Dear Traveller to Chile

Dear Traveller,

I’m writing to you from a wet and blustery Santiago day, in the heart of Chile.

It’s very rarely wet here, so the rain is cause for both celebration and relief, with a bit of horror thrown in at the potential chaos that might arise.

Santiago is not a beautiful city. To the far east it is green and spacious while the “Sanhatten” area is all modern skyscrapers and grass. The centre is chocka with historic buildings but elsewhere the outskirts are a colourful shambles, a mixture of peeling paint, potholes, graffitti  and sopaipilla stands.

Sopaipilla is perhaps the only streetfood I would recommend to you. Chile does not have the gastronomic delights of say, Lima, but the sopaipilla is a fast and filling option when you get off the metro and need something cheap and hot to fill the gap. Top it with spicy sauces such as chilli or mustard, or something tame like ketchup (in the GREEN bottle!).

For shopping you won’t find many bargains unless you visit a market. La Vega is a sprawling one that extends into various buildings in the area of Patronato, where you can pick up cheap imported clothes alongside ingredients from Asia.  If you want a shopping mall, head to the Costanera Centre in Providencia because it’s also beneath the city’s new lavish symbol, the phallic (aren’t they all?) Costanera Tower.  For antiques and unique finds visit Avenida Italia in Nunoa, which is also the best place to drink a hot chocolate, order a REAL coffee or eat cake. I highly recommend Pasteleria Lalaleelu by metro Santa Isabel – there is even a cake tasting option.

For something a bit different, explore the General Cemetery in Recoleta.  Take your camera too because this place has an energy all of its own and walking around it could take you all day as you lost yourself amongst the tombs.

For eating out you have a few options. At the high end is Bocanariz, Borago, Mestizo and Astrid y Gaston, but you can also enjoy a meal for less, such as at Tiramisu or even at one of the more budget options. Chileans swear by Fuente Alemana or one of the tiny restaurants located inside La Vega Chica.  Many places serve a set menu known as a colacion for lunch, and some of these cost as little as CLP$2500.

In terms of what to see, you should not miss the highly acclaimed Museo Pre Colombino nor the historic Plaza de Armas. A visit to Barrio Concha y Toro will not disappoint either, particularly if you coincide it with dinner at Zully, set inside the restored house of Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro.

Visitors usually bypass Santiago after a few days and head further afield, to tourist sights such as Patagonia or San Pedro de Atacama, but there are things to see closer to home. Valparaiso rewards visitors willing to walk, while nearby Olmue has a wealth of national parks and outdoors adventures. The Cajon del Maipo is the holiday hotspot for day tripping Santiaguinos and it is one of the easiest places to visit the Andes. In summer, a drive along the Embalse el Yeso is unforgettable.

Pomaire is another stop worth making particularly if you want to buy souvenirs and gifts.  This small town is famous for its clay artisans who you can see making Chile’s ubiquitous bowls throughout the village (cheapest places to buy are around the edges of Pomaire).

I can’t say that living in Santiago is always easy but for the traveller it makes the perfect gateway to South America. It’s easy to travel with plenty of sights within close range of each other and the food scene is improving rapidly. This is the place I have called home for three years and raised a family, and it is one of the safest and easiest destinations to travel with children.  This city will reward all visitors whether for just a day or for longer stays. Viva Santiago!

For airport transfers, guided tours, chauffeur service or help settling in, please contact Helen at Miles & Smiles Santiago.  Phone 56 9 91482832 or visit their Facebook page: http://www.facebook/milesandsmilessantiago/

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Family Fun Day

Selva Viva, Parque Araucano (Metro Manquehue)

Honestly? I freaked at paying almost 10,000 per adult to take Emilio to see some wildlife at Selva Viva … but thank goodness I did! It’s actually well worth the price, considering that the costs required to heat the place up (jungles are humid) would not be small. When you enter you watch a brief video and remove your layers (because you will sweat), and then you head out into the selva. There’s a canopy of trees, birds flying overhead, and turtles plodding over the path. Within moments the guide is explaining everything you never knew about snakes while draping a colossal python across your shoulders. This is why the place is worth the coin: you can hold and touch everything instead of having to fork out extra. So you can let a rainbow lorikeet scamper up your shoulders, stroke a toucan, hold a hermit crab and even enjoy the delightful clinging of a blue and gold macaw as it settles down on your head (!). The place is big and you can learn alot about the world’s jungles and conservation, especially for young ones with mind’s like sponges. I highly recommend a trip particularly for those who have children at that age where they constantly ask “why?” but we took at Emilio at 1.5 and he loved it (particularly the crabs but definately not the snake!)

