As the capital, Santiago is a bustling city with so many sights to enjoy. Founded in 1541, the Plaza de Armas has a multitude of beautiful architecture, with the San Francisco Church being one of them. Established in 1554, it is the oldest church in Chile and has had to be reconstructed and restored, following severe earthquake and storm damage. Existing for over 400 years, this landmark is home to a significant collection of colonial artwork and serves as a reminder of Chile’s cultural heritage.
In contrast, the modern-day La Vega Central Market is a hive of activity, with hundreds of stalls and vendors, and every grocery item imaginable, together with more unusual wares like chicken feet and pig heads. Owing to its size and sheer volume of people frequenting this shopping area, entering La Vega is sure to be a fast-paced adventure! For a more leisurely experience, the colourful, UNESCO-listed port of Valparaiso is a great place to take a wine excursion, amid the luscious green Casablanca Valley.
Chile’s varying landscapes bring with them a variety of cuisine. Seafood is king, where almejas con limón (raw clams in lemon juice), conger eel soup, conger eel fritters, machas a la parmesana (razor clams with parmesan cheese), buttered scallops with grilled cheese, ceviche (raw, minced sea bass and lemon juice), and crab pie all feature on the menu. Another significant food is surprisingly the sandwich, with a plethora of popular fillings, including: diced meat and avocado; salmon, cream cheese and rocket; and green beans, tomatoes, chili and sliced meat. Other well-loved dishes are soups, stews, dried horsemeat, humityas (steamed cornhusks wrapped around mashed corn), milcaos (potato bread), and costillar de chancho (baked pork ribs). Traditional desserts to try include: brazo de reina (like a Swiss roll), alfajores (two biscuits held together with a layer of chocolate mousse), cuchufli (tubes of crunchy pastry dough, drizzled with chocolate) and leche asada (a type of baked custard dessert).
Mote con huesillo is the perfect beverage to sip on a hot day. Served with a spoon, this dessert-like, non-alcoholic drink contains dried peach, husked wheat and caramelised peach juice. Sweet carbonated drinks, mineral water and fruit juices are also readily available. Borgoña (a mix of red wine, strawberries, and sometimes sugar), melón con vino (wine and honeydew melon) and terremoto (meaning ‘earthquake’, combining wine and pineapple ice-cream), all rank as some of the most popular drinks here. Craft beers are brewed locally, with those made by Cervecería Kunstmann, Szot Brewery, and Desértica Cerveza Artesanal among some of the most highly recommended. Pisco – a distilled grape wine brandy – is also well-received by visitors and locals alike.
Glaciers, snow-capped volcanoes, hot springs, desert, grasslands, mountains and coastal habitats all contribute to Chile’s numerous climates, landscapes and wildlife. The country’s geography is so unusual that more than 30% of all the mammals inhabiting Chile are unique to this destination and do not exist anywhere else in the world. Llamas, alpacas, emus, armadillos, porcupines, opossums, bats, foxes, boars, deer and monkeys are a few of the mammals residing in Chile. Wildlife enthusiasts venturing to the coast will be pleased to learn that there are regular sightings of dolphins, whales, sea lions and otters here. The Andean Condor is the national bird, sharing the Chilean sky with buzzards, hawks, parrots, woodpeckers, finches, and mocking birds, among other species. Chile has 36 National Parks in total, all aiming to preserve and protect the distinct, diverse and unusual ecosystems.