Deciding where to go is the hardest part of travel. You need to be knowledgeable so that you can travel better, cheaper and longer. For many Kenyans, travelling to South America sounds quite far-fetched…with many preferring to visit traditional “tested and proven” holiday destinations such as Dubai, and for those more explorative, Asian countries such as Thailand and Indonesia. However, indulge me in convincing you why Santiago De Chile should be your next holiday destination of choice!
Santiago is the largest city in Chile and one of the largest in the Americas. Geographically, it is well situated in the middle of Chile’s length. Its boundaries are defined by the landscape of the snow capped Andes Mountains on the one side, and the Coastal Range on the other. Chile’s popularity as a melting pot for art, food and partying has grown tremendously over the last couple of years. Architecturally, the city’s downtown is of classical 19th Century design, with winding side streets dotted with art.
Santiago takes your breath away even before you touch down! The beautiful snowcapped jagged edges of the peaks of the Andes Mountains stretch into the horizon as far as the eye can see as the plane makes its descent into the city. These mountains can be seen from most points within the city.
If you are feeling fit and energetic, take a walk-up Cerro San Cristobal which is a hill on which stands the Virgin Mary Statue overlooking the vast expanse of the city…very much like an angel guarding it from above. The view from here is simply stunning! Take this in as you sip on some of the best ‘mote con huesillo’ (a blended sugary chilled peaches and husked wheat drink).
On the other hand, if you want to take things easy and not walk, you can take the funicular instead. This dates back to 1925 and is a national monument, chugging up and down the steep 45-degree incline of a rail line on the slopes of San Cristobal Hill. You could also take the cable car from the base of the hill to the summit in about 20 minutes.
Another hill that may be worthy of your time is the Cerro Santa Lucia Hill which is basically the remains of a 15-year-old volcano that has been remodeled to include a park, fountain and castle.
One of the most exciting things to do on this trip is to rent a car from one of the many rentals in town and drive down to Cajon Del Maipo. Here, you will be surrounded by the snowcapped Andes, waterfalls, glaciers and of course, you can indulge in some warm empanadas on your way there.
Keep aside a day for Quinta Normal, Santiago’s Museum District. Here, you can visit the Railway Museum, Museum of Natural History and The Artequin. Cementeria General de Santiago (oh yes…a cemetery), may also interest you. Not only are all but 2 of Chile’s presidents buried here, but the tombs also rise to 2 to 3 stories high…quite the spectacle! Or you can visit the Santiago Zoo.
One thing you cannot fail to do on a visit to Chile is to visit a vineyard! There are several that are easily accessible by metro or that are a short drive away from the city centre. In the winter, carry your layers of warm clothes and head to Portillo, where you can rent skis and put them to good use!
To crown it all, sign up for a walking tour of street art in Bellavista. Here, you will be able to see murals by professional and amateur artists alike, invoking a charm and colour to the ambience of the area. During the day, you can relax at one of the many themed restaurants in this area or shop around for souvenirs. In the night, Bellavista comes alive with discos and jazz bars.
If you are a fan of classical music, the place to be is the Opera Nacional de Chile where you can squeeze in a concert if time permits. El Huaso Enrique showcases the Cueca, a traditional dance that imitates the rooster.
The dining scene in this part of the world swings from European to traditional Chilean, to an exotic blend of the two! 040 is just the place to experience this, where seasonal local produce is prepared the European way.
Most restaurants may be closed on Sundays though, depending on which Sunday you happen to be there, due to the “ 2 Sundays off per month” rule. Baco however, is an exception to this rule. Be sure to try the empanadas at Emporio Zunino, the wines at Bocanariz, sopaipilla at Bar Liguria and the cocktail Terremoto at La Piojera! You could also try out Peumayen for an authentic Chilean experience.
Options abound in Santiago to suit every pocket. Outlet malls north of the city offer deals of up to 70% off!
For souvenirs, art and general street shopping, take a stroll down Barrio Bellavista or Centro Artesanal Santa Lucia. Popular locally made gift items to take back with you as gifts include traditional masks, Easter Island Statues, Alpara Clothing, Pisco or wine, Mapuche Woven Fabrics…just to name but a few.
Kenyans require a tourist visa to visit Chile for leisure. This can be obtained from the Chilean Embassy in Nairobi along Riverside Drive. There are no direct flights between Kenya and Chile. Hence your trip may involve 1 or 2 stops along the route.