Nestled in the Central Valley between the dramatic Chilean Coastal Range and the soaring Andes Mountains, Chile’s energetic capital Santiago, arrests all your senses.
A tireless city and one of the largest in the Americas with over six-million people, isn’t it any wonder that Santiago never sleeps, and offers something for everyone.
Following the blissful R&R, relishing the quiet time in Santa Cruz including some wine tasting, arriving in Santiago de Chile (shortened to Santiago) is just like being jolted back into a frenzied pace.
Although the drive is just over two hours, the Nilahue bus from Terminal Santa Cruz to Terminal Sur in Santiago, takes around three hours and twenty minutes if all goes to plan, which it did today. Always a bonus.
I have to mention, I was a tad apprehensive booking with this company again after being dumped on the side of the highway, before our last Santa Cruz destination.
Santiago is divided into five main districts, so wandering around here on foot is the best way to encounter and experience what this massive city offers.
Word of warning: The smog can become very thick here on a still day. You can almost cut it with a knife and it seems to lodge at the back of your throat, make your eyes water, or both.
As Chile’s cultural, political, and financial centre, a plethora of sights exude from this city.
Roaming the city’s historic centre, the impressive Catedral Metropolitana confronts you with a dramatic introduction to Chilean cathedrals.
Starting its life in 1748 with completion in 1800 on the same site of several predecessors, all of which succumbed to earthquakes.
Gazing towards the heavens, St Francis waits patiently.
Love the radiant colours and simplistic but impacting design in this stained glass above the church’s entrance. A Celtic design?
Plaza de Armas
Many Plaza de Armas squares in South America are an integral meeting point for locals and it is here, that I love to sit and observe the local culture unfold.
Appointed in 1541 and Santiago’s original centre, today, many snack stalls, buskers, and fierce competitive chess games take place, whilst surrounded by old jails, courts, city halls, and the majestic Catedral Metropolitana.
Although today this plaza’s centre piece holds a fountain to celebrate Simón Bolívar (liberator), a former gallows was the macabre centre piece during colonial times.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Run by the University of Chile’s Faculty of Arts and inaugurated in 1947, this beautiful building in the Quinta Normal Park, is a delight to stroll through.
Around 2,000 pieces from Chilean and international artists are housed in the museum.
Santiago’s amazing street art
Street art around the globe is typically unsanctioned artwork and a pure form of not only decorating an old wall, decrepit building, an urban space, but more often than not, delivers a politically-charged message to the masses and politicians.
Depending in which country you travel, you can usually get a flavour of what’s occurring on the ground, whether disgruntled or euphoric, by the street art.
I am totally captivated by this form of raw emotion and Santiago unfolds much vibrant and absorbing street art around corners, overpasses, across ramps, and splayed on the sides of buildings.
Traipsing Santiago’s streets
Stroll around Santiago’s incredibly busy streets and it won’t be long until you are confronted with a local living on the cold pavement, or stuffed in a tiny out-of-the-way stone alcove. Proof that not everyone here is comfortable.
For a complete contrast, look up from the same spot to see such diversity as a sprawling modern building mirroring wealth and a growing economy, leaving many behind. Same world over.
Art students casually enjoy the streets to create what could be the next masterpiece.
Depending on which of the five quarters you visit in Santiago, streets are adorned with vividly-coloured quaint homes, modern commercial buildings, or sprinkled with striking medieval architecture.
Dotted through the city are green park spaces, which make a relaxing change but also, there always seems to be something taking place, and today, a group of musicians put on a wonderful show.
Brightly-coloured traditional clothing and using just drums, shells, their voices, and percussion instruments whilst dancing, the sound and show is intoxicating.
Cerro San Cristóbal
Soaring 850 metres above sea level and 300 metres above Santiago, the view from this cerro (hill) is expansive and spectacular – stretching out across to the Andes in the distance.
If you don’t feel like the 45-minute walk and don’t have a car, the easiest way is to take the Teleferico (Cable car), which was broken at the time of our visit. Several hiking trails are available from the hill.
The Sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception, which is the Catholic Church’s primary place of worship in Chile, a chapel, Mills Observatory (1903), and an amphitheatre, grace the top of the hill. So, many sights to see once on Cerro San Cristóbal.
Day trip to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar
With many day trips available from Santiago from surfing on the crystal beaches to skiing in the Andes, another great trip is to the port city of Valparaíso and on to the coastal resort city of Viña del Mar. Particularly enchanted with Valparaíso, why not stay overnight, or in both cities?
Such a lovely and relaxing area from the smog, but also the hustle and bustle of Santiago – a separate post on Valparaíso and Viña del Mar fore your discovery.
Not surprisingly, Santiago caters for an abundance of accommodation-types at every budget, which can be overwhelming when trying to choose an abode.
Preferring to stay in a private room with a private bathroom but still in a hostel, the Hostal Providencia is home for a while as it’s close to restaurants but also the centre. Baquedano Metro station is only a five-minute walk from the hostel.
Everyone is very accommodating and friendly here, which makes any stay pleasant. Staff are eager to help with information on Santiago.
The hostel is quirky but still inviting and modern with loads of memorabilia and art gracing its walls. Breakfast is a help-yourself of fruit, breads, and cereals with juice, coffee, and tea.
Recommended by the hostel and a must-try, is the Restaurant Junta Nacional (Ramón Carnicer 87, Providencia) – not only is the service excellent, but the food is also excellent and simply delicious. A little more up-market but well worth the experience…sometimes you just have to splurge a little when travelling.
As soon as you enter, the ambience exudes chicness with its light-coloured quaint furniture, deep red walls, groovy artwork, and suspended chandeliers.
From Santiago across the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina
Fancying another delightful wine tasting tour but this time in Argentina’s Cuyo region, which is famed for red wine and especially the Malbec, it’s on to Mendoza by bus.
All going well, the journey across the Andes to Mendoza should take around eight hours, although I am not sure whether this includes Immigration and clearing Customs. Another issue to consider is that it is winter, so anything can happen on this border crossing and across the stunning snowy Andes – should be a treat for the eyes.