Free Tour Santiago & flight to Lima (26th August 2012)

After a very long sleep to recover from our jetlag, Jono and I finally got up at 7.45am  to shower, packed up all our belongings and checked out of our apartment at Amistar. Today was our only day in Santiago before flying off to Lima in the evening so to make the most of our day, I found us a free city walking tour which covers most of the tourist areas we wanted to see - since it was free, we may as well get a guided tour of the city rather than roaming the streets on our own and not getting much local knowledge of the places we would visit.

We headed to the reception office in Room 209 to check out and left our bags in the storage area, carrying only a daypack and necessary items we needed for the walking tour. But first, breakfast! We left Amistar and went in search for a cafe - walking around the block, we didn't find a single cafe or restaurant open which I thought was rather peculiar for a Sunday morning. The streets too were pretty dead with hardly anyone or even cars. Does the city totally shut down on Sundays??

We decided to walk to Plaza de Armas where our tour would commence - hopefully there would be some place to grab a bite before the tour. Photo of a street sign we took on the way (this is not a misspelling of Mac Gyver - Mac Iver was a former Chilean politician):

I cannot believe this - it was past 9am and we were right in the middle of the city and the was NO cafe open in sight! There were a few restaurants next to Catedral Metropolitana but the staff had only just opened the doors and were slowly setting up, bringing out chairs and tables from the shop onto the plaza. We continued walking several streets in the vicinity in hope to find something and ended up in the only cafe we found open - Starbucks. Gee, we flown all the way from Sydney only to have breakfast here? Got a muesli and a tall Latte for Jono while I had a carrot muffin and a tall Caramel Macchiato, all for Ch$6550 which costs about the same price as what we would pay in Australia - I wondered how the locals could afford dining in places like this. The only upside to the Starbucks breakfast was at least the quality and taste was what we expected it to be. Still, I would have preferred a local breakfast than one from an American coffeehouse chain :/

Around 9.45am, we left Starbucks and headed back to Plaza de Armas for a quick photo of Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical cathedral overlooking the plaza. Sunday mass was in procession when we briefly entered the grand cathedral. Photos taken at the Catedral Metropolitana:

Main entrance to Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago at Plaza de Armas

The nave

The parish shrine where the statue of Virgen del Carmen 
(Our Lady of Mount Carmel) is enthroned

There are many companies that conduct free walking tours in Santiago but mostly only hold tours during the week - I found Free Tour Santiago which runs two tours daily, one starting at 10am and the other at 3pm. Sweet - that works for us! The tour was 4 hours long, conducted in English and covers all the main sites of the city. No booking was required - all we had to do was turn up at the meeting point (in front of the cathedral) at the designated start times and look for the guide wearing a FREE TOUR red shirt. "Hmm, I don't see anyone in a red shirt," I said to Jono, looking around the plaza. There was a small group of people who looked very much like tourists hanging around nearby, perhaps here for the same tour. "Free walking tour! Free walking tour!" shouted a young chap dressed casually in a shade of greenish brown who then introduced himself as Antonio, our guide for the walking tour this morning (it seemed he had misplaced his red shirt today). There were ten of us on the tour (interestingly, half were living in Australia) which began at the main square of Santiago, Plaza de Armas. 

"This place used to be a holding area for arms which is how the plaza got its name," explained Antonio. We walked around the plaza as Antonio gave us a brief history lesson of the city. Santiago was founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia - a statue of the founder riding his horse is among the several artistic statues in the plaza. The plaza grounds were beautifully kept and historical buildings surrounded the square, including the Edificio del Correo Central, a historic post office building once served as the President of Chile's palace, and the Cathedral Metropolitana. As the city stirs on this sunny Sunday morning, the plaza gets busier with a mix locals and tourists. Small stalls selling all sorts of knick-knacks and souvenirs and buskers can be seen setting up for the day ahead. There were several police officers (Carabineros de Chile) donned in army-green uniforms roaming around the plaza with a few mounted on horses - they were friendly enough to allow tourists to have their photos taken with them. Stray dogs were a common sight - Antonio assured us that Chile is rabies-free and these dogs were the 'protectors' of the city. 

