The more we travel around South America, the more we realize how little we know about it. Take Buenos Aires and Santiago, for instance. Aside from the language, they have very little in common: where the former is grandiose, the latter hides its many wonders for those willing to look for them. While ‘Porteños’ are exuberant, Chileans are low-key but always willing to help (oh, and they stop at cross-walks too).
We arrived to Santiago on the same day the Copa America kicked-off. A complete coincidence though, as we were probably the only tourists that weren’t there to watch a football match. It did make for an interesting ride from the airport, as we cheered along with the driver Chile’s two goals against Ecuador (by cheering I mean light honking, an Argentinian cabby would have probably stopped the car to go running along the highway).
You know those incredible pictures of Santiago surrounded by the Andes? Not easy to see: the buildings are high and the smog heavy, so this is what we waked up to instead. As we wondered through the streets looking for the Andes, we found our way to ‘Palacio de la Moneda’, the presidential palace where in 1973 Salvador Allende died surrounded by Pinochet’s troops. Following these excellent tips, we continued to ‘Barrio Yungay’, a neighborhood that perfectly illustrates Santiago: low-key but authentic and welcoming. Locals are like that too: they keep to themselves, but are always willing to help a couple of nagging tourists with a lot of questions.
We had lunch at ‘Peluquería Francesa’, a beautifully restored building from the 1920’s that is half barbershop, half restaurant. After one too many Pisco Sours, we sobered up to go to ‘Museo de la Memoria’, dedicated to the victims of the Pinochet dictatorship of 1973–1990. This is one of the must-sees in Santiago, as it gives great insights on the events that shaped the Chilean contemporary history.
The other key event that has shaped Chilean history was of course the independence from the Spanish Crown, in 1823. One very obvious reference to this milestone is Santiago’s largest avenue, named after Bernardo O’Higgins, one of the country’s founding fathers. A more subtle reference are Chile’s wines: after the independence, Chile distanced itself from the Spanish ‘cepas’ (grape varieties) and wine production techniques in order to develop it’s own identity. It certainly worked: today Chile is one of the world’s finest wine producers.
Visiting a vineyard is therefore a must. We went to ‘Viña Undurraga’, a bit less touristy than most but still close to Santiago (here’s a tip: save yourself some money by booking the visit directly and using the public buses to get there). After visiting the vineyard we snatched a bottle of wine and some cheese and had an awesome picnic overlooking the Andes. By the way, you would expect a country with such great wines to have great cheese and bread too. Not so, they’re terrible: if you’re French, please go there and teach them a thing or two. Incidentally, that’s exactly what the guys at ‘BocaNariz Vino Bar’ did. Our host, a frenchman that moved to South America years ago, guided us through a selection of 300+ Chilean wines, paired with fantastic cheeses, bread and other ‘tapas’.
We wrapped up our two days in Santiago by finally finding a place where you can see Santiago surrounded by the Andes. It’s quite intimidating, as it seems there’s a giant wave about to crash onto your head!