Three Perfect Days: Santiago - United Hub
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Santiago

By The Hub team, December 04, 2014

Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Yadid Levy | Hemispheres, December 2014

Chile hasalways felt a little cut off. It's boxed in on all sides, by the rugged Andes to the east, more than 2,500 miles of Pacific coast to the west, the turbulent Drake Passage to the south and the searing Atacama Desert to the north. The dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, meanwhile, formed a political barrier through the 1970s and '80s.

Even in the 25 years since democracy returned to Chile, its capital city has remained isolated by history and geography. Most travelers have tended to view Santiago as a stopover on the way to the stunning landscapes of Patagonia or the Atacama, the wine valleys to the north and south, the Andean ski slopes or the charmingly disheveled coastal city of Valparaíso. But this city of more than 6 million people has lately claimed its place among the cosmopolitan capitals of South America. It's home to a growing number of wildly inventive chefs, museums and cultural centers that bristle with creative talent, and a bouncing nightlife scene, with bars and clubs that stay open until sunrise.

The city is also one of the safest and most hospitable in South America. The parks are filled with lovers, the sidewalks swell with students, buskers dash into intersections to entertain at red lights. Even the stray dogs seem friendly. Santiago has turned the page on history, and now it's writing a chapter in which it becomes one of the shining metropolises of the New World.

DAY ONE | “La Cordillera," your taxi driver says, and your eyes follow the line from his finger, over the sprawl of Santiago to the snowcapped Andes, looming impossibly huge and close. You're definitely not in Kansas anymore. A few minutes later, he drops you off in front of a Spanish colonial building nestled amid palm trees and bougainvillea. The Aubrey, a 15-room hotel that opened in 2010, comprises two 1920s-era mansions combining traditional and contemporary touches—a Mission-style terrace leads into a bright piano bar decorated with illustrations of the Beatles. You head up to your fourth-floor room, which has an oddly slanted ceiling and a fine view of Santiago's biggest park, Parque Metropolitano.You're pumped up to go exploring, but that was a loooong flight, and before you know it you've face-planted on the bed.

You wake from your nap with an appetite, so you head down Constitución, one of the two main strips of Santiago's bohemian Bellavista neighborhood, in search of a bite. The storefronts here are slightly run down, but vibrant and colorful. You're drawn by the nautical decor—a ship's bow, a figurehead—of Azul Profundo. You slide in and order caldillo de congrio, the hearty eel soup that's such a Chilean staple that Pablo Neruda wrote an ode to it. The poem is conveniently printed on your placemat, and you read it as you eat: “In the storm-tossed Chilean sea"—slurp—“lives the rosy conger"—slurp—“giant eel of snowy flesh."

A charming market counter inside the French restaurant Boulevard LavaudA charming market counter inside the French restaurant Boulevard Lavaud

Inspired by lunch, you duck down a graffitied alleyway just off Constitución to find La Chascona, the house Neruda lived in with his third wife, Matilde Urrutia. (The poet named the house using a Quechua word meaning disheveled, in honor of Urrutia's curly hair.) You climb through the gardens, listening to a young guitarist on the street below, and enter to find a surreal portrait by Diego Rivera depicting Urrutia with two heads. You browse Neruda's maps, books and nautical knickknacks, finally coming across his Nobel Prize medal on the top floor. You don't see one of those every day.

From here, it's a couple of blocks to Parque Metropolitano, better known as Cerro San Cristóbal for the 2,830-foot peak at its center. There's a funicular that goes to the top, but you're feeling spry, so you hike the mile or so up the dirt trail. As you reach the first switchback, you suspect you've made a mistake; at the second, you know you have. Then you spot the 45-foot statue of the Virgin Mary at the peak, so you soldier on. At the top, you stand beside the statue, listening to a man drone Hail Marys in a perfect monotone, and take in the view of the Gran Torre Santiago, the tallest building in South America, which is dwarfed by the mountain range beyond. You won't be climbing those anytime soon.

You wobble back down the hillside and hop a cab to the tony suburban neighborhood of Vitacura, home to the Museo de la Moda. Founded by the scion of a wealthy family in 1999, the museum houses a collection of fashion relics that include Madonna's cone bra and the jacket that Michael J. Fox wore as Marty McFly and Marty McFly Jr. in Back to the Future II. There's also a giant Rubik's Cube and cars embedded nose first in the grass outside. It feels a little odd to travel thousands of miles to immerse yourself in various bits of Americana, but it's no less satisfying.

