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/

Querida Recoleta: Que Interesante!

Most visitors to Santiago stop by its famous market, La Vega, for a taste of the exotic and some cheap lunch options. Those that linger longer browse Patronato in search of budget clothing or unusual ingredients in one of its many Asian food stores. The adventurous head over to the General Cemetery to soak up history that seems to press down beneath gigantic mausoleums and cramped casket towers.  Few people really explore this area and quickly dash elsewhere in Chile, despite this being a suburb that holds the history of Santiago in its palm.

Recoleta was originally the Wild West of Santiago, known as La Chimba. The Incas lived here  (Avenida La Paz & Independencia was their ancient route north) and Mapuches too, and today there remains strong indigenous presence. The Mapocho river was an imposing barrier between the Spanish colony of Santiago and La Chimba, but it eventually became a stronghold for religious institutions such as the Domincan order, and wine-making. As more bridges were built traversing the river, Recoleta became an attractive spot for immigrants, most notably from Palestine and Asia, but this has continued right through to the current day with communities from Peru, the Domincan Republic and Haiti.

Some people have emailed me after reading my blog asking to see this “real Santiago” after having spent their time in the modern city. This is a place that is gritty and real – there are no glittering high rises here – but this is a suburb that many Santiaguinos have called home for centuries. There is nowhere more “real” than Recoleta!

Our transport and tour company, Miles & Smiles Santiago, are just getting established but one of the first places we wanted to show people was Recoleta. There is a lot more here than originally meets the eye and a heck of a lot of beauty too. Our tours go at your own pace, in a private vehicle seating up to four passengers, and costs 25,000 pesos per tour (so if four of you book it’s cheap as chips!). Luis leads each trip and not only is he qualified and fluent in English and Spanish, but he’s a history buff from Recoleta!!

Here are some of the places you will uncover:

There are also excellent places to eat at excellent prices, from Palestinan to Syrian, Peruvian to Chilean, and we will point out the best.

We want to show you Recoleta because it is an important place, not only in Santiago’s history, but in it’s present. No trip to Santiago is complete without delving a little deeper into it’s secrets, and you will be supporting local businesses along the way!