Published on January 25th, 2015 | by Mark Chesnut
“My Santiago” — Chile Travel Tips from Pilar Hoffman, United Airlines
As a native of Santiago de Chile and senior manager of Latin City Ticket Offices at United Airlines, Pilar Hoffman knows more than your average traveler about Chile’s impressive capital city. And since United Airlines now links Santiago with Houston, there are more opportunities than ever to enjoy free time in this exciting Latin American capital city. With that in mind, we decided it would be the perfect time for Pilar to share some of her insider Chile travel tips for Santiago.
How has Santiago evolved in the years since you’ve known the city?
I was born and raised in Chile and lived there until 1999. When I left Chile, I left a country that was very advanced technologically, with inexpensive and reliable cellphone service, yet was still very isolated in many ways. To put it simply, we were Chileans among Chileans. Foreigners were truly guests for us and we would embrace them and be eager to get to know them, their countries and their customs.
With time I have seen how Santiago has grown in infrastructure, adding tollways and expanding the metro system, for example. In the past few years I also have seen how Chile has changed completely and truly is becoming a cosmopolitan city. With United’s new Houston-Santiago flight, now it’s easier to visit Santiago and experience all the city has to offer. And it’s easier to share all that great cultural experience with my daughter, as well.
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As a local, what do you personally like best about the city?
Today Santiago is a different city from the one I remember. However, I love how despite the growth and the access to many international influences, we have been able to keep certain key characteristics — things that make the city still feel like home.
People ride bikes whenever possible, farmers markets are still around and, of course, the local tradition continues of freshly baked bread for the afternoon tea.
What are some of your own personal favorite restaurants in Santiago, and what local dishes do you recommend?
Simple as it is, I love to go to Dominó Sandwich and have a Chacarero Sandwich for lunch. When it comes to top-notch service and great steak, definitely Happening on Apoquindo would be my top choice. Also Don Augusto in El Mercado Central is located in a beautiful setting. I love to go there and see the seafood and fish shops and then sit at Don Augusto and have my favorite meal of all: fresh sea urchins with lemon juice. Doña Tina is also a well-known restaurant that serves good local food in a very traditional setting and where you can find great empanadas.
When it comes to local food and dishes, I would say that everyone needs to try the Chilean hot dog as well as the choripán (marraqueta bread with chorizo link). Also, during corn season a pastel de choclo (corn pie) is a must or humitas (steamed corn cakes), as well. Our Chilean empanadas are also great if they are well prepared with the right amount of beef and not too much onion. For seafood, a bowl of Mariscal (seafood soup) or a caldiillo de congrio (fish and seafood soup) or congrio frito.
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What venues would you recommend for business travelers who need to meet with colleagues or clients for drinks, or perhaps for a couple looking for a romantic night out?
For business venues I like Km0 restaurant located at the W. They have great table and booth settings for a more private/intimate gathering. I also take my clients to Mestizo restaurant.
When it comes to a more romantic setting, I would say that restaurants at Barrio Lastarria bring more traditional, yet modern options for a table for two.
What’s the best way to get around in Santiago?
I personally use Uber. I like it instead of taxis because I don’t have to have cash with me and the service is easily available. The city is walking-friendly as well, so I do walk around if the distance isn’t too great.
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What are your favorite hotels in Santiago?
Usually I stay with my family; however, I have been staying at the Radisson Vitacura lately because of its location, which is very convenient, as well as their staff. They are very good at greeting you and helping, as well as remembering you. Everyone wants to go back to the place where they call you by your name, right?
What’s your own personal idea of a perfect day in Santiago?
During summer, I would make an early visit to the farmers market to buy different local types of peaches that compete among themselves on sweetness. Just the smell and colors that you experience on that walk amaze me each time. Then head to the Mercado for a generous plate of sea urchins with a glass of Chardonnay and fresh warm bread with butter. Later in the day I would eat my peaches! Ha ha! And by the evening I would go to Barrio Lastarria to walk around and enjoy the ambiance.
Things that are still in my bucket list are to visit Plaza Ñuñoa area to see how it has evolved, as well as a trip to the north during the Desierto Florido where flowers bloom in the Atacama Desert and the view is just simply majestic.