Santiago, Chile Is Hot!
It’s official, Santiago is hot!
The New York Times last month selected the Chilean capital as its top travel destination in 2011, but the old gray lady apparently couldn’t get enough of Santiago’s museums, architecture and gastronomy so it sent reporter Liza Foreman back - for 36 hours!
Even Lollapalooza will roll into town in April. Characteristically low-key Santiaguinos, however, will quickly note their city at the base of the majestic Andes has one foot squarely planted towards the future. But just don’t drink their instant coffee!
The best way to appreciate Santiago’s proximity to the Andes - when the city’s notoriously bad air pollution actually allows - is to have a refreshing, but potent Pisco sour while watching the sunset at a rooftop bar or restaurant.
The high cordillera, which remain snowcapped throughout the year, turn pastel pink as the sun slowly sinks behind the Coast Range and into the Pacific Ocean. Santiaguinos often choose their apartments based on whether they have an unobstructed view of the Andes, but Piso 17 at Plaza El Bosque and W Santiago are great places to watch this breathtaking spectacle.
Located above the Bellavista neighborhood, Cerro San Cristóbal affords sweeping vistas of Santiago and the sprawling metropolitan area. The Costanera Center (which will be South America’s tallest skyscraper once it is completed), the old Mapocho Train Station’s copper roof, and Santiago’s financial district, known as Sanhattan because the ever-increasing number of skyscrapers somewhat evoke the Manhattan skyline, are all clearly visible.
Tourists and locals alike pack the century-old funicular that transports visitors from Calle Pío Nono to the summit. Lines can prove somewhat long on summer weekends, but the fresh breezes at the top provide a very welcome reprieve from Santiago’s hustle-and-bustle (and pollution).
Chile’s bohemian capital
Bustling restaurants, lively bars, artisans and colorful street art are a common sight in Bellavista, which is affectionately known as Chile’s bohemian capital.
Santiago’s most popular tourist attraction is poet Pablo Neruda’s house on Calle Fernando Márquez de La Plata at the base of Cerro San Cristóbal.
Neruda named his home La Chascona in honor of his third wife Matilda Urrutia’s curly red hair. He kept two other homes at Isla Negra and Valparaíso on the coast, but La Chascona contains the Nobel Prize for Literature that Neruda won in 1971, a portrait of Urrutia that Mexican artist Diego Rivera painted, a fully-stocked bar, lush gardens - and even a secret passageway. Be sure to try and get a guided tour with the very knowledgeable and slightly irreverent Alejandra, who also has a chic style that evokes the 1980s on the Lower East Side.
Neruda passed away on Sept. 23, 1973-12 days after Gen. Augusto Pinochet toppled President Salvador Allende and his socialist government in a coup d’etat. Pinochet’s soldiers ransacked La Chascona, but Urrutia still held Neruda’s wake in their beloved home.
Visitors to Santiago should not expect to see many rainbow flags flying or public displays of affection between gay Chileans, but Bellavista remains the heart of the capital’s gay nightlife. Bunker on Calle Bombero Nuñez, Fausto on Avenida Santa María, Bokhara on Calle Pío Nono and Vox Populi on Calle Ernesto Pinto Langarrigue are popular gay haunts in the area.
Shangay is a monthly gay party that alternates between Cine Arte Alameda on Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins, Bar Santería on Calle Chucre Manzoor and Club Berenjena on Calle Agustinas.
Capricho Español on Calle Purisima is a gay-owned restaurant that serves Spanish and other non-Chilean food. Another safe bet is Azul Profundo on Calle Constitución - the grilled fish, machas a la parmesana (razor clams with Parmesan cheese) and expansive selection of local vintages can prove quite satisfying on a Saturday afternoon. And the restaurant’s handsome maitre d’ provides some particularly good eye candy.
Nearby Bella Vista contains a number of sidewalk cafes and pubs that provide a perfect place to soak up Santiago’s late-night street scene while eating a sandwich, having a beer or glass of wine and even using Grindr to meet men.
Located in a former political party’s headquarters, The Clinic, which is named after the London clinic to which Pinochet went after the British government detained him in the late 1990s, on Calle Monjitas serves a heaping dose of political satire - often at President Sebastián Piñera and his wife’s expense - along with their fricandelas (large pork sandwiches), completos (giant hot dogs) topped with chucrut (sauerkraut), porotos verdes (green beans), tomatoes and mayonnaise and puré de papas (mashed potatoes).
One particular eye-popping souvenir is a coaster that bluntly suggests how women can use their anatomy to teach a lesson or two.
No trip to Chile would be complete without spending at least a couple of days in one of the country’s 14 wine producing regions.
The Maipo Valley is roughly an hour south of Santiago, and it is a popular place for Santiaguinos to get married because many of the vineyards offer wedding packages. The Casablanca Valley is roughly an hour west of Santiago towards Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. The San Antonio Valley is just east of the coastal town of Cartagena, while the Colchagua Valley is roughly two hours south of the capital.
Colchagua contains some of Chile’s better known vineyards. These include Casa Lapostalle, Viu Manuet and Las Niñas. Located a few miles outside Santa Cruz, Mont Gras produces carmenères, merlots, cabernet sauvignons, malbecs and other reds for which this region is known.
The rows of ornate grapevines give no indication of the damage Mont Gras suffered during the 8.8 Maule earthquake that devastated large swaths of Central Chile in Feb. 2010. The powerful tremor toppled several of the vineyard’s storage tanks. Mont Gras lost hundreds of thousands of gallons of wine in the earthquake - and an empty lot on the edge of Santa Cruz’s Plaza de Armas was once a church. The vineyard, however, once again welcomes visitors.
Viña Santa Cruz near the town of Lolol is one of Colchagua’s newest vineyards. One of its more unique features is a wine cellar built into the side of a hillside in order to maintain a constant temperature and humidity.
Visitors can also take a cable car to the top of Cerro Chamán, where there is an observatory and reproductions of pre-Columbian villages that are more tacky than informative - even the poor llamas kept on top of the hill would agree. That said, however, the summit affords sweeping views of the vineyard and the surrounding countryside.
Boutique vineyards have also begun to pop up as the Chilean wine industry continues to mature. Viña Casa Marín near Lo Abarca is only three miles from the Pacific Ocean in the San Antonio Valley. The vineyard produces riesling, sauvignon blanc and sauvignon gris, gewürztraminer, syrah and pinot noir. Vintner María Luz Marín is proud to point out to visitors she planted all of her vineyard’s vines herself.