Santiago, Chile is awesome; let’s live there!

Santiago, Chile is awesome; let’s live there!

Written by ryan

Topics: Chilean adventure

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We like Chile a lot!!

So much so, in fact, that we have added a new “Chilean Adventure” category to the blog and are going to go live there for a month starting on Friday (2 days from now).

I was there for a few days in ~2002 and remember absolutely loving Santiago.  Back then, I was shocked at how modern and sophisticated it was and just loved the energy.  Jen and I had always planned to get over there and check it out while down here in South America, but over the last 4 months of living in Buenos Aires and constantly hearing from everyone here how dull and boring Santiago is, we almost didn’t go (seriously, people in BA tend to really talk smack about Santiago–we are beginning to develop an understanding of why and will explore further in future posts).  We are so glad that my sister coming to visit provided us with a compelling reason to make the trip!

As you may know, we had been trying to figure out what to do with ourselves for the next month and been tentatively planning to fly up and check out Ecuador and Columbia, but the pricing is crazy–the last straw was when we realized it would actually be cheaper to fly back to San Francisco first and then buy flights to Quito/Bogota/Cartagena from there than it would be to buy them from Buenos Aires (by the way… did you know that you can often get tickets from Miami to Columbia for under $100??)  So, we  were left  unsure what to do next that would be feasible with our budget (like a fine wine, unemployment becomes more complex over time), but lucky for us, Chile is awesome!  Santiago seems extremely live-able, refreshingly different than Buenos Aires, affordable, a good base for some travel and exciting–sign us up!

So what makes Santiago so awesome?

Thing 1:  The insanely ridiculous mountains

Seriously, if you haven’t been there, you can’t understand how crazy this is.  The photos don’t even come close to doing it justice, but I’ll try…

Andes mountains around Santiago, Chile image

We literally didn't see the mountains for our first few hours in town because we weren't looking high enough. You have to crane your neck back. Seriously.

The city itself is at an altitude of only ~1,600 feet above sea level, the mountains that surround it on ~3 sides and are extremely close get up to 21,555 feet – that is a difference of ~20,000 feet in altitude (~4 miles straight up) that takes place just outside the city.  For comparison, if you have been to Denver and thought that the Rockies looked impressive from there, know this:  The city of Denver is already at an altitude of ~5,200 feet and the very highest peaks in the Rockies (not really visible from the city) are around 14,000 feet – only a difference in altitude of ~9,000 feet.

So basically, imagine the view of the mountains from Denver and then move the mountains closer and add ~2 vertical MILES to them and you’ll have something similar to the view of the Andes from Santiago.  Crazy?  Yes.

Titanium Tower in Santiago Image

That is a pretty tall building. Looks pretty small compared to the 4 miles of vertical mountain behind it...

Santiago, Chile Andes views images

Seriously, look higher--those aren't clouds

Thing 2:  The culture and people

The culture of Santiago is very different from Buenos Aires in many ways.  I’ll write more about this in the future after we’ve spent more time there, but there are several things that jumped out at us right away:

  • Safety: The first night we were there, we saw people all over the streets walking around in business clothes carrying laptop bags.  This would never happen in Buenos Aires, even during the day.  If the locals have a backpack in BA, they leave it unzipped so that it’s obvious they don’t have a laptop in it.  This alone gave us an immediate impression that the city is significantly safer–this perception only grew over time.
  • Police presence (related to safety):  There are Carabineros (Chilean police) everywhere and the people seem to enjoy talking with them.  We asked around and were told that not only are they NOT corrupt, but they are consistently rated as the most trusted and respected institution in the country.  Suffice to say that the police are generally held in a slightly different regard in Buenos Aires.
  • Friendliness: People were SO friendly!  Virtually every person we met went out of their way to be nice to us and chat with us for awhile.  They seemed genuinely curious about us and proud to share their country with us.
  • Cleanliness: The city is unbelievably clean!  The sidewalks don’t have holes in them, the subways are super modern, the buses are quiet and don’t have huge trails of black smoke billowing out of them.  It’s very impressive; and it’s not generic either… they definitely have a style all their own, they just like it clean.
  • Efficiency: Things just work well.  They have good systems in place and clearly seem to value efficiency–this is exceptionally rare in Latin America and, while there may be pros and cons associated with valuing efficiency, it certainly was a refreshing change of pace for us.
    Santiago subway sign image

    This sign basically means something like: " For a nicer subway, please stay to the right to make it easier for everyone." In Argentina, walking is more like playing a game of chicken at all times.

