In what will probably be the longest day of our lives, we arrived into Santiago de Chile four hours before we left Auckland. Go figure. Despite the dizzying confusion of the International Date Line to contend with, as soon as we walked out of departures, people were benevolently pointing us towards the awaiting Centropuerto bus that would take us nearly all the way to our hostel (and cheaply too).
I barely had to ask for directions – a very pleasant welcome to South America.
Get arty in Bellavista
We had arranged to stay in Bellavista – the bohemian quarter of the city. As soon as we stepped off the bus, its artistic roots were evident from the creative graffiti covering most vertical surfaces. There’s a graffiti tour of this part of the city, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into.
We stayed at Hostal Providencia and it was a good choice. The hostel was friendly, prettily decorated and colourful. It felt immediately South American. Our room was the smallest one, and didn’t have a window, but it was the best we could get on our tight backpacking budget in this fairly expensive city.
After a quick kip in our room, we were up and out to look around some of the city before nightfall. We watched the spectacular sunset from the Cerro Santa Lucia before grabbing a cheap meal and listening to live music in Bellavista.
Free walking tour
First thing in the morning, we met up with Franco in the Plaza de Armas; Santiago resident and leader of a free (yes, free!) walking tour around the city. If you’re going to Santiago, you HAVE to do this. Starting in the impressive Plaza de Armas, we wandered past the Presidential Palace, the Chilean equivalent of Wall Street and some of the more hidden gems tucked out of view in the residential areas.
Proud-looking dogs roamed the streets here and Franco told us that Santiago residents joke that these gentle animals own the city. People apparently give them vaccines, food and even warm jackets in winter. In parallel, Santiago residents apparently cannot get enough hot dogs and every street corner seemed to be selling one of the many variations. All cheap, warming and delicious.
The idea of the tour is that you pay as much as you think it’s worth at the end. Although it was saddening to see people leaving without giving Franco anything at all, especially as it was easily one of the best tours I’ve ever done.
Coffee with legs
Franco, our tour guide, pointed out things we might otherwise have missed, one being the concept of ‘coffee with legs’ – where customers can get not only the best brews in the city, but flirt with the scantily-clad waitresses too!
Later in our stay in the city, Mr TravelEachDay and I went to one of the more risque versions of ‘coffee on legs’, where the windows are blacked out and the inside resembles a nightclub, or should I say strip club. It’s safe to say he was in his element – the handsomely enhanced waitresses were wearing only tiny thongs and bikini tops!
Our waitress was very friendly to both men and women and seemed to enjoy hugging Mr TravelEachDay’s head into her bosom at every opportunity. Hilarious if not altogether in line with my feminist leanings.
The coffee’s good, too.
Laid back charm
We spent the rest of that day and the following one trying to see as much of the city as possible. With its many parks, mixture of old and new architecture, charming little music bars and unique little quirks, we loved it.
Stop by one of the fast food vans outside the university for a cheap snack. Grab an as (tender, sliced beef in a roll) and eat it on the grass of the Parc Forestal. At the other end of the park you’ll find the fish market – although don’t go in the evening like we did because it’s only open in the day!
Step inside the stock exchange building for a free glimpse of modern Chile.
Play posh in Lastarria
This barrio is popular with tourists because it has a historic feel and has lots going on. We explored the wonderful second-hand book market and stopped for amazing ice-cream at Emporio La Rosa. I had never even seen this many flavours in Italy. Top tip for a hot day – strawberry and mint.
Brush up on your Spanish
Despite listening to Spanish CDs for the past two months as we drove around New Zealand, our conversational skills were quickly put to the test. We got chatting to three Peruvian painters in a restaurant – a very funny half-hour in which we both relied on sign language and broken pieces of Spanglish.
Terramotos – feel the earth shake
Don’t miss out on a Santiago tradition – drinking terramotos (earthquakes) in one of Santiago’s most notorious night spots, La Piojera. Tired of fighting with Peru over who invented pisco sours (which people drink like it’s water here), this bar invented a new signature drink for Chile: a pint of white wine topped off with pisco liqueur and a dollop of pineapple ice-cream.
I don’t know what they were thinking, and neither did I after a couple of these…