Santiago, Chile

A bit of a haphazard collection of photographs from Santiago, Chile. But then I guess, it’s a bit of a haphazard city. From the beautiful and quiet tree lined streets of the Providencia neighbourhood, to the chaos of downtown Santiago and La Vega Central; the backwater, yet interesting markets of El Persa Bio Bio; the bohemian atmosphere of Bellavista; the green and relaxing Park Forestal and the expansive views over the city from Cerro Santa Lucia. Santiago is a city of contrasts and is often compared unfavourably to its ‘better-to-do’ cousin, Buenos Aires. Initially, I was a bit disappointed with Santiago, I guess I was expecting something more. But looking back, I actually quite liked the vibe of the city and I wish I could have spent more time there to get to know it better and appreciate it more. Spending only a day and a half there + a night, didn’t give enough it justice. I’d very much like to go back, for a least a week I suppose, so I can more deeply inhale Santiago and get a better feel for the city (as well as indulging once again in the INCREDIBLE – it deserves capital letters – ice-cream at Emporio la Rosa).

The first few nights of my stay in Santiago was spent in a lovely hostel, Hostal Romandia ¬† in the Providencia neighbourhood of Santiago. This quiet residential neighbourhood, is characterised by its middle-class housing and wide tree-lined streets. The only problem we had was its considerable distance from the centre (although it is a walkable distance, it does take close to an hour) and metro stations were few and far between (we weren’t quite game enough to hail down cabs with our pathetic Spanish knowledge – anyway Chilean Spanish is language unto itself). But the hostel was comfortable and very homely – the owner even got up before the crack of dawn to ensure we had breakfast before our early morning flight to Peru – and I mean early, airport shuttle collected us at 4am. We couldn’t believe her kindness and dedication. One word of warning though, as for the upstairs rooms – our room was downstairs – near the kitchen, office and common rooms, and having timber flooring and high ceilings, we could hear everyone walking around and every small sound was echoed. So, we didn’t get much sleep unfortunately.

We spent our first day in Santiago literally walking around the city. We covered so much ground that our feet and legs ached for days (it didn’t help much that we were walking in thongs, rather than supportive walking shoes). We walked from Roman Diaz, up to Providencia, pass Park Forestal (passing Emporio la Rosa, and not being able to find it again, which cause great annoyance!) and El Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. Park Forestal is a lovely and large green park in the middle of the traffic chaos of Santiago – it’s located on the pain highway running from east to west along Santiago. It’s full of families enjoying the sunshine, kids laughing, riding bikes, playing on playground equipment. Being such a built up city, Santiago, surprisingly, has quite a number of large, well-maintained green spaces. Park Forestal being one of the largest and most popular. After a brief stop here relaxing in the shade, we made our way to Mercado Central. The peace and serenity found in Park Forestal, was replaced with mayhem – crowds, people bartering, and not forgetting the putrid smell of fish sitting in the sun (Mercado Central is well-known for its fish market). We bought some amazingly sweet strawberries, they were enormous too, and crossed La Costanera Norte to La Vega markets and Barrio Bellavista. We unfortunately missed the markets at La Vega, as my know it was late afternoon and they were packing up. Barrio Bellavista was interesting, with its bohemian atmosphere, outdoor cafes and graffiti art everywhere. If you’re a fan of graffiti art, I’d recommend you stop by in Santiago on any travels through South America. After seeing all this, walking a great number of kilometres, we were totally and utterly exhausted. On our way back to the hostel,we bought some measly dinner supplies, ate what we could and literarily crashed for the night.

The following morning was spent at the Bio Bio markets, which are located south of the centre, the closest metro station being Franklin. We were out of luck in choosing this particular weekend to spend in Santiago, which was only realise later – we visited on the weekend of All Souls Day – so, being a ‘pious’ Catholic nation, the majority of the population of Santiago took advantage of this long weekend and escaped the city. This had a negative affect on our visit to Bio Bio, as many of the store holders were obviously out of town, so Bio Bio became a bit of a ghost town. I was rather looking forward to perusing through the markets. But I guess it was not to be. A friend of mine who lives in Santiago took us out to lunch that day and took us to Emporio la Rosa (Yay! We found it again!). And the ice-cream was amazing, and I mean amazing. There were so many flavours which I had not tried before, including lucuma, dulce de leche (a caramel made from condensed milk),¬†platano con miel de palma (banana with palm sugar), castana (chestnut), miel de elmo,¬†esencia de rosa (rose water), the list goes on and on. I have to say, we I think back onto my time in Santiago, the ice-cream at Emporio la Rosa is the first thing that comes to mind. That, and the disturbing number of stray dogs roaming the city. Afterwards, we headed to Cerro Santa Lucia, a beautifully landscaped park which winds up the hill to a lookout point from which we had a panoramic view of the city and the Andean mountains.

I also quite enjoyed the nightlife in Santiago. There are a number of impressive clubs and bars in the Bellas Artes quarter of Santiago. My favourite being The Clinic, mainly due to its interior decoration – the walls are plastered with newspaper clippings, satirical writings and images about Chilean politicians, sports people and celebrities. It has a nice outdoor seating area at the rear, which is great for Sunday afternoon drinks, and the bar kicks on into the wee hours of the morning. The whole quarter is lively in the evenings, with both locals and tourist alike.

And perhaps just a very brief little geography and history lesson about the capital city of Chile. Santiago is located in central Chile, in a bowl shaped valley surrounded by mountains – with the Andes to the east and the Chilean coastal range to the west. Its geographic positioning results in smog and air pollution being trapped in the basin, resulting in high pollution levels. It is the largest and most populous city in Chile, with a population of about 5.5 million people. The city was founded in 1541 by the Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia. There was great tensions between the colonisers and the indigenous populations, resulting in a three year war. The natives were finally defeated and moved south as a result. The city thrived and in 1817 gained independence from Spain. With waves of immigration, the population boomed, urbanisation thrived and industry moved forward. Today, Santiago is South America’s most metropolitan centre and has made Chile one of the continent’s most affluent nations.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina