Dieciocho is Chile’s nickname for its Fiestas Patrias, a glorious celebration of its Independence Day on September 18 each year. It’s marked by meaty asados (BBQs), feisty drinking and spending quality time with your loved ones.
Leading up to the big day, I was impressed by Chileans’ excitement and eagerness for the holiday. But I was also overwhelmed by the options for expats such as myself. With that in mind, I put together a guide to navigating your First Dieciocho in Santiago.
#1 - Decide which fondas to visit
Fondas are street fairs that sell food and drinks, and are especially popular during the Fiestas Patrias celebrations. Each neighborhood, or comuna, puts on its own festivities in its local park, so there’s no dearth of activities to choose from. You usually pay an entrance fee, which gives you access to hundreds of food and drink vendors that charge a range of prices for their culinary offerings.
The two main ones you should know about are:
A rowdy celebration that brings together a younger crowd, and is known to be a bit dicey in the evenings. It was my favorite of the two I went to, with lively bands that had us on our feet for hours. It was also where I tried my first navegado, Chile’s version of mulled wine.
A tamer version of the O’Higgins celebrations, this is in a wealthier comuna, and is definitely a family-friendly affair. There are tons of activities for children, including rides and games, as well as patriotic demonstrations of Chilean culture.
#2 - Plan your outfit
While the Chilean and U.S. flags may have the same colors, Chileans don’t necessarily don the red, white and blue for their Dieciocho celebrations. That being said, the weather at this time of year can be unpredictable, with warm temps during the day that plunge after sunset.
Make sure you bring a jacket, wear long pants, and wear something festive, like the hat below, which can be found in any supermarket leading up to the holiday. I bought mine for $5!
#3 - Attend an asado
An asado is a BBQ, and Chileans love any excuse to have one in their home. If you’re lucky, you’ll be invited to one of many hosted the days leading up to Dieciocho.
#4 - Get to know the food and drinks
Dieciocho wouldn’t be as notable if I didn’t mention its variety of culinary offerings. Here are some of the stand-outs you should definitely know about before your first dieciocho:
TERREMOTOS: sweet wine, grenadine/fernet and a dollop of pineapple icecream
ANTICUCHO: a meat stick similar to a kebab
CHORIPAN: the perfect mix of bread, meat and condiment (they make hot dogs look sad)
EMPANADAS: a stuffed pastry - in Chile, they usually have ground beef with raisins, olives and eggs.
#5 - Learn the cueca
The cueca is Chile’s national dance, and it is both sung and danced with traditional clothing for both men and women.
Taken from Culture Trip’s description:
“La cueca is all about romantic conquest. Funny enough, the way la cueca is danced resembles the mating ritual of a hen and a rooster. The use of the handkerchief is a key element of the cueca dance, as partners will raise it above their heads or behind their backs as they stomp their feet and circle one other.Throughout the dance, it’s important that cueca dancers maintain strong eye contact throughout the different steps and movements.”
Watch a video below of locals dancing the cueca: