Five alternative ways to celebrate Chilean independence day

September is the best time of year to be in Chile, but barbecues aren’t for everyone. This is Chile looks at five great alternative ways to celebrate the dieciocho.

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A strict diet of wine, meat and dancing doesn’t agree with everyone, but that’s the general menu during Chile’s Fiestas Patrias on Sept. 18 and 19, when Chileans fire up the barbecue and celebrate independence day with grilled meat, empanadas and homemade wine.

If you’re looking to escape the general hubbub, or just take a break from all those tasty anticucho (a Chilean type of kebab), This is Chile suggests five simple, cheap alternatives to the fonda.

1. Explore Chile´s indigenous roots

Chile is home to many pre-Hispanic cultures with enduring social identities and customs. The largest indigenous group, the Mapuche, have cultural centers in most of Chile’s largest cities and especially in the south, where you are likely to find a ruka (traditional Mapuche house) in many towns in the Araucanía region. In the northern desert and mountains live the Aymara and Atacameño people, as well as small communities of Quechua and Colla, while to the far south live the Alacalufe and Yaghan in Tierra del Fuego. And of course, Easter Island is famously home to the Polynesian Rapa Nui people. Visit a cultural center of the indigenous group in your region and discover a whole new side of Chile.

2. Take a spin on two wheels

In Chile, the Fiestas Patrias mark the beginning of spring (not officially, but it’s just as valid as a groundhog’s shadow, wouldn’t you say?). Take advantage of the beautiful spring weather with a bicycle tour of Santiago, a mountain-bike adventure in a national park, or a relaxed spin around the neighborhood. Chile’s burgeoning bike culture means it’s easy to find rental bikes in almost every city. Just make sure to watch out for puddles and take a raincoat so you don´t get caught by a surprise shower.

3. Visit the Museo de la Memoria in Santiago

Santiago’s Museo de la Memoria is hosting a special exhibit for the month of September in a new gallery space, but the permanent collection is just as good a reason to visit Barrio Yungay. The museum is a moving tribute to protecting human rights, housed in a beautiful space designed by Brazilian architects Mario Arturo Figueroa Rosales, Carlos Dias and Lucas Fehr.

4. Enjoy some peace and quiet at the Cementerio General

The beautiful grounds of the Cementerio General, Santiago’s general cemetery, are the perfect place for a moment of quiet reflection, while most of Chile’s public parks will be dedicated to cueca-dancing and empanada-eating. The more historically-minded can take a tour and hear the fascinating story of the cemetery’s origins and evolution throughout the history of Santiago. Or, take a picnic and find a sunny bench in the tranquil Patio de los Disidentes.

5. Learn how to elevar un volantín (fly a kite)

Windy spring weather brings the sight of millions of kites flying above the houses and treetops in every town, city, and metropolis of Chile. This iconic image of Chilean spring is enacted each year by little kids throughout the country, but don´t be fooled by the size of the package: these little kids will outmaneuver you in an instant, if you´re lucky enough to get your kite off the ground. Invest CP$400 (US$1) in the brightly-colored paper kite of your choice, ask the vendor to show you how to tie on the string, and spend an afternoon with your face pointed skywards.