by Kristin Braswell
The second time we were stranded in Chile, I knew, this was a country that had no intention of letting me go easily. And despite a near death plane experience, torrential flooding and an earthquake, I am thankful that leaving was not simple. Chile was never a place at the top of my must-see list. Yet this South American country was the first I visited in the region, and one I hope to return to soon. Although your history books will report that Spaniards founded Santiago, it was the Incas and Picunche people who first discovered area and created a way of life sustained by agriculture. Chile has endured numerous earthquakes, and I often wonder if it is the spirit of the native people, reminding modern day industrialization to slow down and respect Mother Earth. Regardless, a little tremor shouldn’t stop you from exploring this frenetic city. To get lost on cobblestone streets with noisy fish markets and walk through wreaths of roses and vigils at the flower market. Or sit on the floor of a local bookstore, empananda in hand. To revere indigenous fabric and song. To taste one too many pisco sours and think, “wow, are those really the Andes Mountains?” Yes, they are. Let's get lost in it all...
Pablo Neruda House: La Chascona
A seaside inspired retreat atop a hill: Welcome to La Chascona, hideaway for poet Pablo Neruda and his secret lover, Matilda Urritia in Barrio Bellavista. Wacky and surreal, La Chascona (or “Woman with the Tousled Hair”) is a love poem come to life. Ocean blue walls, a dining room modeled after ship’s cabin—all elements of the sea greatly revered in his prose. Audio tours are available for visitors, though I prefer a book of his poems in hand instead.
Barrio Bellavista shows off some of the greatest street murals in the city, though the art is abundant everywhere, from street corners to highway overpasses. Like many cities around the world, street art in Santiago serves as a political and cultural message. Stories unfold and weave themselves for blocks. Wear comfortable shoes and explore the streets for these colorful interpretations of life.
Cerro San Cristobal Bellavista
The top of this walkway in Bellavista barrio leads to a panoramic view of the city. It’s a perfect place to snap photos or meditate on the city below.
La Vega Market
This popular outdoor market is full of local vendors selling fresh produce. Stalls overflow with ripe tomatoes, humongous watermelons and delicate cherries. For a more local experience, sit down for lunch and enjoy a cazuela (stew) or humitas (tamales).
Las Cabras Fuente de Soda
A soda fountain design gives this casual eatery its flair and fun. Burgers, pastas and more affordable Chilean dishes are offered and enjoyed by locals and visitors who wait outside its doors. And though there is no dish that is particularly distinct in its preparation, its the people at Las Cabras that make it worth the meal.
Though some would argue pisco sours are native to Peru, it’s really just a matter of taste, what pisco is used, and well, national pride. There are many places to taste the Chilean twist in Santiago, and one of my favorites is Chipe Libre. Try one of their pisco sour flights to get a true understanding of the liquor. Then move on to a pisco with hints of mango. And platanos to munch on, por supuesto.
Bocanariz Wine Bar
Confession: I ate here three times. Yes, the wine was good. Great even for Chile’s growing regional wine scene. But, it was the ceviche that did me in. Fresh, acidic, herbaceous. The kind of dish where you pick up the bowl to drink the broth and don’t’ care, because it’s just so good, and because you’re on wine glass number five.
GET READY: SUGGESTED READINGS BEFORE YOUR TRIP
The House of the Spirts by Isabelle Allende
Chile’s history through a family’s own experiences, this classic book sheds light on the country’s political movements through fictional characters.
The Space Without Limits by Jose Donoso
Important accounts of Chile’s social upheavals in the 1970s and 80s.
Five Decades: Poems, 1925-1970 by Pablo Neruda
138 poems from this Chilean poet that vibrate with life.