Downtown Santiago is about as globalized as it comes in South America, and international brand names abound. Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll also find that there is plenty to buy that is distinctly Chilean.
Chile and Afghanistan are only countries in the world with significant deposits of this blue semiprecious stone, and some color shades are only found in Chile. The major mine in the country is situated near Ovalle, north of Santiago, but the best place to buy jewelry and ornaments is the bohemian neighborhood of Bellavista, in the capital.
Avenida Bellavista is packed with shops selling everything from understated earrings to scale models of Rapa Nui moai, but the safest best is probably the place that started all the hype, Lapis Lazuli House. There is also a market between Avenida Bellavista and Pio Nono – great for browsing, but only buy here if you know what to watch out for.
A country with a history as varied as Chile’s is great for people who are interested in antiques and curiosities. A good place to start is the Persa Bío Bío, a weekend market near the Franklin metro stop, which proffers junk and the genuine article in pretty much equal quantities. If you really are after the good stuff, try the cluster of specialist antique shops at Providencia 2348. From antique silver to catholic altar-pieces, there truly is something for everyone.
Chile is blessed with a number of famous literary figures (Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Roberto Bolaño) and if you’re after first editions, rare books or signed copies, the place to go is Libros el Cid. An absolute must for all bookworms – even if it’s just for the smell.
Even though indigenous peoples only make up 5% of the population, the average Chilean contains over 35% Amerindian DNA and the contributions which tribes such as the Mapuche and Atacameño have made to the country’s culture are rich and many – most notable among them are textiles, silverware and ceramics.
Fortunately for visitors to the capital, there are quite a few places that sell authentic items and channel the profits straight back to the communities or individuals who made them. For the widest selection try Artesanias de Chile or Ona both of which have very good charitable credentials. Otherwise, the Pueblito los Dominicos is a quality open air market on Avenida Apoquindo in the upmarket suburb of Las Condes.
Food and wine
Because Chile spans so many latitudes and altitudes it has a staggering array of fresh produce, and this is turned into all manner of delectable goodies by different communities and peoples around the country. As you travel through Chile you will undoubtedly encounter some of these delicacies, but you can wait till you’re back in Santiago before buying them: the Emporio Nacional at Avenida Bellavista 360 is an epicure’s delight if ever there was one. From bottled smoked clams to artisanal chocolate and ostrich pate; you name it, they’ve got it.
Chile’s wines are well-known, and the chances are you’ll do some tasting at the wineries themselves while you’re there. That’s not to say you won’t want to buy a bit more once you’re back in Santiago, or maybe even send a few cases home. With four outlets in the capital and over 6000 wines on sale, El Mundo del Vino, is the one-stop answer to all your troubles. The extremely knowledgeable salespeople will be happy to guide you through the options, and will also allow you to taste before you buy.
By Nick Dall