Home to both the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts) and the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Chilean Museum of pre-Columbian Art), Santiago boasts some of the finest contemporary and historic art galleries in South America.
While Argentines have the tango, Chileans have the cueca. The national dance is often performed in the Plaza de Armas in Santiago, as well as during the national holiday fiestas patrias celebrations on September 17-18.
Both the regular earthquakes and the potent alcoholic drink of the same name make Chile unique! Don’t fear, all the buildings and infrastructure are well-built due to the sometimes frequent wobbles from the ground. The drink, meanwhile, is enjoyed in popular dive bars and on the National Holidays – it’s so-called as if mixed correctly, you can’t feel your legs after a few. Made with wine, pineapple ice cream, grenadine syrup and sometimes topped up with fernet, vodka or rum, it would be an insult not to try it.
These free, open-air galleries are a real treat, offering quite the contrast to the more traditional art spaces. A splash of colour really spices up the neighbourhoods – try wandering the streets of Bellavista and Barrio Brasil in Santiago and Cerro Alegre and Concepción in Valparaíso in search of your favourite artwork.
Chile is known as the pais de poetas, thanks to the surrealist works of Chile’s beloved poet Pablo Neruda and the magnificent lyrical poetry of Gabriela Mistral, who became the first Latin American author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945. The Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM) is a cultural centre in the heart of Santiago that has been named after her.
Traditional Chilean cuisine is known to be rather hearty, dishes such as pastel del choclo (similar to shepherd’s pie but with corn mash), pastel de jaiba (crab pie), curanto (a meat, fish and vegetables dish) and charquicán (beef and vegetable stew) which will warm you up on a cold day. With local seafood, such as razor clams, locos, giant barnacles and much more, everywhere from local markets through to famed restaurants has their own delicious offerings.
The Chilean rodeo is one of the country’s national sports and is popular in the more rural towns – huasos (cowboys) compete in pairs against each other to win the prestigious National Rodeo Championship.
Wine lovers will feel right at home, with hundreds of vineyards surrounding the capital city and wine bars stocked with hundreds of variations. Visit the Colchagua, Casablanca and Maipo valleys where you can see the process and production from both boutique and huge-scale wineries, such as Concha Y Toro.
In the large cities of Santiago and Valparaíso there’s a street dog on every corner, but don’t fear, they are rarely ferocious or frothing at the mouth, which would indicate rabies. In fact, the locals find it quite normal seeing them getting on with their day to day business. What’s more, if you step in dog poo, don’t be annoyed as Chileans believe that you will come into money!
Rush hour on public transport in Santiago is quite the experience, you will need to know the word permiso (excuse me) and the confidence to shout it if needs be, or you could just wait until it quietens down. Be sure to check out the buses of Valparaíso that wind up the narrow steep hills, offering great views over the colourful city.
Chile’s national spirit, pisco, is a brandy made by distilling fermented grape juice. Peruvians like to claim that pisco was invented in Peru and both countries tend to be quite passionate about it! While the pisco sour is the national drink, there are a multitude of bars in Santiago where you can find variations of the traditional pisco sour alongside the original.