Here we were. Total newborn babes on Chilean terrain.
I’d barely breathed in our new surroundings before a trustafarian came up to me.
I must have had that deer in the headlights look about me…or maybe I just looked as adorable as Bambi. One of the two invited her to bestow her pearls of wisdom upon me.
If they were anywhere near as impressive as the ones she was dripping in under her kaftan – I was all ears.
The trustafarian kindly inquired where in Chile we were headed. As I told her our route, she knowingly nodded.
Her words which followed were so poetic…so profound…they still resonate with me now…
‘Oh yah, Santiago, Valparaiso and Atacama – they’re basically Shoreditch, Brighton and Dungeness.‘
I’ve got to give it to this killjoy.
I’ve never heard a string of exotic locations reduced to their British counterparts in more a uninspiring way.
These once sultry sounding places, now seemed as intoxicating as a boiled potato.
Clearly elated by this achievement, she flipped her head back to let out a demonic lol.
Moved by her words I reflected, why travel Latin America? I could get cultured swanning around my local Taco Bell.
After visiting Chile we can definitely confirm the thrill of novel experiences are definitely not dead. (Trust a trustafarian to be trustworthy with nothing at all.)
Santiago, Valparaiso & the Atacama Desert are cool and distinct characters in their own rights, just their sheer diversity is worth celebrating alone.
So here’s the DL and as always, the trials, tribulations and tits-up turn of events which pursued us along the way.
Spicy Chile: Some Like It Hot
On our first morning in Santiago, I’d risen early and my insides didn’t feel like they were on life support. If this wasn’t a fine day for a walking tour, I didn’t know what was.
Seeing as our first walking tour had been such a roaring success, how could I resist the next? (For those of you that don’t know, attempting one hungover is a meander through Eternal Damnation, at the very best.)
But today was a new dawn and a new day and I was feeling good (or quite possibly I just had Nina Simone stuck in my head).
Hannah and Emma were still dead-out from the previous night’s travel, so I headed on my ones to the tip-based ‘Spicy Chile’ walking tour. We’d been Siamese triplets up until this point so this felt very odd. Leaving my llamas behind was like leaving the hostel without any clothes (there’s my quota of romantic poetry for the year ❤).
The capital’s main square, Plaza De Armas, encompassing The Cathedral of Santiago and the Royal Court Palace was the meeting point.
The more I saw of Santiago, the more I realised what a glossy capital it was. There was a palpable corporate mood in the air. Chile is South America‘s most conservative nation and neck-and-neck with Argentina as the continent’s most developed country. Lamentably this explains why you can expect to pay only a little less than London prices in both…
Underneath all of Santiago‘s polished exteriors our guide would take special care to remind us the country has been, and still is, subject to a lot of strife.
I was really saddened to learn El Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (The Museum of Memory and Human Rights) was closed for refurbishment during our stay. This three-flour museum documents, across a range of media, all the civil right abuses and forced disappearances executed under the reign of dictator Augusto Pinochet. From those that were lucky enough to have visited the museum, they said it was an absolute must.
Now, to the lighten up the mood…it’s not everyone’s kind of thing but if you’re a sucker for great architecture, Santiago has some of the most impressive churches I’ve ever seen. This pink one on Plaza Brasil must have been carved out in one of my childhood dreams.
Just behind La Moneda (the Presidencial Palace), you’ll find Santiago’s modern art museum, Centro Cultural La Moneda. The gallery space’s minimalist and futuristic interior has a very premium feel.
The next morning all three of us would pay Centro Cultural La Moneda a proper visit, albeit under far less calm circumstances.
A mere 24 hours later, we would all be tumbling through the museum’s doors, streaming in sweat as our hearts threatened to burst out of our rib cages. Crossed eyed and panting like rabid dogs, our gasps would be the only sounds echoing around the otherwise silent gallery.
The disturbed receptionist would ask if he could assist us, somewhat perturbed by us breaking the zen. Wheezing like Selma and Patty from Simpsons we would ask the million dollar question…was it still free entry?
It would turn out our thirty-minute frenzied sprint from our hostel in Providencia into the heart of the capital (all in the name of a couple quid), had not been in vain. (How we had become such paupers already; only our Caxton cards would know.)
Still, it would be safe to conclude from people’s mortified expressions, running tours would not be catching on in any lifetime soon…
Even she’s smirking at our finances….
Back home, if you ever tried asking your local barista for a ‘coffee with legs’, you’d get carted away in handcuffs. Cross the Atlantic Ocean and over to the Pacific, you’ll find Cafe con Piernas (coffee with legs) in Chile is actually a thing.
