Santiago

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.

 

Settling in

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.

Our quiet, comfortable courtyard facing room at hotel Le Reve
Our quiet, comfortable courtyard facing room at hotel Le Reve

 

Discovery Trek

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.

 

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.

 

Le Bistrot
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… 😉

 

Epilogue

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.

 Related Trips

Related Destinations

Chile Travel Planning – Santiago, The Lakes District and Patagonia

Chile travel planning

Motivation – Chile Travel Planning

Of all the countries is South America, why would I choose Chile as the first to visit for some personal vacation time. Personal safety comes to top of mind as a motivator. Chile is safe to visit, even for those that speak no Spanish, with a low incident of crime. Chile is tourist friendly, with a young vibe, particularly in the capital city of Santiago. In fact, I’ve never traveled to any country that accepted more variety of credit cards, in more places than Chile. I eventually stopped withdrawing local currency from ATMs in favor of using my Amex card in restaurants and shops, and found nowhere it wasn’t accepted.

But the strongest motivator for Chile would be its great outdoors. Having read all about the Lakes district near Puerto Varas, mesmerized with the photos of Chilean Patagonia, and hypnotized with YouTube videos of Torres del Paine National Park, a trip to Chile was inevitable for me.

 

Logistics -Chile Travel Planning

I selected the time around Christmas and New Year for the trip for 2 basic reasons. Opportunistically, I had time off from work as paid holiday and didn’t have to dip deep into vacation time. Late December, and Early January in Chile is essentially the beginning of Summer, and pretty good weather to do the outdoor activities I had in mind in South America – In particular it is a good time of the year to visit Chilean Patagonia, and Torres del Paine National Park.

Air transportation in and out of Santiago was convenient from Atlanta, my home airport, with direct flights available. Flights from Santiago to Puerto Montt in the Lakes District, and Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia were available through LATAM Airways, and surprisingly inexpensive. For example, a round trip itinerary from Santiago to Puerto Montt, Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, and finally the last leg back from Punta Arenas back to Santiago was under $200 per person. I had a very positive experience with LATAM airlines, a professionally run organization with good on-time performance, good personal service, and decent WIFI enabled entertainment onboard.

For ground transportation, rental cars were necessary in the lakes district, and in Patagonia. In the case of arrival at Puerto Montt, it’s basically a 30-minute drive to Puerto Varas, and no real options for alternate transportation like taxis. A rental car is also necessary to do a circuit of the lake, and to visit the volcanoes while in Puerto Varas. In the case of Punta Arenas, it would have been possible to take a bus to Puerto Natales, and another bus to Torres del Paine National Park, but this isn’t my style. It’s simply too inconvenient, time consuming (turn a 2 hour car drive into a 3 hour bus ride), and aggravating to deal with other people’s schedules. As it turned out, driving Ruta del Fin del Mundo was a must-have experience for me which framed part of the Patagonia experience in my mind, and couldn’t have been done without a rental car.

 

Itinerary -Chile Travel Planning

The basic itinerary selected was to spend 2 nights in Santiago, take an hour and 45-minute plane ride directly south to Puerto Montt, then rent a car and drive the leisurely 30 minutes to Puerto Varas. Spend 2 nights in Puerto Varas exploring the little city and its surrounding lake and volcanoes, then take the 2 hour+ flight directly to Punta Arenas. Rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle in Punta Arenas, and drive to Puerto Natales directly. Spend 4 nights in Puerto Natales, within a 2-hour drive to Torres del Paine National Park. I planned to visit 2 of the more accessible and jaw-dropping sights on the so-called W-trail in Torres del Paine National Park: Mirador del Torres at one end of the park, and the catamaran to the glaciers on Lago Grey at the other.

Other options would have been to spend some time in the Atacama high desert, but my motivation wasn’t there for a desert adventure, and the logistics would have been prohibitive as well, requiring a 2-hour plane ride from Santiago going north, while the both the Lakes District and Patagonia were several hours south, in the opposite direction, by plane. I also considered and passed on Valparaiso as a destination for this particular trip. It just didn’t fit with the “outdoor theme” as well as the Lakes District and Patagonia. Easter Island was never a consideration, although I was aware it could have been an option. Easter Island would have been a lot of time spent for little travel experience in return.

 

Resources -Chile Travel Planning

There are way too many behave-alike airfare search engines out there with little differentiation among them. For my time and effort, I find that I can’t do better than using google flights. I can’t beat it for accuracy, speed, and functionality. I searched and tracked the mainstream carrier round-trip flights to Santiago, as well as the local LATAM carrier flights from Santiago to Puerto Montt, and Punta Arenas through google flights, having made use to the tracking and notification feature to get good prices.

I find myself going to booking.com first for both hotel and apartment reservations anymore. I like their map function which displays available properties visually for easy decision making. Even better is the fact that it can filter both apartments and hotels together on the same map, giving a great comparison for availability and price across both property types. The actual decision to go with an apartment or a hotel room can be a little tricky, and on this occasion felt more comfortable with hotel rooms. Apartments for me require a higher level of independence, with no support for things like concierge service, for example. Given that this was my first vacation in South America, hotels made more sense from a support perspective.

I did not depend on cellular coverage being continuously available for navigation purposes, and it turned out to be a reasonable assumption as carrier service did drop when we got way outside the cities. However, google maps has a feature where you can download map areas to your device and use google maps while offline. This turned out to work very well, although turn-by-turn voice instructions don’t work in the offline mode, the app got the job done in getting us around Patagonia where the cell signal was the worst.

I booked a rental car in Puerto Montt, as well as Punta Arenas – both through rentalcars.com. The booking experience was ok, although it is one of those sites that require an up-front deposit to confirm the reservation, which I don’t like. The site did pose a problem on one of the rentals as it tried to charge for the entire rental at reservation time. It took 15 minutes on the phone with a customer service agent to straighten out the issue. I would prefer to book directly with a rental car company of my choice, but those operating in Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas were not on my “A” list for direct dealing, so I went with rentalcars.com which had reasonably good prices.

Tripadvisor has become an indispensable travel resource for me. The phone app is particularly useful for finding things close to your current location. The most import of which is finding a good place to eat on the spot, and in short order. When I use it for this purpose, I select near me now/restaurants and filter on “open now”. Then I sort by distance – not highest rated. When I’m hungry enough to find an unplanned restaurant, I want closest, then best. But the bottom line is that I use the food pictures posted by the reviewers to make the final decision. Pictures are equivalent to a thousand reviews, and I can quickly find something close by accommodating my needs.

 

An Opportunity Missed

I didn’t realize this was possible until my arrival in Punto Arenas for the flight back to Santiago. For those of us that strive to visit every continent as a bucket list item, a trip to Antarctica, however short, is on our to-dos as we travel. Having done some research on taking a cruise to Antarctica, I was uncomfortable with the heavy seas crossing the Drake Passage, uncomfortable to the point that it was no longer an option on the list. But there’s a plane-only possibility for visiting Antarctica from Punta Arenas. Unfortunately, this was something that needed to be planned and scheduled well in advance, and couldn’t be done on the spur of the moment as the thought struck me. There are no regularly scheduled flights one might be able to find through google flights, for example. So, had I to do it all over again, I would schedule a round trip plane ride from Punta Arenas to Saint George Island, Antarctica, and cross the seventh continent off my bucket list. Maybe next time.

IMG_3062
Click for visual trip details

 

 

Related Destinations –Chile Travel Planning