National holidays, the best time to visit Chile
In mid-September, a festive spirit takes hold of Chile. You hear music everywhere, see smiling faces and smell the scent of delicious typical dishes floating in the air. If you still don’t know what’s happening, rejoice: it’s our national holidays, the best time to be in Chile. In this post I will tell you what they are, how to make the most of them and where to go.
What is celebrated in the national holidays?
It’s a bit strange, but unlike many other countries, what’s celebrated in Chile isn’t Independence Day, but the creation of the First National Assembly (September 18, 1810), which would lead to process of independence from Spain and later to its proclamation (February 12, 1818). Legally, the days of celebration are only on September 18 and 19, but as this year those days are right in the middle of the week, most people won’t work on Monday the 17th and many others will not return to their normal life until Monday the 24th. It’s a big party.
Any Chilean will tell you that these days only three things are done during the holidays: eating, drinking and dancing. So if you want to celebrate as a Chilean, follow these tips.
Where to go?
Fondas are one of the best places to go to during “el Dieciocho” (as this celebrations are commonly called). They are like a big fairs, where restaurants, dance floors and temporary stages are set up. Here you can buy traditional Chilean food and drinks, and also dance cueca (the national dance).
In any place of Chile you’ll find a fonda, but the popular belief is that the bigger, the better. One of the largest is in Parque O’Higgins, in Santiago. It’s so big that around 35,000 people visit it every day. This year there will be around 30 restaurants, as well as food trucks, handicraft sales, a dance floor, traditional games and music: Chilean folklore, cumbia and rock bands will play. You can find all the details here. Also, if you decide to visit this park on September 19, don’t miss the military parade that celebrates the national army.
Another important fonda in Chile is the so-called “Fiesta de la Pampilla” in Coquimbo. Half a million people go to this huge celebration every year. One of the main characteristics of this place is that apart from eat and dance, every night you can see massive concerts by Chilean and international artists. To check the schedule you can enter here.
If you want to know more options, the Chile es tuyo website made a list of the best places to celebrate, by region.
What to eat?
To feel like any other Chilean, you can start the day eating a delicious empanada de pino, which is a pocket-shaped dough stuffed with meat, onion, hard-boiled egg, olives and raisins. Although typical Chilean dishes are mainly meat-based, nowadays there are several vegetarian empanadas everywhere, such as ones stuffed with cheese and different vegetables. Delicious.
Anticuchos are another traditional dish. They are pieces of meat (different kinds) and some vegetables pierced with iron or wooden sticks, then grilled. They are ideal to eat while walking around.
Another classic is choripan, which is basically a half of bread (marraqueta bread is the best one for this), with a chorizo grilled inside. Cheap and satisfying.
Also in fondas, you can eat more sophisticated dishes or roast, which never gets old. However, the real “dieciocho” roast is the one you eat at home, so make friends with some Chileans and be part of a barbecue with their family.
What to drink?
It’s already well known that we have good wine in Chile, so if you like traditional, that’s your option. The thing is that during the national holidays there are several drinks based on wine that you hardly find throughout the year, which makes these dates are a good chance to try new things.
Terremoto (Earthquake): Although it’s very sweet, it’s very powerful as the name implies. It’s made with pipeño wine (low quality white wine made with young grapes), pineapple sorbet, a dash of fernet or some other bitter liqueur and grenadine. After having one, be careful when you stand up, because that’s when its seismic effects hit you.
Chicha: It’s an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting grapes. Some restaurants compete to make and offer the best. Chicha is very sweet and smooth, although it can be deceiving.
Borgoña: Another Chilean cocktail based on wine. Might remind you of Spanish Sangría. It’s made with: red wine, chopped strawberries and sugar. Delicious and ideal for summer.
What about dancing?
The national dance of Chile is cueca. A couple (traditionally a woman and a man) follows specific steps and “draw” some figures with their feet, while trying to conquer each other. Depending on the style of cueca, it can be more elegant and stylish or to have more of mischief and flirting. Even if you don’t know anything about cueca, it’s a good idea to always have a handkerchief with you (the only mandatory accessory), so you can improvise some steps and have fun.
If cueca is too complex for you, don’t worry, in several places you’ll be able to dance cumbia, rancheras and even reggaeton.
Now you know how to enjoy this “Dieciocho”. Join the party as if you were another Chilean, go to a fonda and toast with a glass of wine. Remember that if you are just passing by or in the middle of a stopover, you can also do enjoy: leave your luggage with one of our keepairs and have fun.