Sorry Santiago

Oh Santiago, it wasn’t (completely) your fault.

I really wanted to like you. You seemed like the sleeker, moderner cousin to Buenos Aires. Chile has the best economy in South America, and you struck me as a city that really had itself together. Something about the name, Santiago, is so beautiful to me. If we’d really hit it off maybe I would have named a cat after you someday.

It wasn’t to be though.

Some cities you immediately connect with. You’re taken by their beauty, or energy or even their unique grittiness. Santiago wasn’t one of those cities. Not for me, and not for Mike. Try as I might I couldn’t get a handle on this enormous city (population 5.5 million, nearly twice as many people as in Buenos Aires).

It was mostly our fault. We had ten whole days to spend in Santiago, a huge amount of time to really get to know the city, and we completely squandered it. April is mid-fall in Chile and the weather was cold and damp. First Mike got a terrible cold, then I did. We spent the majority of those ten days huddled in our rental apartment, sniffling and shotgunning orange juice.

Cold, sick and more than ready to go home after over six months abroad, it was hard to get enthusiastic about sightseeing. Still, Santiago, when we did manage to pull ourselves out and explore you didn’t do much to sell yourself. It was still cold and now a thick brown smug hung in the air that gave me flashbacks to my constant cough in China. The Mapocho river trickled through the city, a sluggish brown color. All around was gray and gritty. I went back to our apartment and my new hobby of sniffling under the covers.


Things did improve from there though. We had a couple of really nice, sunny days where we wandered the city without much of an agenda. We ate brilliant yellow paella at the fish market and twice visited the most delicious sushi restaurant of my life (more on that later). We shopped in the crafts market for lapis lazuli (only mined in Chile and Afghanistan). We took a day trip to pretty Valparaiso. We even climbed St. Lucia hill for a sparkling view of the Andes which tower over the city.

Clearly Santiago, you have a lot to offer which I completely missed out on. I don’t feel nearly as bad about it as I probably should though.


In the past I would have beat myself up over screwing up a city like this. On my trip through Asia last year I was constantly worried that I wasn’t taking advantage of my travels to the fullest. I guilted myself quite a lot when I wasn’t feeling enthusiastic. Things have changed since then, I am much more forgiving now. Sometimes you just can’t connect with a city and that’s okay. Sometimes you just don’t have the energy, and that’s not your fault.

I know I will return to Chile someday. I want to see the Atacama Desert, Easter Island, the lake district and, of course, Patagonia. I’m sure between all that I’ll get another stab at Santiago. When I do I’ll be sure to pop a lot of vitamin C beforehand.

Have you ever visited somewhere you just couldn’t connect with?


28 Responses to Sorry Santiago

  1. Estrella May 10, 2012 at 9:24 AM #

    Last January I went to Taiwan for 5 days. I was coming directly from 9 days in Thailand and I was exhausted. Added to that was the fact that I was traveling alone for the first time and I felt pretty isolated (even though there were so many people around me). I did have some good moments when I hung out with others, but overall I did not enjoy my time there.
    I do want to go to Santiago one day, but I’ll go when it’s summer in the southern hemisphere! Great photos!

  2. Cat May 10, 2012 at 12:17 PM #

    Rome, I am not sure why. I was kind of sick of touristy things and found myself surronded by them!

  3. Chris May 10, 2012 at 1:09 PM #

    I studied in Santiago in 2003, but when I returned for a week last year with my wife, we also had trouble really connecting to the city…at least as I once knew it. I couldn’t decide if the city or I had changed more, but definitely can relate to some of your thoughts here.

    That said, Chile has so much to offer. I highly recommend a return trip. Spend a day or two in Santiago, then catch the first bus out of town. Lauca National Park, the Atacama, Elqui Valley, Pucón, and Chiloé are all incredible places!

  4. Rebecca May 10, 2012 at 2:51 PM #

    Sounds like me and Rome (seems like I am not the only one from these comments, YAY! I am tried of getting “yelled” at for hating on Rome).
    I was 15/16 and had been away from home for nearly 7 weeks and Rome was my last stop and I just wanted to get home already. I tossed a penny (or lira) in the Trevi Fountain and wished to never return. So far, my “wish” has come true! As I have gotten older, I give places more of the benefit of the doubt, but since I was a kid in Italy, I still don’t care to return.