Dinner is at nearby Boragó, a simple dining room that belies the culinary complexities of its menu. “People never really travel to Chile to eat," says chef Rodolfo Guzmán, running you through some of the 700 dishes he prepares. “We're trying to build that from scratch." A wild-haired mad scientist of a chef (and alum of famed Spanish eatery Mugaritz), Guzmán uses seasonal ingredients proffered in mind-boggling presentations: quail eggs nestled in the branches of a bonsai tree; piure, a gelatinous urchin-like creature, served atop rocks from the seashore; bread sticks dotted with edible flowers; a dessert of menthol and lemon crystals that crackle on the plate like fireworks. At one point you find yourself sipping wine out of a cow horn, wondering if one of your drink pairings was ayahuasca.

The Beaux-Arts Palacio de Bellas Artes, home to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo

Not sure if you've just had dinner or witnessed a piece of performance art, you cab it back toward the Aubrey, stopping off for a nightcap at Bar The Clinic. The official watering hole of The Clinic, a satirical Santiago newspaper, the bar's walls and menu are adorned with lefty political slogans. You order Chile's signature wine, Carménère, which your bartender climbs a ladder to fetch from the tall case of bottles behind the bar. A TV on the wall runs a loop of the paper's cartoons, including one skewering the Chilean navy, with sketches of U.S. and Russian nuclear submarines beside a half-submerged Santiago city bus. Such national self-deprecation would have been unthinkable during Pinochet's reign. The people around you are all smiles. Even now, after all these years, this is a city enjoying a fresh start.

DAY TWO | Having pried yourself from your kingsize bed, you head for the Aubrey's breakfast buffet table, which is dominated by a towering calla lily centerpiece. The waitress, a Somali immigrant named Rachel, frowns at your humble bowl of yogurt. “You must have some eggs," she says,“with bacon!" You assent to the eggs, which come laced with ham and cheese, accompanied by thick-sliced bacon. You top it off with a trip back to the buffet for a fluffy berry tart. Rachel is pleased the next time she glances at your table.

Fueled up, you head out, negotiating a sidewalk packed with food carts and vendors hawking jewelry. Crossing the Mapocho River, you find an intersection jammed with young people carrying placards. It appears you've wandered into a student protest. You stand and watch, intrigued but slightly unnerved, given Chile's history of being, um, less than tolerant of civil disobedience. But the police calmly usher the marchers through and get traffic moving again, and you continue toward leafy Parque Forestal.

At the far end of the park, you encounter the Beaux-Arts masterpiece Palacio de Bellas Artes, which houses both the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. You opt for the former and are rewarded with an exhibit of ethereal black-and-white portraits by Chilean photographer Luis Poirot, their subject a woman in a variety of strange poses and levels of dress (and undress).

The Mercado Central boasts the city's finest bounty of fresh seafood, caught just off Chile's 2,500-mile Pacific coast

From here, you wander through Barrio Bellas Artes to hilly Cerro Santa Lucía, one of the city's nicest parks. On the other side, you cross Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins—the city's main thoroughfare—to Fuente Alemana, Chile's most famous sandwich shop. You shoulder your way to a seat at the counter and order a lomito completo con palta, with roast pork, tomato sauce, sauerkraut and heaps of mayonnaise and avocado—palta—which Chileans adore. The sandwich is a behemoth. You stare at it, trying to figure out how to pick it up, but are spared embarrassment when you notice that everyone else is eating with a knife and fork. Even properly armed, you're not sure how you'll get the whole thing down. Somehow, you manage.

With 800,000 calories to burn off, you head back to the park and ascend Cerro Santa Lucía, which was used as a lookout by conquistadors as far back as the 16th century. At the top, you find a 19th-century fort, which has cannons on the battlement and a narrow, slippery staircase leading to a watchtower. You scan the skyline for invading armies, but the only legions you spot are the young Chilean couples lying arm in arm on the grassy hillside below.

Back at street level, you stroll through Barrio Lastarria, a pleasant neighborhood of upscale shops and restaurants. After a little browsing, you take a table outside wine bar Bocanáriz (literally, “mouth-nose") and scan the list of 362 wines, nearly all Chilean, before ordering a flight of reds from various regions. As you sip the vino tinto, a delivery driver pulls up to the curb. “Where's the white?" he says, gesturing at your table. “Try a chardonnay from the Casablanca Valley." Everyone's a sommelier.

