A friend told us about an Australian woman she knows who lived in Santiago for 2 years with her husband and teenage son, and she hated every day of it. She felt unsafe and feared being mugged, hardly leaving their secure, gated home. Her husband had a work contract for 2 years that enabled them to pay off their mortgage back in Aus. The son attended the local high school and is now a fluent speaker of Spanish. At the end of the gig the husband gave her a 2-carat diamond ring as thanks for her perseverance. So it may have actually been time well spent for the family.
If we decided to live somewhere for 2 years I doubt I would choose Santiago, (although a nice new bit of bling …..) but we did find it a comfortable and relaxed city to visit for a week or so. I have to say that at no time did we sense being in a perilous situation nor were we concerned for our personal safety – despite walking the streets and parks every day. It may just have been our good luck, who knows.
From our hotel in the Providencia neighbourhood, we walked a very pleasant 20 minutes through lush tree-lined streets to the recently re-opened cable car. We do love a chair lift ride so up we went for the 2 kilometer trip in our little gondola to the top of Cerro San Cristobal, a landmark hill around 880 meters above Santiago city.
Dave lucked in by getting a Senior’s ticket, which provided an engaging translation challenge at the ticket office.
The cable car reopened in December 2016 after being closed for around 7 years due to 2 separate malfunctions causing passengers to be suspended in the air for several hours. Fortunately I didn’t know about this at the time of our visit otherwise I’d have been anxious about vertigo.
At the summit of the hill stands a 15 metre “Virgin Mary” and despite the weekend crowds the place was a calming break away from the bustling city.
Several stands and frames surround the statue where devotees may pray, light a candle and ask “Mother” for favours and miracles.
Here, when a miracle seemingly occurs offerings and notes of thanks are placed.
The Parque Metropolitano covers 400 hectares of the hill and is a sanctuary of botanic gardens, meditative spaces, picnic areas and even an open air alter (at first I thought it was a concert stage), with spectacular panoramic views across the vast city.
Across the other side of the peak an ancient funicular has been rattling and banging its way up and down the hill since 1925.
Funiculars are so much fun and the ride down made more memorable by the antics of a busker at the boarding station. It is always a good idea to carry change to give street performers, because how dull would life be without them!
Walking the streets of Santiago is so easy, the city is flat with well-shaded parks and walkways. We stumbled across terrific examples of street art and architecture,
Even the Metro stations have massive wall murals and sculptures.
We covered a lot of ground on the free walking tour we took early on, and I wrote about that here. Head over and have a read, it was great fun and a wonderful introduction to Santiago culture.
Despite the flat landscape we did manage to find a very steep hill to climb, popping up right in the middle of the city, complete with a castle on top. It was a sunny day and as we climbed the hundreds of steep stairs to reach the top, we found other stairways, fountains and statues. It is a cool oasis in the hot city and the view from the top rewards the hard climb with 360 degree views.
Originally the hill was called Huelen by the indiginous Mapuches inhabiting the region until Chile was taken over by the Spanish conquistadors. After the city was founded in 1541 the hill was used as a lookout point for the design of the city in the traditional Spanish layout.
The castle and other defense fortifications were built in the early 1800’s and then a few decades later the place was revamped and adorned with the piazzas, trees and water features we enjoyed on our visit. The castle is now used as a function centre.
The least attractive part of Santiago we found was the Mapocho River. The river originates in the Andes and as it makes its way sediments are collected, and so by the time it reaches Santiago the water colour resembles a flat white coffee. The concrete walls of the river provide opportunities for street and graffiti artists, as well as, in some parts, a rubbish dump.
On either side of the river the government has created vast parklands, walkways and cycle paths. We were out walking on a Sunday and found all the main city streets were closed to traffic, only allowing bicycles on the roads.
Approaching Valentines Day, love all around.
Staying in the Providencia district was a great choice for our first foray into South America. It is a cosmopolitan residential part of the city, with nice restaurants and a Metro station.
Our walks took us along lush tree-lined streets, past gracious homes with immaculate gardens. Other edgier parts of Santiago like Bellavista may suit visitors looking for entertainment and nightlife, but the quiet area suited us well.
We also checked out the “hop on hop off” bus which is a terrific way to learn about a place. The bus took us all around the city and right around the CBD and provided commentary in English. Best tip for the bus is to use your own headset as the ones they provide rarely produce a good sound, making it difficult to hear.
With a combination of walking around and busing around we feel we really made the best of our time in Santiago.
Having now written this story about our time in Santiago, and looking back over the photos, I’m really sorry we didn’t have more time to explore further afield. As sometimes happens, we find out about interesting things after we’ve left a place and we now feel a strong desire to return. Maybe we will some day.
Thanks for following along with us.