After two blissful months studying abroad in Buenos Aires, I fell in love. Now, don’t get your hopes up—this confession isn’t that juicy. I fell in love with a city: the atmosphere, the culture, the surrounding area and the nature. The only problem in this love story is that I’m not talking about Buenos Aires.
My ten-day spring break in the middle of Septmber was a whirlwind of travel. After spending the first two days playing tour guide in Buenos Aires for a visiting relative/travel companion, we spent a day in Montevideo, Uruguay; two days in Mendoza, Argentina; three days in Santiago, Chile, and a day on the coast in Valparaiso and Viña del Mar before flying back to Buenos Aires.
While I loved (and would recommend) every city I visited, Santiago captured my attention like no other. Nestled between the snowcapped peaks of the Andes, Santiago is not only picturesque, but it’s a large, westernized urban center with modern architecture and style. For one of the bigger cities in South America, Santiago was surprisingly laid back, with abundant parks, plazas, and green spots. The people and the atmosphere similarly seemed young and hip, more relaxed than the European Buenos Aires.
Santiago’s a great city to visit when you’re studying abroad—perfect for a long weekend or spring break like I did. Here are some tips for an awesome experience:
- Take the road less traveled. While flying into Santiago is definitely the easier option, if you have enough time, the seven hour bus ride from Mendoza to Santiago has one of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen from the windows of a coach bus. Crossing the border by car literally takes you right through the Aconcagua mountains, some of the tallest peaks in that portion of the Andes. Plus, if you cross the border to Chile by land, you’ll avoid the $150 reciprocity fee that U.S. citizens have to pay if they arrive via plane.
- Stay in the Barrio Lastarria. My hostel was right in the middle of the Barrio Lastarria, a trendy neighborhood famous for its amazing restaurants, artisan goods, and cultural sights. I loved staying there because it made finding dinner every night simple, and it’s a relatively short walk away from other touristy spots like the Patio Bellavista, La Chascona, and the Cerro San Cristobal.
- Hop on, hop off. Although it definitely made me feel like an uncultured tourist, the Hop On, Hop Off bus of Santiago was a perfect way to see a large portion of the city in a short period of time. The tour is two hours long if you don’t leave the bus once, but we stretched it into a full-day event by getting out and exploring as many of the sixteen different stops as possible. Think of the bus like a taxi taking you to all of the most popular sights in Santiago.
- Check out the views. Santiago is the proud home of the tallest building in Latin America—the Costanera in the business district. You can take a tour to the 71st floor, over 300 meters in the air, and see 360 degree views of Santiago and the surrounding mountains. We timed our visit perfectly in the evening, so we saw the city by day, watched the gradual change as the sun set over the mountains, and viewed the city lit up in the dark.
- Experience the empanadas. I am a strong supporter of empanadas. I will eat as many as possible, as often as possible. So when I heard that Chilean empanadas were twice the size of those in Argentina, and therefore twice as delicious, I was intrigued. After some serious testing in Santiago, I can officially report that it’s true, size does matter. The bigger the empanada, the bigger your satisfaction.
- Make a daytrip to Valpo. Although Santiago is amazing by itself, Valparaiso on the coast of Chile is a cheap, easy hour and a half long bus ride away. If you have an extra day in the city, I definitely recommend visiting Valpo—the colorfully painted houses, chaotic hillside layouts, and abundant street art make it a fascinating city to walk around and explore. Although there are no beaches in Valparaiso, if you want to go swimming you can head to Viña del Mar, the neighboring city only a few minute drive away from Valpo, and visit some of the beaches they’re famous for.
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<p>I am Maria Oldenburg, and I'm a sophomore Economics and International Studies double major at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. On campus, you can find me pretending to be a professional photographer, exploring the local coffee scene, or hopelessly planning my dream backpacking trip across Southeast Asia. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I can't wait to eat my weight in empanadas, learn quality puns in Spanish, and tango with the best of them during my semester in Buenos Aires!</p>