I have been in Santiago for most of a week and I am having a great time. Staying with Steven in a rented apartment in the city has proved useful as we have been close to everything, have been able to keep costs down and I feel that I have been able to see more of the “real” Chile, compared to if I had decided to stay in a hotel.
The apartment itself is not the best compared so some I saw online but it is adequate for my needs. It has a living room with dining table, a small but functional kitchen, a clean bathroom and a bedroom with two single beds. The cost was approximately £190 for the 8 days that I am here which, given its location, I find very reasonable indeed. The only downside is that due to interference from the fire station across the road reception on the TV is very bad. However, my past existence as a radio scanner enthusiast taught me that there is always a workaround available, in this case attaching the external antenna to the clothes airer in order to create a giant antenna. On the other hand, in addition to the location, it has the added benefit of being in a gated compound that has people on the gate so it should be fairly safe.
I have spent most of my evenings making home cooked meals and watching Chilean TV / Netflix with Steven. I am learning Spanish at the moment but as I quickly found out upon arriving here Chilean Spanish is very unique, with its frequent and almost exclusive use of slang words, that it is very difficult to understand. Fortunately, many of the programs on TV are from the USA and I have discovered an interesting Judge Judy style show called “Caso Cerrado” which has helped me practice.
Although that is enough about the apartment.
Santiago seems a really nice city. I have spent my days exploring and walking around with no real plan, checking out some of the sights, eating some good food and just generally having a good time.
Cerro Santa Lucía is a good place to visit when you first arrive in Santiago. It’s a hill close to the centre of the city which gives you a good view of the local area. It isn’t as high as Parque Metropolitano, and definitely not as high as the viewing platform of the Costanera Centre, but I enjoyed my time here. Fuente Neptuno and the grounds definitely provided me with some good photo opportunities.
Parque Metropolitano is another good place to visit if you are looking for a view point in the city. You can either walk up the hill or take an old funicular lift and are presented with some great views. There is a giant statue of the Virgin Mary here as well as a church, and it’s well worth a visit. Just be careful on the steep steps leading up to the statue – I slipped over and hurt my shoulder, much to the amusement of the only American tourists that I saw the entire time I was in the city. If you like the bar scene then head in the direction of Parque Metropolitano anyway as the road leading to it from Plaza Baquedano, called Pio Nono, is full of bars, restaurants and clubs and is very popular with university students from what I am told so should have a good atmosphere in the evening.
The Costanera Centre provided me with the best views of the city, although being inside a shopping centre it is very sterile and expensive. The Costanera Centre can be seen from all over Santiago, as it is the tallest building in Latin America, and consists of a huge shopping centre combined with offices, a hotel and the viewing platform. The shopping centre contains a few local brands but mainly big international brands and so for me was nothing special. The viewing platform, called the Sky Costanera, can be accessed from the basement and is the highest view point in the city. You are shot up to the top of the skyscraper in elevators really quickly while you are told the history of the building in Spanish by the attendant. The viewing platform has telescopes to allow you to see things in the distance, but other than that I will let the photos do the talking.
Santiago has a really nice atmosphere. In addition to the viewpoints mentioned above we spent the first half of my time here walking around and taking in the famous sights such as La Moneda, which is the Presidential Palace which was infamously bombed by the Chilean Air Force during the military coup which killed President Salvador Allende. More about that coup later on as I am planning to visit the Museum of Human Rights before the end of my visit. Other sights that I have seen so far include Plaza de Armas, the Metropolitan Cathedral, Iglesia San Francisco, The National Library and the Violeta Parra Museum which was brand new when I visited. We also visited the cultural centre contained in a basement underneath the plaza next to La Moneda.
I would highly recommend all of these sights, maybe with the exception of the National Library which we only went into in order to get out of the heat, as they all show a little bit of Chilean culture and history. One thing that you will notice in the city is the large number of churches and cathedrals, as Chile is a fairly religious country. Some of the churches are fairly basic but some are really impressive such as the Iglesia San Francisco, which is very close to La Moneda. I believe it is the oldest church in Chile and is beautifully decorated, and well maintained as we found out when a cleaner asked Steven to help her lift some of the heavy cleaning equipment up some steps in order to help maintain a chapel.
I have heard a lot about Violeta Parra from Steven, and if you read much Chilean history it is very likely that you will have heard of her too as she is somewhat of a national hero that helped put Chile on the map and develop the Chilean folk music genre. I won’t go on about her too much as I don’t want to get any details wrong but if you want to learn more about her then the museum, very close to Plaza Baquedano, is well worth a visit. It is free to enter and showcases a lot of her work including original lyrics sheets, her guitar, photos of her and her art work. It also tells you more about her life, from her humble origins all the way up to her tragic suicide. A word of warning though, at the time I visited the museum was completely in Spanish but the information was easy to translate.
One thing I love about Santiago, in addition to the climate, people, and the atmosphere is the large amount of open space and the number of parks despite being a populated city surrounded by mountains. Parque Forestal, Parque Uruguay and Museo Parque de las Esculturas are among the open spaces that I have spent time in so far, most of which have been situated along the river. Museo Parque de las Esculturas is worth a visit as is has a great atmosphere and a large selection of public artworks, perhaps you could visit it when walking back from the Costanera Centre like we did. Parque Forestal is very central and seems to be a place where people like to go to relax at weekends and during their lunch breaks. I visited here a couple of times and during the first visit I was taken to what has quickly become my favourite ice cream parlour in the entire world, Emporio La Rosa. If you like ice cream then come here and take some into the park, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have fallen in love with lúcuma flavour, although as it’s a local fruit I doubt I will be able to find it in The UK.
We are due to take a break from city life over the next few days and have booked a couple of day trips out of the city in order to see more of the country. Tomorrow we visit Valparaíso and then on Monday we visit Viña del Mar, which are both on the coast approximately 90 minutes from Santiago. The intercity bus service in Chile seems a LOT more extensive and efficient than that in The UK. If you want to visit either of these towns, or indeed other ones locally or further afield, then just head to the Estación Central and you can buy tickets inside the bus station next door for all of the major companies. Alternatively, I have seen kiosks dotted around the city for all of the companies if you won’t be going near Estación Central, but going there allows you to check prices and schedules of all of the companies.
I am looking forward to both day trips. Valparaíso is a city that I have heard a lot about and Viña del Mar comes highly recommended by everybody from Chile that I have talked to.