Published on December 23rd, 2014 | by admin
Chile Travel Tips: Slowing Down Your Tour of Santiago
PHOTO & TEXT BY BOB THOMAS
“It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
As visitors to Latino lands, we often feel rushed to see the main attractions before the ship boards or the taxi whisks us to the airport. This makes sense. “I may never get back here to see this and my niece will want a T-shirt from X.” After all, we wouldn’t want to go to Paris for the first time without visiting the Eifel Tower or to Rome without a selfie in front of the Coliseum. There are lists to check.
Yet much of the lasting charm of any culture (and especially Hispanic culture) is more subtle than that. Even on jam-packed tours, we can give ourselves a block of time to relax and step away from the pre-packaged “must see” list. We can absorb something that works on an emotional level. Engaging the senses. And above all, noticing the details.
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For example, when you visit Santiago, Chile, you will be amazed at what a modern, cosmopolitan, first-world city it truly is: The tallest building in all of Latin America (Gran Torre Santiago, 64 stories); a beautifully clean and convenient subway system; top hotels and restaurants. All with a snow-capped Andean backdrop.
Walk: Dar El Paseo
But to get the feel of Santiago, take a walk. The broad boulevards feature shaded walkways, fragrant floral gardens, places to rest. By foot you will notice grand wooden doorways and beautifully hand-painted tiles. The little shops, bakeries and magazine kiosks make the surroundings come alive as an active urban scene: Kids in their school uniforms and backpacks. Young lovers stealing a kiss in the doorway. A grandma with her grocery bag, pan bobbing along. A señora scrubbing the front steps. Boys kicking a soccer ball. A dog walker with her pampered canines.
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The Best Place to Start (And It’s Free)
Although you could get a map from the front desk at your hotel and do it yourself, I recommend beginning your trek in Santiago de Chile with one of the guided Free Walking Tours that meet outside the Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas (Metro: Plaza de Armas, green line). No reservation necessary – just how up at 10:00 am or 3:00 pm with comfortable shoes. The price is right! The friendly guides work for tips only and are as professional as with any paid tour.
These are bilingual speakers with excellent English. Don’t be put off that this is a “four-hour tour.” You can exit at any point if you are tired or if you find something interesting to linger over along the way. Perhaps a book fair. A limonada at a sidewalk café. A market of artesanos. It is totally up to you. Take the same tour later in the day or later in the week if you like. All for tip money! No better way to get the feel of the town — and some exercise after the long flight.
After the walking tour, take a table at any of the many sidewalk cafes and order a steaming café con leche or the national strong drink, a pisco sour. Better yet, pick up an ice cream sundae at one of Emporio La Rosa’s (a “Top 25 Best Ice Cream Parlor in the World,” according to the Daily Meal) seven locations and nosh in one of Santiago’s many parks.
While you relax, let the surroundings soak in: The trickle of a fountain; a young family dando el paseo with a baby carriage; old men playing chess; buskers playing cueca chilena (Chilean national dance) tunes on guitar, accordion or even harp beneath the statuesque gaze of a general or poet; a shiny brass hand-shaped door knocker; brilliant purple bougainvillea cascading out of elegant, wrought-iron grillwork.
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Metro, Stroll and Dine
Next, catch the metro and enjoy one of the world’s best subways. Clean and popular (avoid the morning and afternoon rushes however!), the Santiago underground is an art gallery without the admission or time commitment. Enjoy a little surrealism while you wait for the next train? At one stop (El Golf, red line) there is a large Rodolfo Opazo (Chilean painter, engraver) on the wall. Delightful. When you emerge above ground, you are in modern Santiago, the upscale area of Las Condes, what some call a little Manhattan or even “Sanhattan.”
Take a leisurely stroll along Avenida Isadora Goyenechea. Lining the wide walkway are exquisitely and often whimsically decorated benches. Art you can sit on to watch Santiago’s passing parade of movers and shakers! After a recent meeting at the Hotel W Santiago, I walked outside as the sun was setting and was much entertained by bench after bench of original designs.
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Along the way, you can be drawn in by the tempting aromas coming from any number of great restaurants such as Osaka (Peruvian, Asian Fusion) or Tiramisu (pizza!). Top off your personal break with a suspiro limeño (“a Lima sigh”) dessert and savor the details of the day.
Slowing down, getting up close and noticing the cultural delights around us yields a richness that settles into the soul – and we will have walked enough so the postre doesn’t go to the hips! Using all our senses, travel wakes us up to the extraordinary in the ordinary. The natives will rush by but you will notice. We are refreshed and renewed when we make the time to find your own new experiences, impressions and “true places.”
Robert Thomas is a freelance writer, longtime Hispanophile and avid traveler living near Seattle.