On the way back to Bellavista, you come across Emporio La Rosa, which has a sign in its window proclaiming it one of the 25 best ice cream shops in the world. You grab a cup of dulce de leche and continue back through Parque Forestal, across the Mapocho and through Patio Bellavista, a posh courtyard of shops, restaurants and bars. You bypass them for Peumayen, a new restaurant that's dedicated to exploring the roots of Chilean cuisine.

The Aubrey hotel, at the base of Cerro San Cristóbal and Parque Metropolitano

The menu here is a bit of a mystery. Your waiter, Sandy, recommends you get an appetizer sampler and an entrée called pulmay. The starters come on long stone plates, first a diverse bread course and then seven meats, including hake with seaweed, horsemeat tartare and lamb tongue with green chile. The pulmay is a stew from the Chiloé Archipelago that is traditionally wrapped in banana leaves and buried with hot coals. You dig through layers of shellfish, chicken and sausage to find a baby-back rib hiding in the depths of the salty broth. Those ancients knew how to eat.

Bellavista, with its rows of bars, is also home to some of the best nightlife in Santiago. You opt for one called Bar Constitución, a long, fashionably dark, warehouse-like space packed with stylish people nodding their heads to a pounding bass line. You order a golden ale from Chilean microbrewery Guayacán and, incongruously, watch an episode of MTV's “Daria" on a wall-mounted TV. By the time you leave, the streets are filled with late-night crowds, young people laughing and chattering their way toward sunrise.

DAY THREE | An early-morning ride on Santiago's impeccable metro takes you to the glass towers of Las Condes, the neighborhood locals refer to as “Sanhattan." Here, you check into the W Santiago, which rises up from behind a Mercedes dealership and an impressive wine store. The high-ceilinged, heavily marbled lobby is modish and modular, a five-star rendition of Elysium. You leave your bags, briefly getting lost among the columns on your way to the elevator.

Chileans aren't big on breakfast, but a couple of blocks from the hotel you find the bright and breezy Cafe Melba. You order the “famous" Panqueques Melba, fluffy blueberry pancakes powdered liberally with sugar and topped with a huge dollop of whipped cream, and chase it all down with a tall glass of mango juice. You need a sweetener, you feel, before your next destination.

An inventive artwork in front of the Museo de la Moda, on the grounds of a wealthy family's property in tony Vitacura

Another metro ride brings you to the Quinta Normal park, home to a number of museums, including the Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos. The museum, a toppled tower of sea-green glass resting on two stone pillars, memorializes the 1973 coup in which General Pinochet ushered in two decades of national misery. You watch footage of the attack on the presidential palace and read accounts of the secret prisons, but the most unsettling moment comes when you look out the window, the tinted glass and cross-hatched pillars making you feel disconnected—as if you had been disappeared.

Afterward, you wander the more uplifting streets of nearby Barrio Yungay. This isn't a touristy area, but the modest rowhouses and grocery stores are painted with vibrant graffiti murals. Soon you find yourself at one of Santiago's beloved culinary landmarks, Boulevard Lavaud, which has been open since 1868 and is better known as Peluqueria Francesa for the French-style barbershop that fronts the restaurant. You step inside, thinking you could use a drink, and along with a Carménère you order a lunch of pato a naranja—duck à l'orange. It's exquisite.

Restored, you press on with a tour of the city center. You pass by the Palacio de La Moneda—rebuilt since it was bombed by jets during the coup and now home to a vibrant cultural center; the Plaza de Armas, the central square of the city, which spreads out before the 200-year-old Catedral Metropolitana; the Mercado Central, teeming with fish from the nearby Pacific; and the recently reopened Museo Precolombino, where you explore an impressive collection of ancient pottery, as well as Mapuche wooden burial sculptures that remind you of the eerie moai of Easter Island.

You're not quite ready to call it a day, so on the way back to the hotel you stop in Providencia, at the Santiago institution Bar Liguria, a German-style café where you sit at one of the sidewalk tables and relax, sipping an Austral beer as you watch pedestrians pass on the leafy street.

