Santiago is a really cool city, a bustling metropolis and a real mix of architecture, food and culture with an incredible history. It was one of those places where there just wasn’t enough time to explore every borough. I could definitely imagine living there. Here’s what I recommend if you only have a short visit:
Visit the markets
There is an incredible cluster of markets in central Santiago, selling fish, fresh produce, lunch and one guy even tried to sell us rat traps. Mercado Central is the famous fish market which is housed in a building dating back to 1872 and was listed by National Geographic as one of the Top 10 Food Markets in the World. We bought sea bass from there which was delicious. Tio Willy, a restaurant in the market, was recommended to us as a lunch spot but we didn’t get around to going unfortunately.
La Vega is a bustling fresh food market with stall holders as colourful as the fruits and veggies they sell. We picked up delicious strawberries (about $2AUD a kilo), and fresh asparagus, sweet potato and herbs to have with our sea bass. Amazing.
There is also the Tirso de Molina market which is meant to sell delicious juice but we only walked through without stopping.
Visit the General Cemetery
Sounds a bit macabre but Santiago’s General Cemetery is fascinating and beautiful. There are massive extravagant tombs designed to resemble famous world landmarks, like Venetian Palazzos, Mayan Temples and the Sacre Coeur church in Paris. One modern tomb made from white marble and glass, strongly resembles an Apple store.
There are also more humble areas to the cemetery, like the Monument to the Disappeared, a large-scale memorial to those who vanished under Augusto Pinochet’s brutal regime.
The tear jerking children’s section was fully decked out with Christmas decorations, including a Christmas tree complete with wrapped gifts underneath. One young boy’s grave was immaculately kept; apparently the parents still come and change the toys to match the seasons and on their late son’s birthday, place tiny party invitations on neighbouring children’s graves.
Visit the Museo de la Memoria
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights sheds light on the human rights violations by the Chilean state between 1973 and 1990 under the Pinochet regime. A visit here really is a must in order to understand Chile, its people and what they went through only very recently.
There are chilling testimonials from people who experienced torture, witnessed murders and whose family members disappeared. Areas of the museum are tough, but obviously important to witness. The memorial to those who died or disappeared is very moving and is still a work in progress.
Try the local food and drinks
Well this one is obvious if you are visiting any city, but seeing as Chilean food is not always that enticing looking, so you might need some encouragement.
Sopaipillas are round, flat disks of deep fried pumpkin dough which you can top with salsa, mustard and ketchup. They are a delicious snack and you can get them at La Vega.
Empanadas are obviously very common across Latin America, but seeing as there were locals lining up for the hot pastry pockets at Empanadas Zunino, we had to give them a try.
Empanadas Zunino has been around since 1930 and is one of the most popular places for empanadas in Santiago. There will be a line and no space at the bench tables but it’s well worth it I think.
Chorrillana is definitely something you should try more for the experience than the taste. It’s a well known (and from what I can tell, loved by Chileans) dish consisting of french fries, topped with eggs, fried onions and meat. It’s typically eaten before or during a big night of drinking.
Andrew and I went to a place well known for its Chorrillana and it was a fun place to start the night, with beers and surrounded by Chileans with huge plates of the dish on their tables. Not exactly a culinary delight though! Later that evening we saw Chorrillana at other bars with fried eggs (instead of scrambled) and sliced chorizo. Annoyingly they looked much better!
Chile is famous for its intense and sometimes devastating earthquakes. So what have the Chileans done? Named a cocktail after the Spanish word for earthquake: Terremoto. The drink consists of a sweet wine called vino pipeño topped with a scoop of pineapple sorbet. I was under the impression there was also a shot of Pisco or rum in there but I can’t find any evidence of that now.
Chileans joke that after you down two Terremotos the ground will begin to shake.
Head out in Bellavista
Bellavista is a bohemian neighbourhood across the river from the central business area. It’s a student area renowned for its bars, nightclubs and late night street food. We headed there at about 1am (definitely on South American time!) and it was pumping. We bar hopped and danced in a salsa club with locals who clearly knew what they were doing and had a thing for starting conga lines. Lots of fun!
On the way home Andrew grabbed a street burger than he still doesn’t stop talking about.
Have I convinced you to visit Santiago yet?
Final tip: you can visit the markets and the cemetery on the Tours for Tips walking tour, which I highly recommend. A few more photos: