Mini-guide Chile, Santiago
Since ancient times, Chileans drink, smoke, and chase the ball. Alcohol, tobacco and games have always been an integral part of their ritual meetings and great holidays. It holds such a special place in their culture, that they are probably the biggest experts in this area. That fact alone is enough to just buy tickets to Santiago.
They have had matriarchy in ancient times. Only a woman could be the highest priest, because they believed that women thanks to their natural intuition and elevated sensing of the surrounding world had a direct connection with the higher forces. There is definitely something to it, although in today’s Chile, regardless of history, gender issues are the same as in the whole world.
I found Santiago, the capital of the country, to be unexpectedly huge and developed city. In general, over the last decade Chile has been developing at a good rate. Evidence is everywhere: the quality of the roads and the transportation system, the number of businesses, construction, but of course there are still a lot of problems. One of them is education. Education is extremely expensive and only a few people can afford it. In addition, even with the availability of funds, getting to a good school is not so easy. The school conducts a competition not only among pupils, but also among their parents. If the parents do not fit the school for some reasons, such as their social status or nationality, there is no chance for child to get there. It’s not a joke about nationality – private schools are divided into British, German, Jewish, etc. I heard a story of one successful expat at an international company who was ethnically from a small African country and could not find a school for his child just because of his nationality. Castes are still working. It may have affected the architecture – everything is behind the fence. Literally everything and everywhere is fenced, the territory of each building, even in the new part of the city skyscrapers also fenced. I have seen so many fences for the first time in my life. But this may create its own atmosphere.
Almost no one needs it. The country is very open to the world. They do not even have customs duties for foreign goods – they canceled them which became a driver for the economy.
Chilean Peso. Lots of pesos. It took me a few days to start doing right calculations. We had some confusing situation because of the conversion. My husband ordered a privat guide and was sure that the cost of excursion was 60 dollars, but in fact it turned out to 200. And this despite the fact that we are sufficiently accustomed to different currencies. Well, try calculating when 1 dollar is worth 645 of these pesos.
How to get
Airport Santiago is pretty large and they packed it with all sorts of modern gadgets. The only thing that they have forgotten – to build the correct logistics processes. Therefore, leaving the airport takes time, because of the additional documents and received luggage control, which could turn into an adventure. Also for me, it was the first time that it took three hours to get to the airplane. Manual international check in for several flights turn the airport into a bazaar with chaotic processes. Even a priority line does not save you. Again – a few additional checks after the usual security not only become a surprise, but take time. So I recommend to arrive at the airport in advance, significantly ahead of time.
From and to the airport, you can reach by taxi or bus. Uber is officially forbidden at the airport, but you can still order it. But don’t be surprised when drivers hide the phones, hug strangers and ask them to sit down in front to create an impression of relatives or friends. Meanwhile, Uber is literally twice cheaper than a taxi.
The transportation system in the city is magnificent. Very well developed subway – 6 lines, comfortable, possible to get everywhere, easy to understand although no staff speak English, and costs $1. I enjoyed it, especially since the subway is often faster than a taxi due to constant traffic jams.
There are comfortable buses with special lines, and, of course, taxis and Uber. As I already mentioned, the latter one is twice cheaper than a taxi, arrives quickly, and works well. It also seems that Uber eats is very popular in the city – I have seen them everywhere – on bicycles, motorcycles, and even just walking.
You can also rent a car. I would recommend to do this only if you have desire to travel across the country. The roads are wonderful, everything is well marked. It is very easy to drive, and the view on the Andes will leave you speechless. In Santiago, we were afraid to drive. Interchanges were quite complicated. There were many tunnels, where the GPS disappears, and the style of driving was quite aggressive. The impudent one is the right one. There are many police giving out fines generously, but if drivers can break the law, they do. Of course, there are many cars and horrible traffic.
The city is huge, so to find a place where everything would be close is impossible. You have to travel. On the other hand, getting somewhere by subway is quick, convenient, and cheap. For example, from the city center to the new part, it’s literally 10 minutes and 1 dollar, as I already wrote. So, in general, it doesn’t matter where you choose to stay.
The most popular spots are a historic center and Providencia. Well-known hotel chains are located mainly in the areas of EI Golf and Las Condes. An average price for the hotels room is $100. Three star hotels (fairly good) can be found at $50 per night, and the 5-stars are $300 and more.