We continued on our tour towards Palacio de La Moneda (the government house), walking past the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Art Museum dedicated to the study and display of pre-Columbian artworks and artefacts from Central and South America) which is currently closed for refurbishments, and the ex-Congreso Nacional (the former National Congress - the Congress has moved to new premises in city of Valparaiso). Hmm, tis the season for refurbishments - even the front entrance to La Moneda was closed to the public so we only saw the back entrance of the palace. It seems that one of the tourist highlights of the La Moneda is the changing of the guards which occurs every odd-numbered day, including Sundays however it was all over by the time we arrived :( We walked around the square behind the palace that had statues of all the former presidents including Salvador Allende wearing his iconic squarish-rimmed glasses - during the military coup in 1973, Allende rejected the military's ultimatum for him to step down and shot himself dead in the palace while it was under assault by armed forces. An interesting fact was that Allende gave a farewell speech to Chileans on live radio, speaking of himself in past tense, and his love for the country and hopes for its future just before the palace was overtaken - the man had decided his own fate beforehand.

We asked Antonio if it was normal that most shops were closed on Sundays and he confirmed it was so. "Have you guys tried the coffee in Santiago?" he asked, stopping the group in front of a closed Cafe Haiti. In Santiago, you have the normal coffee places and then there are a few places like Cafe Haiti which are termed Cafe con Piernas (Spanish for 'coffee with legs'). Made popular in the 60s, these coffee places located in downtown Santiago were where businessmen come to for caffeine and some harmless entertainment before heading home to their traditional wives and families. The waitresses wear skimpy uniforms and short skirts, serving steaming hot cups of coffee and flirting with ogling male (and female) customers. Antonio added that there were raunchier versions with darkened windows, some even go as far as to provide minuto millonario (million-dollar minute) where customers are shut in the shop and the waitresses taking off their clothes in a 60-second striptease. Unfortunately, these cafes are open during weekdays - damn, we won't get to see and experience coffee with legs today. Would have been an interesting sight ;P

We continued on, walking to the old business district of Santiago where the stock exchange was located in an area ironically called Nueva York (New York) - believe it or not, the new financial district is called Sanhattan. The end of the block led onto the main street and Universidad de Chile (the largest and oldest institution of higher education in Chile) - there was a huge city run with many people wearing red T-shirts running by. Fortunately Antonio didn't wear his red shirt today - we would have trouble finding him in the crowd!

Antonio stopped us in front of a street vendor selling Nuts4Nuts and told us the story of how the founder went bankrupt when he first started his business selling honey-roasted nuts in Chile - the man aka 'Rabbit' by the Chileans (probably due to his slight buck-teeth) brought the same idea to New York and became a millionaire. Jono and I bought a small bag of honey-roasted peanuts for Ch$300 to snack on the walk - yum! We headed on to see Teatro Municipal (stage theatre and opera house) and then walked to the foot Cerro Santa Lucia, a small hill in the centre of the city - at noon each day, a cannon shot is fired from Fort Hidalgo (with no cannonball, of course) and the sound of the boom can be heard in the surrounding areas.

Around 12pm, Antonio brought us to Casa Lastarria in the Lastarria neighbourhood where we took a break from walking and sat in the alfresco dining area for drinks and snacks. Jono and I shared a pisco sour (homemade with egg white, pisco, lemon and Angostura bitters), an entree of empanadas with meat, a cappuccino and a bottle of Agua sin gas (literally translates to 'water without carbonation'). The coffee was terrible but thankfully the pisco made up for it and the empanadas were good. Cost Ch$9000 including tips for our drinks and food.

