Walking through the streets of Sanhattan

Sanhattan… Even the name is pretty kitsch. Stepping out of El Golf metro station into Santiago’s stern center for economy, trade and finance, I felt like I’d miraculously been transported to another city… better said, another country. Where did Santiago go?

Forget little stands of locals ready to serve you sopaipillas at the blink of an eye, forget the hustle and bustle of local trade at working-class level — like the kind found at La Vega market, or Persa Bío Bío. Sanhattan is all about high-story buildings, strange (and somewhat cold), modern, metal sculptures, U.S. diners, billboards the size of a small village, people in suits speaking in every language but Spanish, and Starbucks.

I counted five separate Starbucks on my trip to Sanhattan, one Denny’s diner, and one Juán Valdéz Café — just to give you an insight into globalization gone mad, reflected in the Sanhattan sector of Chile’s bulging capital. The buildings were almost all modern, tall, and covered in windows from top to bottom. Conversations on the street around me were all about percentage increases, shifts in the market, interest rates, and meetings scheduled for next week on Monday, ya?

The avenues were wide and the traffic relentless. Ooooo how I longed for someone who would chase me down the street trying to sell me a gadget that I really didn’t need, or a bag of caramelized peanuts to keep me going! No doubt there were plenty of people busily working away on figures and spreadsheets within the safe confines of the huge, man-made structures which surrounded me, but out on the streets below — with the cold winter air pinching my skin and the dull winter skies above — Sanhattan felt lifeless.

So, why visit? What is there to do? Where should you go to eat, drink, and generally hang out in Sanhattan? 

I saw plenty of large chain coffee shops and restobars advertising 2 x 1 deals on steak and chips, happy hour cocktails, hamburgers with all the trimmings, and fried egg breakfasts. Think Pizza Hut, Applebee’s, Bob’s burgers, Maldito Chef, and Fuddruckers. I even passed by an Irish pub on my travels, serving beer on draft — Flannery’s, it’s called, and painted in green, naturally — where I could have easily whiled away an afternoon sipping on a pint, with a good book in hand, and thoughts of home. 

One thing I noticed was how quiet it was. Even on a weekday, when Sanhattan should be at its busiest, there weren’t very many people clogging things up. There was plenty of room in all of the establishments to sit, eat, or drink a coffee in peace — despite the noise of the roaring traffic along Isidora Goyenechea outside.

Splashing the cash in Sanhattan is another activity which is just all too easy. At any moment, I could have invested in some Italian clothing from Amica, some soft-wool sweaters from United Colors of Benetton, modern home furnishings from Interdesign, or a kilo of chocolates — because I’m worth it! — from the Confitería Torres Isidora, located just a few steps away from the intersection between Isidora Goyenechea and San Sebastian. 

I think it’s fair to say that you can head along to Sanhattan for a new hairstyle. I saw at least five top-end hair boutiques between El Golf and Tobalaba metro stations, and a pretty extravagant day of pampering would be easy to organize. Picture this… A morning hair appointment followed by a long coffee stop in a nearby café, a mid-day spa treatment in The Radisson Hotel followed by a relaxing swim in its top floor, heated indoor swimming pool, and then to bring things to a close... a little bit of afternoon shopping. Decadent!

I would also recommend visiting Sanhattan just to see it.  

Santiago is full of sharp contrasts and contradictions which can only really be appreciated in person. It’s incredible to think that a simple, 20-minute metro ride can drastically change the experience that Chile’s capital has to offer. I made sure I took photos of Sanhattan’s World Trade Center and its two towers — the north and the south. Now, there’s three photographs I won’t be deleting from my Santiago album in a hurry.

I’d also definitely recommend a visit to get a first-hand experience of the strange metal sculptures which plague the neighborhood — yellow, athletic, nude men walking on spikes, or hanging upside-down from spirals, and bulky black and white bodies seemingly rising from the concrete pavement below. It’s an odd mish-mash of ideas, and sadly — for me — reeks of a failed attempt to be progressive and modern. Sanhattan didn’t develop naturally. It was constructed. There’s nothing organic about the neighborhood at all.

On a final note, I will say that I was pleasantly intrigued by two elements. There’s a weekly antiques market on Sundays in Plaza Perú from 10am to 6pm. I’d suggest visiting if you’re into antiques and you like hunting down a bargain or two. Failing that, you might just want to wander around to get a flavor of what “active life” in Sanahttan is all about.

Once you’re done with the market, I recommend a comforting hot drink in the very small, but very cosy coffee house, Café D’Blas, which sits right outside of the entrance to Sanhattan’s World Trade Center. If there’s any place I saw in this neighborhood which had a little bit of character and charm, it was there.

Clearly, Sanhattan wasn’t the kind of neighborhood which gets my juices flowing, but it no doubt has something to offer for others. Give it a try, and maybe even slip me a comment to let me know what you thought.

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.