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Spanish in Santiago de Chile

How to Spend Your Downtime in Santiago de Chile

Santiago de Chile, often coupled together with the other sprawling southern South American capital, Buenos Aires, is in fact a buzzing, cultural hipster hub all in its own right, with a lot of different and distinct offerings for all who venture its way.

Most likely upon arrival one of your first stops, drawing all new arrivals in like a giant magnet, will be the the central Plaza de Armas, easily accessed by the metro stop of the same name. It is a lively spot, great for people watching, street art and performances and dance displays and it is only round the corner from the Mercado Central, one of the biggest food Chile Mercado markets in all of Chile with the best and freshest seafood in the city. Also nearby is the street known as 'Bandera' where you will find more than thirty used clothes stores all on one street for your perusal. Next up the two 'hills' of Santiago are a must see for an impressive overview of the city from up high. Cerro San Cristobal in the north of the city also contains the Metropolitan Park with some spectacular views of the city and, if you are lucky, the Andes. At the top there is a large amphitheatre, church and statue of the Virgin Mary surveying the city below. Nearby to the San Cristobal Hill is the cemetery district, one of the largest in all of South America. It contains the tombs of nearly all of the country's presidents (Bernardo O'Higgins, Gabriel González Videla and Augustus Pinochet are not buried here) and provides and interesting way to pass away an afternoon getting lost among the crypts. At night time it can provide a particularly spooky backdrop for some interesting photographs and a look at a more eery yet beautiful Santiago. Then right in the centre of the city you will find Cerro Santa Lucia, a pleasant land of murals, ponds and yet more amazing views, with a manageable twenty minute climb to the top

A few blocks away from the Plaza de Armas you will find the La Moneda Presidential Palace which is a very grand looking building and the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile. There are free guided tours throughout the day and an underground cultural centre to be explored. On top of that you can feast your eyes on some impressive sculptures made by Chilean artists and throw your spare pesos in the large fountain outside.

Santiago is not short of a spot of greenery or two and part of the charm of the hustle bustle of the central city area is the knowledge that you are but a few minutes away from a tranquil and spacious area where you can relax, read, study some Spanish or just chill out with friends. The Forestal Park is a long park found alongside the main river. Here you will also find the Modern Art Museum and Museum of Fine Arts. On a Sunday this area comes to life with a used clothes market, street artists, dance displays and entertainment. Down on the banks of the Mapocho River there lies another interesting park known as 'Parque de las Esculturas' or the Park of the Sculptures. It is home to no less than thirty sculptures by Chilean artists and in summertime plays host to some relaxing and enjoyable concerts.

The majority of Santiago's inhabitants, as is the same in Chile as a whole, are Catholic and so there are plenty of ornate churches around as you make your way around the city, despite many having fallen victim to the earthquakes that have struck the city and its surrounding area over the years. The oldest church in the city is the Church of San Francisco, in the north of the city on Avenida Libertador Bernardo O Higgins. It also has an interesting museum inside containing a large collection of 17th Century art and colonial era furniture.

Chile Chascona

On the topic of museums, Santiago has a lot to say. From the small Museo Ralli with its modern art and Salvador Dalí sculptures to La Chascona, the house of Pablo Neruda (one of three he had in and around the city) which has its rooms thematically decorated, great views and is home to his Nobel Prize, all making for a very interesting visit. Then there is the Museum of Memory and Human Rights which takes a look at he many abuses carried out during General Pinochet's period of rule. You can also take a trip to visit Villa Grimaldi. This site, about twenty minutes outside the city by bus, was previously used as a torture centre for opponents of Pinochet's regime during the period of 1974-1978 and is now home to garden areas, quiet spots for reflection and modern reconstructions of the buildings that were there in that period. Survivors of the centre itself often give the tours.

Back in the main centre of the city the area known as 'Quinta Normal' is regarded as the main museum district and here you will find the Museum of Visual Arts, the Train Museum and the Artequin Museum, amongst others. A number of the museums in the city are free to enter on a Sunday so be sure to check out which and head along for some cut price culture!

Although Santiago is without doubt a large city, with its original organised grid design sometimes hard to see amongst all the honking traffic and mix match of buildings, it is made particularly easy to navegate thanks to its handy metro, covering nearly every corner of the city. Within Santiago's streets there are delights of every size, shape and sort to be unearthed and there is plenty on offer to keep you occupied. One thing that, along with most of the rest of South America, Chileans go crazy for is football. The main local team in Santiago is Colo Colo. They play in the Estadio Monumental David Arellano about 25 minutes outside the city centre. Their main rivals are Universidad de Chile who have no official stadium but often play their matches in the National Stadium in Ñuñoa, Santiago, Chile. The atmosphere at any game will normally be lively with rowdy and passionate Chilean supporters giving it their all and then some. Choose the seats over the stands and you will perhaps enjoy it better and still feel the electric atmosphere without the whole fearing for your life part.

Another thing the people of Santiago are passionate about is of course food and drink. Chile is now the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world and you will see plenty of Wine tours and tastings on offer from various agencies and even Spanish schools in the city. Just forty minutes away from Santiago is the Maipo wine valley where, back in the 1800s some of the wealthy Chilean families in the area began to experiment with the imported Bordeaux grapes and produce high quality, fine wines. Today wineries such as Viña Undurraga, Viña Santa Rita (you can tour this winery on bikes!) and probably the most well known, Concha y Toro can all be visited easily from the city. However, don't be fooled into thinking wine is the only tipple of the inhabitants of Santiago. Be sure to try the jokingly named 'Terremoto' (earthquake), a cocktail-esque drink made up of the popular pisco, wine, pineapple ice cream and a splash of grenadine. Apparently said to leave you with a few earthquake like shakes after consumption.

Chile Pastel

Santiago also offers plenty of options for your rumbling stomach after a long day sight-seeing or a morning filled with Spanish classes. Being the large and cosmopolitan city that it is, Santiago can dish up almost any cuisine that you could think of, with sushi restaurants, pizza parlours and noodle bars popping up everywhere throughout the city. Some of the more traditional dishes that you might want to try however include Chorillana, a dish originating in Valparaiso consisting of french fries, fried onion, spicy sausage, beef steak and eggs. Snacks such as empanadas and humitas (mashed corn in corn husks, steamed) are sure to keep those hunger pangs at bay and to wash it all down there is the popular traditional drink of 'mote con huesillos', a barley drink made with peach.

If you still have enough energy to explore the streets further at perhaps a later hour in the day, the main places to head for a good night out are Barrio Bellavista and the lesser known La Habana Vieja. There are also a selection of jazz clubs to be enjoyed, a music genre that has always been popular with the Santiago inhabitants. The most well known spot is probably Club de Jazz just off Plaza Ñuñoa. Watch out for the summer jazz festival as well if you happen to be about during the summer months.

Further afield and outside the city limits you will find a few more places to venture to, especially if you are a fan of skiing or snowboarding. Within an hour or so of the city there are some of the best ski resorts in South America such as Valle Nevado or the smaller Farellones. Then, if you fancy seeing Chile through the eyes of another city then take a trip to nearby Valparaiso, the country's most important seaport or Isla Negra, another home of the poet Pablo Neruda.

Santiago has a wealth of activity and adventure to offer visitors of all tastes and persuasions, whether you are here for a short or long period, simply visiting or spending some time studying a Spanish course, there is something here for everyone!