The Localist

Back in Santiago

I’ve recently returned to my hometown Santiago, Chile after being away for a couple of years. Being away has made me realize some things that I once took for granted.

First: the Andes. See above. They are huge! Majestic mountains that can be seen almost from anywhere in Santiago, and provide a sense of orientation that is very unique. The Andes are always at the east.

Second: street vendors. In Chile you won’t find ceviche or arepa stalls like in neighboring countries. But you will find people selling “mote con huesillos” ([pictured above), a blessing for a hot summer day. A traditional Chilean recipe, the huesillo (dried peaches) are cooked in water with a lot of sugar, cinnamon and then cooled and mixed with mote (husked wheat). Usually the stall offers a few seats under shade to enjoy your drink, which can be up to 1 liter in size.

There are also boat-shaped stalls selling all sort of nuts. The sugar-coated peanuts are by far the most popular. In the recent years, in the downtown area close to the Plaza de Armas (main square) -thanks to all the immigration- you can find a lot of people selling Peruvian, Colombian and central American food at cheap prices. Some entrepreneurs even use supermarket trolleys to sell orange and grapefruit juices (not sure how hygienic they are, though).

Third: the air is dry. And by this I mean chapped lips, dry noses, and tight skin. During summer, always wear sunscreen and carry a hat and sunglasses. It is quite common to see reddish tourists who’ve been caught out by the weather.

Fourth: you can be in an amazing spot in a heartbeat. The mountain, the beach and the countryside are almost equidistant. During these summer months in Chile, everyone is taking vacations. The normally hectic Santiago empties out. This means no traffic jams and you can find a seat in the subway, an impossible quest in any other time of the year.

Those of us unable to take a month off work can use weekends to travel around. Take a 2 hour drive to the southeast and you will be immersed in a narrow canyon – Cajón del Maipo (pictured above) – which climbs towards the mountain. Keep going and you can actually reach the Andes and camp next to condors and glaciers, or visit some hot springs. On the way you’ll come across different places where you can spend your day next to the river, enjoy the countryside and some great restaurants.

2 hours to the west and you are in Valparaíso (pictured above), a bohemian city and the largest port in the country, which has expanded to the coastal hills. It’s a fantastic place to get lost and find little restaurants and art galleries. If you can, try the chorrillana, in an emblematic place called J Cruz. French fries topped with meat, onion and fried eggs. A caloric bomb that will give you all the energy you need to climb all the staircases and hidden passages of the port city.

Close to Valparaíso is Viña del Mar, also called the “Garden city”, with its nice beach promenade and beaches where you can lay down and spend your afternoon. If you drive north, you can visit other beaches on the way, some of which are extremely popular during summertime.

2 hours south and you are in the countryside, the heart of the wine region, with several vineyards offering tastings, amazing landscapes and delicious local-grown fruits and vegetables.

It’s good to be back in my hometown. And better yet during summertime, to enjoy the hot weather, beaches, mountain countryside and, of course, food!





Images. All photos from Fundacion Imagen de Chile, under creative commons, except for the image of the mote con huesillos, which is courtesy of   

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