For a little over a week, Anna and I (with our special guest Erin who arrived two days after we did) walked all over Santiago, Chile. We have come to enjoy this city with its wealth of beautifully maintained parks, surrounding mountains, busy city life, passionate soccer fans, and contentedly chaotic markets. Although a week is hardly long enough to have a fully-formed opinion about such a large (6.3 million residents) and diverse city, we liked what we saw.
Only an hour or so after Erin arrived in Santiago we bolted from our airbnb apartment heading for two large markets other travelers had advised us to visit. Our first stop was Mercado Central – the fish market. We found all kinds of seafood available here in addition to the restaurants around the perimeter guaranteeing what would likely be one of the freshest seafood meals possible (although we didn’t try one to find out). We settled on a kilogram of salmon that ended up yielding at least 4 meals and moved on to the second market, La Vega.
It seemed as though everything (except seafood) was available at La Vega: pasta, rice, spices, fruit, vegetables, chicken, whole pig heads, paper products, grocery bags, pickled appetizers, pots and pans, mote con huesillo (a sweet peach and wheat drinkable snack popular in Chile), and more.
Anna trying Mote
The entrance to the market is nothing to write home about and undersells the bounty inside. Stray dogs roam through the garbage and among the cars fighting for parking spots. Inside, there was the kind of organized chaos that gives good South American markets their appeal – Vendors chatting with each other and bartering with customers while customers jostle for position. It may sound annoying, but when your reward is fruit and vegetables superior to anything available in supermarkets, it’s completely worth it.
Most impressive was Erin’s ability to adapt to the craziness without seeming overwhelmed. It took us several mini trips to markets in Guatemala to figure out what was going on and to start to enjoy the experience. It took her about 3 hours on the ground. Bravo to her!
Cerro San Cristobal
Overlooking the north side of Santiago is Cerro San Cristobal (Saint Christopher Hill), with its enormous statue of Mary opening her arms to the south.
We wandered over to this hill hoping to climb to the statue and see one of the better views of the city but when we got to the base we got a pleasant surprise. Cerro San Cristobal is actually just a part of a much larger park complex that included a zoo, a botanical garden, a castle, a Japanese Garden, a children’s playground, a public pool, bike trails, and more. Naturally, instead of just climbing the hill, we decided to frolic a bit in this network of parks behind the hill.
Hanging with Wooden Statues
Smoggy view of Sanhattan – Santiago’s Financial Center
Mike Imitating Street Sign
Post-Hike Ice Cream
Santiago’s parks were one of our favorite parts of the city. For a huge urban center, there were more than enough green spaces for people to cuddle (a favorite pastime of South Americans in parks, we have noticed), jog, ride their bikes, nap, practice yoga, play on the jungle gym, and do whatever else people do in parks. They even built houses for some of the smaller street dogs that wander around the city.
Anna and Erin Walking Into Spiderwebs – Leave a Message and They’ll Call You Back
“Why Is #19 So Bad?”
A frequent exchange between Anna and me (Erin was a more forgiving soul) while we watched two of Santiago’s lesser-known first-division soccer teams battle for 10th place. “Our” team – the home team – was Union Espanola which featured a striker so painfully inept that we spent most of the game wondering whether he was a coach’s son (modest talent thrust into a starring role), actually good but drunk that night, or being punished by being forced to play hopelessly out of position.
In spite of (ok, because of) our passionate ribbing of this one player, the incredible enthusiasm of the dozens of shirtless fans cheering for the “visiting” team (still from Santiago), and the tightness of the game we had a great time. We got to see two spectacular bicycle kick goals and two red cards, before Union Espanola won the game with a goal with only 2 minutes to go. Who scored that goal you probably didn’t ask? #19 of course. Turns out we may not be great judges of soccer talent, although Anna claims he just got lucky.
We met a couple for drinks on one such street (Pio Nono) in the Bellavista neighborhood before continuing to the grand opening of a taco restaurant. The opening was packed with people and featured a mariachi band, something not exactly common in Chile. Because we had to wake up early for our day trip outside Santiago we couldn’t wait in line very long for tacos so we ended up bailing out in favor of sandwiches at a Peruvian restaurant.
Instructional Sign for Taco Consumption
We wanted to head back to try some tacos a couple of nights later, but we found out that the restaurant closed just two days later for mysterious reasons “out of their control.” Maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t eat there before our hike….
Santiago was a nice city and appeared very livable despite the high cost of living relative to other South American cities. As self-described city folk, we enjoyed the diversity of businesses and people, the ample green spaces, the lovely skyscrapers (including the tallest in Latin America, below), the cleanliness, and the magnificent weather (between 55-85 every day with no clouds).
It loses some points for the smog (how can a city be described as clean and have smog? I don’t know, but it managed both) and the compartmentalization of its one or two bar districts onto only a couple of blocks. When cities do this it lends those areas a seedier feel and seems to attract more beggars and thieves than it would if the various bars/restaurants grew more naturally all over the city.
Still, these are modest complaints about a city we thoroughly enjoyed and one we hope to return to soon.