10 things you must know before coming to Santiago de Chile

Nota: Esta es la traducción de Raúl Aliaga del post  “Cosas que debes saber de Santiago antes de venir” post más visitado de este humilde blog (Gracias huachito!). Si tienes alguna duda o comentario, no dudes en contactarme. Lo mismo si quieres colaborar con esta humilde info para los recién llegados y traducirlo al portugués,francés, alemán, creolé, etc :).

I have met many expats in my life. It has happened me that they know more than I do, because they have read a lot before coming. Or to see them to be always paying attention to the details of their stay, such as very basic explanations that if you’re not from here you won’t understand, like sayings, jargon, etc.

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Moreover, I’m a santiaguina, I have lived almost all my life here and because of the things I do (being “The Errands Girl“, for example), I also know a lot about streets, good but cheap places to eat, where to buy or who to call if you need something.

I hereby list only ten things that might come in handy if you come here for holidays or to spend some time in Santiago. If that’s the case, reach out to me, we might get some coffee and I can show you around the city ;).

Image of Santa Lucía Hill (or Huelén), reachable by subway through the station with the same name. I won’t talk in the post about this, because you’re going to be told about it in aaaaall the traveler guides.

  1. The “Alameda” doesn’t exists. It’s possible that many people will tell you about “Alameda” as a street, and you won’t ever find a sign that calls any street with such name. It’s “Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins”, the main avenue in Santiago, where also lies the Line 1 of the subway (Metro, colored red). Towards the east continues as “Avenida Providencia” or “Nueva Providencia”, and towards the west, continues with the name “Pajaritos”.
  1. The most typical (fast) chilean food it’s not cazuela neither humitas. An “italiano” (italian) is a hot dog with smashed avocado, chopped tomato and mayonnaise. It’s one of our typical fast foods. Where to have the best ones according to me? In my ranking: Pikachu (small cart in Pio Nono and almost crossing with Bellavista, in Recoleta, Santiago). Portal Fernández Concha (Compañía between Paseo Ahumada and Estado), Dominó (It’s a “fuente de soda”, like a diners, located in several places as its own place or within malls). PS: If you want to try humitas, talk to me.
  1. Transportation. To use public transportation, you must buy a card (just like in any public transportation system in many countries) called BIP, that costs 1350 pesos, and it’s sold at all Metro stations or at the Centros BIP. With it, you can charge it only in multiples of 500 pesos with a minimum of 1000 pesos, at the selling points or at any other associated stores that enable to charge BIP cards. With the BIP card, you can travel by bus (we call them micros here) and by subway (we call it metro), up to 4 different rides with transfers within 90 minutes. If more than one person uses the same card in the same transportation within those 90 minutes, you cannot transfer without being charged again. At the Metro you can buy tickets for single trips, that have different prices on rush hour (hora punta) or non-rush hour (valle).

The public transportation system includes Micros, Metro, colectivos (cars that travel between two specific points for a flat rate) and taxis/cabs. Micros work on a system of troncales (buses that travel long distances) and alimentadores (“feeders”, buses that travel short distances) that generally start or end at a Metro station, in a system very similar to Transmilenio (from Bogotá, Colombia). Colectivos are cars with a capacity up to 4 persons, that go through stablished fixed routes. They usually end or start their routes at a Metro station. You can see the routes at the Transantiago Website.

The Metro currently has 5 lines that connect you to several comunas (cities within the metropolitan area, Santiago city). If you stay around downtown, most probably you’ll only use the red and green lines (Line 1 and Line 5). It’s quite simple to understand and it will take you to the main places and attractions on the city.

Line 1: Red

Line 2: Yellow

Line 4: Blue

Line 4A: Light Blue

Line 4: Green.

(Yes, there’s no “Line 3”).

If your preferred option is to ride a bicycle, the people from Bicicleta Verde rent bicycles, and they’re very well located (Loreto with Santa María, near the Museo de Bellas Artes, and near the Metro station with that same name). On the other hand, if you come for a prolonged stay, you can buy one in San Diego, at the Bio Bio market, or if you like something more vintage or “custom made”, you can go to Ayala Bicicleta, that works with restored bicycles.

  1. Places that no paid-for tour will take you to, and that you must visit. If you are the kind of person that likes to visit what tours won’t tell you, and you want to meet the real Santiago, then I’m telling you which are the places you must visit.

Bio Bio: It’s an area that includes Barrio Franklin, where there are shops that sell all kinds of items. It’s a collection of several warehouses and streets, some of them by theme (antiques, furniture, etc) and it’s an excellent weekend excursion. I have Argentinean friends that buy everything they find, because if you look for tech gadgets, vinyl records, artefacts, books, make up, clothes, sport gear, etc, you will find it (actually, everything and anything is here). How to get there? Metro Franklin (Yellow line), on a bicycle or with micros such as the 301.

