The second time around, Santiago was spot on! I stayed in a vibrant area called Bella Vista at a hostel called the Bella Vista Hostel for about £12 per night. The neighborhood, “Barrio” in Chilean, is home to some fantastic street art and is walking distance to all the major attractions.
I spent a few days exploring and have some recommendations of what to do.
There is a walking tour company called Tours4Tips and I did both of their tours on the same day (about 6 hours of walking!).
The 10am Tours4Tips Offbeat Tour shows an interesting side of the city, taking you to some of the bustling markets. Mercado Central is an amazing fish market with restaurants around the outside. It’s wonderful to walk around it past all the stalls of freshly caught fish, with the smells of the catch of the day wafting from the restaurants. I tried a seafood empanada at Tio Willy, and it was delicious – packed full of octopus, prawns, calamari and crab meat – and cost less than £2! The building structure is beautiful, it was the first earthquake-resistant structure in Chile and the metal roof was built in Glasgow.
La Vega Central is an even bigger market. Here, you can buy anything you can think of, with the fruit and veg market being my favourite part. I picked up a huge bag of juicy cherries for less than £1. The markets feel safe and friendly and they are a melting pot of different cultures which is lovely.
The new surprising stop on the morning tour is the Cementario General – the cemetery! It is unimaginably huge, covering over 212 football pitches. It’s only 200 years old and already has over 2 million people buried there. It’s treated as a park by the locals too, so you see people running, cycling, drinking and even going on dates in the cemetery. The roads running through it are as wide and grand as any posh avenue with villas (mausoleums!) either side. The boom in wealth after Chile “acquired” the mineral mines which used to form part of Bolivia allowed people to blow their money on all sorts of wierd mausoleums – there are at least 2 Egyptian pyramids, a Mayan temple and something that looks like an Apple Store – but the mineral market crash meant that the people could no longer afford to maintain the tombs, so they are crumbling more with each earthquake.
On the 3pm Tours4Tips City Tour we visited the main tourist destinations – La Moneda (Presidential Palace), Plaza de Armas (huge square in the city centre with important government buildings and the central post office around it), and GAM (a cultural centre with interesting architecture and a strange history) GAM was the first building to be built using socialist principles – the budget was only enough for the materials or the labour, so the socialist president, Allende, said that they should ask the people to pitch in and help with the project. Low and behold people actually showed up and they beat their one year deadline by three months!!!
I also got to try one of the best ice creams in the world at Emporio la Rosa and it really was delicious!
Both tours were well worth it, plus I met some drinking buddies and after the tour we headed to a Pisco bar that had been recommended – CHPE (CHile + PEru, the independent republic of Pisco, celebrating both Peruvian and Chilean pisco varieties) and tried lots of different piscos. We all agreed that our favourite one was the Mal Paso Reservado which was from Chile and was super drinkable despite being 40% alcohol.
I also visited the Natural History Museum and had a great time learning about the unmatched variety of environments that exist in Chile. From icebergs and glaciers in Antarctica and Patagonia through to the Atacama desert, Chile really has it all. I also got to visit the recently opened dinosaur exhibition, so if you’re in the area before August 2018 then make sure you visit. The signs are almost all in Spanish, but the displays are fairly intuitive so you could get loads from it either way. Each zone begins with a map showing the region that is covered by, for example Desert and Temperate regions. There are also research rooms that you can see into and watch the staff preserving new exhibits. There is a fascinating section at the beginning about the formation of the earth and there’s even a fragment of moon rock! It’s free to enter and definitely deserves a trip.
Museo de la Memoria is an informative museum dedicated to the victims of human rights violations around the world. The top two floors take you through the terrible conditions created by the Chilean military dictator, General Pinochet, between 1973 and 1990. It’s rather a bizarre tale and it really crushed the people, so now that the people are free to do as they please, many still choose to spend vast amounts of time in the parks, as this was forbidden during Pinochet’s rule. Free to enter, English audioguides available, signage all in Spanish, however, there are quite a few videos you can watch that have English subtitles. I found the videos to be the best bits as they take you through the different phases and have personal accounts from the people.
I spent a lot of my time in Santiago visiting the quirky neighbourhoods with amazing street art. It’s hard to choose my favourite photos so I’ll upload more onto Facebook! The districts to visit are: Bella Vista, Brazil and Yungay.
I hiked up Cerro San Cristobal for sunset – I would highly recommend the walk, just wait until after the midday heat.
The only other thing I did was to power walk to a sculpture park. I wouldn’t recommend it really unless you’re in the city for a while but it was a good way to see a different district and a decent view of the tallest building.