One of our aims for this year was to experience what is was like to live abroad and to immerse ourselves in a culture which was unfamiliar to us. Although our change in plans meant that we wouldn’t be in one place for an entire year, we still wanted to try and base ourselves in a couple of cities for at least a month at a time, just to experience in a small way what it might feel like to live as a local.
So this month our plan was to live in Santiago, Chile’s capital city. In all honesty we are aware that a month is no-where near long enough, but we thought it would at least give us a little flavour of Chilean life!
So having flown over the Andes we found ourselves in an Airbnb apartment in the Bellavista area of Santiago and started to explore a little each day.
Here are some of our favourite things about the city…
Markets and shopping
Santiaguinos take their food shopping VERY seriously and a trip to the markets is a very full on experience. It seems that locals do nearly all their shopping in the markets, which sell absolutely everything you could need and at a fraction of the cost of the supermarkets (which are generally few and far between).
Both the two main markets (Mercado Central and Mercado Vega) were walking distance from our apartment and we tried to do the majority of our shopping here, which got easier as my Spanish improved and we got to know the labyrinth like markets better!
Santiaguinos even have their own wool district – kitting and crochet is another past-time that is taken very serious. So, I just had to buy some needles, alpaca wool and brush up on my knitting skills while we were here!
Music and Art
Music and the arts in general are central to Chilean culture. Im sure there are many more high brow experiences around, but what we loved is the arts that are accessible to everyone. There are often bands playing in the streets, over lunch in restaurants and free shows at museums and galleries at the weekends. Last weekend we found ourselves watching a Catalan medieval music concert in the Fine Arts Museum – for free!
There are several good green spaces around Santiago – this one happened to have a sculpture park within it as well…free of course!
Graffiti is also very important in the city and you find murals, political messages and signs sprayed onto any blank wall across the city. On the whole these are absolutely beautiful and completely condoned within society (it’s very common to see them being painted during the day).
Food and drink culture
Santiago generally feels like a fairly wealthy city and eating and drinking out is at the centre of most social interactions. Their huge coastline means that there is a big focus on fresh seafood as well as the typical south american meat based dishes. Chile is not a place for vegetarians, but meat and fish eaters do very well!
Chileans eat well and eat late. Also their ‘drinking time’ doesn’t tend to start until about 12 midnight. In fact when we went to see some bands we eagerly got there when the doors opened (at 10pm!) waited for the first band to come on at 11pm and managed to stay until the end at gone 4am (yikes!) We even managed to make some friends – Chileans are very friendly and keen to welcome foreigners (we were obviously not blending in as well as we thought we were!)
Chile is famous for the Pisco Sour, similar to the Peruvian version, but they also have their very own cocktail – the dangerous ‘Terremoto’ (which means earthquake in Spanish). Neither Ryan nor I have ever felt so drunk after 1 cocktail each. One of the most famous bars to try this bizarre cocktail of pisco, sweet wine and pineapple ice-cream, is ‘La Piojera’ (aka ‘ the flea’!)
Hills and mountains
Chile’s unique position between the pacific ocean and the Andes mountains means that the landscapes are beautiful and breathtaking. On a clear day you can easily see the huge snowcapped Andes range towering over the city.
Also, throughout the city is a range of smaller ‘cerros’ or hills. Our closest one, San Cristobal, takes a good couple of hours to trek up, but the views are worth it (unless of course it clouds over before you reach the top as we learnt from experience!). There is also a short and steep funicular which can whip you up to the top in 10 minutes if you are feeling lazy.
Museums and galleries
Most of the museums and galleries in Santiago are free! This was such a welcome surprise and an unusual one in our travels so far. We more than made the most of these, popping into our local one Museo de Bella Artes every few days to explore a new room!
We also really enjoyed the Human Rights Museum, an emotional journey through Pinochet’s recent dictatorial regime, and the Chilean History Museum for an overview of the countries indigenous and colonial past.
Santiago, more than any place we have visited so far (with the exception of Koh Lanta, Thailand) look after their stray animals. Dogs and cats aren’t afraid of people and are generally well dressed and well looked-after. Throughout the cities parks there are kennels that have either been bought or made by locals and lots of the dogs have been provided with winter coats!
We were also amazed by their road sense. At most crossings you will find a well dressed dog waiting patiently at the crossing watching their human friends to see when it is safe to cross the road!
Santiago is a eclectic mix of traditional Spanish colonial architecture with a modern twist. There tends to be a catholic church or cathedral within every few blocks and the city’s historical heart is the central Plaza de Armas. The upmarket bijou neighbourhood of Larrista is not too far away and neither is the colourful, lively, university neighbourhood of Bellavista, where we were staying.
Santiago’s centre is compact and varied, however its outer suburbs sprawl out for some distance beyond.
On the days that were weren’t exploring within Santiago itself we took some trips out to the seaside, further flung suburbs and to quaint mountain towns. But thats for another blog post!