Santiaguinos relax in front of a street mural in trendy, heavily grafittied Barrio Bellavista

Back at the W, you find a plate of serrano ham and manchego cheese and a bottle of Chilean Malbec waiting in your room. You step out onto the balcony with your afternoon snack and tilt your head back to take in the shining blue 984-foot Gran Torre Santiago. There's an even better view from the rooftop pool, where you work up an appetite for your forthcoming dinner at the hotel's chic restaurant Osaka.

The restaurant specializes in Nikkei cuisine, the blend of Japanese and Peruvian cooking that has taken the world by storm. Chef Ciro Watanabe, a Peruvian whose grandfather was Japanese, works the line with his chefs, slinging plate after plate of transcendent food your way: Chilean sea bass with mustard leaves, citrus fruit and a mint emulsion; salmon belly with orange zest and truffle oil; dumplings stuffed with duck confit and Japanese mushroom; beef seared with a torch before your eyes; and scallops Parmesan, which appear with your plate aflame. You're sure that you've been seated at the Great Sushi Bar in the Sky.

Finally the waves of food slow down, and you begin to gather yourself. Earlier, you saw some beautiful people in line for Whiskey Blue, the club next door, and you've decided to give it a try. As you stand to leave, Watanabe stops you to shake your hand. “Come see us on your next visit," he says. “This is your home now."

Hemispheres managing editor Justin Goldman would like to ask the people of Chile to speak just a little bit slower, please.

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This article was written by Justin Goldman from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Working to bring people home – repatriation flights underway

By The Hub team, April 07, 2020

When and where possible, we are working to repatriate travelers who are stranded abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Our teams are working closely with government officials here in the U.S. as well as in other countries where flying has been restricted to gain the necessary approvals to operate service. In regions where government actions have barred international flying, we have coordinated with the the U.S. State Department and local government officials to re-instate some flights. Additionally, we have been operating several extra flights to countries in Central America and South America as we continue to play a role in connecting people and uniting the world.

We have operated more than 85 repatriation flights from Panama City, Guatemala City, Quito, Lima, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and Roatan, bringing nearly 12,000 people home. We will continue working with government officials to operate extra flights to Houston from Quito, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and from Lima to Washington Dulles and beginning April 5, we will begin operating multiple charter flights between Delhi and San Francisco. We continue to review more opportunities for flights between the United States and other countries to bring citizens home.

Video provided by the U.S. Embassy Ecuador of Americans returning home on United.

Additionally, our Customer Solutions and Recovery team is working with customers in the following markets to rebook them on flights back to the United States as capacity allows, either on our aircraft or on one of our airline partners' planes:

  • Quito, Ecuador
  • Managua, Nicaragua
  • Roatan, Honduras
  • San Pedro Sula, Honduras
  • Amsterdam
  • Brussels
  • Munich
  • Singapore
  • Tokyo-Haneda
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Melbourne, Australia

We also recently reinstated several international flights back into our schedule to support customers and essential businesses which depend on these routes. As a result, we will be the only airline to offer service between Newark/New York and London, San Francisco and Sydney, as well as Houston and São Paulo, Brazil.

We’re making some key changes to the MileagePlus program for you

By The Hub team, April 05, 2020

Throughout these unprecedented times, we remain committed to doing what is right and fair for all of our MileagePlus® members and are pleased to share the steps we are taking to reciprocate the trust and loyalty that you have placed in United. These steps include not only Premier status updates, but also an extension of current memberships and subscriptions. The updates will happen automatically over the next few weeks — there's nothing you need to do.

The big news: If you have current 2020 Premier status, it will be extended to January 31, 2022. At a minimum, you will enjoy the same published status next year that you have today, up to and including Premier 1K®.

For the 2021 status year, United is reducing thresholds for Premier qualification by 50% for each status level, to make reaching an even higher tier easier. You'll still need a minimum of four flight segments on United or United Express®.

2021 status

Earn Premier qualifying flights

and PQP

… or meet a higher PQP goal

Silver

6

2,000

2,500

Gold

12

4,000

5,000

Platinum

18

6,000

7,500

1K

26

9,000

12,000

We're also doubling PQP for United Explorer cards and quadrupling PQP for the United Club cards.

At the same time that we're decreasing the published program's PQP requirements, via a promotion from May 1 – December 31, 2020, we're doubling (for United Explorer cards) or quadrupling (for United Club cards) the maximum number of PQP that Cardmembers can earn from card spending during 2020 to help achieve a higher level of status than you already have. More details to come later.

