After almost a year living in Santiago, I am about to fly back home to England. I have loved my time here, of course, but there are several things that I learned during my stay that I wish I had found out sooner. I have compiled the most important of these things to make this list of the top travel tips you must know before visiting or moving to Santiago.
Trust me, you will want to read on, as these tips could come in handy and maybe even save your life!
Brush up on your Spanish
In a lot of countries, especially around Europe or even Asia, you can get by using English, without speaking any of the native language used in that country. In Chile, however, knowledge of the Spanish language is a necessity for life in the city, particularly if you want to be accepted by the local population. Nowadays, Chilean schools are required to teach English, but this is only a recent change, meaning that the vast majority of people you meet will not speak any English. So, a basic level of Spanish is very important if you are planning to visit or live in Chile.
And remember, Chilean Spanish is very different to the Spanish spoken in Spain, and they love to use slang. Check out TheBesty app for a list of the most common Chilean Slang used by locals, to help you get by!
source: Veronica Montes / WordPress
Always look before crossing the road
When crossing the road in Chile, you need to be careful. Just because the green man is lit for pedestrians to cross, it doesn’t mean cars will stop. They will usually approach with caution and wait for you to cross the road first, but make sure to always keep an eye out, just in case they don’t see you. This has taken me by surprise a few times, and on occasion nearly knocked me off my feet.
Make friends with apartment building concierges
If you are staying in an apartment building in Santiago, be friendly to the concierges who work on the front desk, and they will be more likely to want to help you out in a time of crisis. Being on a first name basis will always prove useful one day, especially if you are there for an extended period of time.
I have, on many occasions, needed their assistance when I’ve been locked out of my apartment or if major appliances have broken, and they have always done everything they can to help. If not, they are happy to call whoever is needed to fix the problem for me.
Escape the smog once in a while
The air can get very misty and smoggy in Santiago, especially in the winter. Every couple of weeks I definitely felt better after having left the city for the day. Luckily, due to Chile’s unique geography, the mountains or the beach are never far away, and you can easily escape Santiago’s smog by catching a 1.5-hour long bus to either one of these. Head towards the coast, and you’re in the beautiful port town of Valparaiso, or if you go into the mountains, you can hike around the Andean town and dam of Cajón del Maipo.
To find out about activities in and around Santiago, see TheBesty app.
source: Elana Anthony, Chicago Now
Don’t be afraid of minor earthquakes
Earthquakes are a fairly common occurrence in Santiago but are generally small, and the city is well prepared to minimize damage. There are only a couple a year that are significant enough for Chileans to actually react, but hundreds more happen that go unnoticed or ignored.
When you live high up an apartment building like I did, you can often feel the tiny tremors (known here as a temblor) gently rock the building and for a minute or so. You might feel a little dizzy (or maybe it’ll gently rock you to sleep), but it is not a cause for alarm. If nothing is rattling or wobbling too much, then there’s certainly nothing to worry about.
Become part of a Chilean family
It’s the easiest way to make friends and they will spoil you rotten, because for Chileans, a family is everything! They are large and loud, and consider their friends their extended family too. Very often, cousins, uncles, aunties, nieces, nephews, grandparents, and great-grandparents will meet to celebrate any occasion they possibly can. If you can become close enough with one member of a family, then you will be taken in and treated like family too.
My neighbour, who lived in the apartment next to me, was a lovely old lady who immediately took me in as one of her own and introduced me to her entire family. Because of this, I got invited to countless barbecues and birthday parties and made a heap of friends!
source: Admin / Evolve Chile
Don’t buy your fruit and vegetables at the supermarket
Of course, you can buy fruit and vegetables at the supermarket, they are fresh and have a fairly good variety of produce, it’s just there are much better places to buy vegetables in the city. In Chile, there are so many delicious home-grown fresh vegetables and at the supermarket, you do not get the full range and they are much more expensive.
La Vega market, located above the river near the Bellas Artes museum, is by far the best place to buy them. It is large, extremely cheap (about a third of the price of the supermarket) and there is nothing you won’t find there. Another good place to buy your vegetables is at a feria, which are street markets that are set up by locals throughout the week. There is always a large variety of fruit and vegetables to buy there for a good price.
If you want to find out more about the different kinds of exotic fruits you can find in Santiago, check out this Guide to Chile’s most Exotic Fruit!
source: Alonso Jesús Sandoval Tobar / Vega Central
Don’t try to negotiate down prices
It’s illegal to sell items without an issued receipt in Chile, so bargaining proves very difficult. I have travelled many times to Asia and Africa where trying to knock a few dollars off the souvenir you want to buy is not only common but expected. However, here in Santiago, its very unlikely that vendors will want to offer you a lower price than what’s given. That said, they are very good at making the prices clear on each product so they won’t try to overcharge you, either.
Don’t expect to be able to do much on Sundays
Like many other places in the world, Santiago becomes very quiet on Sundays and on Bank Holidays. Sunday is a day to stay at home, spend time with family and get nothing done. While major supermarkets may be open during the day, and some restaurants in the evening, you won’t find much else open around the city. However, if you need to drive anywhere, then Sundays and Bank Holidays are a perfect time, as the roads will be completely clear.
source: Wall Devil
Expect your kitchen to overflow with plastic bags
Many countries are making huge progress on limiting plastic bags being used when buying products, but Chile is not yet one of those countries. You will be given plastic bags for absolutely everything you purchase in Chile, especially when going to the supermarket. The shopping assistants will either pack light so the bags don’t tear or use two bags to strengthen them and therefore use almost twice as many plastic bags per shopping. Before you know it, your kitchen will be overflowing with plastic bags and you won’t know what to do with them. I recommend buying a few reusable bags before you shop! However, when you travel outside of Santiago, there are a number of cities that have got away with plastic bags completely, so having a small reusable bag will come in handy.
Try not to be picky about your tea!
If you are from England and love your tea like I do, you need to understand that Chilean cafes and restaurants do not know how to make your tea the right way. When I arrived in Santiago, I didn’t expect to find my favourite English Breakfast Tea, but I did expect cafes to know how to properly pour me a decent cup… It’s not too difficult, right? Well, maybe it’s just second nature to us, and not to everyone.
Here in Chile, you will be served a cup of boiling water with the tea bag sitting aside it. We all know that the water must be poured on top of the bag! If that isn’t strange enough for you, if you ask for milk, it will most likely come in a separate jug, warmed and frothed! No, I’m not kidding. Now maybe there is no correct way to pour tea, but we like our tea made a certain way in England, and that isn’t it.
source: Ashwin Hariharan / Hackernoon
Of course, you definitely shouldn’t be put off coming to Santiago because they don’t make your tea the way you’re used to! Santiago is an incredible city, and I couldn’t recommend visiting enough.
Neither touristy or dangerous, in general, it’s a very cool city. There are endless bars that sell delicious pisco sour cocktails or beers at cheap rates, fun and diverse club nights, countless parks to enjoy a BBQ or a stroll and on top of that, it’s pretty much always sunny.
When visiting Santiago, you are visiting South America without having to face a lot of the challenges that you may find in other South American countries. Santiago is accessible, relatively organized, has a great transport system and is relatively safe for a big city. Just come with some streetwise knowledge, a bit of Spanish and this guide and you’ll get on fine here.
To find out more about Santiago, Chile and the rest of Latin America, download TheBesty app to book the best tours and activities, discover fun things to do, and learn about the local culture and language.