What to do
There is my lovely Hop-on called Turistik. I bought a ticket for two days and did not regret the timing. The city is huge and traffic is crazy, so making this tour in one day is unlikely although supposedly the route takes only 2.5-hours. In addition, this ticket already includes an access to Telerfico (cable car to San Cristobal Hill) and an old funicular on the other side of this hill.
It is worth mentioning that you can’t buy tickets on the bus. You can only buy them on the Internet, at the hotels, in the company offices, or, ehhh, from some weird people-signs on the central square. It was also strange how they gave me a paper bracelet instead of the ticket and asked me to not remove it for 2 days, because the ticket cannot be restored. Not all bus stops are marked, often you just have to remember where you came from, and find it on a quest. Honestly, information on the tour is not sufficient. There are huge gaps in the headphones filled with music, and it’s hard to believe that there is nothing to tell about this country. So I can’t say that I recommend it. Anyway, you can find more detailed information here: https://touristik.com/
By the way, they also organize a bunch of other tours.
There are just a few historic buildings, all of them are of European style, built mostly in French baroque or monumentalism, and located in the historic center. There is also a list of museums, but most of them are not very interesting. They are small and do not always have an English version of signed plates. Where you should go is The Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. It is an exciting exhibition of not only the arts and history of Chile, but a good collection from other regions of South America (for example the Incas and Mays), and with explanations in English. Unfortunately, neither the guide nor the audio guide exist, but written information is sufficient.
Also go to the central library – a magnificent building where the entrance and expositions are free.
Stroll around the city – it is very colorful, tremendously clean (they clean it continuously) and pretty pleasant. I have to say people there are extremely hospitable. Everyone is very happy to see tourists and looking for the way to help. It is very cute – even if a person who knows a couple of English words, she/he will try to talk with you, and will look for a way to explain you the situation or find a solution for your problem.
What else to visit?
There is already mentioned San Cristobal Hill. There is a huge beautiful park with extraordinary views of the city and the Andes, and a huge statue of the Virgin Mary. You can get there in two ways. The first is the modern gondola Telerifico (the cost of a one-way ticket is about $3, you can buy round-trip ticket or a combination with a funicular) and the second is an old funicular (the same cost). Be prepared – the line on the funicular is sooo long and would take hours even it is not tourist season, perhaps because the entrance is easier to get by public transport. I can share a secret – from the Sheraton Hotel to the entrance of Telerifico goes a free shuttle, so I recommend using it and not standing in line. I actually took Telerfico up to hill, and a funicular down.
However, the best views of the city and the mountains are from the observation deck on the 64th floor of the newly built Skyscraper Costanera, a tallest building in South America. The observation deck is probably not completely the right name, because there are two huge spectacular floors (one inside area and the second under the open sky), where you can truly see the whole city and mountains in a circle. It is absolutely incredible. At the same time, there are signs with short explanations of what you see and a short story of this place. There is no line at all. Actually, the skyscraper opened only in 2015, and the platform was opened a bit later, so I think that most tourists just have not discovered it yet. I highly recommend it. The cost is about $20 and it’s worth it.
Not far from the city center is another hill, much smaller than the previous, but perhaps even more interesting – Santa Lucia. In addition to a beautiful park, there is a well preserved 16th-century fortress and a palace, which now is the city’s museum (though it was closed for some reason). The territory shows the life of the Chilean nobility.
Los Domingos – a fairly large area almost outside of the city – recreated ancient Chilean settlement, which has now turned into an art market of authentic products. Small houses, streets, streams and wells, cafes and a lot of craft products – colorful and you can find something interesting for yourself.
Also, it is of course worth wandering in different parts of the city – history and the present time are intertwined here in a wonderful way.
Now one of the most popular destinations is the Maipo Canyon. Excursions can be called differently and offer a “different” program, but, in fact, everyone comes to the same place – an artificially created lake to collect water for Santiago. The lake has been created long time ago, but a couple years ago someone clever began to bring tourists here, and now it has become a pilgrimage. However, there is no infrastructure. In winter, the road is blocked, so the transport stops far from the lake, and then everyone scrambles on the ice for 40 minutes. There are also no toilets or food; however, there are local businessmen who sell small strange sandwiches directly from the car’s trunk. Well, I can’t to say that the tour is worth it. Personally, the most interesting part of this trip was zip-lining through another canyon in the ecotourism center “Cascada de las Animas“. I would definitely recommend this area. In addition to the territory that one could call a museum in itself, there are all kinds of activities – rafting, zip-lining, biking, hiking – almost everything for active ecotourism.
