This is our third visit to Santiago and we still have most of the city to explore, but the people in ‘our’ neighborhood’s streets and shops recognize us this time. Their welcoming “Hola! Nice to see you again” is truly heartwarming. Considering Santiago is a megacity, the largest in Chile, with about 14 times the inhabitants of Antwerp or Liverpool, it’s nice to be greeted back on a human scale.
There’s people everywhere, masses of it, and like most of the world, here too you’ll find a colorful mix of different nationalities. Lots of people translate into lots and lots of traffic. Driving here is like driving in Paris or Rome, it’s for the brave. Luckily I have my Scouser to drive me around, because I would either be too meek, letting everyone pass and not getting anywhere or I would react by becoming the Hulk jumping out of the car to fight with everyone. My Scouser manages to play along with the crazy driving game and just releases the tension with a lot of F-words.
Parking is not so much an issue. There’s parking attendants in most of the streets, wearing a yellow coat, keeping an eye on the parked cars and helping drivers to park or leave the parked space. They will hold traffic for you and everything, all for a tip of course. We tend to give between 500 and 1000 pesos, depending on the time we will stay.
In our last visit we bought ourselves a car and drove around in Santiago during 3 weeks. Upon return a pile of bills were waiting for us. It turned out that some/all/most (we still don’t know) highways in Santiago are to be paid for as you use them. They call it the TAG. We did not know, so we got bills for every time we used these roads and fines on top of that from every municipality we drove through. Aaargh!!!!
When complaining about the lack of info on which roads are TAG or to be paid for at the municipality (where I had to pay the equivalent of a full year car insurance), their answer was: “This is Chile”. It made me remember a trip to Kinshasa, where their answer was: “This is Congo”. Thanks.
This is so unnatural to us. Being used to drive all over Europe without paying for it (except in France, should you choose to). Not here, uh uh, please pay 6000 CLP$ per 24 hours for using these roads in the city.
So if you visit Santiago and get a rental car, do check that the TAG fee is included. If you don’t rent a car you can get around in taxis or take the metro. The taxis are a bit like playing with the lottery. The fees to be driven around are relatively cheap, but you don’t know what kind of taxi you’re going to get. We have been in spotless clean new taxi cars and we have sunk into dirty seats without cushions and not working security belts. All in all, it’s a good way to get around. The metro is fast and efficient. There’s no waiting for more than 2 minutes, but the wagons are packed like sardine tins. On the plus, there’s a good chance you’ll be entertained as musicians and artists work for tips on the metro. We’ve had the pleasure of being delighted by a Chilean Michael Bubble, a Bob Marley wannabe and we’ve had the anarchist rap-rocker dudes freaking everybody out.
Is it European, is it American, is it Asian?…. No it’s Latin.
To me, Santiago is a city of extremes. There’s the pretty and super modern and then there’s the dirty and ugly too. There are fancy modern neighborhoods, colonial Spanish style neighborhoods, business neighborhoods and the poorer neighborhoods, where they say you should not venture into. In some places, I feel like in Madrid, in others, I’m in New York, in other’s it’s ultra modern and spotless like Singapore. But then, when you look at it all together, it’s definitely Chilean. Santiago is a mix of all things good in the world, but not too bothered by what still needs attention or care. The great and superb, combined with the loose ends here and there, the ‘mañana’ attitude. This is definitely Latin America and I love it. PS to my friend Bart in Antwerp, here the city slogan still is “Santiago es de todos” or “Santiago is van iedereen”.
So many bloggers before me have written extensively on where to go or what to do in this fabulous city and in Antwerp I’ve repeatedly been told the mantra “One should not reinvent hot water”, so I’ll leave you with fun links to explore further. Here’s 30 things to do when visiting Santiago, this link will show you a map of the neighborhoods and give you good tips on where to stay and for the geeks among us, yes me too, quirky fun facts on Santiago. It starts with the cemetery and truly it’s worth a visit. My favorite tomb was a huge Mayan temple and I love the fact that Pinochet is the only president not buried there.