The last time we were in Santiago, we used it as a stopover to go to Easter Island. We didn’t just use as a base to hop somewhere else though; we really enjoyed the city and especially loved how close some of the wineries are via the metro. And, if there’s one thing we like a lot, it’s adult beverages. Varud of Bicoastal Cooks, who last wrote about Buenos Aires, Lofoten Islands, Norway, Ushuaia, Argentina and Patagonia, Argentina is back with his practical travel tips.
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Santiago is a burgeoning modern city in South America on the outside—great restaurants, social life, high-rise buildings, and great facilities. Don’t let the shell of modernity fool you. If you spend the time to fully understand this city, you start to see a very complex culture of a society working hard to become a global market, while simultaneously trying to move beyond a recent period of horrific dictatorship which still pervades through a modern “class” system.
Costs & Practicalities:
- When it comes to basics such as Wi-Fi and drinking tap water, Santiago excelled where a lot of other South American cities didn’t. No issues with the water here, and relatedly, the street food
- Talking about food, the must tries are as follows – Mote con Huesillo, Pastel de Choclo, Completo, a cocktail named Terremoto, and Chorillana are staples of Santiago-cuisine
- The major neighborhoods (more specifics below) are Lastarria, Bellavista, and the Historic area. This what I would consider to be the touristic center of the city and a sort of middle point of the gradient of “classes” in Santiago—travel to the east to Providencia or Sunhattan and you have the wealthier neighborhoods; travel further to the west you reach a more slum-like area. Bellavista, fairly central spot to the two areas, serves as an interesting middle ground where locals of all backgrounds and tourists alike grab cheap beer and meat-topped fries—one of my favorite experiences here
- You can either choose to stay in the trendy Lastarria area at a higher cost, or alternatively, the area of Baquedano offers a central spot that is a 10-15 minute walking distance to the three major neighborhoods
- If you chose to stay fairly central, then everything is more or less walking distance and you won’t have to worry about public transportation too much
- When needed, the Santiago metro is clean and safe. You might have to use it just a couple of times: in order to get to the Museum of Human Rights, you will use the green subway line to go west, and if you want to visit the upscale areas (as well as the night club areas aside from Bellavista) the red line will be used. I wouldn’t bother grabbing a metro card as you most probably won’t need to use the line that much. The metro is the perfect time to use any change you might have collected and prices vary according to peak vs. non-peak hours (~$1-2)
- If you are heading out side of the city to visit any of the vineyards or travelling to another city, there are actually two bus stations. They both require you to first grab the red metro going west, one of the stations is off of “Estacion Central” and the other is at “University of Santiago”. Check which one you need to go to and avoid the mistake we made!
- Lastarria / Belle Artes – the trendy area; Cerro Santa Lucia (a short hike and great viewpoint), Belles Artes museum (one of the oldest museums in the country with a focus on Chilean and South American art), Emporio La Rosa (ice cream shop with some very interesting flavors using local ingredients like Cherimoya or Custard apple and Maracuya or Passion Fruit), and Lastarria Street (great restaurants and a small flea market)
- Bellavista – one of the most popular barrios now for grabbing drinks at night after a recent period of gentrification; Cerro San Cristobal (a half day hike to the top of this hill with the best viewpoint of the city; when you arrive at the main entrance to the hill, you have the option to either grab a ride for ~$2 to the top, or be a trooper and hike up using the road that’s just to the left of the Funicular and follow the signs to “Virgen”) to the west, you run into Vega Central (one of the best markets in South America for produce)
- Historic Center – the political and historical area of Santiago; Mercado Central (a seafood focused market with both fresh food and restaurants), Plaza de Armas (a central plaza that is always full of life), “Coffee with Legs” places such as Café Caribe (see below), Palacio de la Moneda (where the president sits)
- Museum of Human Rights – this museum is a bit further west from the historic center and it is probably best to take the subway to Quinta Normal. This museum covers a fairly recent (and very important) period of history of the country and I will leave it to the museum to narrate this itself. It is a must visit while in Santiago to understand the recent past and get the audio guide as it will help you understand the exhibits
Cultural Neighborhoods – if you have time, Barrio Brazil and Barrio Italia are neighborhoods with vibes and histories of their own
A personal experience with “Coffee with Legs”: When I first went to Cafe Caribe, I thought that Cafe con Piernas or Coffee with Legs just meant a strong coffee like an espresso. I asked the old lady at the counter which option was the “Cafe con Piernas” and she actually sent us to another location around the corner. Confused, on the way, I adjusted my theory to Cafe con Piernas meaning a standing coffee shop (like the picture above), because there were no seats at Cafe Caribe.
We arrive at Cafe Esmeralda which turned out to be a really dodgy, borderline strip club that had blacked out windows but also advertised the selling of coffee. At this point, I was even more confused and immediately returned to Cafe Caribe. We were a bit embarrassed, ordered a normal coffee, and first thing upon receiving Wi-Fi researched the once again revised theory. If you haven’t understood it yet, since I clearly didn’t, Cafe con Piernas is a spot where girls in skimpy clothing serve coffee to businessmen.
Anyways, if you are looking to grab some coffee, Café Caribe, Café Haiti, and Café Bombay are all options near the historic area. I remind you that there are different degrees to this: Café Caribe was girls in short skirts and tight clothing, but the detour Café Esmeralda was a bit more scandalous. I personally would have been happier with the strong coffee.
About The Author:
Varud’s life is food–eating, reading, exploring, and creating. Voted Forbes 30 Under 30 for ‘Most Clueless Individuals’, he jumped ship from his management consultant lifestyle in October 2015 and embarked on a culinary journey to learn about cuisines around the world. His first book documented an experiment in Recipe Development (how to create and gain inspiration for original recipes) while his most recent novel narrates the journey of leaving the US to travel to Argentina and learn about Asado, or Argentine BBQ. Follow him on his blog, Bicoastal Cooks, instagram or Twitter.
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