When I first thought of travelling to Santiago, it was initially en route from Mendoza, Argentina to Torres Del Paine. To be quite frank, I actually didn’t think Santiago would have much to offer…but boy, WAS I WRONG!!
Not only did Santiago take me by surprise, I would rate it as one of my favourite cities thus far! I would describe Santiago as being an eclectic city, comprising of the remnants of it’s Spanish forefathers mixed with a relaxed Havana-type vibe. Whilst I stayed in Santiago for only three days, I would say that there is plenty to do and see – I’ve listed my top THREE activities to do in Santiago de Chile below!
- San Cristobal Hill –
In the barrio (neighbourhood) of Bella Vista, stands the luscious and green San Cristobal Hill. Atop of San Cristobal Hill stands a large white statue of the Virgin Mary, which acts as a beacon for the city – similar to Christ the Redeemer in Rio (just on a smaller scale!). Climbing up to the top of the hill is a definite must-do, as the top presents 360 panoramic views of Santiago city amongst the Andes mountains – believe me, it’s absolutely breath-taking!
The climb takes about 45 minutes to complete and takes you up around the hill, giving gorgeous views of the city all the way up. For those who may not be able to make the climb, there is a cable car that can take you the summit for a small fee. Prior to getting to the summit, a beautiful(and very old) chapel stands and was used for hundreds of years to shelter the poor from adverse weather conditions. The chapel’s dirt and wooden walls are grotesquely beautiful and truly makes one appreciate the city’s efforts of preservation. On this same level, are an abundance of pews and pleasant gardens overlooking the city – I have to say, it’s amazing place for reflection and/or prayer.
A few stairs up leads you to the large, purely white Virgin statue. The atmosphere at the Summit of the San Cristobal Hill is very peaceful, and if you can get past a bunch of tourists taking selfies – you might find some serenity in sitting beneath Mary looking out to the vibrant city of Santiago in the midst of mountains and dirt. I certainly felt a level of comfort and peace throughout this experience and would definitely recommend it – believers or not!
2. Plaza De Armas –
Plaza De Armas, the central square of Santiago city is a hub for all things Chilean – good music, good art and amazing history! During the day, bands play classic latino music in the square, which creates a real buzz amongst city-goers. Surrounding the plaza are various notable monuments (all are worth taking a visit to), such as Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, La Moneda Palace and the Chilean National History Museum. Whilst there are plenty of street performers, sculptures and European-influenced statues, some of the best Chilean art and history to be showcased is in the Museo De Chileno De Arte Precolombino museum. This museum is just outside the plaza, however if you have a thirst for authentic Chilean art and history, this is the place to go!
Entry to the Museo De Chileno De Arte Precolombino museum requires a small fee and gives access to two floors which both focus on pre-colonisation latino history (focusing on local Aztec tribes in the North, South, East and West of Chile). The bottom floor transports the visitor to the life of an Aztec and delves into the experience of everyday life for the Chilean ancestors, whilst the top floor displays slightly more modern historical artefacts, particularly tapestries and sculptures.
Learning about the people past and present will not only help you to understand the development of Chilean culture, but it should also highlight how brilliant the Aztecs were in cultivating resources to allow the city to flourish.
3. Bella Vista –
Bella Vista is the most vibrant barrio of Santiago city and for this reason, attracts the most tourists! Don’t be deterred though, as Bella Vista offers an amazing plaza of restaurants and souvenir stores – called Patio Bella Vista. There are a variety of restaurants, particularly Italian, American and Steak houses offering delicious meals and cocktails at reasonable prices. Patio Bella Vista also offers plenty of artesian stores, where you can purchase some unique art and crafts designed and created by the locals.
If you’re after some cheaper souvenirs for your family and friends, be sure to check out the markets surrounding Patio Bella Vista, as there are plenty of small stalls offering knick-knacks for you to take home. If you’re visiting Bella Vista at night, make sure you are alert and take minimal belongings, as opportunistic theft can occur.
For those who were never really interested in visiting Chile, I’d recommend giving it a try, not only will the city surprise you with it’s breathtaking scenery, culture and food – it will definitely leave a soft spot in your heart.