Drink the water. I can’t give that advice for all cities in South America, but it’s good advice for all of Chile. And it hints at Chile’s tidiness and level of safety.
Having been to Santiago previously on business, I am aware from my own experience that personal safety is not a concern in this modern, youthful, South American city. I was able to order my own taxi from the airport when I was there previously on business. While this is something people living in most parts of the world today would take for granted, it’s not something I could do universally in South America, per my company’s travel policy. There are cities where I must have a private car and driver (sometimes armed) while traveling on business. Fast forward a few years and I am able to summon an Uber at the airport without incident for the 45-minute ride to the Providencia neighborhood, my home in Santiago for 2 days.
Santiago is a collection of 32 neighborhoods with great variety. Some are more residential, quiet, and off the beaten path. While others are lined with cafes, restaurants, and boutique hotels. I selected Providencia as my residence in Santiago because it’s lively, walkable, and to me represents a slice of life in Santiago. Our boutique hotel is located in the heart of the Comuna Providencia on Orrego Luco street, a short walk from Providencia street. The hotel was centrally located and all points of interest were accessible by foot from there. The neighborhood is green with tree-lined side streets, where the trees looked like they might be a hundred years old. It felt safe, even at night. I was comfortable walking with my wife all over town from this location.
The Hotel itself, Le Reve, is on the intimate side, offering 31 guest rooms, with an interior courtyard that made me feel like I was in a private garden. Our courtyard facing room was peaceful and quiet, and belied the fact that the hotel was in a lively night-life area. My room was spacious, with a grand window opening onto the courtyard, had an American sized bathroom with amenities that I would expect. The bed was very comfortable – important for a hotel, and few people mention such things. The hotel was well rated on Tripadvisor, as well as booking.com, which was the resource I used to make the reservation. I would stay at Le Reve again, as well as recommend it to others.
Discovery Walking Tour
The best way to get to know a place is by walking through the heart of it at a pace that allows for discovering the little things that might otherwise go unnoticed. The entire trek was just over 12 miles and a little over 6 hours, broken up with stops along the way for sightseeing, and lunch. It was a beautiful day for a walking tour, early summer in Chile with a breeze, not a cloud in the sky, and temperatures in the mid 80s — amateur traveler’s sunburn weather.
I like the visual nature of Google maps. I could go on for paragraphs about the route and things seen along the way. Or I can show you the map. Enlarge the map and you should easily see the 4 sections of the trek: from the hotel (pin 1) to Mercado Central (pin 2); from Mercado Central to Barrio Lastarria (pin 3); from Barrio Lastarria to Cerro san Cristobal (pin 4); and Finally from Cerro San Cristobal back to the hotel. Click on each of the 4 pins to see the details associated with that particular location, especially the photos. You can see the photos I’ve imported into the map, as well as other photos Google Maps has in its inventory for a particular location. You can click on any establishment on the map along the path walked to get Google Maps details related to that place, including photos. This is a pretty cool way to explore our Santiago discovery trek, and explore it beyond the media I had originally set aside for this post.
Hotel Le Reve to Mercado Central along Providencia Street (pin 1 to pin 2)
This is leg 1 of the trek, and is represented by the circuit from pin 1 to pin 2 on the map. This was the longest leg of the walk and followed Provedencia Street for most of the way. This particular day was a Tuesday, a regular weekday between the holidays at the end of December. This leg of the walk gave me a sense of the pace and vitality of the city as people were out and about with their daily mid-morning activities.
Mercado Central to Barrio Lastarria (pin 2 to pin 3)
This is leg 2 of the trek, and is represented by pin 2 to pin 3 on the map. We specifically walked to Barrio Lastarria for lunch at the restaurant Bocanariz. It was a quieter walk as compared with leg 1 because it was away from the main road, Provedencia Street. A video is required to share the feel of this leg of the walk, but alas I didn’t think to take one. Second best would be a complete Google Street View of this leg of the walk, which I made available through this link. It’s too bad Google doesn’t allow the use of Street View directly from user-saved maps, like the one I embedded for this post. Such functionality would take user saved Google Maps to a new level of cool.
Bario Lastarria to Cerro San Cristobal (pin 3 to pin 4)
This is leg 3 of the walking trek, represented by pin3 to pin4 on the map. This is a shorter walk relatively speaking, taking us from the Bocanariz restaurant where we had a fabulous seafood meal, to the funicular at the base of Parque Cerro san Cristobal. This too is an interesting walk, and more picturesque than the cityscape encountered on the first leg. I am including the Google Maps Street View images for this leg of the walk with this link. This image set was saved with a resolution of 720P.
The Food Scene
Liguria – Arrival meal at typical local Santiago restaurant. This place was recommended to us by our hotel concierge. This was our first exposure to how little English was spoken everywhere in Chile. So, this restaurant is frequented by locals, and we arrived for lunch around 12:30 to find the place empty. We were the first customers, originally thinking that this restaurant wasn’t very popular, but it filled to capacity within the hour, with people waiting in the doorway for entry. This is where Google translate comes in handy as there was just 1 person that spoke even a bit of English. We managed to convey that we wanted to try typical Chilean dishes, and the waiter recommended beef roast and pork roast with the help of our translation app. The roasts were slow cooked to be tender, but the pork rib could have used some additional cooking time.
Classic “Moules et Frites” as served at any French or Belgian café. This is where we first tried the Pisco Sour, apparently the drink the Chileans stole from the Peruvians. My wife liked it just fine, but I found it to be a little on the “girly” side. I eventually switched to chilled Pisco, which reminded me a lot of Bulgarian Muscat Rakia. Very aromatic. It took quite a bit of convincing for the waiter to bring me just a snifter of Pisco on the rocks. Apparently only gringos like me do this sort of thing.
Bocanariz – Restaurant near Bario Lastarria. We stopped at this restaurant to fortify ourselves during our 12 mile Santiago discovery trek. This place was pretty good, the food preparation was definitely a step above Liguria. We had Octopus carpaccio, fresh ceviche, Serrano ham and cheese stuffed smoked trout, and conger eel, shellfish, and clam chowder. It was a big meal for lunch, but needed given our level of activity.
Bahia Pilolcura – Restaurant in the basement of a small seafood storefront with a Che Guevara poster. We asked our concierge at the hotel for a recommendation for a restaurant for dinner. Looked up the recommended restaurant on Tripadvisor, and it wasn’t well reviewed and ridiculously expensive. So we found this mom/pop hole in the wall seafood restaurant, and we gave it a try. At least their politics is mainstream. The storefront couldn’t have been more than 10 x 10 feet, with steep stairs accessing the “restaurant.” We looked at each other at the top of the stairs wondering if we wanted to do this, and decided to go ahead with it. At the bottom of the stairs, the restaurant had enough seating for 8, may be 10. We were the only customers. The owner/waiter brought me a can of beer and a bottle of chilled Pisco. He showed me where the cooler was should I need more beer. The waiter understood zero English. This was truly an adventure, but we eventually ordered, and enjoyed the meal – although it’s not the inexpensive experience one might expect. The food was good and fresh, well prepared, and served as if we were the only customers – which we were.
Restaurant Perú Gustoso. Layover on Return Trip Home. We had too much time at the airport on the return flight home, so we hopped an Uber back to Hotel Le Reve, dropped off our luggage for a few hours, walked around and ended up at this restaurant. By this time we’d had enough of Chilean fare, and wanted to try a Peruvian restaurant. This menu looked pretty good, with lots of seafood, including Octopus and Squid – some of our favorites. The Pisco, however was Chilean – I asked. So I question the overall Peruvian authenticity… 😉
Santiago Final Thoughts
It was interesting, and we made the most of the 2 days we spent in Santiago. It’s more of a modern city, with a few historic spots from its Spanish Colonial era. It’s was an interesting visit, and we enjoyed the time we spent there, in particular the discovery walk. But I wouldn’t return to Chile specifically to revisit Santiago.