1K® and Platinum members, we're increasing your ability to upgrade by extending PlusPoints expiration dates by six months and expanding Skip Waitlist.

  • This means a six-month extension of any PlusPoints set to expire on or before January 31, 2021.
  • Last year we introduced Skip Waitlist on select flights as a benefit to 1K members, giving you more opportunities to confirm an upgrade request at the time of booking. This benefit will now be available for the rest of 2020 in a significantly expanded selection of long-haul international regions and will have expanded availability in 2021 as well.

We're extending all annual membership and subscription benefits by six months.

  • We want to make sure your benefits are still there when you're ready to start flying again. That's why we're extending purchased United Club℠ memberships purchased directly from United and purchased subscriptions for Economy Plus®, United Wi-Fi℠ and checked bags by six months. You should see this reflected in your MileagePlus account soon.

All electronic travel certificates now have 24 months to be used.

  • If your travel plans have been disrupted, and you have an electronic travel certificate from us for the value of your ticket, you now have two years from the date it was issued to book a new flight, as well as up to an additional 11 months to travel. This includes all currently valid and all new electronic travel certificates issued on or after April 1, 2020.

We have removed some redeposit fees for the rest of the year.

  • We are currently waiving all award redeposit fees for travel through end of May 2020.
  • We are now also waiving all redeposit fees for award ticket cancellations made more than 30 days before departure for the remainder of 2020.

Finally, we'll be making it easier to earn status in 2021 for the 2022 program year. We recognize that getting back to travel will occur at a different pace for different members. Keep an eye out for changes we will make to help you earn status in 2021 for 2022, as we'll share details later this year.

Over the years, you have placed your trust and loyalty in United, and we are honored to do the same for you. We are all in this together.

Status extension to January 31, 2022, applies to all members that met the published criteria of the MileagePlus program in 2019, status match associated with the United/Marriott Bonvoy partnership and status offered as part of a Sales nomination. Status granted from other programs and policies may not apply.

How to change your flight, or cancel and rebook later

By The Hub team, April 04, 2020

To help with the uncertainty around future travel — be it summer vacations, conferences, events and more — customers now have until April 30 to make changes to, or cancel, any travel they have booked through the end of the year without fees. This is in addition to existing waivers already in place which allow customers to change or cancel plans for travel through May 31.If you decide to cancel your flight, you can retain the value of your ticket to be applied to a new ticket without a fee. These electronic travel certificates are now valid for 24 months from the date they were issued. This includes all currently valid electronic certificates and all new ones issued on or after April 1, 2020. You might not see this policy change reflected everywhere right away – we appreciate your patience as we work to make that happen.

Eligible travelers on domestic flights and international tickets can request a refund on united.com or may call our contact centers if their flights have been severely adjusted or service to their destination suspended either due to government mandates or United schedule reductions related to COVID-19.

Certain tickets cannot be changed on united.com or the mobile app, including tickets booked through another airline (if the ticket receipt does not begin with 016). Please contact the original ticketing airline for changes.

Follow the steps below to stay up to date, change or cancel your flight.

Change your current flight:

  1. On the united.com homepage, select "My Trips" and enter your flight information to retrieve your flight.
  2. Select "Change flight" and then "Edit" to make the following changes:
    • Date of travel or destination
    • Add a flight
    • Remove a flight
  3. Select "Continue" and choose a new flight option
  4. Continue through booking to confirm your new flight

Note: The change fee will display as waived, but any difference in fare may apply.

Cancel your flight and rebook later:

  1. On the united.com homepage, select "My Trips" and enter your reservation information to retrieve your flight
  2. Select "Cancel flight"
  3. Confirm flight cancellation
  4. If you have future flight credit, when you return to the reservation, select "Use Future Flight Credit" to shop for new flights and apply the credit towards a new flight.

Canceling or changing an award flight:

When you select "Cancel flight," you will have the option to cancel your award reservation and redeposit the miles or to cancel your award reservation and use those miles for another trip in the future.

*We're currently experiencing heavy traffic to united.com. If you experience an error while trying to change or cancel your flight, please try again later.

Click through the slideshow below for more detailed instructions:

​Start on the United homepage: ​

User can select 'My Trips' on the homepage widget to find and retrieve their reservation.

  • If you're not signed in or you're a guest user, enter your confirmation number and last name.
  • If you are signed in, you can select a trip from your current trips or select the 'Find another trip' link.
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