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