It’s a miserable day today because it’s dark and cold, and because there still hasn’t been enough rain to clear the air. I want to breathe gosh darnit! Rainy days always make me a little homesick, and I often wonder when (or if ever!) someone from my old life will come visit me here in South America.What would I show them? Where would I take them? So here are my ‘Top Ten Santiago Experiences’ – write them down in your diary Mum!
1) Plaza de Armas
You cannot miss the central square in downtown Santiago. It’s about as exotic as Santiago gets, and on a sunny day it’s pretty fabulous. The street performers, the imposing statues, the grand historic church – this is SOUTH AMERICA! Even after two years I get a buzz passing through here. A visit must not be without a walk around Santiago’s premier museum, ‘Museo de Arte Pre-Colombino’ which houses an amazing array of artefacts from the many indigenous that have called Chile and South America home over the centuries. If you visit one museum in Santiago, make it this one.
2) Patronato, Recoleta
A Chilean once warned me never to cross the Mapocho River or else I would most certainly get mugged. Yes this does happen but in fairness, it could also happen anywhere in Santiago or the world, and to avoid Patronato simply because of a “maybe” means missing out on of my favourite places in Chile. Why do I love Patronato? It’s great for shopping, for one. Clothes (particularly if you like ‘street’ style), household goods, Asian ingredients, and the Chile-famous ‘La Vega’ vegetable markets all call Patronato home. It has a lively atmosphere to walk around and get lost in, and there are often street festivals (and delicious street food too). Patronato is also where some of the best exotic eateries can be found, from Korean to Vietnamese, Chinese to Palestinian. The ‘Tirso Molina’ is my personal favourite place to lunch at, particularly after a strenuous morning buying vegetables and tshirts (!). A walk along the top storey means fighting your way through great offer after great offer, which often includes bread, salad and a drink. Inside you can find traditional Chilean, Colombian, Peruvian and Thai cuisines, as well as juice stalls. Nom! A perfect afternoon to me is walking through Patronato with some (light) bags to Bellavista, where everyone goes to drink, eat and dance, and look at the street art.
3) Isidora Goyenchea (metro El Golf)
This is a long street of pretty swanky restaurants, and in general it is worth visiting to see just how varied Santiago is. Classism is a a huge issue, and its pretty obvious from a visit to Providencia, Las Condes or further east, that Santiago is undergoing rapid development and commercialization. To be fair, Isidora Goyenchea is just a brilliant place to find a restaurant and eaaaat! One of the consistant favourites is an Italian pizza place called ‘Tiramisu’ and its not too badly priced, around 7,000 pesos for a pizza.
4) Parque Bicentennario, Vitacura
Why have I chosen to include this park? Because it is well worth the visit. It’s big, it has a water fountain, cafes, birds and fish to feed, playgrounds and beautiful gardens. There’s also the ‘Mestizo’ restaurant, its a bit pricey but it is NOT overrated – its my favourite in Santiago!
5) Parque de la Infancia, Recoleta
Best park for children you will ever visit. Enough said. Between metro’s Cerro Blanco and Cementerios.
6) Buin Zoo, Buin
Not strictly in Santiago, but a car ride away, or a train ride if you want to make it extra fun! This is up there with Taronga Zoo in Sydney in my opinion. The animals look happy, have big enclosures, there’s a ‘Dinosaur Park’, lots of restaurants and exhibits – you can even rent cool karts to push the children around in!
Again, this is actually a day trip from Santiago but it’s worth it. It’s a beautiful drive and at the end of it, a shopping paradise! For clay and household items. It’s not big but there’s plenty to see, buy and eat (tip: cheapest handmade items can be found on the outskirts, away from the centre).
8) Cerro San Cristobal
To me, a trip on the furnicular to the highest city lookout is the quintessential Santiago experience. Do this on your first day and at the top buy a mote con huesillo to drink. Wintertime has the best views but you can’t beat it on a summer’s day, alongside scores of giggling South American tourists. You can also walk/run/ride up, there are parks to stop at on the way (including the Japanese Gardens) and there are numerous gorgeous swimming pools – Antilen is the best (only open in Summer).
9) Bellas Artes and Barrio Lastarria
The ‘arty’ corner of Santiago also boasts top cafes (La Manzana in Lastarria is the best!), cheap ethnic eats (visit ‘New Horizon’ for Indian or ‘Thai Express’ for authentic Thai), an art museum and quirky shops to equal an unrivalled atmosphere of cool. Also visit ‘The Clinic’ bar for a slice of history.
10) Barrio Concha y Toro
It doesn’t get more romantic then these quiet streets tucked away near metro Republica. Come and take a stroll down this historic section that feels more like Malta than Santiago, and take your camera with you as you step back in time. A wonderful place to linger with your loved one and also home to several top restaurants (including the incomparable, Zully!)
Oh go on – one more!
11) Barrio Tour
This isn’t an actual tour that I know of, but it should be. Whenever I travel, I like to get a lay of the land and imagine that I am a local. In Santiago, each suburb has a distinct character and each one has some hidden gems. In Huechuraba you can find great cheap food in La Pincoya or the pretty residential neighborhoods of Pedro Fontova Norte. In Lo Barnechea and La Dehesa, you can transport yourself either to leafy England streets or to the future with some of the space-age house designs. In La Reina you can find a nature reserve and in Nunoa enjoy food from the organic wave slowly entering Chile. Further afield, Maipu is an excellent place to spend a day. The houses have a character all of their own, while there are numerous historical attractions (Maipu played a big role in Santiago’s history). This should definately be a tour – maybe we should create it?
Of course, this is only a tiny smidgeon of things to do in Santiago. There’s also Quinta Normal, Selva Viva, La Moneda, as well as a wealth of other attractions on Santiago’s outskirts. Santiago has often been describing as a bit lacking when compared to other South American cities. But I love it! It’s my home and it has everything you could ever need. If you visit I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do! Let me know your tips too 🙂