Way Down South: Exploring Santiago

Delta Business Elite ECP-ATL-SCL
Four Points by Sheraton Santiago
W Santiago
Exploring Santiago
KLM World Business Class SCL-EZE
Hilton Buenos Aires
Exploring Buenos Aires
Aerolíneas Argentinas Club Economy AEP-USH
Alto Andino Hotel Ushuaia
Exploring Ushuaia
Aerolíneas Argentinas Economy USH-AEP
Sheraton Libertador Hotel Buenos Aires
Aerolíneas Argentinas Club Economy AEP-GRU + Delta Business Elite GRU-ATL-ECP

I’ll admit, up until I started planning for this trip the only thing that would ever come to mind about Chile was Santiago, that there is wine, and that it is long and narrow. I wasn’t as familiar in advance of what the country had in terms of features or the people or quite honestly that much of the history. My original plan was to try to see two distinct areas of the country: the bustling city life in Santiago and the calm mountain lakes in the Los Rios / Los Lagos Regions of Chile. As I’ve mentioned in previous several posts, Delta kinda put the kibosh on that plan. So I found myself getting to know Chile just through the city of Santiago and it’s inhabitants. Based on my time in Santiago, I found an amazing city filled with friendly people, wonderful sights, and delicious eats.

Getting Oriented
Arriving a flight first thing in the morning meant that I would be hitting the ground running; luckily I had managed to get a little bit of sleep to get me started. After checking in at the Four Points by Sheraton on that first morning, I armed myself with a map and started to make my way into the city.

I thought the first order of business would be for me to find a local SIM card so that I could avoid using my Verizon service. Unfortunately, due to a language barrier between myself and the front desk agent at the hotel I gave up on that plan pretty quickly and decided to just enable global data on my phone at a rate of $25/100MB. Not the best, but I decided that I just did not want to waste time trying to find an open shop or figure out what hoops I would have to jump through.

I briefly explored the neighborhood the hotel is located in, which wasn’t too bad of an area, as I made my way to the nearest metro station (Los Leones) a short few blocks away. I picked up Santiago’s contactless (bip!) fare card which would be my key to getting around the city the next several days then started my ride into the heart of the city. Santiago’s metro is apparently pretty much the same as Montreal’s or Paris’ in the sense that they all use roughly the same equipment of tire-based metro cars…fun fact! It was also pretty clean and seemed punctual/efficient.

Anyways, I figured the best way to get my bearings in this city would be to take the metro all the way into the heart of the history center of Santiago. From there I would be able to see several of the historic buildings such as La Moneda Palace, the main Cathedral, Mercado Central, and more. Plus it gets a lot of the touristy sightseeing out of the way first and foremost.

Santiago Metro

Historic Center
The center of Santiago is home to many older buildings and many landmarks of interest, museums and public spaces that give a good introduction to the city. Starting off with La Moneda Palace, which is the seat of the President of Chile. Unlike the White House here in the United States, there aren’t fences and standoffs from the building. While you can only approach so close on the Southern Side, it’s a nice open area that is home to reflecting pools, which are used as the “barrier” of sorts. Underneath that plaza is also a museum, which I unfortunately did not visit. On the North side of the Palace is Plaza de la Constitución which pretty much goes right up to the walls of the Palace. Here you find people posing with the guards outside, especially children, and they seem fairly receptive to requests to do so. Perhaps I should have…

La Moneda Palace (South Face)

Large Chilean Flag Across From La Moneda Palace

La Moneda Palace (North Face)

The Guards Seemed Friendly Enough

Plaza de Armms
I had imagined that Plaza de Armas would be a fairly nice place to take in the historic center of the city, but on this trip it was not going to be exactly the case. The entire plaza was blocked off by construction fencing for some sort of project. The Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago that sits on the square was also covered in scaffolding. It was nothing more than a giant construction site! A slight let down, but I still checked out things on the perimeter.

Northern Side of Plaza de Armas

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago + Plaza de Armas

While the Cathedral’s exterior was covered up, the interior was open and accessible. Inside I found a fairly ornate church with a few interesting works, but nothing that really stood out to me. I’m starting to think that all these “old” churches that I’ve been to around the world are starting to blend together.

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago

The central post office for Santiago is also off the Plaza and I ventured into this fine example of South American bureaucracy one afternoon to send myself the obligatory post card home from a new country. It appears the post office in Chile is used for functions other than just mail in Chile as most people were holding packets to take to a clerk, but no one actually looked like they were necessarily mailing anything (and each packet looked nearly the same). All I wanted to do was send that post card and I wound up having to wait about an hour to get to an agent at the counter to buy a stamp.

Central Post Office

Luckily inside the post office, is the Chilean Postal Museum which, although not very large was a good way to kill part of the time during my wait. There were examples of old postal equipment (think mailboxes, desks, telegraph equipment, etc) as well as a collection of stamps from around the world. Pretty much every country was represented (past and present) and I’ll admit it was slightly interesting looking through those.

Someday People Will Be Confused By The Fact That We Mailed Paper Letters…

There are several other museums off Plaza de Armas as well, but I never did quite make it to them. The first day in Santiago I wasn’t feeling like it necessarily and the second day it turned that all museums are closed on Mondays and come my third day, I just never made it to any.

There’s plenty of food options around the Plaza, ranging from all sorts of American fast food joints to counter restaurants and more. One of the more interesting options was in the passageway of the building located on the southern edge of the Plaza. Here food stall after food stall was lined up and nearly always serving up the same thing: hot dogs. Apparently Chile rather likes hot dogs, but they do them a little bit differently than say a plain hot dog with ketchup or even a Chicago-style dog back in the States. Instead you have things like the Italiano and Completo, both of which include mayo and avocado (in the form of what is essentially guacamole). Chopped tomatoes make an appearance on the Italiano and there are a few other variations as well. But essentially, you have this long passageway lined with these little stalls that all serve up these quick, cheap meals while offering nothing more than a square of corner space for you to quickly chow down on the hot dog and get moving.

While There Are Many Stands, There Really Only Seemed To Be Two Companies Or Brands…

An Italiano

Mercado Central
Mercardo Central is a large fish market that’s quite the tourist stop/trap. I made my way around the outer ring of vendors and stalls hawking fish, which really wasn’t too much different from many markets I’ve been to around the world. The smell of bleach (on the floors) and various fish is always an interesting mix and you are guaranteed to see at least one person holding their nose. It’s not that bad though, if you were to ask me…

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

Mercado Central

I guess the real reason for a visitor to come here is to get some sort of seafood dish and there were definitely quite a few tourists enjoying seafood at what I am sure were higher than typical prices. I myself decided to check off my list of having a meal here at the market, and sat down at Donde Augusto which seemed to the be “big” one within the center of the market. The menu was he menu was fairly comprehensive of various seafood options (as it should be!) along with an ok selection of beer; I opted to go for a plate with shrimp, scallops, and potatoes in a cream sauce with a beer from Chilean Patagonia to go along with. While I don’t remember how expensive it was, like I said, it was probably more than what it was actually worth.

Enjoying A Beer

Donde Augusto – Lunch

Santiago seems to have a pretty good number of parks and public spaces within the city. I didn’t get to the Parque Metropolitano (which includes Cerro San Cristóbal and supposedly very excellent views of the city), but I did find myself in several others. There was Parque Forestal which wasn’t much more than a wedge between two busy city streets – but still offered a nice shaded area in the center of the city. When I walked through on a Sunday afternoon I encountered hundreds of people spread out on blankets/sheets/towels selling everything that you could think of: books, clothes, small household appliances; it was like an impromptu flea market if anything. I’m not sure the exact specifics of it, all I know is that I saw a guy hanging upside fown from a bike that was hanging from a tree.

Parque Forestal


The one hill that I did walk up to get a better vantage point of the city was Cerro Santa Lucía. Located in the center of the city, it’s bounded by roads on all sides, and isn’t a very difficult hike up as it’s only 69m in elevation change. One thing that I didn’t know was that this is actually the remnant of a volcano from several millions of years ago. More recently it served as a fortification, and one can walk to the top of one of the towers to get that good vantage point of the city. The only difficulty I found in this short excursion was going back down on the side that faced the Monument of Pedro de Valdivia; with short steps and some of them at a slight angle, I slipped twice, but managed to not fall once. As always, it’s good just to take time and care when navigating the way down.

