While Santiago gets a bad rap for its smog and consequently grayish sky especially during the winter months, this city is a refreshing metropolis filled with rich culture, beautiful scenery and gorgeous people. A visit to Santiago rarely ever disappoints any tourist who wishes to get away from the grandiose and get a more visceral feel of Chile – smog, noise, grit and all.
Santiago is definitely not as elegant and polished as Buenos Aires but what it lacks in sophistication, it makes up in local culture and art. With a little bit of patience, the adventurous traveler will uncover many culinary treasure troves and charming artists’ burrows featuring local talent. Let yourself steep in the city’s infectious energy – it is well worth the effort.
Experiencing Santiago’s Bohemian Arts Scene
The Bohemian culture is very strong in Santiago. There are flourishing avant-garde art galleries all around the city but its very epicenter lies in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago’s Bohemian quarter. Here you can find several hip exhibits, unique restaurants, and boutiques that sell one-of-a-kind pieces like jewelry, trinkets and clothing.
The glorious tree-lined streets of this neighborhood are filled with airy lofts, huge mansions and antique homes. Just being around such a historic place can make you feel whimsical. You can easily understand why this humble barrio has brought refuge to artists who want to commune with their thoughts – Barrio Bellavista offers fodder for the imagination.
Before you leave Santiago’s Bohemian quarter, do not forget to visit La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s famous home in the city. Learn about the romantic history of the house Neruda built for his secret love almost 60 years ago in a guided tour and cap off your day with a cup or two of coffee at the cafe Fundacion Neruda maintains in the area.
Embracing Local Cuisine
Skip the ‘international” food at your hotel and hit the streets and local restaurants for some grub. For a handy snack you can eat while walking around, try a seafood empanada. These little hot pockets are made on the spot by filling a dough pouch with a tangy sofrito (caramelized onions and tomatoes) and chunks of seafood. The dough is pan fried to a crisp and served with aji pique, a sauce made of green onions, vinegar, pepper, salt, lemon juice and cilantro that perfectly foils the richness of the empanada.
For a hearty meal, and what could easily be Chile’s national dish that will definitely not disappoint – Pastel de Choclo. This is the Chilean version of a shepherd’s pie made with a combination of caramelized beef and chicken baked in an earthenware pot. The pie is filled with boiled egg, raisins, olives and choclo – a corn puree that thickens and sweetens the dish. It is filling, comforting and absolutely delicious.
As with all great cities, Santiago has its own signature sandwich called the chacararo. This Chilean creation is piled high with slices of grilled beef, creamy avocado, tomatoes and cooked green beans that gives the sandwich a firm bite. Sometimes aji chilies are added or you can ask your waiter to add some into your sandwich. Yum!