Waiting to hear what all the buzz is about Chile? Take a look through Susan’s first-hand accounts of her time in South America’s newest hot spot.
It’s exciting to arrive in any capital city. I loved our hotel, The Singular Santiago in the Lastarria neighborhood. It is small and unassuming from the outside but as soon as you enter, the lobby is abuzz with activity as it opens into the lobby bar. The dining room where we had breakfast is lovely, as is the breakfast. The Singular is nestled into a street in the fun Lasterria neighborhood. Musicians, artists, cafés and bodegas abound. We saw a movie shoot going on all day on one corner during our recent trip. Even with all the activity, the neighborhood is also quiet and easy going. The large park nearby (that also houses the old French-style Musee des Beaux Arts) is great for a stroll or jog.
The colonial part of town (not far from Lastarria), presidential palace, and banking area can be seen in half a day. Enjoy the giant doors to the National Bank, which are made out of gold. There is a fun shopping market in an old Dominican monastery in the northeast part of town.
The Mercado Central is housed in an architectural marvel with lovely detail inside and out. Produce, fish, meat and spices are sold in narrow stalls in a swirl of color and activity. There’s a little area with cafes inside. Unfortunately we saw a poor llama dressed up on display outside the Mercado and for a small fee you could have your picture taken with it. It looked so pitiful standing there all day long with an outfit replete with little hat on its head.
Leora and I had meetings all over town our last day and by taxi and foot saw a lot of the city both geographically and culturally: meetings in various neighborhoods and buildings, from high-rise to holes in the wall, grabbing a coffee at an internet café for a half hour, or lunch at a vegetarian restaurant. Every now and then the overcast day cleared and we’d be graced with a stunning view of the snow-capped Andes (we were there in spring). Santiago is a lovely city but understated- there is not as much to see and do on the surface as other South American capitals. I’m sure with more time it reveals its pearls. We heard from many people who had just been skiing near Santiago how good it was.
The town of Puerto Natales grew as its sheep processing factory grew. The Singular Hotel near Puerto Natales converted the town’s old massive factory into their hotel, and parts of it are a museum. Vegetarians might have an aversion as there is still a strong memory and I thought even smell of the factory. It may also be a bit tough seeing guanaco and nandu on the menu after just seeing them in the wild. But it’s a beautiful property, has its own boat, and is literally a hotel built around and into a museum that keeps alive the town’s legacy. It seemed popular with wealthy Chileans. The public can visit the museum part of the hotel.
Torres del Paine
Thank goodness for protected areas, like Torres del Paine National Park. It is a place to reconnect with nature in all its forms, from the lovely to the harsh. I remember walking through Hunter’s Trail one morning when I was staying at Tierra Patagonia and it was like a guanaco graveyard. Guanacos littered the ground in various stages of decay. Some just a perfect white skeleton. This was the season mother pumas were teaching their babies to hunt and sometimes the pumas killed guanaco for practice.
I didn’t see a puma during my travels, but I met many people who did at other times and places. I went horseback riding one day, and the estancia owner showed me photos of dead sheep lined up on the ground. Again, pumas were teaching their young to hunt using the sheep. While riding, I asked the owner’s son if he saw many puma and he replied not if he could help it. If he saw a Puma he shot it. It was the enemy because by far their primary income was from sheep. This is a very sheep intensive area with a long history of sheep farming. Perhaps someday tourism will help locals see the opportunity in protecting pumas.
A Word on the Food
Culture is edible, so a word about food in Chile… Scrumptious. Everywhere we went, the food was local and delicious. Of course the food varies, wonderfully, from place to place. But the soil in Chile is rich, with a long coastline. Award winning chefs such as Rodolfo Guzmán abound. And of course the wine is world famous. That’s another fun thing about Chile…you drink well. The better to pair with the fine cheeses like you see above!
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