Chile | Santiago Treat: The Most Pleasant of Neighborhoods

For the most part, Santiago is no tourist retreat. It’s certainly much more of a metropolis here, with busy-looking people in busy-looking suits and a sometimes-uncomfortable bustle. Though I had often read that Santiago is “not a destination in itself,” I was convinced that, like Milan, you just have to dig under the surface a bit. This is how I fell upon the trendy neighborhood known as Barrio Bellavista, an area nestled into the shadows of the city’s Virgin Mary, which stands atop Santiago’s only big hill and provides visitors with panoramic views of the town. While I liked the antique wooden funicular and the scenery, Bellavista itself is the real draw here… With its leafy streets and elaborately decorated buildings, one could not ask for a more pleasant neighborhood.

It’s like the entire area has been tattooed – uniquely Chilean-style murals, street art made from everything imaginable, and interesting public pieces to boot.

(The pictured sculptures were whimsical enough to remind my of the Stravinsky Fountain next to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.)

Bohemian Bellavista is marvelously charming and picturesque, and consequently filled with countless cafes, darling houses painted in every colorful shade, and an artsy crowd. Clearly trendy among the 20-somethings for the bars, restaurants, and venues, Bellavista manages to yet retain some sense of tranquility and calm. If you’re planning to visit, Moon has done a splendid job of recommending restaurants in the area, though I don’t think you can go very wrong just stumbling around. Additionally, one of Pablo Neruda’s old residences, which is now a museum that displays its nautical interior for tourists, is near the funicular and certainly worth exploring.

Santiago tip: The metro system is very convenient for long distances, but watch out for the lines that have “express” trains and regular ones. They are indicated by thin, seemingly insignificant lights along the carts that specify which route the train is on. On these trains, it is possible that the stop where you want to alight will be skipped.

Side rant: I have to say, buses in South America are extremely unpleasant, and we are here by accident once more. Firstly, after arriving at the bus station in Mendoza quite early, we were informed that buses to Vina del Mar only depart once a day, and we had just missed the departure. So, great. Luckily, I found a minibus leaving in the afternoon, so we killed some time eating lomos and trying to figure out accommodation in Vina del Mar before taking off and spending hours crossing the Chilean border. Apparently, they really care about fruit smuggling or something. Turns out, trying to book a place was completely unnecessary, as the bus unexpectedly landed us in Santiago at around midnight, with nowhere to stay, without ever having gone in the direction of Vina del Mar. How in the world did this happen again?

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