Santiago de Chile is a city I always look forward to travelling to on business. Crossing the Andes is the highlight of my two-and-a-half hour flight from Montevideo, but there’s so much to look forward to when I arrive in Chile’s capital.
So what is it about Santiago, a city not particularly well-known to those outside South America, that keeps me wanting to come back_
1- The people.
In Santiago I feel at home. Culturally, Chileans are very much like Uruguayans. They are very warm, whilst being professional, polite, respectful and even punctual. And the mix of nationalities, races and cultures makes Santiago really interesting, too.
2- The accent.
I adore the Chilean accent, it sounds beautiful to me. Their unique words and expressions are also so charming. For example, Chileans call kids “cabros chicos”, they ask you what you fancy saying “qué te tinca?” and when they park backwards (more on driving later) they call it “aculatado”. Their constant use of “po” (as obsessive as Uruguayans’ use of “ta”) and their naming people with a proposition (I’m “la Gabriela” for my local contacts, never just “Gabriela”) just add to the charm.
3- The food.
OK, this is not Lima (tip: don’t ever compare Peru and Chile, it’s like comparing England and Scotland, it will end up badly), but I find food in Chile fresh, varied and affordable. Pretty delicious, too. Chilean bread is second to none and I don’t have to tell you about the wine. Chilean salmon is gorgeous and so is the famous drink, pisco sour. But keeping it simple: tomatoes and avocados don’t taste this nice anywhere else!
There’s a lot of business to be done in Chile. Think of supplying the food & drink industry, or the mining sector. Think of renewable energy or highways. Chile has it all. Chilean retailers are taking over South America, while the start-up scene in the country is the envy of the rest of the continent. Add to that fairly straightforward systems and processes (bureaucracy is as low as it gets in Latin America), fairly low corruption, a strong respect of the law and free trade agreements with almost every country in the world, and you get a perfect mix that attracts businesses worldwide.
I have a weakness for Santiago. Ok, it doesn’t have the grandeur of Buenos Aires or the colourfulness of Rio, but it’s full of pretty stunning modern buildings and some impressive older buildings. And you find design is something that a country with a strong middle class (Chile has the highest per capita income in Latin America) really values. You can see it in the quirky restaurants, the uber-chic hotels, the tiny boutiques and the plethora of museums and art galleries across the city. I find that good design in Chile is much more available and affordable than in my native Uruguay.
6- Things happen.
Chileans work very long hours and I join them in their habit when I come over. However, in the odd occasion when I get freed up earlier or have the odd hour before a flight to spare, I’m never short of things to do. Shopping (from their amazing supermarkets through to quirky independent shops), eating out, art, literature, music, festivals, crafts, theatre, you will find it all in Santiago. And a lot of it is free, too.
7- The roads.
I also love how Chileans drive and even how they ride their bikes (they can be very “proper”!). Their traffic jams are legendary (they call them “tacos”) but they can endure them in their pretty stunning cars (the sort of cars hardly anyone can afford in overly expensive Uruguay).
So if you’re coming over to Santiago, you’re surely in for a treat, whatever season you arrive in. Enjoy, po!