After Central America, James and I were making a beeline for Patagonia before the weather turned. This left us with a very quick stopover in Santiago, but we really made the most of it and thoroughly enjoyed the city! Here’s how we spent 24 hours.
9:00 am – 12:00 pm: City Bike Tour with La Bicicleta Verde
We walked over to the headquarters of La Bicicleta Verde where we had booked in for the Morning Markets by Bike Tour ($43 US pp). As it happened on that day, James and I were the only two people so it was just us and our guide Marcela. We got set up with our bikes, and began the tour which takes you around the infamous Barrio Bellavista.
In its infancy, Bellavista was run by rich foreigners who, as the city began to spread, moved toward the mountains. This left mini mansions all over the neighbourhood, which were soon occupied by artists renting by-the-room. This transformed the neighbourhood into one teeming with art, culture and nightlife; the neighbourhood was known for its street parties which eventually moved indoors in the form of bars and nightclubs that began popping up in the area. It’s also a neighbourhood covered in beautiful murals and other street art. Marcela, who lived through Pinochet’s regime, told us stories of artists coming together in the middle of the night to paint these murals before the light of day when they could be caught by the military. She said she would remember walking by half-painted murals as a girl and wondering if the artists were able to get away; she said that everyone was really good at running, and that you needed to be before the dictatorship ended.
We biked up to La Chascona, the house Pablo Neruda built for his mistress and last love, Matilda Urruita, where Marcela told us the story of the house (the name loosely translates into ‘Messy Hair’, named for Matilda’s unruly curls) and Pablo’s death in Santiago shortly after the dictatorship began.
Next we biked to the base of Cerro San Cristobal, to take in views of the mountain and watch the serious bikers train as they began their ascent to the top.
After, we headed out of the Barrio Bellavista and to the main market, which isn’t Mercado Central, as the Lonely Planet would have you believe. La Vega Central was one of the largest and busiest markets I’ve ever seen. We walked our bikes through narrow alleyways with food vendors on each side, trying to get out of the way of other shoppers or workers with large wagons carrying watermelons. We eventually parked and locked up our bikes and started touring the market by foot. Thank goodness Marcela was there, because I wouldn’t have been able to find my way out of the maze! Most of the market is fruit and vegetables, and we bought some fresh strawberries and avocado to make a salad for dinner. We stopped by one of the vendors for a fresh juice (strawberry for me, banana and milk for James) and a piece of pumpkin bread with hot sauce, which was just what we needed (we were beginning to work up an appetite!).
Our last and final stop was Mercado Central in the city centre, watching the fish mongers clean fish and Marcela pointing out all the different types, including conger eel which can be made into a soup that you will see on many restaurant menus.
We concluded the tour by biking through Parque Forestal and ending back at Bicicleta Verde HQ.
12:00 pm – 2:00 pm: See the City from Cerro San Cristobal
Our brief stop at the base of Cerro San Cristobal provided inspiration for the next part of our afternoon – to take in the views of the city from above. We walked from Bicicletta Verde to Parque Metropolitano and bought roundtrip tickets for the funicular and cable cars ($7.25 US pp). If you have the time and want to get some exercise, you can also walk up (or down) the mountain. From what I’ve heard it’s about 45 minutes to the top.
The top provides beautiful and sweeping views of Santiago, with the Andes mountains as the backdrop (unfortunately, the pollution makes the mountain views a bit hazy!). We took some photos and walked around before making our way over to the cable cars. There are a few stops for the cable cars and we would get off and do some brief exploring, before getting back on. It was really hot by this point in the afternoon and we were much more interested in the views from the cable cars! We were back on the funicular and back down by 2:00pm, just in time to grab some lunch!
2:30 pm – 3:30 pm: Dine on traditional Chilean food at Galindo
We were keen to try one of Santiago’s better known dishes – razor clams baked with parmesan cheese; paired with a cold chardonnay for me and an ale for James. Galindo gets rave reviews, and the food as well as the patio setting in Bellavista made it a great choice for a late lunch. In addition to the razor clams, we tried the stewed beef. For the two plates and two drinks the cost was $35 US.
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm: Learn about Pinochet’s Dictatorship at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights
From Bellavista, we hopped in an Uber and 20 minutes later arrived at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. Opened in 2010, the architecture of this building is almost as impressive as its contents. The museum is free but unless your Spanish is good, I’d recommend paying for the audio guide ($3 US pp) that will walk you through the key events during the civic-military regime of 1973 – 1990. Don’t forget to take some pictures outside before you leave.
Because we had a 6:00 am flight to Puerto Arenas the next morning, which meant a 4:00 am wakeup call, this was where our day ended (well, after picking up some goat cheese and wine to have with our avocado & strawberry salad). From what I understand, Santiago has great nightlife so if, unlike us, you don’t have an early flight, keep the day going – perhaps by heading to Chipe Libre for a pisco sour or Bocanariz for a wine flight before a late dinner.