23 Things to Love About Santiago de Chile

I spent a year in Chile teaching English and generally living fabulously. I feel like Santiago flies under the radar a bit when people think of visiting South America, but I love it, so I thought I would share some of my favourite memories and features about this eccentric city. 

1.         Where I lived in Los Dominicos was so beautiful and peaceful. My depto (apartment) was awesome, and so was the view of the Andes that greeted me every morning.

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The view from my window in Los Dominicos.

2.         The perfect weather: my criteria include having four distinct seasons in the year and not too much humidity or rain. Santiago ticks all those boxes.

3.         Afternoons spent discovering cool little shops and cafes in Lastarria, Bellas Artes or Barrio Brasil.

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So colourful.

4.         Asados (barbecues) on Cerro San Cristobal with lots of chorizo and pan (bread) and palta (avocado) and a couple of cervezas (beers)…

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Chorizo!

 

5.         Asados in general. More than just a simple barbecue, they’re a full on hedonistic meat-fest. When I used to talk my students about their diets I would be horrified at the lack of vegetables they reported in their days. This is reflected in the tradition of the asado. Salad is tomato and raw onion, and that’s all.

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Meat.

6.         The location: an hour or so from the mountains and snow in winter, less than an hour from wine country and less than an hour from the sea.  For a couple dollars you could (and so I did) catch a bus to Valparaíso, Cajon de Maipo, Isla Negra or Concha y Toro (click the links to read more about this!)

7.         Hikes in the Apoquindo. I still remember the surprise moment we crested the hill and saw all the mountains laid out in front of us. Read more here.

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The Andes right on your doorstep.

8.         Stray dogs. This may seem like a funny thing to love, but they were pretty cool. For one thing, they were super smart. They would wait at the cross walks for the man to turn green. And they were all pretty friendly. I never saw a Chilean mistreating a street dog. In fact, quite often I would see street vendors tipping packets of broken biscuits on the ground for the dogs to eat.

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So much joy!

9.         Regueton. In Chile there is always a distant drone of regueton from car windows, from apartments, from restaurants, from my iPod…

10.       The food. Where do I start? Empanadas of course (pastries); de pino (meat, olives, boiled egg), jamon y queso (ham and cheese), espinaca (spinach) y queso, queso … The cheap cheap fruit and veg, especially paltas! Sopaipillas, chorrillana (fries, steak, chorizo, egg), churros, ave paltas (chicken and avocado sandwiches), pebre (like a salsa), humitas (savory corn and cheese packets), alfajores (a cookie sandwiched with manjar or dulce de leche – which is a milk-based caramel). Castaño: this place had it going on. Just the memory of all the different ways they could use manjar makes me weak at the knees.

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Sopaipillas are a delicious traditional fried pastry made with pumpkin and sold for next to nothing on the streets of Santiago.

11.       The smell of honey roasted maní (peanuts) at Escuela Militar deserves a point all of its own …

12.       Icecream. So cheap, so plentiful. Chileans eat icecream year-round. It was a bit funny seeing men in business suits licking their icecreams on the metro. I saw more MacDonalds (and Doggies and Burger King and Schop Dog…) ice cream stalls than actual full restaurants. All fast food restaurants would have a window out the front just selling icecreams. So convenient.

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Icecream icrecream everywhere …

13.       Drinks: vino (wine) de Concha y Toro, Carménère , cola de mono (like a white russian cocktail), pisco sour, schopp (tap beer with a rim of sugar and lemon juice), piscola (pisco and cola), vaina (port wine and sugar) …

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The pisco sour is a cocktail of pisco, lemon juice, egg white and sugar.

brandy, lemon juice, egg white and sugar.

14.       The parks. It is such a pretty city. (Disclaimer – I know the whole city is not pretty and, like most large cities, there are some very poor areas. I’m not pretending they don’t exist, I’m just focussing on the positives rn)

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Que linda.

 

15.       Getting inadvertently caught up in a demonstration. One minute I’d be on my way to class, the next I would be overtaken by an excited crowd and I find myself marching awkwardly in heels on the cobblestones chanting ‘Chi chi chi le le le si se puede Chile…’ and I would arrive at class with tickertape in my hair …

16.       What other city has a massive statue of the Virgin Mary which strobes whenever something exciting happens? Two events happened while I lived there which caused the Virgen to strobe: the rescue of the miners and the bicentenario. It was like the whole city partied.

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Scenes of a spontaneous party in Plaza Italia when the miners were freed.

17.       Being called ‘Señorita’.

18.       Being able to buy random things on the micro, like socks and cell phone chargers.

19.       The brilliant public transport. I don’t understand how this of all things was so efficient in Chile. It was the one thing I never had to wait for and I really appreciated it.

20.       Ferreterías. I liked to fondly imagine these stores brimming with ferrets for sale. Sadly, they were actually hardware stores.

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No ferrets here. That man looks so sad.

21.       The crazy level of misplaced security. Why did I need a guard standing on the corner of my block, which was in the quietest safest barrio ever? Why did all my neighbours have electrified barbed-wire fences around their houses with powered gates and security cameras? It mystified and amused me.

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Guards and policia everywhere.

22.       Santiago a Mil. What other city in the world can you see brilliant live shows for free? Music, acrobatics, dancing, light shows. Admittedly, the crowd control was sketchy. People got so overexcited at the Paris Christmas parade they stormed the Elmo float and took the whole thing down.

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This show was called Lluvia de Violinas (it’s raining violins). Those people up there were doing acrobatics, singing opera and playing violins, and the whole thing was free.

23.       Chilenismos y dichos: wena, sípo, nopo, bacan, al tiro, cachai?, carretear, flaite, pega, pololo, la raja. More to come on this.

 

Complete your experience

Watch

The Santiago twins in Step Up 3.

Eat

I think I have waxed lyrical about Chilean delicacies enough already for today.

Listen

Chillin in Chile by Sizzla. Do it for the children.

 

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