by Zoe Russell
Jaw dropping snow-capped peaks greet us as we descend from the air in our Sky Airline flight from Buenos Aires; beautiful green parks where lovers canoodle are scattered amongst the city’s high-rises, impressive architecture rich in history looks down on massive squares where locals gather to dance the afternoons away, and artisans and tourists co-habitate in eclectic suburbs.
Once you get over the steep $95 reciprocity fee many foreign nationals (including Australians) have to pay to get into Chile, you’ll fall in lust with this city – and we’re told a few days is more than enough time to experience the best sights Santiago has to offer.
We’re staying at La Chimba Hostel in Barrio Bellavista. The streets of this funky suburb are lined with colourful graffiti art which brightens your way during the day, but it’s at night that Bellavista really comes alive with bustling bars and restaurants. There is something for everyone but we chose to walk past the nightspots blaring Gangnam Style, instead preferring a more authentic South American experience at a tango bar with Latin dancing. Have our moves improved after so long in South America?
Barrio Bellavista is also at the base of San Cristobal Hill which at 300 metres above the city offers sweeping 180 degree views of the skyline. It is also where a 22 metre white statue of Virgin Mary stands offering those who need it a place to worship … but mainly just another photo opportunity for tourists. The funicular is out of action, but we don’t want to miss the view so we decide to stretch our legs by walking the steep route to the top. It’s quite a challenging half an hour walk and not for the unfit, but the views were well worth it. The afternoon is a better time of day as the smog had lifted a little, but don’t expect crystal clear views.
With limited time in Santiago overall, and wanting to see as much of the city as we can, we choose to do the hop on hop off bus tour of the city. For about 19,000 Chilean Pesos each (about $40) it’s definitely worth doing – we’re going to see so much more of the city than you normally would simply walking around for a few days, and we can get off at all the best sights the city has to offer.
One great spot worth visiting is Plaza de Armas, which gives us a little perspective on how old Santiago is. The Plaza was designed in the 1500s but most of the impressive buildings including the Metropolitan Cathedral were built in the 1800s. A must for history buffs but it is also a great place to just people watch, from buskers jostling marionettes to locals dancing. It is even a popular meeting spot for the city’s stray dogs to sniff each other out.
This is a city alive with amusing experiences. We duck into a coffee shop/bar seeking a quick caffeine fix, and face the choice of either taking a seat or standing at the bar … where we are served by the most voluptuous women you have ever seen wearing dresses barely covering their boobs and butts. I actually thought we had walked into a gentlemen’s club (and as the only blonde female in the joint I received my fair share of uncomfortable stares). For the rest of the group, put your eyes back into your head! I think we’ve suddenly found a new appreciation for the coffee houses here … perhaps we should open a franchise back home when the everydaydreaming is done?
As far as South America countries go, Santiago isn’t ‘cheap’. Expect western prices if you come for a visit but overall, and expect to have a great time. In comparison with some of our other stops, there’s no doubt Santiago can serve as both an excellent introduction to the continent and an inclusion on any South American travel plan.
Want to go? Need to know!
One thing is for sure, our limited Spanish is only just getting us by! The most common phrases used so far are:
- Hola (hello)
- Adios/ciao (goodbye)
- Buenos dias/tardes/noches (good morning/afternoon/evening)
- Habla englais (do you speak English?)
- No intiende (I don´t understand). We’re using that one a lot!
We are picking words and phrases up quickly, and the locals everywhere we visit appreciate us making some effort. Maybe we’ll be quite the linguists when we next travel through your home country? (Speaking of which, have you invited us to feature your home or favourite travel destination yet? Head over to our local guides page now.)
What’s your travel experience in South America? How much Spanish did you feel you needed? Tell us in the comments below.