After our 45-minute break, we left the cafe and the group walked to Parque Forestal, passing by a very busy Emporio La Rosa on Merced Street, a cafe-gelateria well-known for its large selection of flavourful handmade ice-creams. No time to stop for a gelato on the tour :/ Will have to come back later...We continued on to Patio Bellavista in the Bellavista neighbourhood, a centre of culture, arts and cuisine - with over 50 shops selling handicrafts and souvenirs to lapis lazuli jewelry, and restaurants and cultural events held in the patio, this is a great place for locals and tourists to spend a chilled out afternoon. The Bellavista neighbourhood is also known as the bohemian district and home to many famous Chileans including Noble prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. Our walking tour concluded outside La Chascona Musuem, formerly the house of Pablo Neruda that is said to be the secret hideaway for him and his mistress Matilde Urrutia (La Chascona was aptly named after her 'unruly hair'). The group clapped and thanked our guide for the tour - Antonio has been a wonderful guide, answering all sorts of questions the group throws at him with a smile and good humour, and his stories makes the tour both informative and entertaining. Free Tour Santiago works on a tips-only basis so we tipped Antonio Ch$5000 each for his excellent service. Highly recommend the walking tour with Free Tour Santiago if you visit the city! Photos taken on our walk here

Our walking tour concluded at 1.30pm so we had a couple more hours to kill before returning to Amistar. Jono and I decided to check out Cerro San Cristobal and headed to the fort-like entrance of Pio Nono station to get tickets for the funicular ride to the top. Antonio had warned us earlier that there was often a queue for the funicular - true enough, the queue was spilling out from the entrance into markets nearby but we have plenty of time so it was ok. Cost Ch$1000 per person for a one-way trip on the funicular which runs every 15 minutes and fits up to 50 people at a time - it took us a good 45 minutes in the queue before we boarded. The vehicle was open on all sides allowing in a cool breeze as it gradually climbs uphill. The ride took about 10 minutes to the top, stopping once halfway to let passengers off at the zoo (there was a station stop for the Chilean National Zoo). We took a walk around and up to the peak of the hill where a 22-metre Blessed Virgin Mary statue stands. Cerro San Cristobal was popular not only with tourists but mountain bikers and joggers too - the place was so crowded!

One of the suggested tourist things to do at Cerro San Cristobal is to sample a Chilean summer-time drink, mote con huesillo - this non-alcoholic sweet drink served chilled is made from wheat and peaches and can be purchased at most of the beverage stalls on the hill. I got us one for Ch$800 to share - mmm, nice and refreshing peach-flavoured drink with yellow cooked husked wheat (mote) at the bottom. We sat by the cliff wall taking in the city views while enjoying our mote con huesillo in the sun. Photos taken at Cerro San Cristobal here.

Cerro San Cristobal is also home to Santiago's largest public park, Parque Metropolitano, a place where the locals escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. At 3.15pm, we started walking downhill via the park back to our accommodation. There were many paths you can take to get back to the city - we didn't see any sign indicating the way to Pio Nono station so just followed the path where the majority of walkers headed. "This does not look right," I said to Jono as we continued zig-zagging down a windy sealed road where the footpath was at times shared with road vehicles. An hour later, we finally reached the bottom of the hill and were totally on the wrong side of town. Now we have to walk all the way back to Bellavista - ARGHHH! It took us another hour to get back to Emporio La Rosa but the queue for gelato was way too long so we had to give up and headed straight back to Amistar. I was tired, hungry (we haven't had lunch yet) and didn't get my ice cream, all thanks to the detour in Parque Metropolitano - not happy >(

