I arrived in Santiago with not particularly high expectations. It’s a city in South America that quite often gets overlooked as many travellers opt to use it as a stop off point as they travel along Chile’s spine.
However if you give Santiago a chance It has a lot to offer. I left the city with a great deal of admiration for it and the time I spent there actually held some of my most enjoyable memories of my South American trip.
The most visually stunning aspect of Santiago is its mountainous back-drop, as it sits alongside the snow-tipped Andean Peaks. The only slight hindrance to this view is the constant smog that seems to hang over the city. The view of the surrounding area is best seen at the top of Cerro San Cristobal. Hopping onto a funicular is the best way to reach the top and it doesn’t disappoint when you see the views on offer.
It is Santiago’s parks that stood out for me whilst I was there, each one offering a little escape from the city’s busy roads and crowded streets. Perfectly maintained parks such as Cerro Santa Lucia and Parque Forestal both offer great retreats to soak up some Latin American sun or shelter under a tree with a book. In particular it is Santa Lucia that stands out as you walk past various fountains and well-kept gardens before embarking on its short walk up spiralling stairs to reach its highest point.
Despite taking the brunt of several large earthquakes in the past, many of Santiago’s impressive historic buildings remain intact. The cathedral, presidential palace and the surrounding area of Plaza del Armas are some of the highlights within the city centre which are worth seeing. There are also an abundance of museums in Santiago, where you can learn about some of Chile’s interesting history or admire some of its well-crafted art work.
It also boasts some great little markets which are worth exploring. In particular Centro Artesanal Santa Lucia is worth wandering around with its outdoor craft stalls.
The area of Bellavista is a neighbourhood known for its great nightlife, largely due to the university that is located there. Barrio Bellavista always seems to have a certain buzz about it as you roam its streets brushing shoulders with the cities ‘hip’ locals. It is also a great place to go and eat, whether it is a street snack like the completo (a hot dog filled with salsa, guacamole and mayonnaise) or a sit down meal with a massive portion of chorrillana (chips, egg, onion and beef all piled on top of one another) that you are after. Both meals I became quite attached to whilst I was there, pure meat heaven.
For me Santiago wasn’t a city about sites or tourist attractions as such. It was somewhere that still seemed quite separate from any touristy influence and therefore had plenty of natural charm on offer. Most the people you encountered at its few sites were actually Chileans who had come for the weekend or to visit relatives.
That is the reason why I think I became so attached to Chile’s capital. As you meander through its busy streets and retreat to its beautiful city parks you start to get a real idea of what it is like to be a local. It may not have the dazzling attractions that other cities possess, but there is something unique about Santiago that may just have more of a lasting impression on you.