Of course, the only things better than mountains are mountains. J The Andes are different from all the others mountains. For over a decade, there has been a controversial national project of building a high-voltage network for electricity. It is controversial because there are deserted spaces and tough landscape which would involve high costs; on the other hand, the arrival of civilization gives hope for development, and at the moment gives people jobs. Anyway, it seems that the company is doing pretty well and actively engages in the tourist business, for example, by installing ski rental facilities for the Maipo canyon lake visitors. For the 40-minute walk in the cold (the temperature becomes a big surprise for visitors), everyone actively tries to get equipped. Ski pants cost 15 bucks, gloves 3 bucks, but what I really did not regret was renting shoes (15 bucks), because the ice sometimes turns into a swamp.
Another area of tourist pilgrimage are the towns on the Pacific coast. Mainly, it is Vina del Mar and Valparaiso. They are not the only ones. There are a few more towns like Vina del Mar that recently developed. They smoothly blend with each other without obvious boundaries. Cute and it’s probably it. The ocean is cold here, and there are not many historic sides. Although there are a couple of interesting buildings and even a museum, people come to just wander near the water or for some festivals. Valparaiso is considered a more historic city, but for me it has probably become one of the weirdest city I have ever visited. It is famous for its colorful buildings but it’s more of an open-air museum of the street art. Generally, it’s just a port city.
Two more popular destinations are skiing (if there are mountains, then there have to be skiing) and wineries. Skiing is mainly in Velle Nevado. Other option is El Colorado, which advertise themselves as a world-class ski resort. I have to say that it is really not bad, however, there is more work to be at the same level with American or Alpine resorts. You could also come and just have a walk there. There are many ways to get the tour: ordering on the turistik.com, in the hotel, or at the Viator. The average cost is $120, and it is necessary to specify each time what is included in the price.
Wineries in Chile are everywhere, which is not surprising. I think that Chilean wine can be found all over the world. It is really good quality, and there are whole regions dedicated to winemaking. In addition to wine tasting, there are also restaurants where you can truly enjoy masterpiece of cuisine. Actually one of my best and cheapest lunches in Chile was at one of these wineries, so I would recommend Ruta del Vino Casablanca https://rutadelvinodecasablanca.cl/es/restaurantes/vinamar/
Food in Chile is expensive and not always tasty. You need to check places, ask locals, and look at the ratings. In our Intercontinental hotel cooking was so bad that we did not want to have dinner the second time. On average, a lunch for two with a glass of wine in a good place will be around $100 or even more.
In addition to the aforementioned winery, I would recommend restaurants in Parque Arauco. This is a shopping center in the new part of the city with Valentino type boutiques. It is also beautifully designed large area transformed into a garden with fountains. There is an entire floor of great restaurants of different cuisines. I can personally recommend La Perla del Pacífico – an interesting marine design, excellent service, and a large selection of fish dishes cooked by excellent chefs. We are beyond satisfied, tripadvisor and yelp agree with us 🙂 Who is interested –http://www.laperladelpacifico.cl/
Well, generally, there are a lot of cozy restaurants around the city, but again -ask for recommendations.
The cheaper option is fast-food, the burger will cost almost $6, the combo is almost $25.
From the most interesting local dishes, I would mention Paila Marina, a traditional Chilean seafood soup. There are a lot of all kinds of seafood – shrimp, mussels, and various kinds of fish. As far as I understand, there is a specific Chilean recipe for its cooking. It is very tasty.
Pastel de Choclo – the daily food of the average Chileans. A meal could be called a pie, but it is served in a clay bowl – various kinds of meat baked in a corn porridge.
Corn porridge or mashed corn, more precisely, is a national side dish. I did not even suspect that you can make mashed corn. The taste is interesting, you would not even guess that it is corn.
Empanada is very popular. These are a kind of pancake with different fillings, particularly popular is one with condensed milk. In general, Chile is a paradise for lovers of condensed milk. They make huge number unusual dishes with condensed milk: so tasty, you will swallow your tongue. Condensed milk itself is an Argentinean national Dulce Lecho, but the Chileans have adapted it perfectly.
In general, all the most interesting in Chile, is primarily a unique nature such as geysers, deserts, lakes, millennial glaciers, of course mountains and volcanoes. It is located mainly far on the South or North of the country. However, it is worth visiting the capital for few days, at least, for the sake of an absolutely unbelievable view of the Andes which encircle the city.