We ended up in Santiago twice during our jaunt over to Chile from Mendoza in Argentina. On the first trip we arrived after a 7 hour trip from Mendoza. We booked a ticket with El Rapido in the bus station at Mendoza for ARS$400 leaving at 1pm. The border crossing at Los Libertadores took about 1.5 hours and keeping a short story short – the bus stops, you get into a line specifically for buses and get your exiting Argentina stamp then you move to the next window and get your Chilean entrance stamp. Next you put your hand luggage on a table and a labrador runs all over it sniffing for drugs and apples. In the meantime customs are putting your backpacks and the like from underneath the bus and popping them through some x-ray machines and then back on to the bus. You’re then back on the bus on your way to the Chilean capital. Easy peasy. Unless you’re a druglord or apple-hoarder I guess…(on the journey back from Santiago to Mendoza customs took us 3.5 hours so leave as early as possible…something that we never do).
There’s a fantastic metro system in Santiago so we hopped on the metro underneath the bus terminal (the name of the stop is Universidad de Santiago) a few stops to Baquedano to our first accommodation in the Bellavista area. There are different prices depending on the time of day you use the metro system, 720 CP during rush hour, 660 CP during the day, and 610 CP during quiet hours. Pretty transparent. So new currency time again. Chilean Pesos here. We’ve been working out what this money actually is in Aussie dollars by just doubling the first figures – so 720 CP is very roughly $1.44). We stayed in a house here, although it was called Chile Backpackers Hostels (21,000 CP a night, so about $42). I’ve no idea where they’re going with that name – it was a house with 3 rooms, one with a few bunk beds. Anyway, the area of Bellavista is lovely. It’s great in the evenings as there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. We arrived quite late on our first evening so went straight for dinner (9.30pm dinner is what everyone does here) at Il Siciliano in Bellavista. Ever had crabmeat lasagne? So good! Dessert was so nice too. There’s a place here called Patio Bellavista which is basically a building full of restaurants and bars. There were loads of places here we wanted to try out but time restraints were an issue 🙂 We stayed in a little apartment we found on AirBnB on our second visit around the La Moneda area. We did a little less sightseeing and the like on our second visit as we had to go tent shopping (Yes. Seriously.) for Patagonia. John got a little carried away here and now we have tiny fold up chairs too. For the future you know. Ahem!
I had a few errands to run in Santiago so had to find the Australian embassy (El Golf subway stop if you need it) which led us to the business district of Santiago. We had a quick coffee in Ritual which adjoins the Ritz-Carlton (la di da!) and located the BEST shopping centre I’ve seen in aaaages. It’s called the Costanera Center and is housed in South America’s tallest building (the second highest building in the Southern Hemisphere after the Gold Coasts’ Q1). It’s got Accessorize, Zara, Topshop, Mango, H&M, Forever 21, God I could go on…and I didn’t buy a thing. Honestly backpacking is like torture sometimes. If I have to wear any of the clothes I’ve been wearing over the past 5 (!) months in my ‘real life’… In fantastic news, as a tourist you can get up to 20% off in some stores here (Topshop has 15% off). Yay! All you need to do is bring your passport to the OnTour desk on Level 2 and you’ll get a little card to show at the till. Lovely! They have a supermarket here called Jumbo and it’s the best supermarket I’ve ever been in. Ever. We spent an hour and a half in here alone and that’s a huge deal as John absolutely hates supermarkets. I usually have about 7 minutes before he’s complaining and ready to leave. They sell everything you could possibly imagine with a lot of German produce actually and butter from the homeland, Kerrygold. We were so delighted!! They sell awesome cheese plates here so we got some a few times to have in a park. Nice little treat 🙂
We took a bit of a walking tour one day which took in the beautiful Belles Artes Museum (Entrance: 1200 CP) which was a lovely break from the sweltering sunshine. The building is absolutely stunning. A real work of art 🙂 There’s a temporary exhibition in here by Venezuelan artist Oswaldo Vigas who I’d never heard of before but I now really like – his work is quite surreal, definitely an air of Picasso. Check him out on Google Images! Just behind the museum lies a pretty awesome Botero sculpture too. Definitely don’t miss it! We wandered around Barrio Lastarria or the neighborhood of Lastarria close enough to here which was nice for a stroll. Plenty of cafés and cute little shops. Cerro (hill) Santa Lucia is around here and definitely worth a look – they shoot off a canon here at 12pm – you can hear it all over the city. The Plaza de Armas is pretty much the heart of the city. There’s a cathedral here but it was covered in scaffolding so we didn’t manage to take any photos. The post office building is just next door and is really lovely though. We had a tasty lunch in a vegetarian restaurant just around the corner from the plaza called El Naturista. A bit of a walk from the Plaza de Armas is the Palacio de La Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace. It was originally the mint which is where the ‘moneda’ in the name comes from. They have a changing of the guard here every second day which we unfortunately didn’t get to see – God damn it though – I do love the festival atmosphere they bring about on an ordinary day!
Getting US Dollars in Santiago
We needed to get USD to exchange at the blue dollar rate back in Argentina as we foolishly didn’t take out enough USD in either Ecuador or Bolivia so we had to take Chilean Pesos out of our Aussie accounts (you can’t get a cash advance in Chilean banks nor can you withdraw USD from their ATMs. So basically you’re stuck with withdrawing Chilean Pesos with a daily limit) and then go to a Casa de Cambio or Currency Exchange Office to change that into USD all so we could change our USD into Argentinian Pesos!! Phew! We found that Banco Estado let us take out the highest daily amount, 400,000 CP. We went to Guiñazu Cambio to get our USD (and came out about $20 better than the bank rates) 🙂
Next stop: Valparaíso, Chile