Like a fine wine, Santiago, Chile is getting better with age. While many foreigners still associate the nation with Pinochet, that ugly era ended nearly 20 years ago. The spirit of Santiago is embodied in a booming gourmet scene, thriving theatre and a friendly attitude towards foreigners.
Over the past decade, Santiago has thrown aside its parochial mentality and become one of the most cosmopolitan cities in South America. Dozens of multinational companies have moved their Latin American HQ to the city, while thousands of exchange students arrive every year. It’s a good place to call home.
With the lowest rates of violent crime on the continent, Santiago is a city where you can let your guard down. If you’re keen to relocate too, we’d recommend you escape the sterile comforts of the upper-class neighbourhoods (Vitacura, La Dehesa, Lo Barnechea) and move into Barrio Lastarria in the old city, which has rescued what little remains of the capital’s architectural heritage.
Barrio Lastarria offers a slice of European architecture, coffee shops, theatres and boutiques minutes from the metro, commercial centres and the arty Bellavista area. Thanks to strict zoning laws, the area has avoided the wrecking ball that has devastated many architectural gems.
Buying a home here is still reasonable – €200,000 gets a five-room, three-storey building near the best cafés and theatres. For €400,000 you could move into a former embassy – a 10-room, five-storey building with an exclusive rooftop flat. Budget flats without a view but retaining nice architectural touches will set you back €80,000. You should budget for another 50 per cent on top of the price to cover the cost of refurbishment – the wiring and plumbing are usually outdated.
Residents can apply for government subsidies of up to €5,000 to renovate apartments, but the façade must remain intact. The result is a district sealed off from the noise of the city centre. Santiago is not usually a walking city, but here the streets feel like a village and owning a car is more of a hassle than a convenience. There’s an efficient metro, and a new bus system that within two years will provide a modern, integrated transport network. Taxis cost €3 to €4 for most trips.
Every month, the Barrio Lastarria brings surprises – a new clothing boutique, a new rooftop bar, or just the joys of living in a lively neighbourhood.
Flights to Santiago:
Lan Airlines – one flight via Madrid, six days a week
Lan Airlines – one direct flight, six days a week
ANA/Lan Airlines – one daily flight via LA
316 Lastarria, + 56 2 639 9928, aji-chile.com
A varied collection of handmade Chilean clothing and jewellery. The small but elegant display showcases more than a dozen up-and-coming Chilean artists. Especially known for the woollen and fine alpaca accessories.
459 Jose Miguel de la Barra, + 56 2 632 0736, theclinic.cl
Named in honour of The London Clinic where General Pinochet was arrested in October 1998, this shop is the companion to the weekly satirical newspaper of the same name. The shoppers are as interesting as the satirical T-shirts, books and gifts. To really understand The Clinic, you have to immerse yourself in Santiago gossip, slang and politics.
327 Merced, + 56 2 638 7992, tampu.cl
Contemporary clothing decorated with pre-Colombian motifs have created a loyal following for Tampu. Reasonably priced and definitely original.
Museum of Visual Arts
307 Lastarria, Plaza Mulato Gil de Castro, + 56 2 638 3502, mavi.cl
The museum shows the work of contemporary Chilean sculptors and painters. While not world class, it offers a good gift shop and beautiful exhibition spaces. The nearby Plaza Mulato Gil de Castro is perfect for people-watching, reading or planning a rendezvous. Half the crowd are locals, the other half have their head inside a Lonely Planet.
If the weather is clear and you want to get a good view of Santiago, then walk to the top of San Cristobal hill. If it’s noon, plug your ears as an antique Spanish cannon is fired daily, sending a shock wave through Barrio Lastarria. A hangout for lovers who can’t find a room.
Antrofinno Bistro Bar
Pasaje Rosal, Barrio Lastarria
A romantic hideaway with 60 different wines and 200 cocktails. Ivan – the owner – seems to live here and his friends guarantee a lively evening. A good place to make your late-night local.
Emporio La Rosa
291 Merced, + 56 2 638 9257
Breakfast bread, coffee, exotic ice creams (try the green tea and mango) and empanada sandwiches are served here. Open at 08.00, it is one of the few places that can provide an early breakfast or a leisurely coffee surrounded by Hunter S Thompson lookalikes, gay couples and priests.
