Destination

Santiago, Chile

Trip Background

This is the second part of my trip to Chile in June 2018. For the first half in Valparaiso and Viña del Mar and the context of how this trip came to be, please click here!

Santiago is a gleaming, clean Latin American capital. But underneath its reputation as a thriving business community and advanced city lies a deeply dark history, covered in blood and pain. To know this city’s spirit is to spend time here looking at both the beautiful mountains and the horrifying events of the Pinochet regime. But don’t worry – this post isn’t all downer and darkness. There’s also one moment where I get drunk on wine and beer! Read ahead. 🙂

 

TL;DR

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  • Stay
  • Eat/Drink
    • Café Altura, Dávila Baeza 700, Recoleta, Santiago (located inside the Vega Central market)
      • Don’t question this. Just get a coffee – whatever kind you like or they serve. Maybe it’s an Americano. I won’t just.
    • Empanadas Zunino, Paseo Puente 801, Santiago
      • One Pino. One Queso. That’s what you need to ask for.
    • Bocanariz, José Victorino Lastarria 276, Santiago
      • Wine. So much wine. (this is an opportunity, not a problem)
    • Sur Patagonico, José Victorino Lastarria 96, Santiago
      • Pisco sour
    • Hogs Salchicheria, Merced 297, Santiago
      • Hot dog! No, literally, that’s what you can get here. A delicious hot dog. Or a loaded fries dish (salchipapas)…nomnomnom.
  • See
    • La Vega Central Market, Antonia López de Bello 743, Recoleta, Santiago
      • This place has to be seen and smelled to be believed. Walk in from the Davila Baeza street side and open your eyes and sense of smell. Fresh fruit, vegetables, coffee, pastries, fish, meat – it’s all here. Start with Café Altura (as mentioned above and below) and then as Toucan Sam says, “Follow your nose!”
    • Mercado Central de Santiago, San Pablo, Santiago
      • Eh don’t waste your time here. More touristy and less authentic than La Vega Central.
    • Plaza de Armas
      • Beautiful buildings…and not a whole lot more.
    • Museo Histórico Nacional, Plaza de Armas 951, Santiago
      • Free to enter and showcases numerous artifacts and exhibits taking you through the history of Chile as a country
    • Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos, Matucana 501, Santiago
      • Sobering and powerful reminder of a dark period in Chilean history under the regime of Augusto Pinochet. Much like the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, this is a must visit to truly understand the magnitude of the 1973-1990 period in Chile.
    • MallChino, Padre Alonso de Ovalle 1065, Santiago, Región Metropolitana
      • “Mall hecho en China” (Made in China Mall) would be a better name for this place as it’s not full of Chinese vendors, but rather a curious collection of small shops selling things made in China. More of an amusing visit than a worthwhile place to spend any time.
    • Cerro Santa Lucía (Santa Lucía Hill)
      • If you’re walking through the city and pass this, stop here and walk up to the top of this hill for stunning city views.
    • La Chascona, Fernando Márquez de La Plata 0192, Santiago, Providencia
      • One of Pablo Neruda’s three homes (the other being La Sebastiana in Valparaiso, which I also visited, and Isla Negra) which he built in 1953 for his lover Matilde
    • Cerro San Cristobal
      • The towering hill inside the Parque Metropolitano (Metropolitan Park) provides for the single best view of the city on high. Requires ascension by a trolley car or a long, long hike up the hill
    • Parque Metropolitano de Santiago, Pío Nono 450, P 2, Recoleta, Santiago
      • So much natural beauty!
    • Costanera
      • A big ass shopping center, in case you haven’t had your fill of consumerism. Also home to the Sky Costanera, an observation deck at the very top of the building (which I did not go to).

NEW Feature for my posts: For a Google map of all of these locations, please click here.

 

Day 3 (June 7, 2018): Back in Santiago!

 

Arriving back at Pajaritos station a mere 90 minutes after we left, I now found myself in need of a Bip card. This blue and yellow plastic card is your gateway to the city’s clean, excellent, and convenient public transportation system. The card itself will set you back C$1500 (USD$2.24) and with each ride costing C$500, I opted to load C$2000 ($3) onto the card. Depending on how many rides you plan on taking, you may want to add more.

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I took the subway to the stop closest to my hotel (the Sheraton Santiago Hotel and Convention Center) but if you stay here, know a few things in advance:

  • The location of this hotel is about 10 minutes from the nearest metro stop, so be ready for a short walk.
  • There are two buildings – the San Cristobal tower is the taller of the buildings and the Sheraton Club lounge is on the 21st floor of that tower. Which means if you’re staying in the shorter building (like I was), you’ll need to descend to the lobby and cross to the other bank of elevators
  • The views from the 21st floor lounge are stunning! So come here for breakfast or early twilight drinks if you can (access or amenities may or may not be included in your room, depending on your status level)

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Following check-in, I went up to my room and spent an hour catching up on some emails and reading, then went to the Club Lounge on the 21st floor to plan out my next couple days over some Chilean red wine and some appetizers. It was here that I had revelation similar to my first trip to Argentina in 2012.

