Experiencing Santiago like a local

By Randy Keck

(Part 1 of 2 on Chile)

On a visit to Chile in February 2005 I had the opportunity to stay at a friend’s apartment in Santiago and enjoy many of the lifestyle attractions experienced by locals.

The apartment is located in an upmarket district of the city known as Providencia, an area of primarily highrise apartment and condominium buildings only a few blocks away from the busy primary thoroughfare of Avenida Apoquindo. The peaceful, tree-lined streets were seemingly designed for endless strolling, a favored pastime of locals.

This residential area is home to many foreign embassies and several charming sidewalk cafés, yet it is only a few minutes’ walk from scores of restaurants, fine shopping and the prime business center of the capital city.

European flavors

One of my favorite haunts, remembered from a previous visit, is Café Budapest, at the corner of Renato Sanchez and Gertrudes Echenique, only a block away from the apartment. The Budapest, with its French chef, remains unpretentious and is a favorite lunch spot for expats in particular.

The café is renowned for its magnificent quiches. This time around I had the chance to sample the broccoli-and-almond quiche, the absolute best quiche I have ever tasted. A large portion cost $7. The smoked salmon and cream cheese baguette also was wonderful, at $4.25.

A few blocks east on quiet Renato Sanchez is a Santiago culinary landmark, Brunatto Cioccolato (phone 56-2-952-0364 or visit www.brunatto.cl), offering the highest quality in chocolates to both Chileans and the foreign market. This place is so popular, they even have a store in New York. They specialize in using herbs and spices not usually associated with chocolates, so their range of products offers the opportunity for gifts of a different flavor, so to speak.

Attached to Brunatto is a small, quaint sidewalk bakery/café where I often enjoyed a morning café cortado and pastry.

A 10-minute walk away on Avenida El Bosque Norte is another must, Sebastian’s, the place to enjoy a great espresso drink of choice and authentic gelato available in numerous inviting flavors. Sebastian’s sidewalk tables afford arguably the most entertaining people-watching venue in Santiago.

Dining nirvana

At the top end of the finest restaurants in Chile is Da Carla Ristorante in Las Condes at Nueva Costanera 3673 (phone 206-5557). One evening, friends took me to Da Carla where, quite simply, I experienced the best Italian meal in my lifetime of travel. Main courses ranged in price from $15 to $25. An extensive wine cellar is also on hand.

This treat is a must for serious connoisseurs of the palate when visiting Santiago.

Dinner and a movie

One evening we felt like going to a movie, so we were off to nearby Parque Arauco Mall in Las Condes. The high-quality cinema featured mostly first-run American films, in English with Spanish subtitles. Admission cost $6.

The theater complex was bordered by a range of fine indoor/outdoor restaurants in a captivating landscaped setting. It was honestly much nicer than anything I have ever seen around a cinema in the U.S.

Tennis, anyone?

Near the Parque Arauco Mall, Parque Tenis at Cerro Colorado 4661 offers over 20 red clay tennis courts to the public in an attractive landscaped environment. Court hire rates range from $3 to $6 per hour for day and evening play. Ballboys were available as well for a small fee. Find that at home!

Our experience was that the courts tended to be an underutilized bargain for visitors. Being something of a tennis addict, I had found my Santiago fix. For reservations, call 208-6589.


We don’t all enjoy the experience of grocery shopping, but I do, especially overseas.

Santiago offers the supermercado experience, and my favorite find to date is Jumbo on Avenida Francisco Bilbao 4144 at Latadia. I was amazed at the massive fruit and vegetable section and 70 (I repeat, 70) checkout stations.

Jumbo has a large section of imported, mostly European items plus young ladies enticing shoppers with samples of featured products in various departments throughout the store. On one visit I was even invited to partake in a wine tasting. Prices of fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood are certainly a bargain by U.S. standards. I particularly enjoyed purchasing calamari steaks for just over $1 per pound.

Good-quality, everyday wine is very inexpensive there at about $3 per bottle, with fine wines available in the $8-$10 range. Regarding the burgeoning wine industry of Chile, well, that’s another column. . . or perhaps three.

My friends informed me that I have yet to see the nicest supermercado in Chile. It’s reportedly located in a rather ritzy section of the Las Condes suburbs farther out from the city, so that pleasure must wait until my next visit to Chile. I’m hooked, so it won’t be long.

A final note is that I traveled around the city quite a lot by bicycle both on my own and with my friends. I discovered that through intelligent, common-sense maneuvering and in some areas by using the wide sidewalks and backstreets, I could get around easily, safely and quickly. One of my friends rides his bicycle to his office, solving parking issues and providing exercise at the same time.

Experienced cyclists interested in this mode of getting around should check with the concierges at their Santiago hotels to inquire about cycle rental options.

Next month: exploring Colchagua Valley — wine country.

Keck's Beyond the Garden Wall

❝See not the traffic but the muted movement.
See not the crowds but their smiling faces.
See past the spires of humanity to their mountain surrounds.
See a place where few are wealthy but most possess wealth,
Where one can feel the pulse of life and know it bids you welcome.❞
— Randy reflecting on his experience of life in Santiago