El Centro: Santiago’s Historic Heart
Non-stop action. That is Santiago’s downtown, commonly called “El Centro” by the locals. Here you’ll find charming fountains, sculptures, street-theater charlatans, and pedestrian walkways. It’s in El Centro, the historic heart of Santiago, where Santiago evolved from a sleepy colonial town into Latin America’s most prosperous and modern capital.
Huérfanos 769, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile
“Café con piernas”, or coffee with legs is an institution in downtown Santiago. Founded originally as Italian-style espresso bars decades ago, bar maidens serve steaming cups of frothy “cortados,” pumped out by macho men manning the coffee machine. While many patrons are men who must enjoy the mini-skirts, today, office workers and those running errands stop in to experience this classic coffee--Santiaguino style. There are locales all over the downtown although the largest location is on Paseo Ahumada and Moneda.
Bandera 347, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile
Every day 2,000 empanadas are freshly made at this historic food landmark on the corner of Bandera and Huérfanos in El Centro. Santiaguinos pop in for a gooey fried cheese empanada slathered in hot chili sauce, piping hot. Stand in at the counter and order a “Pap” soda, flavored with Chilean papaya like the locals. Bandera 347, almost corner Huérfanos Phone: 56(2) 2672 2375
Av. Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins 933, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile
Chilean “completos” are hot dogs piled high with the works--usually mashed avocado, chopped tomato, optional sauerkraut, and an obscene amount of mayo (maybe 1/3 cup). Actually, eating them is a feat of gravity without the toppings winding up on your shirt, or the ground. Chileans are passionate about their completos and no place draws them in like Dominó, an old-school soda fountain with locales peppering the downtown. Locals crowd around the counter to scarf down these dogs with Coca-Cola or freshly made juice. Various locales throughout downtown (see website)
San Pablo, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile
If you’re aiming to see what last night’s catch looked like before it became your supper, head to Santiago’s Mercado Central, where every edible sea creature is up for sale. As boisterous as a stock market, the seafood exchange assembles hard-working fishmongers, clad in high rubber boots, who hawk a full fishy portfolio including conger, swordfish, and shrimp (peeled for an extra fee). Live sea urchins peek out from rock-like shells and oysters slam shut as scores of restaurateurs arrive early in search of what will become the chef’s daily special. The market is loud, bustling, and crowded . . . and it can be jarring to discover just how ugly in life that delicious reineta you savored really was. Following local tradition, students come here the morning after their proms—fully regaled in tuxedos and gowns—for a bowl of restorative broth.
501 Avenida Matucana
There’s something within these walls—perhaps simply the silence—that helps visitors imagine the real-world horrors that once took place in Chile. A visit to Santiago’s Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is a trip through the darkest hours of Chilean history, those surrounding the military dictatorship that ran from 1973 to 1990 which left behind thousands of victims and unsolved “disappearances.” The museum is a modern, almost 54,000-square-foot (5000-square-meter) facility that recounts the sickening history, soberly, in the form of survivor testimonies as well as in displays of victims’ correspondence and personal items. There are also radio reports, press clippings, drawings and literature, alongside other artifacts of a past from which often only fragments remain. A prominent mural shows the faces of those no longer with us. On the third-floor, screening booths play related documentaries. The museum is a must for anyone looking to understand today’s Chile.