  5. Emily in Chile May 10, 2012 at 3:03 PM #

    I think Santiago is a really hard city for tourists to connect with, honestly. It has a lot to offer, but those things aren’t instantly obvious like they are in other major cities, and as you unfortunately saw, there are some pretty awful grey days in winter. That said, I’m sorry you guys were sick and that we couldn’t meet up to give you more of an insider’s view – hopefully next time!

  6. Aryn May 11, 2012 at 1:43 AM #

    I feel the same way about most cities in the US. Between the extraordinarily large amount of homelessness and pollution and smell of garbage for a city in such a rich country, and the fact that most of the major cities in the US are built in places with crappy weather for parts of the year or extreme amounts of smog for most of the day I can’t stand visiting them. San Fran was smelly and disappointing, the people in New York were rude and it was covered in garbage, LA is difficult to breathe due to all the smog and the weather in Miami is stifling. Frankly, if I never visit a major US city again before I die I really won’t care. Those cities have ruined it for me.

    • Steph May 15, 2012 at 1:54 AM #

      Okay, well you still have to give DC a chance! It’s much nicer.

  7. Andrea May 11, 2012 at 1:53 AM #

    I hated Naples…and I hate to say I hate anyplace. I totally feel you though on not connecting–if you don’t like a place, you can’t force it. It might be worth a second chance later in life, but no need to make yourself miserable somewhere you’re not having fun.

  8. Alana Morgan - Gen Y Wanderer May 11, 2012 at 5:53 AM #

    Berlin. My friends and I spent four days wandering around wondering what we were missing and why we weren’t seeing ‘it’. I’d like to give it another shot, but for whatever reason it definitely didn’t do anything for me.

  9. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) May 11, 2012 at 10:41 AM #

    Sorry to hear that your time in Santiago was a bit of a bust. Sometimes things just work out that way. I felt that way when I visited Vienna… I found it overly expensive and kind of grimy, and it just didn’t make me excited. I never felt comfortable there and although there were other places in Austria I found delightful, I have no desire to return to Vienna.

    Also, as an aside, I always find it weird when people talk about eating sushi in South America. I know Chile has that huge coastline, but it still seems SO bizarre to me!

  10. Mary May 11, 2012 at 10:53 AM #

    I’ve been too tired from traveling to enjoy a place before. That is always a bummer. I SERIOUSLY want to hear about the sushi though!!!! Anxiously awaiting that blog entry!!! 🙂

  11. Lindsay May 11, 2012 at 10:59 AM #

    I just spent a week in Panama City and was less than enamoured by it. We have friends who live there and LOVE it, and I think they hyped it up way too much for us. Our expectations were rather high, and the city really disappointed. We had some great moments, but overall, I felt pretty similar to you. I even started the week off with a cold and ended up giving it to my bf. Brutal, eh!? But instead of grey gloom we had 45 degree heat…not the best for a cold. Ah well. Not going to love everywhere, are we!?

    • Steph May 15, 2012 at 1:52 AM #

      Having a cold in hot weather is one of my biggest pet peeves! So miserable!

  12. Abby May 11, 2012 at 11:53 AM #

    I agree with Emily, I think that Santiago is a hard city for tourists. I love living here, but if you don’t know where to look, I can see how it might not be super obvious where the good places are.

    I’m suprised that you found Santiago bigger than BA. I think it’s actually the reverse! BA has a population of like 12 million and Santiago almost 7 million. (I´m talking metro regions here).

    I’m going to BA for the first time soon. It will be interesting to see how it compares!

  13. Alyx May 11, 2012 at 12:46 PM #

    Prague, I felt that everywhere I go to, I am surrounded by tour guides and tourists, hardly able to spot any locals (or may be they are among the crowds, just not sure how a regular Czech should look like?). The monuments & architectures are definitely amazing, though I don’t quite fancy the food. But I think every city deserves a second chance, I will definitely return to Prague and explore the city with a pair of different eyes, and perhaps travel buddies 🙂
    Also, I am traveling to Santiago for a 3-month work! Hopefully the city connects with me *crosses fingers*

  14. Annie May 11, 2012 at 12:49 PM #

    I agree with you. I couldn’t connect there either. I don’t know if it was because the city was foggy and smoggy and rainy when I was there, or if I couldn’t wrap my head around the city’s layout. But I also felt disconnected.

