A Firm Handshake for Santiago, Chile

Mercado Central in Santiago, ChileAfter the 7-hour bus ride through the Andes Mountains we are back in the USA. Well not exactly, but to me that’s what Santiago, Chile feels like. It’s clean, organized and has all the food chains and neon lights like the States. Santiago is a taste of home that makes my father feel comfortable and makes me appreciate the raw edge of Buenos Aires that much more.

Although it doesn’t seem like it at first from the bus terminal, as we drive north through the city the high rises start to pile up and the mountains set the backdrop. My first impression was more like Salt Lake or Denver rather than South America. I have to admit, I don’t think staying at the W Hotel helped to un-skew my perception of the city either, but man was it nice.

The ‘W’ was equipped with all the features of a cool kid contemporary hotel. Funky art, weird sculptures, high tech devices and beautiful women with old men. Caught up in the rapture, Dad and I decided to keep our first night low key and checkout the in-house sushi restaurant. While Dad pulled off the distinguished ‘W’ look with his suit coat, I think people could read right through my $25 Marshall’s jeans and scuffed payless dress shoes. Never-the-less, I was pumped to try some fresh Chilean seafood and a Pisco Sour. It didn’t disappoint. Content and tired we ended the night with a whiskey in the lobby lounge and crashed pretty early considering we had a big day ahead of us in AM.

Friday morning we headed out to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar along the Chilean coast. Thanks to the great people at Viator.com my dad and I got to experience a full day of action with our own local guide and personal driver. We got picked up from the Hotel at about 9am and drove down to the coast. We went wine tasting and crashed a parade in morning and ate conger eel soup while overlooking the president of Chile in the afternoon. It was an incredible experience which gave us different view Chile beyond Santiago. 

By the time we arrived back at the W in Santiago that evening I think both the driver and tour guide were happy the day was over. It was about an hour drive to and from the coast and I pelted them every question I could think of along the way. I figured I only had a few days to learn as much as possibly about Chile so I asked them everything from foreign relations to how to cook Chilean Sea Bass.

That evening Dad and I were determined to checkout the Santiago nightlife. So, after a battery charging siesta and workout we sought out some advice from the W staff. We were told that Bella Vista was the area and that Bar Constitution was the place to be on a Friday night. They were right, the Bella Vista area is great. It has a ton of cool restaurants and bars and is definitely a vibrant neighborhood for nocturnal Santiago.

Although the electronic bass of Bar Constitution didn’t really fit Dad’s bill, we ended up doing our own mini bar crawl around the neighborhood. How the night ended is up for debate. If my mom, aunts or grandma is reading this… we went home earlier than expected and talked about fishing and football. For those of you wanting a different “theory” on how the night ended you will need to contact me directly for this one.

Regardless of which direction the night went, we both woke up in our hotel room the next morning safe and sound. Good thing, because we only had one day left in Santiago and I really wanted to explore the city. So despite my “tourist 2 townie” ways we jumped on a double-decker tourist bus and toured the city. We saw all the cathedrals, museums and government building blah blah blah, but for me the only thing that really stood out was the central market or mercado central [pictured above]. I’m a big market fan so seeing all the fresh fish and produce was really cool. I didn’t get to spend a ton of time walking through the city but this gave me a good feel for the real side of Santiago beyond the modern development to the north. The best part of the trip for me was actually the 5 minutes I spent talking to one of the fish mongers in Spanish. We didn’t really talk about anything important it was just nice because I understood everything he was saying and I think he could understand me. Those are the moments that get me.

My thoughts about Chile:

While Argentina brings out my love and passion, Chile deserves my respect and admiration. I respect that a country of their geographical shape, with its never-ending borders can manage to fight out conquerors and stay united for so long. It’s no wonder why their navy so cherished. I also admire the modern Santiago. Although there are definitely still reminders of South America as you explore the city, business development seems to be real and substantial. Lastly, most importantly, I respect and admire Chile’s infrastructure. From what I’ve been told police follow the laws, corruption is minimal and entrepreneurs can succeed and grow independently.

All-in-all, Santiago deserves a firm handshake and pat on the back, while Buenos Aires still gets hugs and kisses.

Check out all the travel photos from Santiago, Chile

My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!


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  2. A city that is both European without forgetting its Spanish heritage and modern without forgoing its cultural ancestry. The people, places and general safe environment make for a pulsating, exciting city with sufficient activities to satisfy the city tourist, countryside camper, trekking or mountaineering types.

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