Where to shop – Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International

Duty Free Shopping Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez AirportSantiago’s Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez international is widely recognised as one of the most efficient and welcoming airports in all Latin America.Yet Chile’s main international hub has had a torrid time of it in the past couple of years, suffering significant structural damage in the country’s devastating earthquake in 2010, and also having scores of flights cancelled the following year due to volcanic ash.The airport has bounced back from these setbacks in some style, however. With Chile’s export and tourist-driven economy going from strength to strength, Santiago airport has in fact never been busier. A record 12 million passengers used the airport in 2011, a jump of over 17%.

Demand is predicted expected to soar to over 30m by 2030. SCL, the private consortium that runs the airport, has unsurprisingly announced an ambitious expansion programme. The airport’s master plan calls for the building of a new domestic terminal, and a light railway to connect the airport to the city’s metro system.

For the moment, however, the airport has just one four-floor terminal, which can get a bit crowded at peak times. The terminal handles both domestic and international passengers, who enter the airport at different ends of the building. As Chile is such a vast country, domestic traffic is a very important part of the passenger mix, which is perhaps why the domestic retail offer at the airport is rather good. As for the international departures lounge, the duty free shops are run by the solid Spanish travel-retailer, Aldeasa. Overall, the airport boasts over 70 shops and restaurants.

First, let’s deal with duty-free. It is worth pointing out that like many other countries in Latin America Santiago airport does have arrivals duty-free. The offer in the smaller arrivals shop is obviously not as extensive as the departures store, but personal allowances are generous by Northern European standards (2.5 litres of spirits or wine, 400 cigarettes and three bottles of perfume – see our allowances guide in full Chile Duty Free Allowances). Also note that Aldeasa offers a handy pick up on return service for local passengers buying in departures, who sensibly don’t want to lug their purchases around on their travels.

Back in departures the duty-free is particularly strong on fragrances so check on the airport website at http://www.aeropuertosantiago.cl/promociones/promociones-perfumeria-2.html to catch up on the latest offers. When we checked (June 2012), top-selling lines such as Carolina Herrera 212 VIP was $81, down from $89; YSL Opium was $79.50, reduced from $99, and Davidoff Cool Water was just $48.50, down from $60.As for liquor, blended Scotch whisky is big business in these parts. Multi-buy offers are common here so, for instance, when we looked, two bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label could be had for just $36, while two bottles of Captain Morgan rum cost $28. Imported rums are also very popular in Chile: we particularly like Zacapa Centenario from Guatemala, and Flor de Caña from Nicaragua, which are both listed at the airport.If you fancy something more adventurous, why not try a bottle of Pisco, a local grape brandy that’s been around for centuries and is still very popular? In fact, the pisco sour cocktail is something of a national institution in Chile, a fabulously refreshing drink made with pisco, egg white, lime juice, Angostura bitter, sugar syrup and lots of ice. The pisco sour is catching on big time in hip style bars in the States, and local producers would love for pisco to crossover into the mainstream the way tequila has in the past decade or so.

Now like other spirits, piscos come in all flavours and styles, some good, some bad. At the bottom end of the market, they can be pretty nasty. So if you are going to part with your hard-earned cash for a bottle, our advice is to spend a little bit more on a bottle marked with ‘Reserve’ or ‘Special’. These higher strength, better quality spirits have a much better flavour. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.

Chile is rightly famous for its wines and the main Aldeasa duty-free store with its Cava Del Vino stocks a pretty good range (Aldeasa’s duty-paid shop in the domestic area of the terminal also stocks wine). Cooled by winds from the Pacific, volcanic soil in abundance and basked in sunshine for much of the year, Chile is a wine grower’s paradise. The country now has an excellent worldwide reputation for producing good wines in contrasting styles at good value prices. The country makes top-notch cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay, and is now experimenting with other varietals.What wines to go for? Well, that’s a tricky one as Chile produces such a variety of styles, but a few wine labels that have performed consistently well in recent years, winning medals in international competitions, include Augostinos, Almaviva, Anakena, Casa Lapostolle, Concha y Toro, Errazuriz and Kuyen.In both the international and domestic sections of the terminal there are a good range of souvenir and gift shops although prices are unlikely to be as competitive as the country’s many excellent craft markets. A typical Chilean souvenir is jewellery made with lapis lazuli, a blue semi-precious stone that is only found in Chile and Afghanistan. Stores selling this type of jewellery include Morita Gil, one of the country’s best-known jewellers, who has stores in the domestic and international departures lounges, and Gundert in the international area.

Chile is renowned for its high quality handicrafts, many of which are made by the country’s indigenous Mapuche Indians. Popular souvenirs include decorated copper plates, ponchos and ‘gorro chilote’, a sort of traditional woollen hat worn by the Mapuche, and Moai statues from Easter Island, which although located hundreds of miles off the Chilean coast, is considered as Chilean territory. Lastly, wooden toys such as spinning tops and ball-and-cup games are also popular.

Before we finish our shopping tour at Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez international we must mention three new outlets that have opened up in 2012. HBC Boutique in the international lounge is a luxury watches store selling makes such as Cartier, Omega, Baume Mercier, Tissot and Montblanc. On a different note, La Fête Chocolat at Gate 18 in the international lounge sells more than 40 different types of chocolate, while Juguetería Alemana, another recently opened outlet, is a great toy model shop selling replica cars, trains and planes (seehttp://www.ja.cl/).

All in all, Santiago airport offers a great range of shops for such a comparatively small airport, and with the first phase of the airport’s expansion programme due to be completed in 2014, things are only going to get better.

Related links
Santiago airport official shopping website (English version)
http://www.aeropuertosantiago.cl/english/shopping/2.html