1. Miercolespo ( just to get it over with)
Miercolespo — aka expat meat market — is nothing more than an aberration: women get in for free, foreign men pay a certain fee, and Chilean men pay double that fee, all to sloppily dance to terrible reggaeton for a few hours every Wednesday. Against your better judgment, you’ll probably end up there at some point. After self-righteously arguing with the doorman that one’s sex should not determine one’s admittance into a club (but nevertheless accepting your free entrance), be sure to consume an ungodly number of overpriced drinks in order to tolerate the evening. And then never go again.
2. Order one too many terremotos at La Piojera
Uniting a curious array of local drunkards and camera-happy sightseers, La Piojera is a tourist trap you can’t skip out on. Surly barmen mix terremotos — a mix of young fermented wine, pineapple ice cream and either grenadine or fernet — by the dozen before a slovenly crowd of patrons fighting each other to the counter. A word of warning: the beverage (which tastes as appealing as it sounds) is so potent it’s known to derail the strongest of men.
3. Sell street food and make bank
Pinched for rent pennies? Bake a small army of empanadas, strap a basket to your waist and hit the streets, baby. Santiago is a mecca of street food, the sale of which is hardly regulated (just slyly creep away if you hear the sound of clopping hooves in the distance announcing mounted policemen), in which you’ll find anything from tofu sandwiches to humitas for a mere 500 pesos (approximately US $1).
4. Dieciocho in Parque O’Higgins
The Chilean national holiday, “El Dieciocho” — a misnomer considering the holiday actually lasts a week — is at its best in Santiago’s sprawling Parque O’Higgins. Fondas — makeshift parties — are prepared to serve terremotos, chicha, and untold amounts of traditional Chilean food while musicians play cumbia and cueca until dawn. A little hedonism never hurt anyone.
5. Dance cumbia at La Fonda Permanente
A year-round recreation of the Dieciocho fondas, La Fonda Permanente in Santiago’s bohemian Yungay neighborhood brings some of the country’s best cumbia and ska bands to its stage.
6. Swing a panuelo at an underground cueca gathering
Cueca — the national Chilean folk dance said to recreate a cock courting and conquering a hen — has experienced a resurgence in popularity these past few years. Informal outdoor gatherings have bands play the appropriate music while revelers dance cueca brava, an urban take on the traditional dance. The whole thing is quite steamy: be prepared to have a handkerchief draped around your neck while your partner looks smolderingly into your eyes. You’ll have to fight your Anglo-Saxon urge to stare at your feet and establish a perimeter of distance. If unable to do so, just retreat to the sidelines and have a beer. You tried.
7. Join a drum circle at a protest of your choice
Not to minimize the import of these occasions, protests are an excellent way to get some fresh air while enjoying some local beats. Be on the lookout for certain protest personalities — “Che of the gays,” a flamboyant Che Guevara impersonator, and drunk Santa Claus being two of my favorites — and consider purchasing a gas mask for potential police interventions.
8. Night bike tour
For an alcohol-free activity, consider joining in the weekly night bike tour around the city. Neon spandex is pretty much required to fit in.
9. Leave your own graffiti mark
You’ll never get away this anywhere else, so talent permitting, try your luck in Santiago. Sunday mornings especially see street artists calmly tagging surfaces, uninterrupted by police.
10. Listen to poets declaim nonsense at El Chancho Seis
Whether or not you enjoy poetry, Chile is the land of Neruda, Mistral and de Rokha (if you only recognize the first name, that’s ok, you uncult soul). Tuesday nights assemble real live poets at El Chancho Seis, a cultural staple of Santiago’s Barrio Brasil. Feel free to join in or heckle said performers to feel like you’re in a Roberto Bolaño novel, or just have a drink.