Pick up a bargain in Barrio Franklin

When trying to find the quick, sharp face of Santiago, there’s only one place to go — Barrio Franklin. Day-to-day action, along the raw working class strip of Chile’s over-populated capital, reaches maximum speed between the streets of Franklin, Placer, San Diego and San Isidro. 

With 30,000 people a day visiting the neighborhood to buy, sell, eat, and just hang-out, Barrio Franklin’s twelve persas (indoor markets), two furniture warehouses, and buzzing food market, is one of the most liveliest spots in town where it’s important to keep your wits about you. It’s not uncommon to find a few interested fingers having a look to see what you’ve got in your pockets, so just be vigilant.

Beginning life in 1847 as a congregation of huge slaughterhouses just to the south of the old city of Santiago, Barrio Franklin has always been known for its wheeling and dealing. After the economic crisis of 1979, the abandoned slaughterhouses were relinquished by the Municipality of Santiago and handed over to independent tradesmen, looking to sell all kinds of products to all types of customers. Hustle, bustle and top-notch bargains is the name of the game when coming face to face with some of Santiago’s shrewdest of the shrewd.

Around 4500 indoor stalls make up the various persas of Barrio Franklin — each dedicated to the sale of a specific product. You’ll be able to wander past the stalls and wind your way in and out of the various converted slaughterhouses for a good three to four hours, clocking up the bargains on offer as you go. You’ll come across collectionist items (such as war medals, watches, and the like), furniture, clothing, shoes, antiques, toys, technological items, and food.

Like a flagship of true working-class spirit, around 2000 of the establishments are specialist workshops and small businesses — providing steady employment for about 10,000 Santiaguinos. Imagine the madness, wandering around these stalls during the early hours of a Saturday afternoon!

The natural development of the neighborhood’s persas is what eventually turned Barrio Franklin into the commercial hub that we know it to be today. Persa Bío Bío is believed by many to have been one of the very first persas to spring up in the confines of the disused slaughterhouses in the area. It’s for that reason that Persa Bío Bío has become a household name, even amongst tourists.

If you’re interested in antiques, cheap DVDs — movies or television series — or if you need a new cell phone, Persa Bío Bío is just where you want to be.

Despite the madness, one thing’s for certain… you’re bound to get hungry. The good news is that Barrio Franklin is a great place to eat. There’s lots of little plastic-table restaurants and fast-food shacks dotted all over the place. The food is good, plentiful and cheap. What more could you want?

Foodies might be particularly interested in knowing where the most revered establishments can be found. "El Manchado” — first opened in 1920 — is a popular choice for the intellectual, artsy type. You’ll feel truly poetic dining in these surroundings. "El Rey de los Tallarines" — dating back to 1950 — is the perfect place for anyone who delights in local paraphernalia, as its walls are covered in cute little trinkets and anecdotes to keep you entertained. Failing that, "Espacio Flor" — on the corner of Arauco and Berta Fernández — offers an interesting mix of Chilean home-cooked food, with a touch of the Mediterranean, and it’s a really good choice for those who like huge portions at affordable prices.

If you’d rather opt for a filling snack, Barrio Franklin is famous for serving up some of the biggest and tastiest sandwich options in the city. “Donde María”, “La Picá del Jaime” and “Carlitos, el Rey del Lomito” are just a few of the options available. As a final quick tip, the Barros Luco sandwich — grilled beef and cheese — comes highly recommended.

The best way to get to the persas of Barrio Franklin is by metro. Take the Línea 2 (Line 2) metro — which is the yellow line — and get off at Metro Franklin. The persas are just a couple of blocks walk. Some persas open every day, but the best time to go is on the weekends and/or public holidays when all of the persas are open (11am - 6pm).

About the Author: Tracey Chandler is press and publicity manager for The Santiago Times and has worked as a freelance writer in Latin America since 2009. Originally from London, she left the UK in 2008 and has lived in Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile. She has written for over 15 different blogs/online magazines on subjects relating to Latin American travel and lifestyle. Contact her directly via tracey@santiagotimes.cl with ideas for possible long-term partnerships and/or creative projects.