Tower On Top Of Cerro Santa Lucía

Yes, A Guy Carried His Bike Up To The Top

Not A Terrible View…

Looking Down On The Monument of Pedro de Valdivia

I visited Parque Quinta Normal, in conjunction with visiting the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) which is located across the. As for the park, it was a nice large and quiet park space, but also curiously empty of people. It’s well maintained, but there just weren’t many people utilizing it. That actually made it a pretty good spot to just find a bench under the shade and bust out a book. There’s also several museums within the park, but I didn’t venture into any. The Museum of Science and Technology looked pretty small and I honestly judged it by the graffiti on the exterior, so I didn’t bother checking it out.

Parque Quinta Normal

Parque Quinta Normal

Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights catalogs the period of Chile’s history when it was under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Other than knowing that there was that period in Chile’s history, I admittedly knew almost nothing of how it came to be, what happened during the years of military rule and how it eventually ended. This is a very high quality museum and was very, very informative, even considering that descriptions or information in English were sometimes a bit lacking. For some of the exhibits, you didn’t need words when there is a metal bed frame that is more or less wired up to a car battery.

Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos – They Were Pretty Adamant About No Photography Inside

Around Town
One of the great things about traveling is stumbling up on something that is unexpected or impromptu – not an ordinary fixture. The first one of these types of encounters happened on the my first night as I was heading to dinner and drinking. Right as I was approaching the bridge over the river I saw a crowd at the base of a monument in a small wedge that was not much more than a traffic island. This was Plaza Italia and at the base of the monument what did I find in the early hours of the night? A dance off! I will say, I actually stayed to watch the locals compete against in each other with their street moves and challenge others – the energy from both the dancers and the crowd was exciting! It’s stumbling on these kinds of things that is part of the reason why I love travel so much…

Bring It!

The second wasn’t quite as impromptu probably, but in front of the University of Chile, there was one morning a band playing Cuban music. I may not have been in the Caribbean, but I have to say that music was just exceptional and great for a sunny morning on the streets. In retrospect I should have bought one of the CDs that they were going around the crowd with.

Cuban Music!

I’ve already touched on eating at the Mercado Central and a Completo earlier on and my dinner at the W Santiago, but there is much more to the dining in Santiago than either. Santiago really does have a very wide range of food options, no matter what you are hungry for. Even if what you are looking for is a fine dinner at Applebee’s…

There Was A Ruby Tuesday’s Across The Street…

Since I had one dinner at the W Santiago, that only left two other nights for enjoying a dinner on the town. The first night that I was out led me to Galindo. Located North of the river in the Bellavista area, Galindo was a place that seemed to be highly reviewed with filling meals at the “right” price, and most importantly is a “Chilean” restaurant. First impression walking in was that the place was busy. Luckily I managed to get a table for one, which was also probably the worst table in the house being literally right up on the door, but I didn’t care too much. There was a decent beer selection, so I was able to try another Chilean craft beer with my dinner, going with the Guayacán Pale Ale from Cerveza Guayacán in Diaguitas, Chile. As for the meal itself, I decided to go what I think is somewhat traditional, by ordering the “Lomo a lo Pobre”. A very healthy dish consisting of french fries topped with steak, two fried eggs and onions. Was it tasty? Oh, it most definitely was! A simple meal, and definitely not elegant, but considering that this was right before kicking off a night of drinking it seemed like a good plan. Might as well eat something to soak up all the alcohol!


Lomo a lo Pobre

The other dinner I enjoyed was just down the street from the W Santiago on Isidora Goyenechea: IT – Sandwich & Bar. There’s a few options along this block and they all seemed decent, but I figured I would come here and at least get a Churrasco sandwich, and so that is what I ordered. The sandwich was very good and what surprised me was actually the bread. They had multiple selections, and had opted for one made with olives – a food that I typically do not like. There would be some risk there, but actually it was very, very good and soft. I didn’t even get a strong olive flavor, which was good because that meant I could taste the meat. The best thing was that there was outdoor seating, so I got to enjoy my meal in the comfortable weather that evening.

More Beer!

This Is Actually A Pretty Terrible Picture, But That Was The Sandwich

Bar Scene
I have to say that in comparison to some of my other recent trips, Santiago has probably been one of the better places that I’ve visited for nights out on the town. I won’t hide behind the fact that bars are great places when you are traveling, especially solo, to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger; and on this trip I have to say I met and hung out with some pretty interesting folks. The most important thing was that whether local or foreigner, everyone I encountered was friendly and open in Santiago; as I’ll get to later, that was not necessarily the case in Argentina.

