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Santiago, Chile – where we discovered free walking tours

Santiago was our first “unscheduled” stop in a long time. I mean, we have always sort of known that we were going to stop here, but this was the first stop after our 5-city flight itinerary we booked way back in Bariloche (late March).

A picture taken from the bus as we approached the Chilean border from Mendoza. This was our most scenic bus route the far.

Bargain Shopping

After a short 6-hour and very scenic bus ride through the Andes we arrived in Santiago, Chile and caught a taxi to our hotel – Guest House Mery. We paid $32/night for a place a little off the beaten path, but had everything that we really want in a hotel room: non-smoking room, private bath, comfortable bed, quiet.  This was the second cheapest room we have had on our trip thus far.  Which brings me to a slightly non-Santiago topic, and that’s how we have changed our expectations for hotels and the way we book on this trip.

When we first set out we were looking for the “value” hotel…not the cheapest on the block and definitely not the most expensive. A hotel that was clean, was in a good location and if nothing else represented itself correctly online, where we were doing all of our bookings.

Well, after a handful of $60, $80 and $100/night hotels (which is on the pricier side down here) expecting better accommodations, tastier food and quieter nights….and not getting any of that, we have said “fuck it” and have started to book the cheapest and most reasonable rooms that we can find. The fact is that unless you are staying at a reputable hotel chain or paying a lot of money ($150-$200+/night) the accommodations are all the same ..and they are all about the equivalent of a Motel 6.  We are now very OK with staying in a crusty place so long as we aren’t overpaying.

So the point I guess is don’t book middle of the road (from a price perspective) hotels in South America cause they typically won’t live up to the extra dollars you are spending.

Santiago Walking Tours

Now as for Santiago – the city really grew on me. The taxi ride to the hotel the first evening and our dinner that night we’re eh. Nothing special. But my beautiful wife Lindsay pulled through in a big way that would put Santiago right up there with Buenos Aires in my mind. And what was this thing that she did? Booked us a free walking tour of the city.

Why in the world we hadn’t thought of this before is beyond me. Anyone that has traveled with me (Aaron especially) knows that I will aimlessly walk around a town for hours wondering where we should eat, or saying things like, “hey, I think I read somewhere that there is some place that you can get a good drink” and then we walk three miles to find out it’s closed on the day we’re visiting. It can be miserable. But I do it in almost every city we visit. Walking tours are no brainers. Free walking tours are a dream come true.

Lindsay found two companies that provide free walking tours in Santiago. We decided to go with a company called Spicy Chile that offered a couple of different options at different times. Their reviews on TripAdvisor were outstanding and they had a tour that would bring us through all of the off-the-beaten path markets throughout the working parts of Santiago — which sounded awesome.

And it was. We showed up right on time, 10:30am, and were greeted by a young gal in a bright neon green jacket with a Spicy Chile logo on the back. Hard to miss, even for a couple of space cadets like Lindsay and I.  There are no reservations or any type of communication for that matter prior to the walk, so we waited around for another 15 minutes for anyone else that would be joining us. Typical group sizes, per our guide, were 8-10. No one else showed up. Which meant we were getting a private walking tour. Holla!

Walking to La Vega Fruit Market – it doesn’t look like much from the outside. However, just the fruit portion of the market had to be the size of a Costco.

This is a very, very tiny section of the La Vega Fruit Market. The best fruit is exported from Chile, the second best gets sold in this market. If you buy produce anywhere else in Santiago you are getting the 3rd best produce at best.

Peppers, onions and other vegetables on display at La Vega Fruit Market. 1kg of strawberries (2,2 lbs) cost $1 USD. Don’t ask me why I do not have a picture of these strawberries anywhere…

One of many displays of dried fruits and nuts available. The market is most popular with restaurants and other commercial businesses and then locals throwing parties and then locals doing bulk shopping – i.e. once per month. There is no buying a single piece of fruit here.

There is also another section of the market called La Vega Chica. Here they sell fresh meats, spices, TONs of pickles and anything that you would need for your house (toilet paper, cleaner, plates, etc..)

This vendor, a part of La Vega Chica, calls his stand “Pickle Mundo” – aka Pickle World.

Buckets and barrels are filled with anything that you can imagine and sold by the kg. There had to be 20+ of these stands, all making a slightly different tasting pickle.

I absolutely LOVED this tour. Hot dam. I must have looked like such a weirdo walking around the entire day behind a girl with a super neon green jacket and Lindsay with a gigantic smile on my face taking 100s of pictures of fruit stands, streets, buildings – you name it, I feel like I took a picture of it. And if the visual wasn’t good enough, which is was, we learned so much history and were shown the in and outs by our guide.

La Pér­gola de las Flo­res – The Flower Market. Very popular due to it’s proximity to one of Santiago’s largest cemeteries. This building smelled so dang good.

Lindsay and I enjoying a ‘mote con huesillo’ – a popular summertime drink made from wheat and peaches at Irso de Molina Mar­ket.

Our last market stop of the tour was Mercado Central – the most popular (amongst tourists) and most expensive. It is a beautiful and large open-air building packed with a variety of restaurants serving seafood.

Almost four hours later our tour ended in front of a local townie bar. The guide explained that the place was famous for serving a rowdy crowd. You can drink and do whatever you like here so long as you can pay your tab. The drink that helped put them on the map is the traditional Chilean drink called tremolo (translation= earthquake). The terremotto is a delicious concoction made with pipeño white wine, pineapple ice cream, bitters, grenadine and a generous floater of fernet (an Italian type of amaro, a bitter, aromatic spirit).


Linds slammin’ a terremoto drink!

We liked the tour so much we did the same thing, different part of town, the next day.   What a great idea. During the second tour I started day dreaming about running my own free tour in Chicago for unsuspecting tourists. Maybe even me and Jason run the show – offering tours maybe once a month during the busy summer and fall seasons. The tours would change each month. One month we could tour Wicker Park, the next month we could stop at popular bars along the red line – I don’t know. But what I do know that is along with a few actual facts we would pepper the walkers with a ton of ridiculous and untrue information about our beloved Chicago.  Haha – is that funny or what??


Santiago, Chile Market Walking Tour

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Santiago, Chile Neighborhood Walking Tour

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Santiago, Chile

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One thought on “Santiago, Chile – where we discovered free walking tours

  1. Pingback: This is where the walking tour came from - Jeff & Lindsay's Travel Blog

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