    And we spent alot of timing with people who were living there. Still never ‘felt’ it.

  15. Jeremy Branham May 11, 2012 at 2:44 PM #

    I am sorry you didn’t connect with Santiago. It’s a city that I’ve always wanted to visit because of some old ties I had there. Maybe the timing wasn’t right and it is just one of those places you need to give it another shot.

    As for not connecting with a place, I would have to say Venice. I had some nice moments there but the city was touristy and expensive. I guess I had a more romantic image of the city in mind when I went and it just didn’t click with me. Maybe I will give it another shot some day.

  16. Angela May 11, 2012 at 6:30 PM #

    It’s a shame you didn’t like Santiago as much as you wanted to! Santiago is such a great city and has so much to offer- but then again I may be biased since I was born in Chile haha! Regardless, next time you go to Chile, make sure you go to Pucon it’s a small resort/desitination town near Temuco- great for extreme outdoor sports!

  17. Michael Figueiredo May 11, 2012 at 9:54 PM #

    By your photos Santiago looks very pretty (well, except for the dirty river one.) Too bad you didn’t enjoy it. 🙁

  18. Kate May 12, 2012 at 10:22 PM #

    I didn’t connect so much with Shanghai when I was there- too many people, too much pushing (it is China, after all). I didn’t get to take full advantage of what San Francisco offered either– I was staying an hour away from the city and I only did a one day tour and on that day, it rained heavily. Timing is a huge factor.

    What are the things you did in Valparaiso?

    • Steph May 15, 2012 at 1:48 AM #

      We actually stumbled across a local food expo and spent most of our time sampling different jellies, olive oils and beers from the region. Really nice afternoon :).

  19. Alex May 13, 2012 at 9:20 AM #

    I just visited Chaing Mai recently and I just did not get all the fuss. I had pretty personal reasons for being biased against it but I tried to keep an open mind and was not impressed! I would much prefer to spend time in Bangkok if I was going to live in a Thai city rather than on a Thai island.

  20. Runaway Brit May 14, 2012 at 4:10 AM #

    At the risk of getting ostracised by the entire travel community, I didn’t connect with Buenos Aires. I desperately tried to like it, I really did, but it just didn’t do it for me. Possibly, it was weather-related, it was cold most of the time we were there. But on the whole I just thought it was overpriced and pretentious. I liked Santiago though, but the weather was gorgeous when I was there.

  21. Kristine May 15, 2012 at 10:31 AM #

    I feel bad even saying this, but I really didn’t connect with Sevilla. A bunch of factors didn’t help the situation (the choice of hostel, the heat, the huge hangover and cough I got from 5 days in Lagos), but I couldn’t fully immerse myself in the place. I tried to love it, especially because every other traveler seems to, but nothing seemed to be going right and I think it put a damper on the whole experience. I definitely want to go back there though and try again…when it’s not 100 degrees, haha.

  22. Chrystal McKay May 20, 2012 at 11:27 AM #

    I think the majority of your disinterest in the city was the mental state. Santiago is a very nice city – but you’re right- there isn’t actually a lot to see. But the flow of the city is so much more peaceful than a lot of other capital cities that I couldn’t help but love it. But on to the next city right?

  23. Reima July 13, 2013 at 11:47 AM #

    Wow I thought I was the only one. I enjoyed Santiago but at the same time, I had a hard time building a connection with it. I felt bad, like maybe I was doing something wrong. I also didn’t have much time there, I believe 6 days. After I left, I decided I was going to go back and try again. So many places I didn’t get a chance to go to. I was going to go along with my Bolivia trip last summer but the roads were bad and they weren’t having any buses cross the border so I went to Peru instead, which was incredible. I’m still telling myself to make a way to get back there and try again.

  24. entrepreneursodyssey March 16, 2015 at 8:46 PM #

    We had a great stay in Santiago and feel we only touched the surface of what it has to offer. The Mapocho river still runs brown and the place is very dusty.

    I guess that sometimes your own mood has a huge impact on how we take on a new place, restaurant, hotel, etc. I hope your return visit has a better impact on you.

  25. gemmafottles May 18, 2015 at 8:16 AM #

    I felt the same about Moscow. I was totally unimpressed. I’ll be spending a week in Santiago in August, so hopefully the weather is better and we’re not sick! The pictures still look great, which doesn’t completely dash my Santiago dreams haha

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