With the opening of the new Costanera Center mall, it's easy to forget what else Santiago has to offer. The Costanera Center is the perfect example of an organized, user friendly layout. However, what it really lacks is character. The problem with these large, modern places is that none of them really offer anything unique. You could easily spend all day traveling between the city's various malls without noticing much difference.
Shopping in the galerias of Santiago (photo by Casey Ashton)
At the other end of the spectrum we have the galerías of Santiago. These old, noisy, and often dimly lit shopping centers are not typically listed in Lonely Planet or on the official tourism sites. They're easy to discount at first glance, but give them a chance and you will find something in the four-plus floors of tiendas that you've wanted and couldn't find or didn't even know you needed in the first place.
The most notable galería in downtown Santiago is the Galería Plaza de Armas. The basement features Diana Entertainment, one of the best arcades in Santiago as it contains everything from modern and classic fighting games to redemption games and Dance Dance Revolution. As you walk up the spiraling 6 floor mall, you'll notice the famous cafés con piernas with the blacked out windows that are slightly more scandalous than your average corner Café Haiti. There are also hair salons where stylists call out the day's specials and, if you go on a Saturday, you can actually get them into a bidding competition (I got the best haircut I've ever had for 2000 pesos. How's that for value?).
Also of note are the tattoo shops which whose windows bulge with images of 8-bit Nintendo Super Mario and recreations of international tattoo artist Ed Hardy or the face of someone's current or now ex-lover. And of course there are the restaurants selling the many different variations of the completo (which I still don't understand).
View from the second floor of Portal Lyon.(photo by Casey Ashton)
These shopping blasts from the past are not limited to Santiago Centro. A few Metro stops away in Providencia are two more, Portal Lyon and Dos Caracoles, which both offer their own particular vibe. Portal Lyon is four floors of video games, Japanese anime, smoker's emporiums, tattoo parlours, music stores featuring hard-to-find Chilean punk and ska, North American street fashion, and my personal favourite, an unnamed store on the second floor selling recent and vintage soccer jerseys and accessories. Where else are you able to find a 1999 Racing Club jersey that isn't covered in years of sweat and cerveza?
Storefront of Loli Pop, a tienda in Dos Caracoles (photo by Casey Ashton)
Just a little over thirty seconds east is Dos Caracoles. If you are interested in fashion and in scoring a bargain, this is your best bet second to Calle Bandera in el centro. Dos Caracoles is essentially two connected six-floor towers housing everything in the world of women's and men's fashion including the latest brands and styles of denim from Argentina, Colombia and beyond. Winter is here and if you want a fashionable winter coat without spending 100,000 pesos to look like you're going to scale the Andes, this is the place to go.
There are many more of these galerías in Santiago, so if you're bored on a Saturday why not go shopping, get your hair done, get some coffee while admiring the waitresses at a café con piernas, then play some classic video games at an arcade. You get everything you need without the horrible nineties pop music being drilled into your head (I'm looking at you, Costanera Center).
Galería Plaza de Armas is located at Merced 839, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile.
Metro Plaza de Armas:
-Head south on Plaza de Armas until you get to Merced
-Turn left onto Merced and continue for half a block. The galería will be on your left.
Portal Lyon is located at Av. Providencia 2198, Providencia, Santiago Metropolitan Region, Chile.
Metro Los Leones:
-Head north on Nueva de Lyon. Portal Lyon will be on the north west corner of the intersection with Providencia.
Dos Caracoles is located at Av. Providencia 2216, Providencia, Santiago Metropolitan Region, Chile.
Metro Los Leones:
-Head north on Nueva de Lyon. Dos Caracoles will be on the north east corner of the intersection with Providencia.