Christmas in Santiago

Santiago is the biggest, most modern city we have visited in South America thus far. With a population of more than 7 million inhabitants in the greater metropolitan, sprawling over an area of 58 km2, this city is huge. It boasts a sophisticated transportation infrastructure that includes an underground metro system that would match any North American city. This cosmopolitan city has extensive suburban development, dozens of shopping centers, and impressive high-rise architecture.  The city is also undergoing a building boom – cranes and construction sites were everywhere.

We stayed for one week in a very tiny apartment in the Santiago Centro district, about a 10 minute walk from the Santa Lucia metro station. We found the apartment on, the same place we found our Quito apartment.  The apartment was in an ideal location within walking distance to most tourist attractions and a 10 minute walk to the metro.  The apartment was somewhat disappointing; it was very compact (about the size of our old kitchen), the kitchen was minimally and rather poorly equipped, and the apartment was very noisy. Still, we were happy to be in an apartment where we could have some privacy and make our own food.  And it did give us a sense of how many Chileans live in the congested down town core.

View from our 16th floor apartment balcony.  It was congested.

While in Santiago, I was recovering from a rather nasty chest cold and had to spend two days in bed. We were also feeling some travel fatigue where we were just tired of playing the tourist.  This was bound to happen especially with the pace we’ve been following the last few weeks.  Frankly, I was in a bit of a funk probably from a combination of being sick and feeling a little homesick for family and friends over the Christmas season. So we took it easy this week, keeping our sightseeing to a minimum. We cooked a few meals in the apartment which was grounding for us too – a little taste of normal life.

When we were tired of just hanging out in the apartment, we walked around the down town area (Santiago Centro) and the popular Bellavista neighbourhood. We were impressed by this city – it is clean, safe, lively, and very modern. And of course Chilean wines were abundant and cheap, just $2-3 CAD dollars for bottles that retail for about $15 in Ottawa. We drank a lot of wine – that helped the funk too!

The Metropolitan Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas.

Common street scene: lots of people doing their Christmas shopping.

At the top of Cerro San Cristóbal – great views of the city,
and I think Chris looks pretty good too. 

More views from the top of Cerro San Cristóbal.

The statue of the Virgin Mary graces the top of Cerro San Cristóbal.
Even though it was the day after Christmas, we enjoyed listening to
familiar, English Christmas music which was piped into this park like setting.

We also visited a winery, Chile’s third largest winery, Santa Rita which is located about 35 km south of the city. We decided to venture there on our own using public transportation. It took over 2 hours to get there but at least we found the place. We got a little lost on our way back since we took the wrong bus, but with the help of strangers, we found our way back by bus, train and metro. Chileans are very friendly and more than once we have received the assistance of a helpful passer by.  Often people will just stop and ask if we need help – in Spanish of course – more about that later.

The main gate to the winery.  We had to walk another kilometre
to the main building where the tour began.

The Maipo valley is located in the Metropolitan Region to the south of Santiago in the foothills of the Andes, which causes high thermal variation of 20ºC between day and night. It has a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers, dry falls, moderate winters and springs free of frost – perfect conditions for growing grapes.

Next year’s crop.  Harvest is from March – May, 
the fall in the southern hemisphere. 

As the third largest winery in Chile, Santa Rita is equipped
to produce large volumes  – something like 72 million bottles of wine each year. 

One of the wines offered during the wine tasting.  
This is now one of our favourites.  At $4,000 pesos (about $8 CAD), its expensive by Chilean standards, but we think its a real bargain.  I hope we can get this in Ottawa when we go home.

Lots of wine ready for market.

We splurged on lunch in the winery’s lovely restaurant.
Exactly one year ago, I came up with the crazy idea for this trip.
We thought that was something worth celebrating! 

A comment about the language in Chile – I can’t understand a word of it! They speak their own Spanish dialect which includes a lot of unique vocabulary. Plus they have the habit of dropping off the last syllable of a word so “dos” (two) becomes “do”. As if this wasn’t bad enough, they talk so fast, I can’t even distinguish one word from another. All this to say I am quite discouraged about my language skills and feel I’ve taken a giant step backwards. Quite frankly, I’ve pretty much given up using my Spanish while in Chile. Chris cracks me up when he asks someone to speak “mas despacio por favor”, more slowly please, like that is going to help us at all. We’ll listen to someone give us directions, and Chris will ask them to speak more slowly so they’ll repeat what they just said, just as fast, and then we’ll walk away, look at each other and shake our heads, nope, didn’t understand a single word.

Taking shelter from the sweltering sun whatever way we can
as we wait for the train back to the city. It was sunny and hot every day –
daytime temperatures in the high 30’s but the heat was dry so quite bearable.

On the subject of directions, we have learned you can’t trust a Chilean to point you in the right direction.  They mean well, but I think they would rather give you wrong directions than none at all. For example, one day we were trying to find a very large, very popular shopping mall and we were given three completely different directions from three different people.  We eventually found our way, but 2 of those three people were wrong.  Or who knows, maybe we just didn’t understand what they were saying!

A week passed quickly, and on Wednesday we packed up our stuff and hit the road again, this time we were going south to a town called Pucon, about a 10 hour bus ride from Santiago.   Here we would ring in the new year, and we wanted to do something memorable.  I’ll tell you all about it in the next post.



Category: Chile, South America
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3 Responses
  1. Marc says:

    Hi guys, Happy New Year!!!
    I checked out the wine on line and it is not available at the LCBO but the 2008 vintage is available at several SAQ locations in the Gatineau area, so if the Chileans keep exporting it, chance are you’ll be able to find some when you get back.

    Being a wine lover myself, I’ll go get some later this week and try it out!

    Safe travels!

    • christina says:

      HI Marc,
      Let us know if you liked the wine (and how much it was). We just can’t get over how cheap the Chilean wines are here in Chile – $2-3 for an average bottle and $8-10 for a good bottle…..needless to say, we’re enjoying them pretty much daily! We’ve also discovered the Pisco Sour which is a popular South American cocktail also made from grapes. It tastes a bit like a marguerita so it is quite refreshing to enjoy on a patio in the sunshine….again something we’re doing a lot of. I think we’re making up for the dry months in Ecuador! Take care, Christina

      • Marc says:

        The wine was excellent! We had a diner with friends last evening so I brought a bottle and everyone enjoyed it! I will definetly buy some more (I had bought two and still have the other one) Price is $19.65 per bottle and it is in the Selection section rather than the Regular section, being a Reserve vintage.

        I’m sure you’ll have more great opportunities for wine tastings in Argentina as well!

        Last year I found some nice wines in Brazil too, you can buy them at the Supermercado for less than $10 and were quite good!

        Take care