Thursday, January 13

24 hours in Santiago

Almost six million of Chile’s 15 million people call Santiago home. As a result, the capital of Chile is a sprawling, bustling metropolitan that doesn’t look that dissimilar to any other large city. We’d originally booked ourselves into the Sheraton using loyalty points for three nights but had to abandon this plan after becoming stranded in Antarctica over New Year. As a result, we ended up spending less than 36 hours in Santiago. However, for all that we were ultimately keen to see this proved a perfectly adequate length of time.

To initially orient ourselves we bought tickets for the hop-on, hop-off bus that circles the inner city from 9.00am to 6.30pm every day. The entire circuit takes roughly two hours, giving visitors a quick sense of the city’s historical districts and its modern additions. Garry loves these bus tours as he enjoys gaining a brief sense of what it’s like to live in a given location.

After completing a circuit our first stop on the route was Santiago’s bohemian arts and cafe district, Bellavista. It was here we discovered the expansive Patio Bellavista, a delightful complex of redeveloped warehouses that now house dozens of cafes and restaurants. We stopped for a leisurely alfresco lunch before making our way toward Parque Metropolitano, expansive parkland that covers a series of hills on the city’s north side.

The 860-metre summit of the nearest hill can be reached via a funicular tramway, built in 1923. It offers an open-air ride through groves of mature trees as the sprawl of Santiago slowly unfolds before you. Santiago is huge! The hilltop itself is dominated by a 14-metre pure white statue of the Virgin Mary who stands looking serenely over the city with her arms outstretched. It now a historic moment but still attracts regular streams of devout Catholic pilgrims.

Our next stop was the city’s historical centre located in the shadow of a small hill called Cerro Santa Lucia. Pedro de Valdivia founded the city here on February 12, 1541. Today the hill is an attractive park upon which an extensive series of terraces, paths, viewpoints and grand stairways have been constructed. Much of this work was completed over a two-year period starting in 1872 by 150 convict labourers. The entire neo-classic construction is an impressive sight and it’s easy to imagine the city’s more fashionable citizens ostentatiously promenading here 130 years ago. The design and location do make you feel a little like royalty.

From here we wandered into the Plaza de Armas, the old city’s central square that remains the city’s heart today. The square is bordered by a series of impressive building that include the city’s cathedral, central post office and City Hall. Each building was constructed during a different period creating a wonderful array of architectural styles that simply reinforce a sense of the city’s growing age. We wandered briefly among its ornamental palm trees, past groups playing chess in the bandstand and the inevitable flurry of illegal street vendors and buskers before making our way back to our hotel for dinner and on to the airport for our flight to New Zealand.

No doubt with a little more time we’d have visited more of Santiago’s historical buildings and perhaps a few museums. However, we appreciated spending time outdoors and saw enough to satisfy our own sense of discovery. Garry also enjoyed our hotel’s outdoor BBQ restaurant which always had a lamb roasting on charcoal spit and every conceivable carnivore’s delight hanging on hooks nearby. If you ask him he’d tell you it was the perfect way to end our tour of Chile. Over a three-week period we’d seen the country literally from top to bottom (from the Atacama to Punta Arenas) and east to west (from the Andean altiplano to Easter Island).

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