    All of the above and other things left us feeling that Santiago is a place where we could really enjoy living.  It’s likely less of a tourist destination than Buenos Aires is (as BA is very much geared towards leisure activities), but it felt more the kind of place where you could have a real life.  Obviously, nowhere is perfect though, and it will be interesting to see how our perspectives of it change over time.

Thing 3:  The seafood

Chilean seafood platter image

That's what I'm talking about

Chile has a lot of coast line.  That means a lot of fish.  While we’ll likely miss the Argentine beef, we are very excited to diversify our diets a bit.

Chilean fish market image

Lots and lots of fish, and some other stuff...

Chilean King Crab image

This is Chilean King Crab. It will F you up.

Thing 4:  Proximity to amazing coastline

We’ll write a separate post detailing our trip to Valparaiso on the coast and will certainly be visiting  more coastal cities in the month to come.  Just know that within a ~1 hour drive from Santiago, there are views like this:

Valparaiso view of the Pacific image

This is from a patio in Valparaiso--not a bad view if you're into oceans and stuff

Vina del Mar, Chile image

Off in the distance is Vina del Mar, a very popular beach vacation destination

Thing 5: The fantastic artwork

We are big fans of trying to buy local artwork when we travel–especially paintings.  We have had trouble finding much that we liked over the last several months, but Chile really delivered.  In Plaza de Armas (a big plaza in the middle of Santiago), every day there is a large group of local painters selling their wares (and in many cases painting new ones as well).

Plaza de Armas Santiago painters image

See, lots of painters. Why don't you ever believe me??

We splurged a bit and ended up buying 4 spectacular paintings to send home with my sister (they were ~$40 each!).

Plaza de Armas Santiago painting 1 image

Yeah, he painted that, we bought it :) He actually wasn't finished with it yet when we bought it, so we watched him put all of the finishing touches on it. Also bought another one that goes well with it. Great paintings and really cool guy--he gave us his home phone number (I told you they were friendly!)

Plaza de Armas Santiago painting 2 image

We bought the one on the bottom, Ashley got the one on the top. We'll match! The guy in the middle is the artist--everything of his was gorgeous... we're lucky that one of his others wasn't dry yet otherwise we would have spent another $100. (he also gave us his home phone number)

Plaza de Armas Santiago painting 3 image

Got that one in the middle... Had to wait until the next day for it to dry. Very excited about it. Now that we own 4 paintings, I think we have officially become Chilean art collectors--we should get business cards...

Thing 6+:  ??

I’m sure we’ll keep finding more exciting things over the next month as we begin our Chilean adventure, stay tuned…

Thank you!!! Also, we wanted to offer up a special thanks to our new best friends in Chile  who we met through Trip Advisor and this blog (we’ll leave out their names to protect the innocent).  Their suggestions for places to stay, things to do, etc. were invaluable and we loved meeting them and exploring a bit of Santiago off the beaten track together. Thanks so much, we look forward to another round of Pisco Sours and some good Chilean empanadas!  :)

Lots more pictures in our Santiago album:  Santiago photo album

Please leave a comment, it will make us feel special!

  • Anonymous July 21, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Hey guys — if you can’t fly, you can take buses up through Chile’s Atacama desert and into southern Peru. It would get you to Arequipa, which is near Colca canyon, and from there you could fly to Cusco/Macchu Picchu areas. Might help with saving $ if you want to get up there. Have fun! Helen Marrow

  • Frances July 22, 2010 at 8:15 am

    I am afraid rain is predicted for Friday and the cold weather continues. The good news is that there will be fresh snow on the mountains and you can eat and eat to stay warm!
    I love the photos in your album!

  • Pamela July 22, 2010 at 10:12 am

    It’s probably too cold, but the Torres del Paine is amazing, one of the most scenic places we’ve ever been to. If you get a chance to travel down that way, don’t miss it, just bundle up!

  • Larry July 23, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Ryan and Jen,
    Awesome to see you doing this – I’ve been starting rehab the last few weeks, staying close to home here in Boston and starting a job search, but your pictures and stories make me want to see Santiago and go hiking! Keep it up.

    • ryan July 24, 2010 at 10:42 am

      Congrats!! Welcome to the club :)

  • Matías Errazuriz Valdés July 24, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Why is Chile so different in respect to Argentina? Chile was a general captaincy, this meaning active military presence for almost 400 years as a way to stop invasions from the Mapuches; at the same time, in what is now Argentine territory, the majority of the population lived in the northern provinces next to Bolivia – just to give you an idea of how things were at that time, the official independence documents of 1816 were written in quecha and spanish, for most of the population were native argentines. This situation lasted almost four centuries. At that time, the Spanish government had no real power over the local population, thus decrees were issue but they were not enforced. Add to this situation the quite important anarchist activity during the late XIX and early XX century, a by consequence of the European immigration… there you’ve got the reason why Argentina’s love for order is so bland.

