Literary Heaven in Cafe Literario

Silence is in scarce supply in Chile’s capital, but its Shangri-La of peace and quiet is at the heart of the city in Parque Balmaceda. Wedged between the Mapocho River and Avenida Providencia near the Salvador Metro stop is Cafe Literario. As you walk through the doors, don’t panic. No, you haven’t gone deaf: you’ve gone to literary heaven.

Photo by Mauro Tapia
Photo by Mauro Tapia

Serendipity is often key to finding out the secrets of Santiago, and I’d heard rumors of this place before -- a cafe where no one speaks, a library where everyone drinks coffee. That was until I ran into it, literally, in an attempt to shake off some overly keen canine friends while jogging along Parque Balmaceda.

Photo by Mauro Tapia
Photo by Mauro Tapia

Once I ditched my company behind the welcoming glass door, the tranquility hit me. To the left, a section of Chilean writers and children's books lines the walls next to sofas ready and waiting for lounging. To the right, steps lead down to an auditorium where events are often held (a noticeboard outside gives details of upcoming shows). Up the stairs takes you to a cafe with even more shelves of books, and through the glass door of a floor-to-ceiling window to an outdoor terrace.

From Isabel Allende to J.K. Rowling to Margaret Thatcher’s biography, you can peruse, read and absorb the smell of old books to your heart’s content. The building, bathed in dappled shade and hidden away from Avenida Providencia, provides the perfect escape to indulge in people-watching or make one last-ditch attempt to hunker down for a work deadline.

Photo by Mauro Tapia
Photo by Mauro Tapia

Though far from exhaustive, the library boasts a wide range of Chilean authors, and for anyone looking for a piece of home there is a reasonable selection of English-language books as well as Spanish translations. Studying is free, coffee (though not quite Starbucks) is cheap and cakes are in plentiful supply.

If you’ve got a Chilean identity card and live or work in Santiago, you can take up to four books a fortnight for CH$10,000 (US$20) a year. Wi-Fi is also available throughout and can be enjoyed while lounging in the sun on the library balcony. The membership will also give you access to the other two Cafe Literario locations -- on Santa Isabel and in Parque Bustamante -- so check the website below for details.

Although the entire establishment can hear you mix up “por” and “para” when you order a coffee, it’s a price worth paying for a bit of peace and quiet. It’s a university library without the fluorescent lights, a coffee shop without the incessant chatter, and Santiago without the noise.

However, even in this literary paradise the kiltros (stray dogs) are barely inescapable.

Café Literario Bustamante
Avenida Andres Bello, Parque Balmaceda
Monday to Friday, 9 am to 7:45 pm
Saturday, Sunday and holidays, 10 am to 7:45 pm
Telephone: (+56) 02 274 0602
www.providencia-biblioteca.cl

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