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My First Impressions of Santiago, Chile

by Meg · 16 comments

Ladies and gentlemen, our RTW trip has officially begun! Tony and I arrived in our first destination, Santiago, two days ago and are loving the nomad lifestyle in this great city.

We spent all day yesterday acting like tourists and hitting up all the must-sees of the city.  We always said that we didn’t want to travel like tourists this year, but we woke up yesterday feeling like kids in a candy shop – we wanted to see it all!

Fortunately, this city is huge and even with all the sightseeing we did, there is still so much to explore in Santiago.  I look forward to writing more posts about our time here, but for now I wanted to share with you my first impressions of this South American gem.

To help keep me from rambling, I broke down my thoughts on Santiago into different categories… Enjoy!

The City In General

Santiago is currently in the middle of summertime so the weather is stunning. Since we have been here, it has been roughly 80 degrees and sunny everyday with zero humidity and a nice breeze – perfection!

Santiago is very modern for a South American city, but also has beautiful historical architecture. Being the capital and the only major metropolis in Chile, Santiago is large (and in charge) and spread out. The one thing that really makes Santiago gorgeous is the views of the Andes mountains you can enjoy in almost any place in the city.

It is an extremely relaxed city with warm, friendly people and any fashion style is acceptable… especially the 80’s baby!


Tony on the Santiago Metro

When we first arrived here, we had to take a bus and train from the airport to get to our hotel. Luckily, the public transport here is cleaner and more user-friendly than most cities in the states. The bus was a charter-style bus with air conditioning – which was an amazing treat after exiting the sweltering airport!

After getting off the bus, we headed to the train station and found the train system very relatable – even when the station signs and maps were all in Spanish. Just like the bus, the train was clean and comfortable.


Gotta love the avocado/mayonnaise combo!

Being a fat kid at heart, it is my firm belief that the key to a city’s greatness lies in its food scene. I wish I could say that I have been dining at Santiago’s greatest restaurants and sampling all the delicious local delicacies. Unfortunately, Tony and I are trying to start our trip following our daily budget that we established prior to starting our journey, and food here isn’t as cheap as we initially thought.

Thus, we have been taking advantage of the free buffet breakfast at the Hyatt (and stealing food for later in the day), grocery shopping for dinner, and carefully inspecting every restaurant menu for prices before stepping in the door.  Once we get into the groove of things, we plan to treat ourselves every now and then to a good meal… but for now we will be cheap!

Some trends I have noticed is that people love their Chilean hot dogs topped with mayonnaise (and really anything topped with mayonnaise) and the city is big on fresh seafood (Mercado Central is one giant fish market). Produce is mainly sold seasonally, so apples (my daily treat) are nowhere to be found – outrageous! The one thing I love is that there is an ice cream shop/stand on literally every block… It’s like I was meant for this city.


Normally I would not dedicate an entire section of my post to toilet drama, but some practices in Santiago have disturbed me deeply.

First off, you have to pay to get into public restrooms.  I know this is pretty standard outside the states… but come on people!  I have the bladder of a toddler and need to pee every 5 minutes.  I did not factor this into our daily budget!

Secondly, in restrooms the toilet paper dispenser is outside the stalls.  So you need to grab the toilet paper before you go into your stall to do your business.  Let’s just say that I have forgotten this rule every single time I have gone to the bathroom and always discover my mistake a little too late.

It’s upsetting.

Finally, plumbing in the city is subpar and places do not encourage you to flush – especially with toilet paper.  To solve this debacle, the stalls have large waste bins next to the toilets where you can throw out your used toilet paper (and whatever may come with it)… Icky!

Other Thoughts

  • Barely anyone speaks English, which I love since it really helps Tony and I learn Spanish (and look like idiots in the process).
  • Around 2PM on Saturday everything in the city shuts down until Monday… Time to relax!
  • There are stray dogs and blind people everywhere, which Tony finds fascinating.

For now, that’s all I’ve got on Santiago but I cannot wait to discover more that this city has to offer… stay tuned!

As I learn more about this city, I have made some corrections to my article… Thanks Emily in Chile for helping out a Santiago newbie!

About Meg
Exhausted from traveling every week as a Business Management Consultant early in my career, I took a year off in 2012 to travel at my own pace. I am a high-energy girl that loves being active, eating food, drinking wine, and exploring the world with my partner-in-crime (and husband), Tony! I now reside in Portland, Oregon and continue to write about travel, food, wine, and the awesome adventures we have in the Pacific NW!

Devon Mills January 7, 2012 at 3:08 pm

I’m glad you’re enjoying your first city! How much does it cost to get into a restroom? I’m a heavy water-drinker/frequent pee-er as well, so I feel for you!

Meg January 7, 2012 at 4:12 pm

It’s tough being a lady! The prices vary but the one I saw today was for 350 pesos (or $.68 USD)… I have been holding it a lot!

Kipp January 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm

How acceptable is popping a squat? Does Tony just find an alley? This was common practice in Granada…

Meg January 7, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Hmmm good question. I’ll have to give it shot and let you know how it flows down in Santiago! Tony hasn’t wandered down any alleys yet but its only a matter of time…

Martha January 7, 2012 at 6:35 pm

José’s mom says that there is a free bathroom in a museum right by the Cathedral in the Plaza. She says to just pretend like you are going into see the exhibits. Works like a charm for her!

Meg January 7, 2012 at 7:49 pm

No way! We went to a museum in the Plaza De Armas and had to pay to get into the museum… I need to learn her tricks!

Estelle January 7, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Omg I was hysterically laughing reading about your toilet drama! Can’t wait for more posts :o) miss you!!!

Meg January 8, 2012 at 7:04 am

Aww thanks Estelle! It’s amazing how fascinating bathrooms are outside the US lol. Miss you too!!

Emily in Chile January 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Glad you’re enjoying Santiago! Two things surprised me about your post: almost all of Chile’s fruit is grown locally and seasonally, which is why you can’t find apples easily (they’re a winter fruit). Only recently is there more imported produce at the larger grocery stores. Chile is actually a big exporter of fruit.

The other thing is that there isn’t a siesta culture here, and there’s no custom of places closing at 2 except on Saturdays when they usually don’t reopen until Monday. What kinds of places did you find closed? It’s always interesting to see what kind of impressions we get as visitors to a new place!

Meg January 8, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Thank you Emily for reading! It was in fact yesterday (Saturday) around 2PM when we noticed shops shutting down (and then of course they remain closed today). I Googled the siesta thing and the site I went to when I wrote the article said locals take siestas here… but now that I am reading further, it sounds like it is seen more outside the city. Thanks for clarifying! That makes much more sense about the fruit thing too – I love apples and they are sold year-round in the states (but of course, so is everything else under the sun that can be shipped!).

JR January 9, 2012 at 8:03 am

Congrats on landing safely in Chile. I will be following your RTW trip and I will remember to bring my own TP when I travel to Santiago :) Be safe and enjoy the Mayo.

Meg January 9, 2012 at 8:10 am

Thanks JR! Bringing your own TP may not be necessary… But maybe bring some of your own condiments if your not a mayo fan (like myself!). 😉

Magz January 9, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Just reading about your bathroom situation is causing my bladder pain… They charge you for restroom visits?!?? Really makes you appreciate Starbucks’ public restroom policy…

Meg January 10, 2012 at 7:05 am

No kidding! I snuck into a McDonalds yesterday but most of the places like that have security guards outside the bathrooms to make sure random people from the street don’t drop in. I managed to sneak by them though with my sneaky good skills! I haven’t tried crashing a Starbs yet, but I’ll let you know if I do!

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