31 reasons to love Santiago (and a few not to)

After spending a month in Buenos Aires in October, we realised the value of longer periods of stability while travelling, not only for Amber but also for Claire and I. As such we decided that following a busy couple of months of travelling in November and December, we would lay low for a bit, try to save some money and generally keep things quiet during January.

Santiago was to be our base. The capital of Chile is often overlooked by travellers who use the city as a transit hub in order to reach Chile’s main draws such as Patagonia or the Atacama Desert. However, the city has enjoyed something of a revival recently, boosted by government investment and a subsequent cultural boom.

We had spent 3 days in Santiago in December while on our way to the Chilean coast for Christmas and had rather giddily / drunkenly claimed that the city was the best place we had ever been to. I think it’s safe to say this wasn’t necessarily accurate and could have had something to do with the fact we knew we were coming back for a prolonged period in January. However, even in this short period, we saw a city that was buzzing with a vibrant, young edge. It immediately felt more down to earth than the somewhat haughty Buenos Aires.

And now, having spent pretty much all of January in the city, our opinion hasn’t changed. We loved it and thought the best way to celebrate our time there was to give people a taste of the sheer variety of things to do. So below is a list of not far off everything we did in Santiago, from bars and restaurants to cultural spaces and viewpoints. It’s all there.

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Sunset over Santiago on one of our first evenings in the city

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Cabo Polonio

On Wednesday we went on an adventure. We left our house at the crack of dawn and drove over 200 miles. We walked through shrub and woodland, over sand dunes, and across a misty and deserted beach. We reached a remote and isolated village without roads, electricity or running water. We saw a herd of sea lions. And it was one of the best days of our trip so far.

Our destination was Cabo Polonio. Located on the east coast of Uruguay, the village sits on a small peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. With a year round population of 95 (according to a 2011 census) it is less a village, more a collection of huts and houses, a grocery store and as a result of increased popularity a handful of hostels.

The cape is named after the Spanish sailing ship ‘Polonio’ shipwrecked there in 1735. Following the wreck, it became a settlement for sailors and fishermen, and due to its particular geography, rocky shores and fierce seas, it was the site of many more sea disasters. Legend has it that it was renowned among sailors and pirates across the world who believed the cape was cursed, that death would come to those who ventured there, and when in the vicinity of the cape compasses would spin with no direction causing ships to crash into the rocks of the shoreline.

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Map of the geography of Cabo Polonio showing its complete isolation and unique lay of the land. Picture taken in the visitors’ centre at the entrance of the national park

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Porto Alegre – the highs and the lows

We assumed upon arriving in Porto Alegre that following our stay we would write some sort of post along the lines of 5 best things to do in PA or How to spend a week in PA etc etc etc. The city is a major urban hub and has a population of nearly 4.5 million, and as such we assumed it would have more than enough to occupy us for our stay. But after a week of near constant rain so heavy that we were virtually housebound, an unexpected flat move mid-week due to a cockroach the size of a mouse, and two consecutive days spent killing time in the local shopping mall (we are not mall people), we started feeling like a post about what not to do in Porto Alegre would be more appropriate.
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Amber loving the ball pit in the local shopping mall

Porto Alegre is not on most typical traveller routes. It is the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state, and the region has more in common with Uruguay and northern Argentina – think cowboys, vinyards and rolling hills as opposed to the white sand beaches or Amazonian forays that are more often associated with Brazilian tourism. The state has a more temperate climate than its northern neighbours, and given it is still winter in these parts at the moment, it was pretty cold for a lot of our stay.

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