Our first destination on our RTW adventure was Santiago, Chile. We were admittedly a little naive about what to expect in Chile, and a big part of the reason we ended up there was because of award flight availability. We were so thankful we included Santiago on our itinerary and think it was actually the perfect place to start.
We thought of Santiago as a really, really big Denver. It was very scenic with the skyline set against the backdrop of the Andes Mountains, the weather was sunny and cool and the people were friendly enough, and seemed to be outdoorsy and fit. One thing we did find a little strange, or at least something that made us stick out in our own flip-flops and shorts, was though the temperatures were close to 80 degrees, most people had on jackets, pants and closed toes shoes.
Free Walking Tour: The tours meet daily at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in front of the Cathedral in Plaza de Armas, the city’s main square (look for guides in red hats and red shirts). Tours are about four-hours long and split up into separate groups for Spanish and English speakers. Our guide Joaquin was quite good and we learned a lot and saw a good bit of the city. For me it was just a little bit long but I would still highly recommend doing a free tour on your first day to orient yourself to the city and get some good tips for which museums to visit, where to eat, etc. Suggested tips are 5,000 Chilean pesos per person ($8). Another word of wisdom–give yourself plenty of time to get there! One of the subway stations we needed to make a transfer was closed for some reason and we ended up walking the rest of the way and got there about 10 minutes late.
Peluqueria Francesa: We took the subway over to the Yungay Barrio to eat a late lunch at this highly rated french restaurant (and barbershop). The food was a little pricey on a backpacker budget but was delicious. I had the french onion soup and Caleb had chicken breast wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese and asparagus in a to-die-for white wine cream sauce. The drinks were really quite cheap, about $3 for Chile’s famous pisco sours. After we ate we took a stroll around the neighborhood and the adjacent neighborhood, Barrio Brasil, which was a little gritty but apparently an up and coming/popular spot at night.
Human Rights Museum: Caleb wrote about this yesterday, but our tour guide recommended we pay a visit to the Museo de la Memoria, a 15 min. walk or so from Peluqueria Francesca. The museum is meant to draw attention to the human rights violations committed by the Chilean state from 1973-1990. It was free to enter, but the audio guide was 2,000 pesos ($3.30). We were wiped out after being on our feet all day so we passed on the English guide and walked through the museum briskly on our own, understanding very little. Would certainly read up more on the history of Chile and get the audio guide if we were to do this again.
Barrio La Starria: This neighborhood borders the old part of the city but is full of quaint restaurants, cafes and bars. We ate empanadas and had pisco sours at Utopia Cafe and sat outside people watching. This neighborhood is also home to Santiago’s best wine bar, Bocanariz, which we didn’t get a chance to visit but heard glowing reviews.
Cerro San Cristobal Hike: We got off the subway a few stops early to walk the long way to the trailhead through the Providencia and Bella Vista neighborhoods. Barrio Bella Vista was my favorite neighborhood of all in Santiago. It seemed a little touristy, but for good reason as it was freaking adorable.
To get to the top of Cerro San Cristobal you can either take the funicular ($3.30) or hike up on foot, which is an estimated 45 minute hike. We overestimated our fitness levels and thought we could breeze right up it but it really was a pretty challenging climb and it took us about 40 minutes. The view at the top was incredible though! There’s a church on the top, along with some beautifully painted crosses and views of the entire city. We both agree this is the best thing we did in Santiago.
Mercado Vega and Mercado Central: We hiked a different way down to walk through yet another new neighborhood to end up at the public markets. Mercado Central is the more famous market, supposedly one of the best fresh seafood markets in the world. There are expensive, touristy restaurants in the center and some more local food stalls around the edges, with plenty of fresh fish stands in between. The other market was several huge buildings with stalls that sold fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers and lots of cheap goods. It felt and looked (and smelled) similar to the markets we had seen in Asia.
La Piojera: This spot was recommended to us for it’s famous terremoto drinks and traditional Chilean food. We had a heck of a time finding the place though it was right around the corner from Mercado Central. We learned our lesson in Santiago, where there wasn’t a lot of English, to write down directions before we leave the hotel. We each had a drink and split a giant plate of french fries topped with steak, onions and a fried egg for less than $20 USD.
Contemporary Art Museum: Attached to the Fine Arts Museum, we enjoyed strolling through this free museum admiring the art from mostly Chilean artists.
Our main touristy activity in Santiago was just walking around taking in the sights. We walked over 35 miles and felt like we got a good feel for the city and it’s many varied neighborhoods. We were impressed with how clean the city was, but a little baffled about all the graffiti. The subway system was incredibly affordable (about $1 per ride) and easy to use. Our hotel was pretty far out from the main part of a town, and though in a very, very nice neighborhood, it meant we had to take the subway anywhere we wanted to go and it wasn’t easy to come and go throughout the day.
Our grand total spent in Santiago was only $106. A big reason this number was so low is we had access to the club lounge at the hotel, which provided a large breakfast in the mornings and dinner and drinks from 5-8 p.m. during the evening reception. We only took two cabs when we had our luggage and the rest of the time we took the subway or walked everywhere. Most of our activities were free or very cheap. Overall we loved Santiago and would definitely consider going back! We would love to take the 90 minute bus ride to Valpairaiso, a wine excursion, or go skiing in the winter.