As would be expected for a metropolis of its size, Santiago has enough decent bookstores to keep the budding bookworm happy. Although Chileans may not read as much as their Argentine neighbors, there is no shortage of places to find a new novel in the city. The downside, however, is that most only stock Spanish literature. But that’s not necessarily such a bad thing, because reading is one of the best ways to take those rusty language skills to the next level.
Translating to the ‘Chilean Book Fair’ in English, this massive bookworm’s paradise is akin to a literature mega-store, although it doesn’t skimp out on personalized customer service. Its sheer size alone makes it the city’s most well known literature retailer, stocking everything from science fiction to Latin American literature and cookbooks. And, on the rare occasion that special book isn’t in stock, the friendly staff will happily order a copy for you. Those looking to try before they buy can sit back on one of the comfortable couches and do some reading while listening to the soothing melodies of an in-house live pianist. It doesn’t get much better than that.
A favorite around town for its quiet and homely atmosphere, Ulises is the perfect place to casually peruse an extensive selection of everything imaginable, from the classics to contemporary literature and published essays. With charming polished wood decor and a stunning central staircase, this small neighborhood store is loved for its personality, variety and excellent customer service.
Qué Leo is another great independent option whose popularity has seen it expand all over the city. Their best location is in Forestal – an attractive, well maintained store that sells all kinds of books at prices considerably lower than most competitors. Among their large selection is a number of rare and alternative titles, some of which are practically given away during their regular promotions. As an added bonus, they host the occasional music night with groovy local bands.
Although Contrapunto has several locations in Santiago, it’s still considered an independently owned bookstore. The best locale is in the Galeria Drugstore on Provencia, a friendly and cosy space that is largely dedicated to the arts. Books on architecture, photography, design, fashion and music line the shelves, while all sorts of comics including the ever-popular Marvel are a welcome recent addition. Prices can be a little steeper than elsewhere, but those on a budget have the option of waiting until August when they have a massive stock clearance to make room for incoming titles.
Great for the English speaking expat, Librería Antártica is one of the few stores in the city that stocks a respectable range of English language literature. Their selection isn’t huge, but Antártica’s friendly staff are more than willing to show what’s on offer and make a few recommendations. It also stocks a nice variety of high quality stationery and gifts.
Grupo Eductavio Inglesa primarily concern themselves with teaching English as a foreign language to locals. They have several stores around the city that stock all the latest English teaching resources, perfect for the Santiago expat who fancies tutoring a few classes for some extra cash. Some English language literature is available as well, but variety is limited so inquire first before paying a visit.
Half coffee shop half bookstore, Café Literario Bustamante is the most pleasant place in the city to enjoy a caffeine hit while getting stuck into an enthralling novel. Right in the middle of Parque Bustamante, it’s a great place to escape the city traffic and unwind for some rest, relaxation and reading. As with most Café Literarios around town, the place sells more coffee than books. But if you do see a novel you like, chances are it is available for purchase as well.
Another great option for those looking to escape the bustle of downtown Santiago. Café Literario Mosqueto is just a few blocks from the main plaza in the city center making it the perfect respite for a sightseer with sore feet. This cozy little literature café serves quality breakfast, lunch and tea, great coffee, and offers a decent selection of things to read as well.
Having trouble finding something in English? Bigger backpacker hostels around the city often have book exchanges which are open to non-guests as well. Call ahead to ask if they have an exchange available and bring a book or two to swap for something new. Of course, selection will be limited to backpacker favorites like Eat Prey Love, Shantaram and The Gringo Trail, but that’s gotta be better than nothing, right?
Unfortunately, those living in Santiago who yearn to read in English are pretty much forced to go online to find what they want. At least Amazon and Book Depository deliver to Chile, meaning virtually everything imaginable is available at the click of a button (plus a week or so waiting time). If reading in English is essential, Santiago is a very good place to invest in a Kindle.