Visiting the Museum of Memory and Human Rights is a sobering introduction to Santiago, and as you read the thoughts and cries of those who suffered through the Pinochet dictatorship, your understanding of their pain and history grows.
The museum (www.museodelamemoria.cl) visit helps you appreciate the optimism and resilience of the Chileans.
The Chilean tourism industry is relatively new and perhaps still finding its feet, and yet, the country has people and places so welcoming, fascinating, fun and beautiful.
The following is a checklist for any visit to Santiago and surrounds:
Best view: Sky Costanera, the tallest building in Chile at 300 metres, (Andres Bello 2425, Providencia) has 360 degree views. Admittedly, the city can get smoggy but it is heady fun looking out onto the numerous provinces, with their distinct architecture and style.The open-air top level platform provides an exhilarating rush. It’s found in a shopping mall, but more on that later.
Best ice cream: A brilliant mix of strawberries with a hint of basil satisfies fussy taste-buds at the luxe icecream bar at Coquinaria. (www.coquinaria.cl) The gourmet establishment, filled with high-end lunch-time diners, is nestled in the basement of the W hotel and has an attractive deli and assortment of imported and local goodies on offer.
Best BBQ: A slow trot through the countryside is relaxing, even if you’re not terribly “horsey” where caring guide Cristian Waidele from Andes Riders (www.andesriders.com) points out the flora and fauna, as he checks on riders’ welfare. It’s an easy ride across El Dehesa and the reward is more than adequate. With the Andes mountains as a backdrop, chomp on a most delicious, succulent steak accompanied by rice salad and local wines. Nothing like mountain air to peak an appetite.
Best empanadas (fried or baked bread/pastry stuffed with meat, cheese and/or vegetables): Carolina Blanco is a wondrous woman who opens her inner city home to travellers to experience a home-cooked meal. (santiagopuertasadentro.cl) Her abode is filled with artefacts and exquisite pieces (replicas and such) from her 30 years as publicist for the Museum of Pre-Colombian art. The charismatic Carolina is the perfect host and masterful conversationalist. She sits at her expansive dining room table to tell tales of her illustrious career and her love of the city. The empanadas are entrée to an exquisite meal and experience at what translates as “hidden kitchen”.
Best cerviche: Locals on the streets near the Mercado Central (Central market) serve cerviche (fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices) from their rickety shopping trolleys or rigid cardboard boxes fashioned into tables. Unless you have a rock solid constitution, steer clear of such offerings. Instead, a cerviche to truly impress is at the trendy restaurant/bar called Chipe Libre (Jose Victorino, Lastarria 282). Be bewitched by the cool dudes, mixing cool cocktails in their cool threads draped in cool jewellery. The music is pumping, the dinner tasty and the eye-candy tremendous.
Best wine: Earlier this year, Chile replaced Australia as the fourth biggest exporter of wines. On arrival at the Bodegas Re winery in the Casablanca Valley, admire the passion and commitment poured into the place. Snaffle the local wine vinegar as a tasty souvenir. A must mention is the brilliant gift store with hand-made rugs, sauces and spices and of course a significant range of wines. Look out for kooky blends such as Pinotel and Chardonnoir.
Best art and craft shopping: The stylish Carolina Blanco (see best empanadas) says you can’t leave Chile without an Indio Picaro. At Pueblo Artesanal Los Dominicos there is an artesan couple with a vaste selection of Indio Picaro items. The wooden carved toy depicts a smiling Mapuche Indian who is proud of his assets, let’s say, complete with moveable parts. The outdoor art and craft centre also has beautiful clothing, stunning scarves and creative and traditional jewellery.
Best soup: Colin Bennett from Iowa (www.foodychile.com) leads you through the Mercado Central and La Vega to witness to an incredible array of fruits, vegetables, brash chararacters and soup. Find Don Victor, a local institution, for a hearty, traditional bean soup.
Best market (experience): You can try the taste of freshly squeezed donkey’s milk, for just a few cents. The donkey owner, with a smirk perhaps reserved for curious tourists, offers the droplets in a tiny plastic cup.
Best hot chips: You must give yourself time to acclimatise heading to the Valle Nevado ski resort peak at 3000 metres. It doesn’t matter if you don’t ski. Build a snowman and watch the snow lovers do their thing. Sip on a hot chocolate and inhale crisp, perfect hot chips from the restaurant decking.
Best shopping: The Costanera Mall is a standard six storey shopping centre with department stores and boutiques. At Alonso De Cordova, Vitacura (some call it the Chilean Rodeo Drive) there are shoe stores, fashion boutiques and a range of other stylish places. While Patio Bellavista is a gorgeous centre of boutiques, with an arty plaza to hang out in. There’s a mix of eateries including Japanese fare and the brilliant Barrica 94 (www.barrica94.cl) which serves splendid dishes including excellent short-ribs and a renowned mushroom risotto.
Best street art: Valparaiso is a colourful, vibrant, graffiti-splattered port city. It seems that there is not a stretch of wall, fence, door or façade that hasn’t been decorated to some degree. It is steeped in history and culturally distinct zones (Italian quarter, German quarter) make it a fascinating place to stroll around. Cool bars and cafes abound.
Best trivia: The traditional dish is essentially left-overs. Whatever is in the fridge is stir-fried and if available, a few strips of steak and a couple of eggs get thrown in. Also, there are 500 varieties of potatoes and 40 types of avocado in Chile.
Best breakfast:At the Novotel (Av. Americo Vespucio Norte 1630, Vitacura, www.novotel.com.br/santiago) in the swish suburb of Vitacura you can indulge in the impressive breakfast buffet generously stocked with local fare. Favorite morning morsels include sliced prickly pear, a delectable soft cheese spread, potato soup, polmites (palms) caramel custard and copious olives mixed with pickled onions.
The writer travelled courtesy of Qantas, Accor and Turismo Chile (www.turismochile.travel)