We only spent about 2.5 days in Santiago, but I think that was more than enough for me…
Santiago is an interesting Latin American city, don’t get me wrong. It sharply contrasts with Cusco in technological advancement and fashion sense and in general, the attitude of the people. Cusco is interesting in that it revels in its antiquity–tourists come to Cusco for that reason; they want to see the traditional outfits and the ancient ruins and the llamas, while Santiago is more of a bustling city of international business transactions and universities.
The Lion and I went to the “rich neighborhood” where all the high-rises and business buildings are (Los Dominicos), and there was this HUGE mall. Six stories including a theater on top and a food court on the fifth floor. The food court spanned the entire width of the mall- it wasn’t just a steak, Chinese, sandwich, and pizza place, it had all those and maybe 10-12 more food stands to choose from. The mall has a bunch of stores that I recognized, like Zara, Free People, Steve Madden, North Face, Mountain Hard Wear, Gap, H&M, and even Top Shop (totally jeal, I wish TS would open back home..). Of course, as big as the mall was, it was slammed with people (and that’s an understatement!).
The day before, we climbed Santa Lucia Hill, which was a volcano turned lookout point, cemetery, and park. It was kind of cloudy that day, so we didn’t get to see much of the city, but it was still a cool view nonetheless! At the top of the hill was a maze of steps and bridges that led up, down, and around the hill.
We stayed in Plaza Italia, which is surrounded by one of the coolest neighborhoods I’ve seen: the bohemian Bellavista neighborhood. Bellavista is very hipster; it has a lot of really old but neat-looking buildings, some really cool dive-looking bars, and a variety of restaurants, all of which look really unique atmosphere and decor. Pablo Neruda, a Nobel prizewinning poet, has a house in this ‘hood that he had purchased for one of his mistresses. Bellavista reminded me a bit of Deep Ellum in Dallas, Texas, but with more street art and graffiti.
While I enjoyed Santiago, I can’t really say it did much for me as a tourist destination. It was too… Similar to daily life. In a way, that speaks volumes for how developed this city is. It was certainly a nice change from the ruggedness of camping along the Inca Trail! I just had trouble figuring out exactly what tourists DID in Santiago. Which, I think, is enjoy a home away from home 🙂
EDIT: I forgot to mention, on one of the nights we were in Santiago, Chile won a futbol match against Venezuela and the whole city went nuts! We were actually staying right near the plaza where futbol celebrations are always held (Plaza Italia), so we went over to check it out. Holy mackerel, the streets were filled with people screaming and chanting and drivers honking and vuvuzuelas (sp) blowing and stray dogs yelling and the policia whistling and teen girls humping the policemen… People were climbing on statues, pissing on the streets, and literally all police forces were on duty with their tank vans posted all along the streets. It was insane!! It got to be a little too much for us and we headed back to the hostel for some r&r, but I found it hard not to get excited when there’s so much energy going on around you! “CHI CHI CHI, LE LE LE, CHI-LE, CHI-LE!”