Ditch the expensive jewellery and don the comfy walking shoes, bring an appetite and pucker up your lips for a pisco sour. Urban Adventures’ Bites and Sights tour of Santiago is a day to put on your inquisitive foodie hat. It's not all about food, as you will learn about Chile's capital cradled by the snowy heights of the Andes and the Chilean Coast Range, with tidbits of historical information that only a true local knows.
Iconic neoclassical landmarks will feature along the way from your meeting point at the impressive statue of Salvador Allende, the first Marxist to become president of Chile, from 1970 to 1973. The figure stands in front of the dominant Ministry Justice Building in Plaza de la Constitucion.
You will then meander around the financial district, where swathes of colour splashed on the roadway represent the historical Inca trail to Peru. At Plaza de Armas, you’ll learn of the recent discovery that that the Incas had their Sun Temple here because the location is perfectly aligned for the winter and summer solstice. The Spanish totally destroyed the temple and built on the rubble. A map embedded into the sidewalk depicts the myths of snakes, mountains and streams of this ancient land.
You will leave the bustling heart of the city and meander for 10 minutes to the fishy Mercado Central, where a lesson will be had in the fish of Chile. There is a staggering amount of seafood consumed in Chile given the length of its Pacific Ocean coastline and the fact that the country is one of the major exporters of fish and seafood in the world.
From giant edible snails to Chilean abalone, plus fish such as tollo, linguado and merluza, it's all there on ice displays. We popped into El Galeon restaurant at the entrance of the markets and indulged in seafood empanadas washed down with pisco sours to kick the morning off.
Homeless well-fed dogs with snug-fitting coats, courtesy of the government and the local fish sellers, lazily sleep at the entrance to the market. You can have your photo taken with a parading llama, the ultimate souvenir or selfie moment, or gawk at street performers beating drums as they dance.
A short train ride away, but a world away into the realms of local residents, the La Vega Central (aka Feria Mapocho or Mapocho market) clings to the north bank of the Mapocho River in the far south of the Recoleta barrio. Bustling and bubbling with humanity, it's a rowdy scene that has to be experienced to be believed, with its chaotic ambience, colourful mounds of fresh produce and yelling hawkers. Predominantly a fresh vegetable and fruit haven, you will also find dairy, spices, meat and the odd merchandise store fighting for your attention.
La Vega Central has a history going back way before the 19th Century, when farmers would congregate to sell their produce during the colonial era. Hundreds of thousands of people walk around its 60,000 square meters of a mish-mash of stalls every day. It's a mystical tour that will have you salivating at the size and the colour of the produce, from giant pumpkins to black corn and massive artichokes. It is no wonder that La Vega Central is listed as one of the top markets in the world to visit. You may have trouble wrapping your head around local honey made from palm trees or the black corn from Peru, but the caffeine addicts will be over the moon with a stop at Cafe Altura for a cup of the most delicious coffee. Standing room only, your fist will tightly clutch a decadent Peruvian dessert called suspiro limeño (sigh of Lima) while you slurp down your rich espresso.
A quick jaunt on the train will have you in the barrio of Providencia, where the old-world charm of Casa de Cena restaurant will have your mouth watering. You will get to sample some of Chile's famous traditional gourmet treats, such as corn pie, pink mussels with parmesan and eel soup that is made out of fish, not eel!
Your tour guide will be a fountain of information throughout the whole day, not only about the food, but also on cultural issues and critical historical matters. It's like having an excursion with new best friends; breaking bread over laughter, even if you can't understand each other's lingo.
To book your day of taste sensations with a local:
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