A friend of a friend asked me for some tips on Santiago, where I’ve been since January 28. Hence this down and dirty guide to Chile’s capital city.
Transportation: Take the metro and buses; plan your trip here. Instead of buying tickets each time you ride, spring for a Tarjeta bip!, an RFID super-card that costs 1,300 pesos; you’ll need to load a bit of money to start, then just reload as necessary. There are two metro fares depending on when you ride, and the rush hour price is reportedly going up to 460 pesos soon.
You could also just walk, but it was 86 degrees today, it’s really dry and the sun just sucks the life out of you.
I’ve had nothing but terrible luck with the few cabs I’ve taken, from trying to overcharge (“I don’t have any change”) to not knowing the city’s streets. Totally skippable, unless you’re going to the airport; in that case, have your hotel set you up with someone legit. UPDATE: One of the travel Twitterati reports four months of worry-free cab hopping, so maybe I’m just really unlucky. (Possible!)
Eating and Drinking: Prepare yourself for indoor smoking; some places, though, have smoking sections of varying effectiveness. Get really great sushi and other Japanese-ish food at Etniko in Bella Vista. (Food & Wine likes their wine list.) The next street over, despite being named Pio Nono, has roughly 826 beer bars with lively terraces, pounding music and raging hormones. Elsewhere Opera is kind-of-a-big-deal dining. European-style coffee-and-pastry cafes line Jose Miguel de la Barra, between Cerro Santa Lucia and the Mapocho River. And Mojito Cubano, on Santa Filomena just west of Purisima, has one of the town’s best fixed-price lunches: More Cuban food than you can probably eat goes for 1,700 pesos, all-in.
Doing Stuff: Any guidebook or website can give you the big deal kinds of things to do, but I’d give a special shout out to Cerro San Cristobal (where you find panoramas like this one) and the National History Museum (which is more interesting if you know some Spanish but still a must-see if you don’t). While you can get your touristy but definitely terrific lunch of Antarctic king crab at the Mercado Central, you can gorge on Chile’s insanely fresh (and cheap) produce at the Vega Central on the other side of the river. It won’t rate as the most zen place you’ve ever been; wear closed-toe shoes!