By Walker Dawson
Santiago has come a long way in the last 25 years. It was once considered a rather drab, conservative city, known more for its dictatorial oppression and smog than anything else. Today, however, the Chilean capital is in the midst of a renaissance. On sunny summer afternoons, Santiago’s parks attract musicians, joggers, painters, and tourists.
Santiago is a city of diverse neighborhoods. There is Barrio Brasil and Barrio Yungay, two bohemian neighborhoods west of downtown where improv Salsa classes take place on the art covered streets. East of downtown is Barrio Lastarria, an upscale neighborhood full of narrow streets, small apartments, classy restaurants and bars and a magnificent hill, Cerro Santa Lucia, will views of downtown. And the list of incredible neighborhoods keeps going on, from artsy and gritty to historical and low key, Santiago has it all.
Most residents of Santiago are shocked when a foreigner actually likes their city (local opinion is that Santiago is a necessary evil, a place you must come to make money, but not a place to enjoy). With easy weekend trips to the Pacific or the snowcapped Andes, it’s easy to see why Santiago is becoming one of Latin America’s hottest cities.
One of the great things to do in Santiago is to ride to the top of Cerro San Cristobal at sunset. From the summit there are incredible views of the entire city.
Mote con huesillo is a classic Chilean drink consisting of fresh peaches and cooked husked wheat soaked in a sweet sugar nectar. It quenches your thirst and also fills you up, it’s one of the best drinks in South America.
Only a hour from Santiago, Cajón del Maipo is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of Chilean capital. The joy of Santiago is being able to ski the Andes, surf the Pacific, and party the night away all in the same weekend.
Rap battles popping up in Santiago’s streets at night.
A hole in the wall restaurant in Barrio Brasil.
Murals at the Centro Gabriela Mistral, a recently renovated cultural center.
Emporio La Rosa, a great Santiago icecream shop tha serves up unusual flavors such as honey from the Ulmo tree, which has a buttery taste of vanilla and caramel toffee. Every flavor is to die for.
Santiago’s underground metro is one of the best and most extensive in Latin America.
La Piojera is one of Santiago’s oldest dive bars. Order a Terremoto, literally translated as an earthquake because it will knock you to the floor. It is made with white wine, Fernet, bitters, grenadine and a large scoop of pineapple ice-cream.
Some just chose a beer.
At nearly 1,000 ft, the Gran Torre Santiago is the tallest building in Latin America. Looking somewhat out of place on the skyline, many of the residents refer to it as the Sauron Tower.
Santiago’s Mercado Central is intoxicating market where fresh fish are brought in every morning from the Chilean coast. Santiago’s culinary scene has exploded in recent years, with new restaurants reinventing the once conservative gastronomic scene.
North of the Mercado Central is Mercado La Vega, a bustling place that is less touristy and more real than the central market.
A local merchant in La Vega reminiscing fondling of older days “when the government used to care about us”.
Inside the Museo de Bellas Artes or the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts, which was built in 1880, making it one of the oldest museums in South America.
Light show inside cutting edge Museo de Arte Contemporaneo.
Bordering Barrio Lastarria, Bellas Artes and Centro is the wonderful Parque Forestal.
Views of the 20,000 ft snowcapped Andes from Mount Manquehue.
Overlooking Santiago from Mt Manquehue. Santiago has a little over 7 million people in the metropolitan area, making it one of the most important and largest cities in Latin America.
Back in 2007 I did a high school exchange to Santiago, Chile. Alfredo, the guy I stayed with, later came to stay with me in California for three months. Eight years later I came back to visit him, getting to re-learn Santiago after so many years. We both agreed that the high school exchange was one of the best things we’ve ever done in our lives.