 

On my trip to Buenos Aires at the end of grad school, I remember sitting down for a steak and a bottle of Malbec and being astounded at how good they were – and how cheap they were relative to what I would pay in the United States (that outstanding steak and bottle cost me USD$15 in 2012). As the server poured me a glass of Chilean red, I realized just how fortunate the Chileans are to have so much amazing wine in their region. He poured me a glass of the J. Bouchon Reserva cabernet sauvignon which I was blown away by. After three (okay maybe four glasses), I retired to my room for the night.

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Day 4 (June 8, 2018): Taking in as much of Santiago’s beauty as possible

“It’s winter,” I had to keep reminding myself.

As I awoke around 7:30 AM, the sun had still not risen from its wintery keep. Which meant that breakfast in the lounge was a sleepy affair powered by coffee and orange juice and more of those amazing views I mentioned last night. Something about seeing the Andes protrude behind the urban skyline was remarkable and unlike any of the travels I’d had up to this point.

 

 

After breakfast: it’s time to get going as I have a lot to cover today. As I hop into my Uber, I meet my driver Servando. We trade pleasantries and it’s clear he’s surprised to find a Chinese American guy speaking Spanish. It turns out he’s a former journalist who used to cover professional tennis! As I begin to pepper him with questions about Marcelo Rios (the Chilean former world #2 who people used to call “el Chino” because of his slightly Asian looking eyes) and other professional players he’s interviewed, we quickly form a bond.

Servando drops me off at La Vega Central Market, which is a massive marketplace serving up fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, and basically anything you could want to prepare a delicious meal. This place has to be seen and smelled to be believed. Walk in from the Davila Baeza street side and open your eyes and sense of smell and as Toucan Sam says, “Follow your nose!”

 

The smell of onions, parsley, baked pastries and fresh roasted coffee are jarring contrasts but they remind you that this is where your delicious meal begins in its raw form. Café Altura was my first stop for a morning coffee so I could power up as I walked and explored. I didn’t wind up buying anything as I had plans to get a snack elsewhere, but if I lived here, this would be my weekly stop for all of my produce and meats. There were vendors selling so many different things here that you’ll likely be overwhelmed. Take a breath, sip your coffee, and keep exploring this wonderous place. There was also a very sad looking three-legged dog roaming from stand to stand looking for food. As a doggy dad to a three-legged pooch, I wished the pooch well and hoped that his life wasn’t as hard as I imagined it.

 

Mercado Central de Santiago is another place you may hear about but it’s super touristy and less authentic than La Vega Central. Where I really wanted to go was Empanadas Zunino, which is renowned for its empanadas (duh). One Pino (beef), one Queso (cheese). That’s what you need to ask for. The cheese is way better but I encourage you to try both. I tried walking and eating but this is a hot steaming pastry, and it is best consumed in peace at one of the small counters inside the restaurant.

 

 

After my snack, I walked to the Plaza de Armas and the Museo Histórico Nacional. It’s free to enter and it showcases numerous artifacts and exhibits taking you through the history of Chile as a country.

 

By the way, if you’re not familiar with the history of Chile (especially the last 50 years), you would do well to read a couple wikipedia pieces on the era of President Salvador Allende and the horrors of the Pinochet regime. The reason why I bring this up is where I headed next: el Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos (the museum of Memory and Human Rights).

 

Arriving at the museum after a long walk, the striking exterior brought up shades of the Bird’s Nest in Beijing. Upon entering the museum (where they generally look down on photography and told several people around me to put their cameras away), I was taken through the trauma and emotional turbulence of the coup that installed Augusto Pinochet in power and the disappearance, torture, and murder of many thousands of Chileans from the years 1973 to 1990. It’s a remarkably thoughtful memorial to the people who survived and those whose fate was never confirmed, leaving many family members and friends to wonder what happened to their children, spouses, or loved ones. Because I was trying to fit in so much on this one day, I definitely moved through the museum faster than I should have – so please take my advice and spend at least a few hours taking in all of the content here.

 

 

With that all-too-familiar itch of walking again finding me, I kept moving and passed a place called MallChino. Let me say one thing up front – this is NOT a Chinese mall! It’s a place where a lot of cheap made shit (usually in China) is being sold by a lot of vendors. It reminded me of a flea market and while there were Chinese flags and characters around, I did not see many Chinese people. The food there was definitely nothing noteworthy either. So if you pass this place, keep moving. 🙂

 

If, however, you pass Cerro Santa Lucía (Santa Lucía Hill), then I would encourage you to stop and wander into this small oasis in the middle of the urban jungle. You make notice the Japanese gardens or the stunning stairs that begin to elevate you above the street level. Keep walking up those stairs until you start seeing the highest tips of the Andes emerge above the cityscape. As you continue to reach the level of the office buildings, break out your phone or camera and soak up all the beauty of the sweeping views. When you tire of the blue skies, your reward is an easy descent back to street level and to reality.

