista, supposedly “bohemian” but mostly known for its nightlife, my home base. I started out at 7 am and wandered quiet streets full of colorful and political street art. The neighborhood seemed quite “bohemian” to me at first.
At night however, the neighborhood transforms; cafes (or what we would consider bars) spill out on to the streets that are already jammed packed with nearly every joven (person under the age of about 25) scrambling to find a table to sit at and drink large bottles of cheap beer and demolish plates of chorrillana, a large dish of French fires topped with shredded beef, sausage, fried eggs and onions. Apparently here, it is strange enough for a young lady to go out for a drink by herself that it warrants concern! While enjoying a liter of cerveza for myself (it was an accident, mom!) a young married couple sitting at the next table approached me, took me under their wings and taught me much about the current political and social problems of Chile from the inside. News: they are a fan of the current Chilean government like I’m a fan of Donald Trump’s views on immigration.
Later, I met up with a friend from Boston who is studying in Santiago (what a small world!) for empanadas de queso and a pisco sour. Pisco sours are practically the national drink of Chile, a tart, strong lemon-y concoction that while knock you of your feet. Needless to say, I didn’t finish mine and focused on the greasy cheese pockets that lay before me!
Besides my nightlife adventures I spent the day taking in a wonderful photography exhibit at the Centro de Gabriel Mistral, a free art and community center with a cool bookstore, café and open air antiques market! The exhibit is called “Chile dede adentro” and focuses on photographs and documentaion of the protests and activism during General Pinochet’s dictatorship. They were especially moving and reminded me that this coutnmry has a rich history of grassroots movements.
I stopped for lunch and delicious coffee at Café Wonderful, one of the top rated coffee shops in Santiago! Immediately after lunch I took “onces” or Elveneses/afternoon tea, at a famous wine bar in Chile called BocaNariz (mouth and nose) where I sampled three local Chilean wines. My flight selected wines signature to different locations in Chile from the sea to the mountains. They were spectacular and while I am no sommelier, I did like pretending!
I also summited two “cerros” or hill/mountains in the city, Cerro Santa Lucia, a smaller garden hill in the center of the city with a beautiful view of the Andes and the city, and Cerro San Cristobal, a taller mountain near my hostel boasting a creaky old funicular and a gigantic statue of La Virgen, or Mother Mary.
I did better on libations than food in Santiago, not knowing what to order and where to eat to find vegetarian food. But I will be back! I barely scratched the surface of this great city full of museums, large public markets and parks galore!
I stayed at Dominica Hostel, and while the people were very friendly, it is in a noisy neighborhood full of nightlife. The bar downstairs is really just a visiting backpacker pouring strong glasses of pisco with ginger ale and Coke. The breakfast begins at 8 am and is a few cereals and bread with butter, jam, coffee and tea. The rooms are smaller than they appear online and the luggage storage is outside of your room. I had to lock up my bags beneath the staircase in the main lobby. It gets really cold at night here but I was comfortable sleeping in long pants, my fleece and the blankets provided. The showers and bathrooms are tiny and not very well lit. Although the price was good, I think I’ll try a different hostel for my next trip!
Be careful taking a taxi from the airport! I went up to a legitimate taxi desk, prepaid for my ride and ignorantly paid $35 dollars to get to the city. The blue taxis are more expensive, so stick with the yellow and black! My ride back to the airport in the morning cost much less when I hailed a cab from the street and negotiated the price before hand!
I strongly recommend taking multiple days to crack this city and reading blogs of expats and locals before coming to find the best places to eat and drink. Both locations, Cafe Wonderful and BocaNariz, weren’t found in my Lonely Planet book. For a place to drink at night, the BellaVista neighborhood is for mostly youth and drunk people. Classier bars serving sophisticated cocktails can be found elsewhere. I also hear that there is a new microbrewery… 🙂
The ability to speak Spanish is necessary here. Although you don’t need to be fluent, it helps! English is not widely spoken, even among the service industry and tourist sites. I think most of the tourism comes from Argentina, Brazil and other Latin American countries.