Over the last few years, I have had this new fascination for South America. My first visit to the continent was back in 2010 to Buenos Aires, and the desire to return has only heightened since.
A little over a month ago a friend of mine saw this amazing fare to Santiago that was under $1,000, and asked me whether I wanted to go. I wasn’t so sure so I took a few days to think about it, and the fare was gone. About a week later, an even better fare became available, and at that point I was ready. It was going to be a weekend trip, and next thing you know we’re off.
Day 1. We took the redeye down to Santiago, and landed with a view of the sunrise over the Andes. It was something we’ve read in textbooks, but seeing the mountain range just below you was breathtaking. After landing we quickly passed through immigration and customs, and got into a van with a company called Transvip for 23,000 CLP (about US$38), and we were at our hotel in 20 minutes.
While waiting for our hotel room to be ready, we were invited to have breakfast at the restaurant, and had an awesome view of the city, which included the Gran Torre Santiago, the tallest building in Latin America, along with the Andes as the backdrop. As Chile is a long and narrow country, the mountain range is only a little over an hour from the city to the east, as is the Pacific Ocean to the west.
After freshening up a bit, we were off to the city center via metro. The metro system is efficient and clean. We walked along the Ahumada pedestrian street to the Plaza de Armas, the main central square of the city, featuring the Cathedral as well as museums and more.
Upon walking further we ended up at the Mercado Central (central market), which is a cast-iron building that houses seafood stalls and restaurants. We ended up at a restaurant called El Galeón, which was recommended by the hotel concierge. The food was good but a bit pricey, with exception to the erizos (sea urchin, or uni). It was basically $15 for a plate-full…
Now that we are stuffed with food, we decided to walk to the foot of San Cristóbal Hill via the Parque Forestal and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, or the National Fine Arts Museum. It was basically autumn, and we were able to enjoy some of the foliage along the way.
As we were approaching San Cristóbal Hill, we passed by the district of Bellavista, which is the bohemian part of town known for its colorful buildings and trendy restaurants and cafes. Pablo Neruda, Chile’s most famous poet (and Nobel Literature Prize winner), also lived here.
The last portion of the walk along Pio Nono toward the foot of the hill wasn’t all that exciting. There were bars and restaurants that were just a bit too much for me. Upon finally reaching the foot of the hill, we purchased tickets for the funicular up for a view of the city, and the Virgin Mary statue at the top of the hill.
Day 2. We checked out of the hotel in the morning and headed out for brunch in Las Condes at a place called Coquinaria, inside the W Hotel. The Chilean sandwich was a very simple serving but good. I just couldn’t figure out what the sweet gelatin thing was.
Now that we’re stuffed (again) with food, we were off to the Concha y Toro winery out in the Maipo Valley, famous for its cabernet sauvignon. It was an easy metro ride to the very last station of Line 4 – Plaza de Puente Alto.
After arriving, I remembered reading not to take just any taxi – but the ones that looked a certain way… or so I had thought. In any case, in less than 10 minutes we arrived at the winery. We had booked our tours in advance, so we paid for our tours when we arrived (10,000 CLP, or US$16), and off we went!
We had a wonderful tour guide Barbara, who spent time explaining how it all works, from irrigation to climate and more. We were also invited to taste some of the grapes, which was awesome. After the one-hour tour, we ended up having a late lunch at the winery.
Now that we are stuffed (yet again), it was time to get back to the city and then the airport. After arriving at the taxi stand just around the corner from the winery, we realized it was closed due to the holiday weekend. We proceeded to walk across the road to the bus stop, trying to figure out which bus to take back to the metro station. Thank goodness there was a woman who spoke some English (and along with our extremely broken Spanish), and she took us on our first bumpy Chilean bus ride, with Elvis blaring in the background.
She literally took us by the hand to the metro station. We had to give her a hug to say thank you.
As with all great things, it must come to an end. It was time to go home. We will be back soon Santiago – and the rest of Chile. This place is full of wonderful people and we were fortunate to meet quite a few of them.