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Granja Aventura, La Reina (colectivos run from the metro into the park, car parking is at extra cost).

We went to this farm on the same day that a fellow English-Speaking Mum shared her dreadful experience there. Basically her husband had his leg broken by an escaping horse, and not only were the park ill-equipped during such an event, they actually offered little compassion and assistence! Regardless, we still took Emilio as a present for his 2nd birthday because when you live in one of Santiago’s busier suburbs you start to crave nature like nicotine. So off we trotted and I have to say that we all really enjoyed ourselves. There are some fantastic playgrounds carved out of trees with things like tree huts and flying foxes, but all are aimed at much bigger children. We brought a picnic which we ate in one of the picnic areas admist the smell of animal poop, but it was actually really pleasant. There were lots of animals there and lots of staff cleaning out cages and preparing new spaces. In all, I didn’t have an issue with the price and thought it was a great place to visit for a few hours, especially having a child who has only ever seen a real cow several times. BUT I would advise caution around the animals (most of the areas are unattended) and around the playgrounds, which are very ambitious.

My World, La Reina

We took Emilio here as it is a place constantly mentioned on FB by other mums, and because an indoor playarea sounds like a great place to visit during the winter months to burn up some energy (so that Mummy and Daddy can rest better). I do not recommend visiting at the end of a birthday party because … holy smokes! Emilio had fun but it was difficult for him trying to play amongst such a mix of big and small kids. The toys were mostly broken and dirty considering it was so costly to enter, but the thought was good. All in all worthwhile if you live in the area but not worth a special trip.

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Parque Bicentenario, Vitacura

I love this park! It’s immaculately maintained and in summr they put out deckchairs so that you can lounge beneath umbrellas in the scorching sun. You can feed giant carp, black swans, flamingoes and ducks at the lake, an area which attracts a whole host of other birdlife that I can’t name. There’s water fountains, a cafe, a giant chess set, a horticultural centre, climbing frames and playgrounds. The restaurant, Mestizo, is one of Santiago’s best in my opinion. It’s in a great setting, service is good, you can let your kids play in the grass (if you sit outside) and the food is delicious. It is a little pricey but well worth it – I recommend choosing the octopus starter and the chocolate volcano for dessert!

Aerodromo de Planes, Vitacura

Ok so I know that you have to be a member to visit, but every year this Glider’s Club opens its doors for free to the public. We went this year and it was AWESOME – especially if you have a child that loves things that move. There was a show by robot planes, alongside flying helicopters/planes/gliders. There was a playground, food trucks, music and also grounded helicopters that you could enter and play around in. Highly worth a visit for Family Fun Day (what we call it in our house!) plus its NOT loud so you don’t need to stress about earmuffs etc.

Museo Ferroviario

See my blog here.  Also details our visit to Museo Artequin

Museo de los Carabineros

This is an excellent museum located off of Bilbao, right next door to the Police training school. I had never heard of it before and was pleasantly surprised because it is filled to the brim with engaging displays. Basically, this museum traces the history of organized crimewatching in Santiago, all the way to the start of Spanish colonization.  Alot of effort has been put into making this place interesting and relevant and, while it is definately not for young children, small effort has been made to keep them entertained with games and interactive displays.

Universidad de Santiago Planetarium

Visit the website for more information about current showings.

Parque de la Infancia, Recoleta (Metro Cerro Blanco/Cementerios)

Follow the link to the blog – it is so good it gets it’s own blog!