We took the cheapest bus from Chiloe to Santiago (£16), leaving at 6pm the bus arrived in Santiago’s main bus terminal 17 hours later. After travelling throughout the night we arrived exhausted at 10am – the bus wasn’t exactly cheap and cheerful, more like cheap and cramped, but it did the job of delivering us to Santiago.
Once out the main bus station we jumped on the metro (a short walk away) a few stops until we reached Bella Vista close to our hostel (Kombi). Each metro journey is 660 pesos no matter how far you’re going or how many times you need to change train as long as you don’t exit the station.
The staff at the Kombi hostel were really helpful and let us sleep on the sofa’s in the living room when we arrived before check-in. The hostel was a decent price and the amenities were pretty good. The breakfast each morning was really basic (bread and spreads e.g. jam and dulce de leche) as well as coffee and other hot drinks. If we’d only been in South America a few weeks this breakfast would have been great but after a few months bread and spread every morning gets rather tiring. Instead we made use of the well equipped kitchen and made a feast of porridge and fruit salad most mornings.
Leah and I stayed in the all girls dorm outside in the courtyard which was very compact but not bad. The upside was that we had our own bathroom for our dorm rather than having to share the main bathroom with all of the other dorms in the main house. The downside was that the room was almost pitch black unless the lights were turned on and also that if you wanted to have a nap during the day, noise travels a lot from the courtyard.
Bella Vista is a really cool neighbourhood with lots of bars, cafes, restaurants and so much street art and street performers. It’s definitely a really lively area during the evenings but nice and chilled during the working week. There’s also a really nice park a short walk away which has a sandy pathway which is ideal for running on if you’re injured/ want to lessen the impact on your legs.
Highlights of Bella Vista
- Street art – have a wander around the city and you’ll be inundated with amazing political, cultural and fun street art
- Galindas – one of the best places to try local dishes such as; pastel de choclo (similar to a shepherd’s pie, meat and vegetables topped with a cornmeal topping), a completo (a burger or hotdog topped with the standard Chilean mix of avocados, tomatoes and a very healthy portion of mayonnaise) or churrasco, similar to the completo but with grilled beef. Galindas also has lost of vegetarian and vegan friendly dishes – I had the butterbean stew which was nice and tasty!
- falafel restaurant – you will find it
- sushi restaurants – so many if that’s what you’re into
- great running routes – especially the large park
- bars – lots (especially busy with students and 20/30 year olds). These tend to get lively by 10pm and the drink prices aren’t too bad. The local drinks among students seem to be Pisco sours and piscola which are nice, cheap and also pretty strong. The pisco sour is made with egg white so watch out if you’re vegan but pistols is just Pisco and cola. As everywhere around the world cerveza (beer) is cheap, refreshing and in constant supply. A few bars that I can remember are; Harvard bar and Ohio bar. We also went to a club called ex-fabrica with a few people from our hostel and locals. The club was actually really fun but I wouldn’t recommend walking there from Bella Vista as we did as you have to pass through a few sketchy areas (the taxi’s are really cheap – around 5000 pesos – so it’s definitely worth flagging one down if you see one).
- pizza – there’s lots and lots of restaurants that specialise in pizza (it’s sometime’s the only thing that they sell) – a vegan pizza was 9000 pesos but that was the most expensive on the menu
- Vegan food – believe it or not Vegan treats are really easy to come by in Santiago, especially in the Bella Vista area. Most restaurants are willing to make substitutions to their dishes if asked to, vegetables feature throughout most meals, and there’s even vegan street food and stalls which come out in the evening, selling treats such as vegan empanadas, wraps and soy burgers for a really decent price
- fast food – there’s also lots of fast food places not too far away so if you’ve been craving a KFC or Burger King for a while you won’t be disappointed
- churros – after dark you won’t struggle to find a churro stall. Most have a few different dips to chose from; dulce de leche, condensed milk, chocolate etc.
Santiago -things to do
- walk – wander around the streets and get lost among the locals
- museums – there’s lots of museums in Santiago but the museo de memoria was particular highlight. It’s about the dictatorship and disappearances under Pinochet and was really interesting! Entrance was free however I recommend that you hire the audioguide for 2000 pesos (£2) as it provides a lot more information and guides you around the site. We only had a few hours here as we missread the opening hours but it’s easily a good half-day worth of activity
- shopping – from global brands like H&M and Nike, to boutiques there’s lots of shopping to be done in Santiago. There’s also lots of markets from the weekend flea market to the large fruit and veg stalls (mercado central and la Vega central) – the food is really cheap and absolutely delicious off these stalls – if you get the chance try the blueberries, they’re the best I’ve ever had!
- plaza de armas – Santiago’s former city centre which holds cultural events and is also where you’ll find the catedral metropolitana de Santiago
- factory outlets – there’s a whole street full of discounted brands close to Irarrázaval metro station (we’re talking cheap Adidas and Nike, as well as lots of other brands). The only downside is that once you get off the metro at Irarrázaval, you’ve got a good 2km walk to reach the shops
Overall Santiago is a really cool city to visit. It’s slightly overlooked by visitors to South America who think of Argentina’s Buenos Aires and Brazil’s Rio de Janiero, but Santiago offers it’s own culture and authenticity of the Chilean culture. The city mixes traditional dishes with western culture which creates a numerous restaurants and stalls to dine-out each evening. The fruit and veg from the mercado are cheap, cheerful and delicious so as long as you have a kitchen to prepare and cook your food you’ll only be limited by your own cooking skills. The city has lots of parks and other routes for running but if you’re tired of walking the metro is easy to navigate and cheap to use.