Having successfully navigated the city and countryside of Amsterdam by bike despite a few “Sue vs. truck or curb moments”, I was confident that I could take a bike tour of Santiago. About a week before my trip I started my research on TripAdvisor and found La Bicicleta Verde Bike Tours as an option. Reading a few reviews, it seemed like it would be a great way to see Santiago on my free day(s). As it would be a Monday, most of the museums were closed so my tourist options were limited. I could traverse the city by bike and go back on foot later to explore in more detail.
I figured the quickest way to the tour office on Easter Monday was to take a cab rather than the metro to get there early (whenever I think it will be quicker/better, I am usually wrong – see supermarket lines, highways lanes, etc.). Of course, I was wrong, the hotel flagged a cab for me and then we sat in traffic making me late. I called the office and they said they would wait for me. Luckily another girl had called running late as well so the second guide (there would be two guides on our tour – one in Spanish, one in English) waited for both of us.
With two guides – one in front and the other in back, riders of all levels can participate in the tour as the pace was easy to keep. I had signed up for the “Market Tour” morning ride. We would start our exploration at Pablo Neruda’s (the poet) house in the Bellavista area which was reached with a quick ride through the university/nightclub area to an area with colorful houses and graffiti art.
We then rode down the hill and through the streets toward the largest fruit and produce market in Chile. Storing the bikes and helmets, we were able to walk the abundant aisles to see all of colorful and plentiful offerings – The bikes have baskets if you want to buy anything at the market – so many tempting options, bring small currency to pay for purchases.
With the early morning visit, most of the market was quiet which is easy for a small group to navigate, stop to hear the guides explain the various items and then find a seat to enjoy a fresh fruit drink and snack (included in your tour fee). It gave us time to introduce ourselves and learn more about our guides and their favorite parts of Santiago.
Ready to continue exploring the city, we rode out of the market, which included a bit of weaving around delivery carts, workers and the growing crowds. Best to stay close to the group here to get through to the street. Our next stop would be the Central Seafood Market (again before the crowds). Similar setup to the fruit/produce market, there were stalls to peruse and restaurant tables to enjoy the foods.
With the markets completed, it was time for some history and we found that in Plaza de Armas Square. The main square includes governments buildings, the National Cathedral church and the dogs of Santiago.
While Turkey has the stray cats of Ephesus, Santiago has the stray dogs. The difference is that the cats wander the site, whereas the dogs run around in/out of traffic and are everywhere it seemed. During our ride, we picked up a dog at the beginning that stayed with us the whole time. As someone who has worked with animal shelters, this broke my heart, all of the stray dogs. There is an estimate of 215,000 stray dogs in Santiago alone according to this Santiago Times article. There have been recent protests to the hunting/killing of the strays yet nothing gets done to the owners who are responsible for almost 73% of the dogs left abandoned. They had homes at one point and now are left on the street.
What was fascinating during our time in the Plaza de Armas as we listened to the guide was seeing the group of dogs and their behavior toward the people and in particular this one cab. One dog barked and we didn’t notice it, then a bunch of dogs ran past us toward one cab in a group of cabs on the street. They surrounded the cab and continued to bark together that the guide stopped talking and we all looked over in disbelief. The cabbie remained calm and drove about 5mph so as to not run a dog over but it was pretty scary in my opinion. This is not an isolated incident.
Nearing the end of our tour – the group (and our dog companion) leisurely navigated the side streets toward the park and out to the Museum of Fine Arts (closed as it was a Monday) before returning to the tour office and bidding adieu to our dog – I think he realized we were not going to adopt him or provide any food – so he had a nice tour of the city as did I.
The three hour bike tour covered about 4 miles and was relatively flat so any level of bike rider will find this an easy tour with minimal traffic interruptions. The stops are evenly spaced out so that you can have time off of the bike to explore and take photos.
The tour costs $36 USD which included bike equipment, guides and a drink in the market and excluded guide tips. I paid via Paypal prior to arrival to reserve my spot.