Patagonia Alma del Sur
96 Lastarria, + 56 2 664 3830
This cosy Argentine restaurant offers a feast of great meat. Not sure how a South American steak should taste? Come here and ask Andrea the owner. Wild boar, venison and Patagonia beef are also popular. The multilingual staff are helpful if you are still mastering your Spanish.
203 Lastarria, + 56 2 639 1627
Built in 1912, this rustic colonial building has been brilliantly restored. A team of carpenters spent five years reworking the wood and adding modern touches. Admire the ornate ironwork while eating cakes and sandwiches.
Hotel Plaza San Francisco
816 Alameda, + 56 2 639 3832, plazasanfrancisco.cl
Located just minutes from Barrio Lastarria’s museums is this cosy five-star hotel. The restaurant is superb; massages and an underground pool take the edge off living in downtown Santiago. Not a classic design or overly elegant, this is just a great launching pad for walking tours of old Santiago – and house hunting.
209 Victoria Subercaseaux, + 56 2 633 9905, hotelmontecarlo.cl
The Montecarlo is an affordable alternative to the five-star establishments. With designs apparently frozen somewhere between Deco and disco, the rooms look like old postcards – faded but charming. A rooftop suite with a 360-degree view of the city costs less than €60.
Etienne de Ricaud
“Before this, I lived in New York and Paris, and I love this neighbourhood. It is right in the centre of the town and it is quiet and peaceful – there are few cars. And Lastarria is amazing, with tonnes of bars and restaurants that are very different. I know all the shopkeepers and this is what is so nice, to be in a big city to find a village where you can see the same people every day and build a relationship. Definitely don’t live on the first floor, there are lots of pedestrians, noise and dogs. The buildings are really close to the street, so make sure that any apartment is at least on the second floor.”
Project manager Nokia, 31
“I was living in Munich before this and don’t speak much Spanish. When I go to the shops they don’t speak English so have no clue what I am saying, yet they somehow manage by speaking with their hands. They are patient if I try to speak my three Spanish words. In the evening a lot of students are working and many of them speak some English and they like to try out their English on me. Everything is within walking distance; in a few minutes you can either go up one of the hills, to the parks or the restaurants and pubs – there are so many options. I enjoy the life on the street. There are always hundreds of people walking around enjoying life.”
Media artist, 39
“The architecture is so eclectic, a Gothic building next to some nasty 1980s crap. Both are improved by this contrast. Lastarria is like a secret neighbourhood; walking nearby you would never think that this oasis is here, with a hill for jogging and nice restaurants. The people here are so respectful; they don’t talk shit to the women in the street and when you go to a restaurant, you know all the waiters. It is all about sharing. Once, I left my keys in the apartment by mistake, so I went across the street and the guy gave me 200 pesos from the cash register so that I could call my girlfriend.”
One bed - €55,000 - 75 sq m
Two bed - €75,000 - 100 sq m
Three bed - €105,000 - 200 sq m
Gamio Real Estate
+ 56 2 233 8200, gamiopropiedades.com
Contact: Jorge Gamio; email@example.com
Housing boom never hit Santiago. No restrictions on foreign ownership. Local economy solid for three decades.
Buying a property in Santiago is straightforward; you have the same rights and obligations as locals and overall it’s not very bureaucratic. Foreigners have no limitations on buying or selling in the local market. Mortgages are almost impossible to obtain for a first property. However, after buying one property you are considered “in the system” and generous financing can be arranged via local banks. Older buildings may have serious problems with water pressure, lifts and maintenance, so interview current residents and check out the basics immediately.
Property agents charge on average 3 per cent to both the buyer and seller – keeping them neutral and interested in making a deal. Prices are always negotiable, sometimes for as much as 15 to 20 per cent below listed prices. Apartments tend to sit on the market for months, so there is little chance of your dream place disappearing overnight.
Taxes are slight, though rising. On average, the property tax for apartments is 0.05 per cent annually. More important, however, are the “gastos communes” – monthly service fees. The average for a one-bedroom is €70 to €200 a month, but can run higher in older buildings.