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Santiago (Panama)

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City: Santiago / Country: Panama / World Region: Central America

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      16.01.2009 21:54
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      Advantages

      Disadvantages

      Lovely city, great food, public transport easy and chaep to use, don't bother with the wine trip

      Santiago is the capital city of Chile

      The good:
      Santiago is a very modern bustling city with clean well organised streets. The fines for speeding, using the mobile phone while driving or drink driving are extremely severe as so driving is very good generally. If a driver gets 3 fines in a 3 year period he loses his licence - very strict indeed. They also stop for zebra crossings, the use of the horn is rare and traffic flows freely most of the time.

      There are not many high rise buildings as Santiago suffers from frequent earth quakes. Because of the fact that buildings need to be built to resist earth quakes it means that building costs are high too. Santiago is spreading outwards as it cannot go upwards so it is geographically quite age city for its 6 million population.

      San Cristobel Hill which was just behind our hotel has both, a cable car and a funicular railway as well as a road up to the top. From the top you get an excellent view of the city with the Andes mountains as a backdrop. At the top there is a large white stone statue called the Sanctuario Immaculada Concepcion which I presume is the Virgin Mary, it is surrounded by beautiful flower gardens and the scent pervading the air is that of jasmine which is lovely. There a few small souvenir shops with postcards, lapis lazuli and other items of interest, there is also a cafe with outside seating and umbrellas. It was a relaxing visit as we just wandered around looking at the views and enjoying the sunshine under no pressure to rush on at all.

      The colonial part of Santiago is actually very French in its architectural style of buildings. They are solid, square with large windows and not very high. We were able to walk all round the Presidential Palace which is not the home but the office of the President. It was guarded by Carbinierros, the local guards but there was no problem with us taking photographs when they did the changing of the guard. It seemed so much more relaxed than it had been in Bolivia or Peru about their military. Just in front of the Presidential Palace was a type of Square where there were some art students setting up a display of their work on big portable display boards and we walked amongst them smiling and being generally English tourist like - not speaking but being very polite!

      We walked down a pedestrianised street to the Plaza de Armas which was surrounded by Colonial buildings and has a fountain and statues in the middle. We sat at a cafe under an umbrella in the sunshine and watched people going about their daily lives. We were warned that there were pick pockets around the Square and to keep hold of our bags and cameras rather than put them on a chair beside us which we did so we had no problems. It was once again very relaxing just sitting and watching the activities of the people in the Plaza.

      There were quite a number of dogs wandering round and when we asked our local guide he said there were 300 thousand strays in Santiago. What was strange was that they looked really well fed and quite healthy. He did say 1 in 1000 had rabies. They followed people round keeping their eyes peeled for dropped food but did not appear to be aggressive so we just ignored them and they moved on.

      We decided we wanted to go to a restaurant called Azul Profundo in Bella Vista area of Santiago as we had read recommendations about the seafood there. We took the metro which cost 380 pesos which is about 38p for each trip no matter how far. It was a very simple procedure and the tube maps were easy to follow. We followed the map we collected from the local tourist office and luckily there was a table for 6 available.

      The whole restaurant was decorated in the style of an old ship with decks above, nets and a ship's prow. The walls were lined with bottles of wine and it was quite dark. The toilets were labelled 'to the lifeboats' and the doors were rounded like on a ship, there were portholes that looked authentic in the other two doors. The toilet doors themselves were also rounded at the corners and were decorated with shellfish.

      The waiters spoke good English and were very helpful when we were choosing our food. I had grouper with laurel ice-cream and an avocado and tomato salad which was delicious. Everyone in our party was happy with the choice of meal and they were all nicely presented on the plates. We decided to go for desserts and my choice was chocolate thin squares resting on a chestnut and chocolate puree, very rich but delicious. My husband has a pisco and lemon sorbet which actually went very nicely with my chocolate as it balanced the richness with a sharp freshness so I had to sample quite a lot of his just to balance mine. Both the food and the atmosphere were to be recommended, it was a very nice way to spend a few hours enjoying good food and interesting company.


      The bad:
      As part of our tour with Kuoni we had a visit to the Concha y Toro vineyard with a lunch at a local country restaurant. This was meant to be a half day tour but lasted till about 3 in the afternoon. We were debating whether to go on the tour or to do our own thing and visit Valparaiso and the port/harbour area. We finally decided that we might get a good meal and the vineyard might be like the Australian ones and be more interesting that the one we visited in California. A big mistake...

