When you’re planning a trip to a city for the first time the Where To Stay question is an important one.
While different people will have different perfect places, for me I like to be somewhere with great energy that is fun to potter around in. It doesn’t have to be the most beautiful part of the city (though funnily enough that wouldn’t be a problem if it was) but it does have to be interesting. Beautiful but boring doesn’t cut it.
When I was planning my first trip to Santiago my friends who had travelled through South America all had one suggestion: Bellavista. They seemed convinced it was the place I’d love to stay the most and so I went with their suggestion.
So how did that work out?
The Beauty of Bario Bellavista
I’m just going to say it: my friends know me well.
Santiago’s vibrant bohemian quarter, Bellavista is full of life and a joy to explore. I loved wandering through the leafy streets, taking in the architecture and popping into art galleries, markets and boutique stores. And as a sucker for street art I was definitely in a happy place with so many interesting pieces on the walls around me.
The best views of Santiago can be found on top of San Cristóbal Hill and can be easily reached thanks to the funicular from Bellavista. If you prefer to get the blood pumping I’m told it’s about a 45 minute hike, though I have a feeling it would have taken me a tad longer if I’d gone that route.
The Chilean National Zoo can be found roughly half way up the hill and there’s a large recreational area up the top.
And while the hill may be named after the patron saint of travellers, St Christopher, the large statue at the top is of the Virgin Mary. The 22 metre statue has become one of the icons of Santiago, and I’m glad I took the time to go up and visit her and see her beautiful city from above.
After making my way back down the hill I’d worked up a bit of an appetite. Fortunately Bellavista delivers on one of my other important Where to Stay requirements: plenty of good places to eat and drink.
To say the bar and club scene is a healthy one is an understatement, and there’s a long list of bars, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs, from sleek chic to more shabby chic.
Some restaurants offer traditional Chilean dance shows and music with dinner, but if you’d rather be busting your own moves there’s everything from salsa clubs to some of Santiago’s best gay clubs to be found. Having lived in Sydney most of my life I’ve seen a few drag shows in my time and can happily report the show at Bunker can hold its own.
But before the cocktails and clubbing there is food to be had, and I gleefully tucked into delicious ceviche all over Bellavista, as well as getting into the empanadas.
And though I’ll confess I ate mine in another part of Santiago, another traditional dish to try is the Pastel de Choclo, a special corn pie with meat, onion, chicken and egg. Yes it sounds a bit strange, and it was a little confusing to find different things hidden beneath the corn on my first go, but it sure was tasty and is something I could get used to.
Then of course there’s the traditional fish stew and local favourite caldillo de congrio. A dish that had its recipe shared around the world through Pablo Neruda’s poem,”Oda al Caldillo de Congrio.”
Pablo Neruda’s Bellavista
Speaking of the great poet, diplomat and politician, there are three Pablo Neruda homes open to the public. La Sebastiana and Isla Negra are found in the Valparaiso region outside of the city, while in Bellavista you can find La Chascona, which means ‘wild hair’ and was named for Neruda’s third wife, Matilde, and her signature redhead locks.
Sadly the military coup in 1973 destroyed many of Neruda’s treasures from around the world when the home was vandalised and flooded. But while much was lost La Chascona has been lovingly restored and is filled with great art, beautiful furniture and interesting souvenirs that Naruda collected around the world; along with his Nobel Prize for literature and some of his handwritten poems.
Seeing a narrow dining table set with colourful Mexican glass, and walking through the secret passage behind a cupboard door that Neruda used to surprise his guests makes me wish I could be transported back in time and join one of his dinner parties.
After finishing my tour of La Chascona I went a few doors over to another home I had fallen in love with, or rather, a home that has been transformed into what’s been described as Santiago’s first true boutique hotel.
The Aubrey Boutique Hotel in Bellavista
You know that feeling when you pull up at a hotel and get excited little goosebumps because you just know you’re going to love it there? That’s just how I felt when I arrived at The Aubrey in Bellavista.
Now a luxury boutique hotel, the Aubrey was once two homes. The first belonged to political figure Domingo Duran Morales and the other was the residence of the original architects, the Mannarelli family.
Today it is owned and operated by an Australian and an Englishman who spent years and millions of dollars restoring and reviving what had become a run down mansion.
Through a lot of love and the help of some talented architects they have created the sort of space I adore. Full of quirky touches, pretty little nooks and crannies and surprises around the corner. I fall in love with the chairs, the lampshades, the mirrors, the wallpaper, the flowers, and on and on it goes.
The Aubrey has 15 en suite rooms, each with their own special look and feel. My room was part of the art deco side of the hotel and once inside is a simple enough affair, with an unexpected happy pop of Marimekko colour waiting for me on the shower curtain in the bathroom.
There’s a heated Jacuzzi, pool and outdoor deck where the pool attendant is happy to pop down the stairs to the stylish bar to pick up a cocktail or three for you.
And you know you’re onto a good thing when you ask a local where you should go together and they suggest having drinks at your hotel.
The staff members are warm and friendly and happy to help out. Even when you’ve done something slightly stupid like not brought any local currency with you.
Yes, embarrassing but true. I’d become so accustomed to just getting money out of ATMs at the destination that I became a bit unstuck when I realized ATMs in Santiago are a tad unreliable. It took me two days to find one that worked for me, and the first time I needed a taxi the staff found someone who would take American dollars from the silly Australian woman. American dollars may be commonly accepted in lots of countries but this is not the usual thing in Chile and I appreciated the save.
The Aubrey is right next door to the funicular to the top of San Cristobal Hill so even if you don’t get the chance to stay there you should go in for some tapas in their bar or a bite in their restaurant so you can get a feel for this special spot.
So as you can tell by now when it comes to the question of where to stay in Santiago I think Bellavista’s got it all going on.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved visiting other areas particularly Little Italy which has a charm all its own. But Bellavista ticked all my boxes.
So how about you? What’s your favourite place in Santiago? Are you Team Bellavista or does another neighbourhood call to you when you visit?
Amanda Woods stayed as a guest of the Aubrey Hotel but as usual all opinions remain her own.
If you love trains you may want to check out my review of the Hiram Bingham luxury train to Machu Picchu.
And if you’re Australian facing that long flight from Sydney to Santiago, here’s a piece I wrote on whether it’s worth paying more for Qantas Premium Economy.