Chileans can be self-degrading; you will seldom hear a Chilean exclaim that Santiago is an amazing city. But, Santiago, Chile, capital city of that long skinny country at the bottom of the globe, has a lot to offer.
It may not be as sexy or attract as many tourists as its South American neighbors like Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro, but don’t dismiss this aesthetically stunning city with breathtakingly beautiful vista points (on days when the smog clears). There are thousands of ways to take in the view from high-rises or hilltops with the Andean mountains tearing into the distance at spectacular heights.
But, our favorite things about Santiago are its surprising attributes, from a top-notch tattoo scene and a hilarious bilingual comedy outfit to live Jazz music and an enticing gay-friendly nightlife.
Annie Merkley is a freelance journalist, banjo strummin’ songstress, traveler by simple means, poet, and dreamer of dreams and things.
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South American art is world renowned, but you don't immediately think of Chileans as tattoo aficionados. However, if you look closely, you'll notice a colorful parade of original, artfully done tattoos. Word on the street is that Inside Tattoo is Santiago's premier tattoo studio and the place to go and get some ink. Irwing Meyer, one of Inside Tattoo's owners, said that getting tattooed should be an experience and thinks the popularity of the studio is due in part to its attention to detail in it's elegant location. Well, that and all of the extraordinarily talented artists who are all churning out first-rate tattoos under the same roof. Due to the fact that Chile has one of the most stable economies in Latin America, Santiago has started to attract artists from neighboring countries with more tumultuous living conditions (such as Venezuela) to come and offer up their talents to the burgeoning tattoo culture. Meyer said that the tattoo scene went off like a bomb in Santiago about five years ago, so to capitalize on the movement, Inside Tattoo opened up a shop to fill the growing demand of high-quality tattoo equipment. Inside Tattoo's studio location in the chic neighborhood of Provedencia opened in March 2015.
Photo by Luciano Marchant
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Chileans have a great sense of humor, with a bunch of exceptionally filthy expressions in their unique form of Castellano Spanish. But, its their hugely popular bilingual English/Spanish comedy collective that sets the bar high. The Chistolas is a stand-up comedy troupe of international expats and Chileans that has been selling out performances in pubs around Santiago. Recently they had a YouTube video go viral as The Chistolas paired up with Woki Toki (a popular Chilean YouTube comedy channel); the video has had almost one million views.
The Chistolas shows, which are primarily in English, deliver high-caliber jokes that could easily rival an amateur LA or NYC comedy performance. Matthew Berg, one of the founding members, said that 14 years ago when he first moved to Chile from the U.S., a comedy troupe like The Chistolas wouldn't have worked, but thanks to a growing expat community, The Chistolas shows are packed with locals and foreigners alike looking for a laughter-filled night. The Chistolas started about two years ago and now consists of about a dozen active members with diverse styles of comedy. The Chistolas is an open group that has twice weekly joke workshops where individuals interested in trying out their chops in comedy are welcome to join.
Photo courtesy of The Chistolas
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The Jazz Corner
A flourishing Jazz scene isn't what springs to mind when looking for live music in Santiago. But, jazz has played a part of this city's musical heritage for years. A great place to learn more about its influence is the intimate Jazz Corner in Barrio Italia, where fantastic jazz is being laid down live five nights a week. When Alvaro Gomez opened The Jazz Corner in May 2013, he enlisted the help of longtime friend Cristian Cuturrufo—a talented cantankerous trumpet player—as a fixture for the house band. At the same time, The Jazz Corner has a whole slew of local and internationally acclaimed guest musicians who grace its stage and is a cherished hot spot that attracts varied crowds.
Photo courtesy of Jazz Corner
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The Southern Hemisphere tends to lag a season behind the Northern Hemisphere when it comes to fashion, due to the opposite times of seasons. The fashion designs of Chile aren't known on a global scale and Santiago is not a city recognized for being particularly en vogue. However, rambling around the ultra-hip bohemian neighborhood of Lastarria, innovative clothing and jewelry designs that draw heavily from pre European colonialism indigenous people are readily on display. Lastarria boasts a smattering of boutique clothing shops where you can purchase beautiful locally designed and constructed clothing and accessories (like the pictured plush coat from Sastrería Alvear and earrings made of copper and chrysocolla shaped after a traditional design from the native Mapuche). The influence of European fashion is obvious, though the distinctly Chilean flare is not lost.
Photo by Annie Merkley
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For a city in a conservative Catholic South American country, Santiago has a surprisingly happening gay nightlife. At the forefront of this intoxicating scene is Fausto. It is rumored to be South America's oldest gay bar, having been in business for 37 years. Santiago has long harbored a thriving gay scene, however during the dictatorship of Pinochet, many gay bars had to operate as speakeasies. Gay marriage has yet to be legalized in Chile, though it seems to be moving in that direction with civil unions legalized as of 2015. Fausto is located in an old estate house at the edge of Barrio Bella Vista and functioned as a clandestine operation for years. What once was hush-hush is now a loud and proud gay disco. The Drag Show is a gorgeous over-the-top experience, and the many cavernous levels and different dance floors makes Fausto the perfect place to get your drink and dance on and explore the gay night life.
Photo by Annie Merkley