Tornado Tour of South America – Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil
A tour of Santiago in a day, exploring the main sights including Cerro San Cristóbal, La Chascona, Plaza de Armas, Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago, and Museo Bellas Artes and briefly checking out the nightlife.
The capital of Chile has been Santiago since 1541. Though not as popular to tourists as Buenos Aires or Rio, Santiago has become an advanced metropolitan city with the tallest building in South America to support the claim.
One a night and a day before leaving for Iquique, there was a lot to see in a short amount of time.
Arriving in the evening from Mendoza, we headed out in the Bellavista area after checking into The Aubrey.
In the evening the popular Constitucion street was full of people, mostly eating and drinking outside on the sidewalk seating. We found a recommended restaurant, Ciudad Vieja, where we had some delicious burgers and local Quilmes beer.
We checked out some of the bars and clubs nearby but wanted to keep it a relatively early night to be prepared for the next day.
The next morning after a great buffet breakfast, we were fueled for the intense sightseeing coming our way.
Cerro San Cristóbal
Starting at one of the most famous sights, we walked over to the base of the hill that rises 300m above the city. We took the funicular up to the top. Making a couple of stops, one at the National Zoo of Chile, we arrived at the top where a statue of the Virgin Mary sits. As soon as we stepped off we noticed this large dog which I thought was a wolf that wandered over. But no. It was a stray.
The views over the skyline were great though polluted! We walked up to the peak and saw the amphitheater for shows and graves. We decided to exercise and walked down the path of the park assuming it was safer than the hill in Bogota.
Walking towards downtown, we stopped at Chile’s beloved poet Pablo Neruda’s house which has been converted into a museum. This is where he lived with his third wife.
Entering the museum, we received an audio tour with the entrance fee. Neruda’s collections of random trinkets from around the world were displayed in the many small rooms of his house. The house itself was also interesting with hidden rooms and a unique design. I found it intriguing that he was friends with Picasso and even met Mao Ze Dong.
His 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature was also on display.
Continuing downtown, we walked along several busy streets to make it to the central square.
Plaza de Armas
Unfortunately the first thing I noticed was the square was under construction. This is the center of the city with many important buildings surrounding it, including the Central Post Office, Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, and Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago and government houses.
A group of Americans were preaching Jesus with banners and a translator to the amusement of the locals.
Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago
This neoclassical church was built in 1748 – 1800 and serves as the seat of the archdiocese of Santiago. We went in to explore.
Outside of the church we met with a scheduled walking tour of Santiago. We heard it was fun learning experience. A group of about 15 people gathered for the tour and our guide led us to the first sight. We walked a block to the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art) and heard that it recently opened after renovations from the last earthquake.
Café con Piernas (Coffee with Legs)
A few stops later we were standing in the shopping area of an office building. Our guide started explaining about a certain kind of cafe “with legs”. This is the story we were told.
One day a man had an idea to get a competitive edge with his cafe. He would hire beautiful women to serve the coffee. It was a success. Then another man came up with an idea to have scantily clad women serve coffee. A bigger success. Finally a man pushed the envelope and had nude women serving coffee. Ultimate success.
So now these culturally accepted cafes have nude/partially nude women serving coffees with a few interesting rules. Apparently they must be in office buildings and only open during office hours. Also you can tell what kind of a cafe it is by how dark the windows are. If they are fully black, you’ve found an ultimate coffee with legs establishment.
This curiosity was too good to pass up, so we hung back from the group, intending to catch up with them, so we could peek inside and see what all the fuss was about.
We entered the cafe with a neon sign and blacked out windows to find several men in suits standing around a small U-shaped bar and a burly barista in the back. This character served the coffee and I’m guessing helped with security if anyone got out of hand. Pun intended.
Several ladies hung around the bar wearing tiny bikinis and thongs which shone like a beacon with the black light. One approached us and asked what we wanted to drink. We both ordered coffee.
Later we asked about the show the guide told us about and the lady pointed to us, “you want show?”
Next thing we know, our trembling hands are trying to stabilize our coffee cups and saucers as we try to drink this hot liquid all the while these almost naked women were giving us a standing lap dance. Men next to us seemed to enjoy the show. It was by far the most awkward experience I’ve ever had in a cafe. It was basically a strip club in the middle of an office building.
After a couple of minutes we asked for the bill which came out to be around $20 + tip.
Bursting out of the cafe completely disheveled, we found ourselves right in front of another tour group giving the same explanation of this establishment’s history. I saw many sheepish grins.
A girl asked me how it was inside as I adjusted my clothing. “Best cafe experience ever!”
We actually tried to catch up with our group so we traced the steps passed the Municipal Theatre of Santiago, Cerro Santa Lucía and the Contemporary Art Museum of Santiago. I even found a Botero statue which I recognized. However in the end we could not find them.
Museo Bellas Artes
As we ended up at the museum of fine arts we decided to go in. We explored the three floors but could not take photos.
Started in 1880 this is the oldest of the art museums in South America with a focus on Chile and Latin America as a whole.
After a beer and some shopping (tourist shirt of course), we called it a day. I was in a rush to get to the airport and catch my domestic flight to the north.
This is also were Vishal and I parted ways. The rest of this trip would be solo. And off to Iquique I go!