    • ryan July 25, 2010 at 10:15 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t fully understand, but we’re very interested to learn more about the history while we are here.


  • Pepe - July 28, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Your commentary on just how big and impressive the Andes are reminded me of my first impressions. I literally spent my first couple of months in awe of the Andes and taking pictures every chance I got.

    Hopefully you’ll get some rain occasionally to clear out the smog and give you nice views of the mountains.

    Enjoy your time in Chile. Don’t forget to eat a completo, lomito, and some empanadas.

    • ryan July 30, 2010 at 12:25 pm

      Thanks for your comment! We are still on the fence about the relative merits of Argentine vs. Chilean empanadas. We’re leaning towards Argentine, but we’re open minded…

  • Mel August 1, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Hmmmm. Interestingly, my perceptions seem to be opposite yours in many ways. I’ve been to BsAs twice, and one of those times was alone as a single woman. I had no problem either time. But I did get robbed and beaten up in Santiago, at 6 pm, outside a crowded subway stop. I had to fly home with a cracked rib and shoulder! Although both are wayyyyy safe by South American standards, there is absolutely no doubt that i would go with Buenos Aires as being safer.

    With respect to the police, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina are widely considered to be the only police forces who are not corrupt in South America. Argentinian police are no more corrupt than any North American police force, and most likely wayyyyy less so! That is to say, there is corruption, but it is not the norm. If you visit Peru, Bolivia, Brasil or Ecuador, you will 100%, most definitely see what I mean. You’re right that the police in Chile are not corrupt, but they ARE mean. When I got robbed, the cops arrived and immediately put the boots to the teenage kids that tried to rob me, and then they picked me up by the elbows and marched me to my hostel to produce my passport. Many Chileans will tell you that the police treat everyone the same–criminals, victims, the public. That was certainly my experience.

    If you’re going to be in Santiago for a while, you might want to visit Villa Grimaldi. It’s a former (illegal) detention center just outside the city. The police were active participants in Chile’s regime, and summarily executed people (along with the military) for their political beliefs. Personally, I would have a hard time describing the police as nice, and it was not my experience that people trusted them….although it certainly was my experience that people were terrified of them!

    I was there in 2007, so I’m hoping based on your post that things have drastically improved there. Without a doubt, there was an optimistic feeling when I was there. Things seemed to be getting better with Michelle Blanchet, a member of the socialist party and a torture surviver whose father was killed by Pinochit’s regime. I am super curious what will happen to Chile now that a center-right party has been elected, particularly since this party supported Pinochit when he was “re-elected” for the last time. Interesting times in Chile forsure.

    I’m not following your blog for political discourse–I swear! I found you because my partner and I are going into rehab next year, starting with three months in South America! For now, we are living vicariously through bloggers like yourselves!

    Ottawa, Canada

    PS–I am a political junkie, and I follow politics relentlessly. I apologize if I’ve offended you :-o

    • ryan August 1, 2010 at 11:23 pm

      Hi Melissa,

      Thanks for your comment, no offense at all! You definitely win the award for longest comment! Sorry to hear that you ran into trouble in Chile–I suppose bad things can happen anywhere. In terms of Chilean police being mean… all I can say is that everyone we’ve talked to here has had a very high degree of respect for them and told us over and over again how friendly and helpful they are. I guess we’ll see more over time.

      As for Buenos Aires… you should check your sources on corruption there–you can debate methodology, but if you believe that the corruption perceptions index ( has any validity, it has Chile ranked #25 for overall corruption vs. Argentina at 106 (US is 19 for reference and Uruguay, as you said, does well tied at 25 with Chile). This isn’t specifically about police, but it’s likely directional for government institutions overall. From the locals and longterm expats that we talked to, it seems to be the case that police corruption is worse in BA than in Argentina overall. We feel lucky not to have had any problems ourselves, but we heard enough scary stories to be on guard. Do a search on safety on if you’re interested in reading some crazy stories from expats–we heard many similar stories repeated by locals as well.

      Overall, we really like Buenos Aires and as you say, it is far safer than a lot of countries, but you do have to be careful. We didn’t feel unsafe in BA, but we feel much safer here in Santiago. Will definitely be interesting to see how both countries continue to evolve.

      Congrats on your decision to go on rehab, enjoy your travels!

  • Spencer June 20, 2013 at 12:42 am

    I hear so many good reports about Chile. I would so love to visit there one day.

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