Last week I travelled to Chile (aka the ends of the Earth!) for 6 days. I’d visited this beautiful country once before earlier this year around April time and the weather was so dreadful I was unable to fully appreciate the city of Santiago. This time the weather was completely different as Chile is approaching summertime and there was blazing sunshine and temperatures of around 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit) gracing Santiago, and I even experienced my first earthquake while I was there! I was so disappointed I couldn’t spend more time exploring the country, and it’s certainly been added to my holiday to-go list! Here’s my take on Santiago de Chile:
Santiago is the capital city of Chile and has a population of just over 6 million people. Chile is one of the most stable and prosperous nations in the Latin American region. It was colonized by the Spanish in the mid-16th century and became independent in 1818. Chile is situated on a major geographical fault line in the ring of fire, meaning it has several earthquakes a day (usually too small to feel) and has had nearly 700 in the past year!
How to get there: There are lots of different options and airlines that can take you to Santiago, but as I prefer to fly with the Oneworld group, I chose to take the Heathrow to Sao Paulo flight with BA and then onto Santiago from there with LATAM. The flight to Sao Paulo took 12 hours and Sao Paulo to Santiago was around 4 hours. Other options include changing in Europe, Colombia, Argentina or, as of January 2017, flying with BA direct to Santiago from Heathrow (exciting!). This flight will be around 14 and a half hours long.
Currency: Chilean pesos. Hotels will often give you the option to pay in US dollars, which makes your payment VAT free when paying with a foreign credit card. Other than that, pesos all the way!
Culture: Chileans tend to dress conservatively, which is worth bearing in mind if you don’t want to draw unwanted attention to yourself. They are very polite so don’t be afraid to ask for help/advice. As in many hispanic countries, they eat fairly late in the evening so you can usually grab a table in a restaurant without a reservation if you get there before 8pm.
Other: Chile has plug sockets with three round pins in a line, which means you’ll need to have your European adaptor with you! Tap water is clean, but can give you stomach pains as it has a very high mineral content, so bottle water is best if you’re drinking it. Unlike many other big cities in Latin America, Santiago (and Chile in general) is fairly safe, providing you take usual safety precautions like not flashing cameras and expensive jewellery around!
I stayed in the Crowne Plaza hotel, which is fairly centrally located in Santiago. In good traffic, it’s about 15 minutes drive from the airport. All the hotel staff spoke good English (including the bell boy), so non-Spanish speakers need not worry here! The restaurant served a good buffet for breakfast and had a decent variety of food on the menu for lunch and dinner, including some Chilean specialities. The best thing about my room? This absolutely spectacular view of the Andes!
As Chile is a coastal country, you’ll have no problem finding excellent seafood. It’s available in abundance on menus around the city and in various forms, including ceviche, a culinary speciality in Chile and Peru. It’s made with raw fish marinated in lime/lemon juice and then paired with various vegetables to make a beautiful dish not to be missed! Other culinary delights I tried included a perfect prawn risotto, tasty traditionally-made Chilean ice-cream (lemon and mint, passion fruit and coconut with chocolate) and the best calamari I have ever had!
But meat-lovers need not fear, there are also plenty of meat dishes around, including those with pork and beef. When I took a break from the delicious seafood, I had lomo saltado, which is a Peruvian dish consisting of sliced steak served with assorted vegetables, chips and rice. There is a clear Peruvian influence on cuisine available in Chile, so while you’re at it don’t miss out on a pisco sour to quench your thirst; you can choose to either have one made with Chilean or Peruvian pisco, which is a type of brandy made in the region and is claimed by both Chile and Peru as their national drink. The froth on top of the drink comes from adding egg whites, and you can get variations on the traditional lime juice that is usually added to the drink (I had one flavoured with fruits of the forest). And of course, don’t forget to try the wine; Chile is currently the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world!
As ever, my busy schedule didn’t allow a huge amount of time for sightseeing, which is why I’m going to have to go back for a holiday! However, I did get chance to visit a great street just around from my hotel called Jose Victorino Lastarria; this is a pretty place to visit, with lots of restaurants, street vendors and the place I got my ice-cream called Emporio La Rosa, which is definitely a must-do in the summer. There’s also a lovely park, Parque Forestal, at the end of the street (once you’ve got your ice-cream of course) that you can go and sit in to take a break from the city.
I also got chance to visit Cerro San Cristobal, which I would highly recommend for any visitor to Santiago. It’s a hill with a statue of the Virgin Mary on top located in the centre of Santiago. You can reach the summit either by taking an electric bike tour (around 25,000 CLP) or the funicular (2,600 CLP weekends, 2,000 CLP during the week for a round trip). I love finding the best views of cities, so this was absolutely perfect. It’s 850 metres above sea level (about 300m above Santiago). Once you get up there, there’s a church and the statue of the Virgin Mary to look at at the top, as well as vendors selling food and drink while you’re up there. You can have a wander around to see different sides of the city, including beautiful views of the Andes as a backdrop to a series of ornately painted crosses. This is absolutely a must-see in Santiago!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit any other sights on my whistle-stop trip to Chile, but other great things to do would be the Gran Torre de Santiago (the tallest tower in Latin America that soars above the city), the National Museum of History and wine-tasting tours.
Have you been to Santiago? Let me know what you thought and any other advice you have for readers in the comments below!