Barrio Yungay: Also known as “Bello Barrio” (Beautiful Neighborhood, as in Mauricio Redolés’ poem), is the second most traditional neighborhood in Santiago after the historical center, and it’s located within what’s called “Gran Yungay” that includes Barrio Brasil, Concha y Toro and others. It has many cultural centers and museums (Museo de la Memoria, Galpón Victor Jara, Biblioteca de Santiago, Taller Sol just to name a few), a lot of artistic activities (I recommend the cuecas on Tuesdays at Plaza Yungay and the Fonda Permanente) and a lot of immigration history, past and present, is alive on the different ingredients of Peruvian, Colombian and Dominican cuisine. Sunday’s fair is on Esperanza street, and specially the small merchants selling their stuff like at a Flea market or a garage sale, is one of the most fun attractions on Santiago’s downtown. To find lodge in this neighborhood is to be very close to the main area of downtown, the Barrio Universitario, close to parks such as Quinta Normal and Parque O’Higgins, and close to the cozy neighborhood life there. How to get there? Metro Cumming or Quinta Normal (Green Line), República or ULA (Red Line). And bicycle!

Plaza Libertad de Prensa (“Freedom of Press Square”), better known as “Plaza Concha y Toro” (on the background, what it once was my home for a few months and my ex mini cic bicycle, stolen by a bad man).

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La Vega: It’s the most central Farmer’s Market, where you can buy vegetables, fruits and groceries for homes and commercial stores or restaurants as well. There you can find things for your kitchen at a very good price, and you can also eat very tasty things. I recommend to eat “Donde la tía Ruth”. For 2000 pesos you can eat until you’re tired, for example, fried fish. WARNING: It’s not the most cheap place in the world as they will want to sell to you, because for that you can go to Lo Valledor or the ferias in surrounding comunas of the city, but it is a good deal and of better quality that any random supermarket. TIP: Go there before 10 AM with friends so you can buy in bulk, you can save a looot of money. From early morning the trucks that sell stuff get there and everything is cheaper.

  1. Where to live if I’m coming as an exchange student? In Santiago we are 1 hour and a half away from the sea, and 1 hour and a half away from the snow (in winter). If you’re coming as an exchange student or for a prolonged stay, I recommend you to live in centrally located comunas (Santiago Centro, Providencia, Ñuñoa, Recoleta) that allow you to get around on a bicycle, saving time and money. It will also allow you to be near Intercity Bus Stations (Terminales de Buses), that can take you to all places throughout Chile. Where can you find listings? The best places to find listings besides the Internet are supermarkets (such as Unimarc and Santa Isabel on Portugal (Metro Universidad Católica), Santa Isabel (Barrio Yungay, Metro Cumming), “El Apu” (Merced with Lastarria, Metro Universidad Católica, Bellas Artes). If you still can’t find something, message me, I always have friends looking to rent a spare room.
  1. What is essential to have at home. (“Lo que nunca está demás en el hogar”). With this phrase start many pitches from street vendors on the buses of Santiago. Something that’s also essential to know if you come to Santiago is where are the neighborhoods in which you can find different stuff:

Cheap clothes: Patronato, Estación Central

Sewing gear: Rosas

Bicycle equipment: San Diego

Books: San Diego

Nightlife: Barrio Bellavista, Barrio Brasil, Orrego Luco

Fairs (Flea+Farmer’s Market, only on Sundays): 10 de Julio, Barrio Yungay/Esperanza, La Florida-La Pintana-La Granja (comunas).

(Free) restrooms: Because you never know when you’ll need it (even more so when traveling), you can find them on a collaborative map here.

  1. Places where you can learn to dance. If you are a foreigner, you’re probably interested in learning how to dance something from Latin America. I recommend you that if you want to learn how to dance cueca, the best thing you can do is to go to Plaza Yungay on a Tuesday (Metro Cumming/Quinta Normal) from 18:30 (or possibly closer to 20:00) where you can find canto a la rueda (improvised cueca singing and dancing), particularly cueca chora, a type of our national dance. And how we say here in Chile “En la cancha se ven los gallos” (“In the playing field the really skilled rise”), in my opinion the best way to learn to dance, and specially cueca, is to just watch and dance.

If you want to learn how to dance salsa, my recommendation number one is that you go to Maestra Vida lessons, and to find out the dates on their Facebook page, because they have several throughout the week. The price of the lesson includes the ticket to stay after the lesson is over at the salsoteca, including the opportunity to enjoy the live music shows on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

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One of the best pictures of the life in the worldly world at Maestra Vida. Birthday 2012 with the deeply cared for Clau Cantillana and Cristóbal Montes.

If you want to learn afro-american dance: The best course of action is to message Carola Reyes, dancer, choreographer, and teacher of these type of dance at her school, CasaKalle. For other types of dance like these there’s also the Danza Ébano school.