 

That descent led me to La Chascona, another of Pablo Neruda’s homes that reflects the Chilean author’s love of the sea, life, and in this case, his secret lover Matilde, for whom he built this house in 1953. Photos were definitely forbidden here so I have fewer pics to share, but if my images from La Sebastiana above were even slightly interesting, then I would suggest coming here. It’s C$7,000 (USD$10.45) to get in and it’s a pretty fascinating home.

 

My last major adventure for the day was taking the funicular (hillside elevator) to the top of Cerro San Cristobal (San Cristobal Hill), which is the highest point inside the Parque Metropolitano de Santiago. The ascent will take you a few minutes and the C$2000 (USD$3) ticket will seem well worth it when you see how long the hike would take on foot!

 

 

 

After descending the hill, I started the slow end to my evening at Bocanariz, a wine bar whose menu was more like the instruction manual for the Apollo 11 command module. It’s a daunting array of options, and thankfully the staff was able to guide me into a wine tasting to let me try a few different flavors. And at C$16,390 (USD$$24.46), this tasting did not break the bank.

 

The lack of food and presence of a lot of wine gave me the impetus to try more drinks, which is how I ended up down the street at Sur Patagonico having a pisco sour. This is not the time or place to debate who has the better pisco sour (Chile or Peru), but let me just say that this pisco sour was quite good and reasonably priced at C$4500 (USD$6.72). At this point, I staggered out of the bar/restaurant in search of junk food and landed at Hogs Salchicheria, which I had passed earlier in the day. Let me be clear. I probably made less sense than I normally do in Spanish. I do recall asking for a dog and salchiapapas (french fries covered in a delicious cheesy sauce) and at one point trying to clarify some of the ingredients on the menu and not understanding what they were.

 

Regardless, the dish was delicious. I somehow resisted the urge to consume this dish on the spot, brought it back to the hotel, stopped at the hotel lounge for a glass of wine and some snacks (BEFORE I ate my meal!), and then finished off my night with this blissful food.

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Day 5 (June 9, 2018): The End of a Delightful Trip

Because I was flying out later that day, I knew that I would have a few hours to explore in the morning and early afternoon. I decided to walk towards the Costanera, a complex which includes a big shopping center and the Sky Costanera observation deck atop the Gran Torre Santiago. I decided to follow the Mapocho River north because it leads straight to the Costanera, and the parks and riverside artwork that guide the journey made the walk a nice relaxing journey.

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Upon arrival, I did not go all the way up and instead opted to wander the mall looking for gifts for friends and family. In the mall, I discovered a cute sleeping dog, what could be one of the few remaining Tony Roma’s rib joints, and that McDonalds in Chile offers blue cheese fries! (note the fries were really quite terrible). I returned to the hotel to pack my gear up, took the subway back to Pajaritos and then took the bus to the airport.

 

 

With the few hours I had before my flight, I spent my time relaxing in comfort at the LATAM VIP Lounge thanks to my OneWorld Sapphire benefits then decided to try the Admirals Club Lounge – which, as expected, was pretty shady. After a stop in Los Angeles, I returned to my lovely wife and dog and concluded an excellent trip.

 

 

Final Thoughts

Valparaiso and Viña del Mar were a really lovely surprise. I’d heard it was a nice beach escape – a place where Santiago residents escape to in summer. What I’d not heard as much about was the area’s artistic roots. Murals on virtually every block. Even what you think is crappy graffiti actually turns out to be a gorgeous, surrealist portrait or mural.

Santiago similarly surprised me with its vibrant art, super clean streets and subway system, and thriving museum scene. With lush green parks and stunning views to spare, you can go from urban jungle to an escape on high in no time. It became increasingly clear that the Chilean capital is a strong representation of the most developed Latin American economy for a reason – it’s open to ideas, attracts people from all over the world, and allows creativity to thrive in many ways.

Chile as a country is clearly one that has been through hell in the last half century. The wounds of Pinochet linger below the emotional surface and for those brave enough to confront the painful history of the country, there’s an appreciation for how far the people and the nation have come since 1990. And this became clear without seeing some of the more traditional tourist destinations like Patagonia, Easter Island, or the Atacama Desert. Believe me, I considered seeing all of those, but I barely had time for what I did see – and it just means I have to return to Chile sooner than later!

I also wanted to give some kudos to a few other blogs and articles who helped make my journey easier:

 

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