The first time I visited Santiago de Chile in August 2012 was with a couple of friends, and I fell in love with the city. We arrived there after a 20 hour bus ride, crossing the border high up in the Andes coming from Argentina. Thanks to Santiago’s great metro system, we managed to get to our hostel in Calle Londres in Santiago´s center easily.
The next day we started to explore this amazing city! I had a lot of good experiences with free walking tours in other cities in South America and Europe, so we decided that this would be the way to go. We didn’t get disappointed!! Our guide of the free walking tour took us on a 5 hour long tour through Santiago’s center. We started on the most central and vivid place of Santiago’s center, the Plaza de Las Armas, where our guide introduced us to his friend, a cute (but huge) stray dog! He followed us almost the whole way and was very protective of our guide. Santiago was the first and only city I saw so far where the people just loved their stray dogs! They feed them, give them little blankets in the colder winter months, and pet them (sometimes only with their feet, as they don’t like their fleas I suppose). Our guide recommended that we try one of Chile’s most popular dishes, the completo, but not in one of the many little restaurants you can find along the plaza. A completo is like a typical American hotdog, just add a bunch of avocado sauce, tomatoes AND mayonnaise. His exact words were: if you eat one of those here, they’re so cheap, there might be an actual dog in it!
From there we then saw the palace of the Chilean government and headed north to the fish and fruit market of Santiago. This is a great place for a lunch, if you like sea food of course! Some local and very tasty dishes are ceviche, lulo (a seafood that only exists in Chile), and a empanada filled with little scampi. For very foreign looking girls (especially if you have blonde hair or blue eyes) the fish market can be a rather interesting place! Whenever you’re feeling like having a bad hair day or just a little down, go there! I’ve never felt more pretty (or stared at) than walking through this place. But don’t even try to buy fish or quietly find a nice restaurant to eat at.
After the rather interesting fish market experience we needed to cool down! Our guide took us to the nice park right next to it, the Parque Forestal. It is filled with families and students hanging out, having a good time. Right on the corner we found the place with the best ice cream in Chile or maybe even South America: Emporio de la Rosa. It´s not cheap but worth every penny, if you manage to decide between all those great flavors.
We headed in the direction of cerro San Cristobal, a mountain from which you’ll have a great view over whole Santiago and if you’re lucky even see the surrounding mountains (most days there’s too much smog over the city). It is quite a hike up the mountain, but for the lazier ones there is a teleferico (a sort of little train) that can take you up!
On our way to San Cristobal we passed the Patio Bella Vista. This is a nice big kind of backyard with all kinds of restaurants, bars and little artisan shops in it. This is agreat place to hand out, especially in the evening, but unfortunately a little pricy. Before we headed to another nice park with a view over Santiagos centro, we had a well deserved break in one of my favourite parts of Santiago, barrio Lastarria! This barrio consists only of a few streets but those are filled with bars and little cafés crowded with young people. You can get some amazing cheesecakes there (curiously the Chileans call their cakes by the German word “Kuchen”). Best to have with your cake is the most typical Chilean cocktail, the Pisco Sour! Chileans and Peruvians love to fight over the origin of the very tasty pisco. After having been in both countries I am definitely supporting Chile’s claim over it. The amount they drink and the way the passionately speak about their pisco leaves me with no doubt (they even celebrate a national pisco day on the 15th of May!).
From there it was only a few minutes to cerro Santa Lucia. This hill is like a quiet little oasis in the middle of Santiago’s centro with a old little castle on top of it and a great view over the city! If you get thirsty after the little hike up the hill and if you really, really love sweet drinks, you should try the mote con huesillo, a local drink (non alcoholic). It looks strange and to me it tastes even stranger!!
After a long but great day walking through Santiago, we were off to a last adventure for the evening! Before heading to the very famous (I have no idea how it could become that popular) but very filthy bar La Piojera (it literally means a place with lice, so we shouldn’t have been surprised) we wanted to try another local dish, the pastel the choclo. As the name suggests (corn cake) it is a rather sweet dish made out of corn filled with meat, olives and egg. If you’re a girl with a rather small appetite, don’t even try to order one for yourself alone. After a filling dinner we went on to see this famous bar. I won’t put up any pictures as I don’t want to keep you from going there, it is kind of a must see! It smells like hell, its crowed as hell and you won’t want to touch anything, or even use the bathrooms probably (if you must, I recommend holding your nose and clothing your eyes). Even so, we had a great evening with crazy locals and even crazier other tourists – it seems nobody can resits its name.
If you don’t have any plans for the next day or have to take a bus or plane you should definitely try the most popular drink in there, the terremoto. I am very convinced they named it this way, it means earthquake, because of the way you will feel the next day. They even offer a smaller version, the aftermath earthquake, and a version for girls, which is pink! If you dare to ask what it’s made of, you’ll regret it the second you do so (especially if you already had one or two): the cheapest wine they could find (comes in canisters), fernet (a horrible tasting liquor) and on top, you won’t believe it, pineapple ice cream!! I am not joking! Some people tend to get hungry after some drinks, but luckily this place also has food. I was not brave enough to try but maybe I missed out on something great…
After some time in this bar we needed a change and headed to a far nicer place, also in Santiago’s center, a bar called The Clinic! It is super popular especially with students, so we had to wait a little to find a spot, but it was worth it! It is a very cool and huge bar, where you can safely enjoy more terremotos (without the persistent fear of food poising or worse) and some nice other versions they made of it, like the maremoto! Also the food is very good there. Of course it is a little pricier than the lovely Piojera.
I was lucky and got to be in Chile during it’s national holiday, the middle of September. The Chileans just love their country, so they somehow managed to make it more like a national holiday week than a national holiday. If you can, you should definitely try to be there. We spent some days in Santiago and some in Pucon, but no matter where you go it is just one big celebration of their country with local food, drinks and dances everywhere. I think there is no better way to get a glimpse of the Chilean people and their amazing culture and way of life!
Santiago is a also great place to head on to some day trips if you’re in town for longer. I personally loved Valparaiso, a lovely city next to the sea and only about 1.5 hours from Santiago by public bus. Or the Cajon del Maipu, a national park reserve in the Andes with some great hikes, which is just about an hour minutes from the city!
I was so impressed by this city and it’s people, that I decided to go back there to live and work one year later in August 2013! This time I stayed for almost six months and lived in the lovely barrio Providencia. Living in Santiago made me love this city even more and I am always trying to take any chance I get to go back there and visit my Chilean friends, which have become like a family to me! So if you have any questions about living in Santiago, just write us, I’ll be happy to give you some advice.