That first night I was there, I opted to go to an Irish pub located down the street from Galindo – Dublin. I dont think they even had Guinness on tap, so I don’t think you could call it a “true” Irish pub, but it definitely had a low-key relaxed atmosphere. In fact it wasn’t even that busy and I started drinking a pint of one of the Chilean beers, for the most part keeping to myself. Eventually two blokes came in speaking English and approached the counter next to me while debating which beer to get. I figured I might as well throw in my two cents and from there the conversation got rolling. Eventually the three of us grabbed a table and found out one was from Denmark and the other from New York and both were just traveling around South America. They apparently had only met a few nights prior from staying at the same hostel and apparently quickly seemed to have become drinking buddies.

I wasn’t planning on staying out very late myself, as the next night I was going to go out to celebrate my Birthday and I wanted to be able to take public transportation back to my hotel versus having to cab it. On the way back to their hostel we stopped by a convienence store to pick up beers, at which I was very surprised how cheap the cheapest beer was. I think 2000 pesos had scored us two very large bottles to take with. The hostel was only a few blocks away and actually wasn’t that bad of a place – pretty decent common areas and a nice courtyard out in the back. The three of us talked and as always, it is very interesting to get differing perspectives on the world. One thing that was great about it was that it never got ugly, which is sometimes the risk when American politics come up. I only stayed for an hour or so before I bid them farewell and made my trek back to the metro station.

My second and third nights were spent at a different Irish pub that was located a few blocks from the W – Flannery’s Irish Geo Pub. This turned out to be a really great place – filled with locals and expats and definitely more busy. In fact on that Monday night, it was standing room only when I showed up…perhaps a function of happy hour going until something ridiculous like 10PM? This bar definitely had more of an “Irish pub” feel to it and aside from having Guinness available (I think it may have been bottle only), they had several “house” beers as well. I actually went that route and the red ale wasn’t too shabby.

Flannery’s Irish Geo Pub

The reason I got to like this place was just how friendly everyone was. I was there solo and eventually got talking to the bartender which eventually became the bartender and two of his friends, including a girl from Iowa. I wound up drinking in that group and wound up with a birthday shot of tequila somewhere along the way before the group deciding to go off to another bar. I was having fun, so I figured why not tag along and jumped in the taxi with them to head off to the neighborhood I stayed in the first night to visit California Cantina. Turns out it’s pretty well known in the expat bar crawl scene, and whilst here a few more of their friends showed up, including the bartender from Flannery’s. The good times continued to roll until they pretty much kicked us out around 2AM. I said goodbye to the friendly strangers and eventually made my way back to the W in a cab.

My second night at Flannery’s wasn’t as much of a social success, but wound up chatting up a few strangers before eventually retiring back to the hotel. Of note is that I did try a Pisco Sour done in the Chilean style (there’s apparently disagreement between Chileans and Peruvians over who’s is best), that turned out to be not too bad. The same bartender wasn’t working that night, and unfortunately the one working that night did not have as good of English language skills, so conversation was lacking.

Despite all the words I’ve put into this, it really doesn’t give the best impression of how I found Santiago. Part of it is admittedly my writing skills, but I’ve found it hard to capture what I found. Perhaps to call it a vibrant and inviting city? Never once did I ever feel less than welcomed in the city whether from the looks of people passing on the street or talking to completely random strangers. The city is most definitely alive and is filled with all sorts of historical corners to explore. Admittedly I only scratched the surface on the city and the nation of Chile.

While I slightly regret not spending one of those days in Santiago taking a side trip to Valparaiso, I’m also glad that I didn’t. If I had not stayed in Santiago exclusively, I wouldn’t have met some of the people that I did, experienced some of the things that I had, or even visited some of the sites that I had. It’s definitely a doubled-edge sword because I can say the same thing about not having been to Valparaiso and there’s one thing I definitely didn’t get to experience – riding a bus across a South American country.

Would I go back to Santiago? Definitely! I would want to see more of Chile as well, especially since I didn’t get to make it down to Valdivia thanks to Delta’s delay in getting me there a day late. So, let’s hope that it’s sooner rather than later, and maybe by then I’ll learn a little Spanish just for good measure!

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