On arrival at Amistar, we found the reception office was shut. No, you've got to be kidding me...We headed downstairs to the security desk and managed to get them to call up the staff on duty - the security guard didn't speak any English but fortunately there was a man in the lobby who came to our assistance and translated to the guard that we needed to get our bags from the reception office as we have a plane to catch. Ten minutes later, we were told that the reception office was now open - we went up to collect our bags and got Carlos to organise a taxi for us only to be told that Transvip didn't have any availability and he couldn't get through to other taxi companies. I'm at the verge of screaming in frustration but there was nothing much we can do except patiently wait for Carlos to keep trying. He finally managed to get us a taxi that takes only cash payment - Jono and I had to rush out to the nearby ATM to get more cash. Cost us Ch$15,000 for the taxi ride to Santiago International Airport, arriving at 6.20pm - so rushed! Went through check-in procedures and customs, then walked around the terminal to find some place to eat. For an international airport, there weren't many shops and choices for food too were pretty limited. We eventually settled for dinner at The Last Pisco Sour, spending the remaining Chilean pesos on a Seafood Rice for me and Chicken and Mushroom Rice for Jono (cost Ch$15,000). I SO want a drink right now after such a hectic afternoon...The food was not the best (poorly presented) but edible - I was too hungry to care. Photos taken at The Last Pisco Sour:

Chicken and Mushroom Rice

Seafood Rice

The Last Pisco Sour bar

We sat around at the departure gate waiting to board - there was no free wifi at the airport which was pretty crap. At 8.30pm, we boarded our flight with LAN to Lima. During the 3-hour flight, a meal was provided though I wanted only water but all I got was a pathetic cup  of water offered with the hot meal...sigh...We were given arrival forms to fill in but it was fully in Spanish. This is just stupid - other countries whose first language is not English have bilingual forms. How do they expect non-Spanish speakers to fill this?? We filled out most of the sections we knew and had to ask the Chilean guy sitting next to me to translate the declaration section into English in order for us to complete the form. Sheesh.

I managed to squeeze in a few zzzs on the flight before we arriving into Lima at local time 12.40am (Santiago is 2 hours ahead of Lima). Perhaps it was really late in the night - we completed immigration and customs very quickly. "Let's find the Taxi Green stand," I told Jono and immediately on exit into the arrival hall, we saw the stand for the official airport taxi company. We were about to push our trolley to the stand and order a taxi when an old man wearing the standard taxi driver black suit walked up to us, asking if we needed a taxi in English - he already had his hands on our trolley when we said yes so we followed him to his vehicle. I wasn't sure if he really was from Taxi Green (didn't see the company logo on the vehicle) so we first asked him how much it would cost us to get to Miraflores where our accommodation was before getting in the car. "60 soles," said the man, which I thought was a lot dearer that what I recalled reading online but we said ok and hopped in (being tired and this late didn't help). 60 soles works out to be AUD22 (the conversion rate is roughly 1 Peruvian sole = 0.3AUD) which wasn't too bad.

"Let me tell you - here in Lima, it is safe, but when you are in a car, always keep your bag on the floor," said the taxi driver old enough to be my dad in such a grave tone and he made sure we had our daypacks on the floor before he started the engine. Okay...It seems that with the high influx of tourists into Lima these days, there were incidents of robbing cars at traffic lights (Malaysia has the same incidents). It took us 35 minutes to get to Miraflores, an upscale district of Lima located near the coast. Our taxi driver turned out to be a jovial man and was totally making the most of his opportunity to practice his English with us. I couldn't help but wondered if he drove slowly on purpose, just so he could talk...

We checked into Hostal El Faro Inn at 1.50am (thankfully the reception office was open 24 hours). I had previously enquired with Intrepid Travel and found that this was the starting point of our trip thus made a reservation here for a twin room with a matrimonial bed (in Spanish-speaking countries, a matrimonial bed refers to a double bed). Cost us USD60 for the night for the room which came with an ensuite and breakfast. We filled in the necessary paperwork and was given the key to our room - huh, we even have a minibar. I don't care what the cost is going to be but I'm having the water! Had a quick shower (definitely needed one after all the walking we did today) and we were in bed by 2am.


  1. Chile is one of the best country for adventure and the capital Santiago have many tourist and holiday places.


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