  1. And how do I call over the phone? If you’re going to be here for a limited time, the way to call is what you’ll see below. If you’re going to be here for a prolonged stay, I recommend you to buy a cell phone (Movistar and Entel are the most common telecom companies, and the ones with “better” coverage) and to write down the most important numbers. You can buy cell phones on retail stores from 10.000 pesos. You can also find some better models in streets such as Santo Domingo, San Antonio, the Bio Bio, but be careful to have everything according to the law to avoid scams and thefts.

From land line to land line in Santiago: 2-xxxxxxx (It will always carry a 2 first because it was added to all numbers a little time ago. If the numbers don’t fit or the number given to you doesn’t start with 2 then you need to add it).

From cell phone to land lines in Santiago: 02-2-xxxxxxx (02+2+7 digits)

From cell phone to cell phone: xxxxxxxx ( 8 digits that can start with 9, 8, 7, 6 or 5)

From land line to cell phone: 9-xxxxxxxx (9+8 digits )******

To add a Chilean number to Whatsapp: +56-9-xxxxxxxx (56+9+8 digits)

******There was a modification recently. Before, to call from a land line to a cell phone you had to add a 0, even though when calling from abroad there’s no modification, only within the country. You can confirm this here.

  1. Hotel/Hostal. I worked at an Hostal for a while, that’s very well located, called Plaza de Armas, because it’s precisely around that area. In my opinion, it’s a very good place if you’re coming to visit, because you can easily access Santiago’s downtown, Bellavista, Bellas Artes and the historical center from a really comfortable location to go everywhere walking, even including a wonderful view. And cheap.
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A view from the Hostal of Santiago’s Plaza de Armas. In the picture, my friend Débora, that I met there ;).

  1. And which other places to visit near Santiago? Nearby Santiago there’s plenty of places to visit. If your plan is to do it very cheaply and meeting the not-so-typical stuff, these are the places you cannot miss if you’re around:

El Cajón del Maipo: It’s an area that’s naturally beautiful, full of flora and green areas, under threat because of industrial expansion (what a surprise), from where you can meet the Maipo river, that covers all of Santiago. You can practice several sports, among them my favorite from this place: Rafting. You can go there from Plaza de Puente Alto. You must get there first by Metro, and then look for micros or alternative transportation that can go to some of the places. TIP: The Official Chilean Rafting Team, performs once a month a much cheaper Rafting practice in an area called Cascada de las Ánimas, with all the due safety measures, with the best naked torsos I’ve seen in my life and with those sessions you can help them to fund their trips. Besides, they’re very friendly and they’re always running marches and meetings against Alto Maipo, the industrial project that seeks to destroy the area. Look for them on social networks as “Equipo Cascada”.

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Here we are with some lady friends, doing rafting on the Maipo river.

Pomaire: Small town that develops the craftsmanship of clay, with works spanning from crockery to a varied range of crafts. It’s a perfect day trip, to have lunch there and bring gifts for your family. TIP: Be aware of taking the last bus departing from there at 18:00, otherwise, you’ll have to go to Melipilla first and then Santiago.

Valparaíso: YOU MUST GO. No one that comes to Chile can miss going to Valpo (like we call it here), and to stay there at least a couple of days, so you can see those hills on a night full of lights, visit Cinzano, enjoy sea food, visit the harbor, take a trip on a boat, visit one of the houses of Pablo Neruda, or just hang around the bars. It’s cheap, you can even go there on the evening and come back on the next day. TIP: If you purchase the bus tickets on the internet in advance, it’s cheaper.

Mendoza (Argentina): If you’re already here for 2 months and 29 days, and you need to renew your entry, you want to meet another country on a very low budget, if you want to buy leather gear or to have some meat, this is the best choice. 8 hours away from Santiago (even less, it all depends on the customs pass) and for around 30.000 pesos, you can travel there by night and arrive in the morning to this wonderful city. It’s worth it to do it at least once. It’s cheap (even cheaper than traveling around Chile), it’s close and you can do it in a very short time (a weekend leaving on a Friday evening and coming back a Monday morning to Santiago). TIP: If you want to know more from there, check out this post with some tips from Mendoza (in Spanish).

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I was in Mendoza once and this little piece of paper appeared on my table. It was the waiter hitting on me.

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By far, one of the bests post cards is to see the snowy mountain range

Bonus Track: “Lucas” is not a very common name neither a mythological character. It’s the way we name money in multiples of thousands. If someone says, for example, “cuatro lucas”, that person is not talking about “four people named Lucas”, but about “4000 pesos”.

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2 pensamientos en “10 things you must know before coming to Santiago de Chile

  1. Pingback: 10 cosas que debes saber antes de venir a Santiago de Chile | María Paz Castillo

  2. Pingback: Experimento: Tour for gift | María Paz Castillo

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