For our first night we decided to just head straight to the YHA, a familiar and relatively cheap point of reference after staying in hostels all over Australia.
After a minor run-in with a woman at the airport who decided to try and lecture me after nearly taking me out with her suitcase in the baggage hall, my first impressions were restored by a nice local who offered us directions from Los Heroes (airport bus drop-off point) to the YHA. It wasn't far.
The area surrounding the YHA was a bit rough, and we'd certainly driven through some run-down parts and past the prison to there. It didn't matter though, as our primary concern was getting some sleep as we'd crossed the date line from +13 hours to -3 hours GMT and been awake a long time. We decided not to stay a 2nd night, and after a quick bit of research decided to head straight to the bus station and onto Valparaiso, a UNESCO world heritage town/city.
We returned to Santiago some days later, after visiting Valparaiso and Vina Del Mar. We had pre-booked a hotel (in a nicer part of Santiago) with Trailfinders for this section of our trip, (our original arrival date into Chile), but we had arrived early after changing our plans and decided to miss the pacific island stop-overs which had high potential to be expensive mistakes. It all worked out well. Chile, in general, was easy on the budget, with great food and friendly locals. Even the Trailfinders-booked hotel was very nice and in a good location, so we didn't mind how much it cost us back in 2009.
And so we really enjoyed our time in Santiago, getting the Metro to key points in the city, walking the streets around Plaza de Armas, taking a touristy meal in the famous indoor market area and we even started shopping for new clothes that we hadn't been able to consider since Thailand back in April. We explored the area around our nice hotel, lingering over the 'Menu Del Dia' at lunch times, and also managed to fit in a bit of café culture whilst trying to match a pair of shoes to Julie's new outfit!
Julie loved speaking Spanish to everyone (no real option for English anyway) and at times it felt like we were in Madrid or Barcelona. As we departed on our pre-booked flight to Lima (en route to Cusco and the Inca Trail), we both felt a little sad to leave and certainly had good impressions of Chile. It felt great to be speaking a different language, experience an alternative culture and have good spending power again after a budget-focussed 4 months in Australia and New Zealand.