Back in the 1900’s the coffee bean was becoming more readily available but the Chileans, a nation of tea drinkers, just weren’t lapping it up. That was until one businessman came up with a nifty way of introducing coffee culture into the mainstream…
Cafe con Piernas was introduced in the 1990’s and featured scantily-clad women in high heels serving coffee to men during working hours (coffee with legs – geddit?). This concept served as a relief from the tight reigns of conservatism exerted during Pinochet’s oppressive dictatorship.
We stopped by Cafe Haiti on our tour, one of the original Cafe con Piernas cafes. The storefront was completely open. There wasn’t a chair in sight as people stood sipping coffee on counters, not exposing just the waitresses’ legs but their own. There were mirrors running all along the cafe’s length so there really was no hiding.
As for the atmosphere, it felt very sedate. The men all seemed consumed by their cups of coffee and talking business. They didn’t seem to bat an eyelash at the waitresses. It seemed the cafe’s original allure had eroded with age.
After their launch, more X-rated versions of these cafes sprung up with fully blacked-out windows. In these male-only cafes women are usually dressed in lingerie. A sporadic ‘happy minute’ occurs where all the waitresses remove their clothes and dance around (and they all lived happily ever after).
I found this an interesting underbelly of a very conservative country where divorce was only recently legalized and abortion is illegal. Then again, there were some constraints.
The golden rule for all Cafe con Piernas? No alcohol, just coffee and regulated coffee shop opening hours.
So before you get too carried away by them fellas – keep your giggity’s in check.
Lastarria : Yes, it’s as dreamy as its name
An oasis of hip eateries, galleries and terrace bars make-up the exquisitely good-looking neighbourhood of Lastarria.
This place is a total incubator of chic.
A red hot favourite with creatives, Lastarria boasts numerous arts museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Visual Arts and the most striking structure of all, Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral
The Gabriela Minstral Cultural Centre is a highly attractive urban arts space. Artwork, music, cinema, dance and theatre are all housed under this centre’s roof. The patio’s iconic stain-glass window, a gigantic suspended fish sculpture and chic mural illustrations are among some of the finest eye candy.
After a day at the galleries you might fancy people-watching in the park. Lastarria is certainly in no short supply of these. Parque Forestal is a picnic-perfect flat area of green. If you feel like being wowed, make your way to St Lucia Hill. You will find a beautiful park at its base and a pretty fantastic view of the capital from the summit.
Providencia & Bellavista : Delightful duo
If you need a place to stay in Santiago, book into Hostel Providencia. We found the hostel clean, spacious and decked out with facilities. They also do a great free breakfast (you cook your own eggs but for a backpacker this is quite the luxury). The dining area is actually pretty gorgeous. The hostel definitely has an older vibe. We were among the youngest there but this if anything made a nice change.
Nestled within Providencia is Barrio Italia . This lavish Italian quarter boasts boutique cafes, restaurants and antique stores. It’s total alfresco dining bliss. Half the joy comes from ambling up and down the street and digesting all the eateries in but if you are craving a recommendation, we had unreal pizzas at Capperi. This s*** was as good as Rome. Hail Caesar!
Another great thing about Hostel Providencia was that it was right by Bellavista, Santiago’s buzzy hotspot for all the young, fun things. Bellavista Patio is just a 10-minute walk away, a modern complex filled with plush looking bars and restaurants.
Also in the barrio of Bellavista, you’ll find La Chascona Casa Museo, the secret hideaway of Chilean poet and household name Pablo Neruda, built for his tangled haired lover (tangled hair = rough translation of la chascona). It’s a very aesthetically appealing building and has been restored with his original possessions. You can find Neruda‘s home La Sebastiana in Valparaiso.
Fast forward five hours, any dread and disdain I felt for walking tours were completely erased by our legendary guide and hands down Santiago’s coolest messiah. He even took our nice sized group of ten to a cute cafe for lunch and pointed us in the right direction of the best ice creams in Santiago- Emporio La Rosa made my life complete.
The unwitting marathon
We’d heard if we had to drag our carcasses anywhere, it was up Cerro San Cristobal hill for a spellbinding view of Santiago.
The advantage of Cerro San Cristobal being nestled in the middle of Santiago means you get a seriously gratifying panoramic of the capital, raised 300m above it. You can see Chile, the longest and narrowest country in the world, stretched out right before your eyes, along with the Andes Mountains on the horizon.
You can hike up to the top of Cerro San Cristol (45mins-1hr) or even bike it. Seeing as we would undoubtedly have been carried right back down on a stretcher if we attempted such a thing, we caught a funicular up to the top.
