XL Santiago

Welcome back

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.

Getting around

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.

As for us, we are here for a few more days to sort out administrative duties and then we’ll be heading not to the South, but to the Valparaiso region to help my mother move. A small detour, but one we are happy to do. One always helps La familia.

Until next time,

Andrea Zavala


  1. Hi, I would like to hear your perspective on a Chilean returning to Chile, how you are treated and why return to live in Chile. What has brought you back? I have gone many times, but this last time I have decided it is not my destiny. Once your parents are gone, Chile is gone too.


    • Hello Jane,

      I feel what you say. It’s not a simple choice and therefor there are no simple answers I can give you. I grew up in Antwerp, Belgium and loved it all my life, still since a very young age I remember feeling the call from Chile. Something was always missing. During my travels I met my partner, an Englishman. When choosing where to make a life together, we decided to live in Belgium, where my parents were and relatively close to Great-Britain. More than a decade later, Europe and the world has changed, I will write on this subject in my next post. We asked ourselves, do we see ourselves living in Belgium until we die? We were surprised at the emotional NOOOO we both exclaimed. That’s when we knew we had to take drastic steps. We came to Chile, not for family, nor work, but for the chance of creating a life we truly want. Our own business, a life not in the city and a life a bit more spontaneous and adventurous. A life we wouldn’t need constant vacations from, if you know what I mean. We are fully going for it, but can not say for sure things will work out or we will live here forever. We see it more as a next phase, the next 10 years. Investing wisely, working hard, seeing opportunities with the eye that has seen the world and applying them here. Hopefully create work and opportunities for people. Put our efforts, however small and irrelevant, into what we believe in and want to be a part of.

      I feel happy with the warmth of the people, a drastic change from a creeping bitterness we felt back in our old home. Chileans have been very friendly and helpful so far. There are the few who do not understand and say I should have stayed ‘back home’ when I complain about stupid things I notice. That’s the curse of the ‘migrant/expat/nomad/roamer’, there will always be someone who will tell you to go ‘back home’.

      I’m not blind to all that is wrong in Chile and I couldn’t live just anywhere. But, I hope you understand, because I have no other words for it, when I’m here, I feel a soothing balm over my soul and energy in my veins. Maybe that’s why I’m here.

      Love, Andrea x


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