      The tour of the vineyard was a disgrace. Two rather useless guides took us on a wander to the main house of the Concha y Toro family and waffled in low voices some vague information, told us we couldn't go inside but to look at the statues and the lovely gardens. They were nice but nothing very exciting and the house might have been more interesting but that was not in the tour. We were then each given a wine glass - outside - from a sort of 'stall' along a path. We were told this glass was a souvenir that we could keep and in this glass was poured some red wine. No choice just the red. I thought, 'Nothing ventured, and nothing gained 'and went up to get mine. One taste of this rather harsh, vinegary red 'wine' and I decided not to bother. I tossed it surreptitiously in the garden as we wandered on to the vineyards. Now I realise that it was not their fault there were no grapes on the vines as it was not the correct season, but... Did we have to stand aimlessly looking at a field of vines for about 15minutes while the two guides sort of stood looking lost? When they were asked a question they didn't really know much and to be honest they were both so drippy that I wasn't inspired to ask them anything anyway.

      One guide, a very young girl about 18 to 20 spoke English with a very plummy accent and I suspect she was a product of English boarding school. She was part Chilean she told one of our group but she didn't seem to know much about the vineyard. The other was a young man a bit older whose English was not so good and he didn't say much at all so not sure about his knowledge as he didn't share it with us.

      After standing looking at the vines for some time we then went through several cellars full of barrels, extremely clean and rather clinical, no atmosphere at all. At the end of one cellar we were told the tale about 'The devil' who lived in the Concha y Toro cellars. The original owner had started the legend to keep the locals from making off with his wine from the cellars. The ligts were turned off to create a tense atmosphere while the tale was told. After this 'spooky' tale we were allowed to go into the tiny cellar area and see the 'devil' which was a shadow at the end of the wall. Having been a little underwhelmed so far we rather hoped that we might be taken to a bar area and offered more samples in our souvenir glass.

      We walked out of the cellars and into a large open area and there was a bar - things were looking positive. Out came a bottle, another red. Oh well, I thought, this might be the mellow creamy one. I got my glass (same glass, no swap offered, no rinse out of previous wine) with an inch of wine and returned triumphantly to my husband. Not much of an improvement and now I had no garden to lose the contents in either.

      Carrying my glass of wine we were guided through the gift shop. I wasn't desperate to buy a souvenir of this trip so we went out to sit in the sunshine and find somewhere to lose the wine. I thought I had subtly placed glass and wine behind a large pot but no, our guide noticed and asked me why I wasn't taking the glass. I explained that such a large glass would have no hope of arriving home in one piece in our luggage. He asked me if he could have it. No worries said I and immediately afterwards everybody in our group donated their glass to him as well. We couldn't decide if he collected them and had several sets at home or if he returned them to Concha y Toro at some other time.
      Well at least we were going to get a good lunch as the food we had enjoyed in Santiago up till now had been excellent. My husband, before we went on this trip had done a lot of research about where to eat and what was recommended. On one site someone had said, 'Beware of any restaurant with a large model cow outside. Well, you guessed it, we drew up outside a restaurant with a large cow outside it. We did not really have any option but to go in, the lunch was paid for and we were in the middle of nowhere so in we trouped.

      The uneatable:
      Suffice to say I think this was the worst meal we had anywhere in South America. I couldn't cut the steak which was charred on a barbeque and the vegetables were overcooked and tasteless. It was awful and best forgotten really. They did a local dancing display which was quite pleasant but the little music group came and serenaded you until they got a tip which was a trifle irritating. We made use of the toilets and then we all went and waited by our bus. The guide asked my husband if he enjoyed his meal. Usually a very polite person, he was silent for a few seconds then said 'it was probably the worst meal we had had on the trip, the steak was tough and burnt....' It was a bit awkward but there was no point in saying it was good as it wasn't.

      The summary:
      Now we were fed up that we had chosen to go on the trip instead of making our own way to Valparaiso but thought we would at least have a few hours in the sunshine by the pool. We rushed up to our room, grabbed our books and ran back down to sit round the pool. Gradually we noticed lots of couples from our group coming down and finding spots in the sunshine and ordering beers to recover from the day's frustrations.

      So if you are thinking about going to Santiago do not waste your time and money on a trip to Concha y Toro vineyard find somewhere else to go. We plan on a return visit to Santiago as we did like the city and it is one of the few places you can fly from to get to Easter Island. Next time we will go to Valparaiso and certainly will NOT go to the vineyards.

      © Catsholiday

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