The view was worth it fo’ show.
As Hannah and I gaze pensively into the horizon, we have many philosophical thoughts……………………….like when are we eating again?
Once you’re up on top of the hill, the fun doesn’t stop there. Within Santiago’s Metropolitan Park there’s a famous statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepcion, a church with an amphitheatre, a Japanese Garden and Chile’s National Zoo.
The two things which had captured our attention though were the two municipal pools, Tupahue and Antilen. We decided to hike to Tupahue. As we were walking along we were in awe of our surroundings – but wow, the heat was stifling. The thought of the pools refreshing waters kept us plodding along. Then half an hour elapsed…then another half an hour…then we wondered were we lost or just losing our minds…in the end we had to suck up our pride and hitchhike a ride to take us to the pool.
Some young dude in a flashy car, who smiled with his eyes, said he was heading that way. So off we rolled, having a hoot and living the high-life in his convertible.
The angel face even dropped us off right by the entrance. We couldn’t believe our luck. Good Samaritans are not dead. We profusely thanked him and got out of the car.
It seemed unearthly quiet.
We wandered about.
No one to be seen.
But of course.
The pool was closed.
How far was the other pool?
…a mere hour.
By the time we finally reached Antilen we’d inadvertently completed a marathon and stunk bad enough to wipe out all of mankind – but thank goodness – it was worth it.
We also met an 8 legged friend along the way
Itsy bitsy spider…
Climbing up the…
Emma much preferred this little fella instead
Hip, hop and happiening
You know any place known as The Jewel of the Pacific has got to be quite something. The seaside town of Valparaiso (Valpo) is formed on a natural amphitheatre and became a UNESCO world heritage site back in 2003.
Due to its hilly landscape Valparaiso boasts just over 20 funiculars, the eldest dating all the way back to 1883 and still fully functioning. Catching a retro ride on a couple of these is definitely the most authentic way to get from A to B.
Valparaiso has a massive bohemian feel, all the artists who migrate to the streets with their crafts really embody this. More than anything though, Valpo is known for its street art scene.
Valpo is one place where this form of art isn’t illegal, the government really advocates this freedom of expression and commissions artists to produce it.
Valpo‘s Museo a Cielo Abierto is a prime example. This open area museum features 20 large wall murals created by students in 1970’s. Even though you can take in plenty of street art walking around the area, we really enjoyed a walking tour (two walking tours in one post, I’ve officially lost my marbles). We often ventured off the beaten track on the tour and our guide gave us some really great recommendations along the way.
Cocina Puerto is a restaurant you could easily miss walking past its door on the street but step inside and find this surprise. Vibrant, modern art-work adorns the walls. The pleasant staff complement its warming ambience. I had one of the very best, most tender lamb stews that have ever come into contact with my teeth – seriously recommended. This restaurant hosts a small but fantastic menu.
On the tour you’ll visit the famed ‘We are not hippies, we are happies‘ steps and can get your generic been-there-done-that photo (peace signs and all). The real satisfaction though came in taking in all the other places. Valpo‘s buildings and street-art scene is so vibrant a photo opp is only a few blinks away.
A home away from home
Escarabajo Hostel is possibly the loveliest hostel ever. In this fairly small hostel there is a real sense of close-knit community but one which happily welcomes new members in. Everyone was super laid-back and chilled but fun loving all the same.
We loved all the kooky attention to detail around the hostel. The staff go to town on the chalk boards with great illustrations.
Escarabajo organise ‘family’ dinner nights every couple of days where everyone puts in for food and wine. One fell on our second night there and we thought this was such a nice touch.
The staff cooked up one of the best spaghetti bolognese dishes I’ve ever eaten (2 helpings…3 helpings…immeasurable…) I had no idea spaghetti bolognese could even taste that good. The staff put up their recipes on the kitchen chalk board although I knew my rendition just wouldn’t be quite the same!
The fun escalated, as these things do, and we had a hilarious night out with our posse. Where we went to – wine only knows but one thing I won’t forget is Emma forging a ‘special connection’ with a dog that night. She proclaimed she could communicate with this ‘proper gent’ on a human level. Emma is undoubtedly one of the world’s biggest dog lovers and maybe she is a dog whisperer…most likely though, the bolognese had gone straight to her head…
For three cursed chicks (note to future self- never travel on a full moon), this week was pretty trauma free (by our standards).
It’s a shame the same cannot be said of our journey down to the Atacama Desert…
I’m going to leave it at that for the time being by whetting your appetite for the devious. Trust me my wicked friend, next installment, you will not be disappointed…
Love the Llamas X