A Guide to Santiago de Chile: PART 2
Food markets: Mercado Central & La Vega
Whilst Mercado Central is known as Santiago’s celebrated fresh fish market, (coincidently also listed by the National Geographic as one of the Top 10 Food Markets in the world) La Vega is a popular fruit and vegetable market and an excellent and cheap alternative to buying fresh fruit and veg from the supermarkets.
Artisan craft markets: Santa Lucia and Los Dominicos
Navigating your way through both of these artisan markets definitely requires a certain amount of skill. Nevertheless, the endless warrens of stools and stands hidden around every corner, make these markets the perfect places to buy anything from alpaca scarfs, gloves and jumpers, to beautiful hand crafted knickknacks, leather bags, shoes, quirky and somewhat ‘alternative’ jewellery (a travellers trademark), as well as Chile’s beautiful deep blue lapis lazuli in the form of jewellery and ornaments. I warn you, if you accumulate as much alpaca clothing and crazy jewellery as I have over the past 6 months, you may need an extra suitcase to carry it all home in…thank goodness my parents travelled relatively ‘light’ as instructed!
A bit of a culture vulture? Santiago certainly has its fair share of museums and what’s more, on Sundays entry is always free.
Pablo Neruda’s Houses: It goes without saying that for many literature lovers like myself, when thinking of all things Chilean, the figure of Pablo Neruda immediately springs to mind. Of course, in true Neruda style, the Chilean poet had not one, not two, but three houses in the central region of Chile, and based in Santiago you are pretty much a stone’s throw away from all three of them. Designed by Neruda himself, the eccentric exterior of his houses, full of unique charm and character, certainly provide a fascinating insight into the inspiration behind his masterpieces, and the private and professional life of the man himself, making them definitely worth a visit. You will realise that Neruda had an incredible ability to compile the most intriguing and curious collection of objects together and somehow make it work. Situated in the heart of Santiago’s Barrio Bellavista, La Chascona is very easy to get to and will probably be your first port of call.
La Sebastiana is Pablo Neruda’s second house, located an hour and a half from Santiago in the coastal town of Valparaíso. Built upon dozens of steep hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Valparaíso is made up of a labyrinth of entwining cobbled streets, coloured houses, a mix-match of different architectural styles and most of all, is characterised by the vibrancy of the street art and graffiti which seemingly covers every wall of every building despite it apparently being strictly prohibited.
La Casa de Isla Negra is approximately 2 hours by bus from the centre of Santiago and is home to Neruda’s third and probably most famous house. Situated in the rather beautiful coastal region of Isla Negra (which in fact despite its deceiving name is not an isla (island) at all), characterised by the dark outcrop of rocks which occupy the shoreline, the area was christened by Neruda himself whose house, la Casa de Isla Negra, has undoubtedly become the main focal point of the area.
La Casa de Isla Negra
Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos: Dedicated to the commemoration of the victims of the human rights violations during the civic-military regime led by Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990, this museum offers a rather moving yet fascinating insight into a defining period of Chilean history.
Art museums: El museo nacional de bellas artes, el museo de arte contemporáneo (MAC), el museo chileno de arte precolombino y el museo de artes visuales are amongst your best options.
Museo de Bellas Artes
If you want to experience Chilean nightlife at its best, the Bellavista area is known as the bohemian quarters of Santiago. As well as being the source of some of Chile’s best ethnic and local cuisine, in the evening you will find the area buzzing with bars, clubs and street performers running the length of Pío Nono.
9. Santiago from above
Cerro Santa Lucia: A rocky hill transformed into a beautifully landscaped park in the 19 century by Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, the web of trails and stone stairs leading up to the summit of Santa Lucia hill, offer spectacular views over the city and to the Andes beyond.
Cerro Santa Lucia
San Cristóbal: Above 300m over the city, the top of San Cristóbal hill offers even more spectacular views. With the Chilean National Zoo and a Japanese-style garden at the foothill of Cerro San Cristóbal, at the summit you will find not only the iconic 22m statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which is lit up at night and can be spotted from all over Santiago throughout the night and day, there is also a sanctuary dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, a small chapel and an amphitheatre.
10. ‘The Chilean way’
No hot water? No problem, you just have to get some ‘the Chilean way’ as they call it. Water pressure problems are a common occurrence in the city. However, it turns out that to get hot water from the shower, the ‘Chilean way’ is to turn all the other hot water taps on in the bathroom and leave them running whilst you shower…as crazy as it sounds, it works!!
In fact, this is just one of the many customs I have noticed from observing the Chileans. I should probably add that it is also important to be patient here in Santiago, as time is certainly not of the essence in Chile, where perhaps a little more reserved in nature than one may expect from the outgoing, extrovert stereotype attached to Latin American culture, people greet one another with one kiss on the cheek, and where a ‘25 minute walk’ will probably in realty be only about 10…