Santiago del Nuevo Extremo
Just 9 days after returning from out last longer trip in Israel, and only 4 that were spending the weekend in Helsinki; here we were again but this time for a longer period, flying into one of our farthest destinations ever, Chile. Santiago, the capital, would only be the gateway and main base to a much complete program ahead of us for the next 10 days, being the highlight of the trip (and probably of any trip so far to date) reaching the farthest possible place from the nearest mainland, at almost 4000 kilometers well into the Pacific Ocean: Easter Island.
Quite an adventure and great excitement returning to South America where, let’s be honest. It feels to me like going “back” home as Spanish that I am plus I love being able to use my mother tongue in a foreign country. Chileans to our great surprise, are very friendly and welcoming people, yet for some reason, half of my friends and family who have been there before disagree on this. Never mind, I can talk from my own experience, I loved it and I cannot wait to come back hopefully soon! There is way too much more to see, north and south. From the most arid desert on earth, Atacama, to the glaciers and landscapes of Patagonia.
Santiago is a very modern city, one of the largest in South America. And if you excuse me here, one of the wealthiest. Chile is one of the richest countries in Latin America with one of the highest per-capita income. No surprise why many people is choosing to migrate over there including friends of mine, since for example the work situation in Spain (as of April 2015) is not the best after the big crisis.
Having heard before that there was not much in the city to be seen and enjoyed, we were having not too high expectations only to find a great surprise and contradiction. There were lots to see and do! Fair enough if this is your first Latin American city you visit, do not expect to see much of a Spanish colonial past, but instead, you will see a city with 19th and 20th century architecture, broad tree-lined avenues and shiny 21st century towers rising everywhere, notably around the new districts surrounding the older ones. Quite fascinating how a region like this, where earthquakes are so frequent yet buildings keep going higher and higher.
One of such new areas is named Sanhattan. That hints you the clue of what to expect around it, and even only half of the towers have been built, anyone who have been to Manhattan before might definitely get the same feeling.
The old town, known as the Civic Center is well marked by classical, art-nouveau and art-deco constructions, all centred around the main square Plaza de Armas where the Cathedral is. This is the core of the original colonial city and from where the streets were laid following the usual grid pattern. This is not the only major square nor landmark in Santiago, probably, the most known of them all is Palacio de la Moneda where at both main fronts there is a square. The building is been submitted as a possible candidate to be an UNESCO World Heritage Site, but for more information on the key sights of the city I concentrate in the section below.
Something that I really loved in the city was the huge amount of green spaces everywhere. This is not the usual concrete jungle and does not feel like you are in an almost 7 million people city! All the contrary, it feels a medium size city in the middle of the nature. The second part of the phrase it really applies here; you do not need to look any far to be able to see the Andes Mountain range literally next door. Or the many hills in the middle of the city from where you will get the finest views of the entire Santiago below, as it’s the case for Santa Lucia Hill or Cerro San Cristobal.
Food wise talking I must confess it was a bit more trickier than I expected it to be. I could not believe the amount of fast food chains they have, most of them Chilean ones but still, fast food, cheep, though limited choice. Almost every place serving the same or variants based on something similar. Don’t take this as a bad side, not at all, the food was really nice in fact and you will love it, but it becomes tiring especially when you are few days eating pretty much the same. Any dish you see in the menu will most likely have a variant called “a lo pobre”; this means, with 2 fried eggs on top and a base of chips. Go for this option, the difference in price is minimal but the quantity of food in the plate can be serious. They like big portions, you won’t be hungry anywhere you go.
For more information about Santiago check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Chile’s currency is the Chilean Peso. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Santiago
- Plaza de Armas and nearby area Is the largest and main square in the city. The original center from where the streets were laid following the standard Spanish colonial urban grid.
-Metropolitan Cathedral Sight number one from the Spanish colonial era. Built in neo-classical style between 1748 and 1800 that was completed. Seat of the Archbishop of Santiago de Chile.
-Royal Court Palace Built in 1804 to house the royal courts of justice; it is now the National History Museum.
-Central Post Office Built in 1881 on the grounds of the former Presidential Palace, it’s listed as a National Monuments of Chile.
-Ministry of Foreign Affairs It used to be the Congress Building until Augusto Pinochet’s military coup d’état in 1973. The building was completed in 1876.
-Courts of Justice Palace Next to the Foreign Affairs building, forms another whole city block built between 1905 and 1930 in neoclassical style.
-Museum of Pre-Columbian Art At the other side opposite the Courts of Justice. Housed on the former Customs Palace, built in 1807. The nearest metro station for those last three buildings is Plaza de Armas.
- Plaza de la Constitucion Another of the principal squares in the city, surrounded by official and governmental buildings.
-La Moneda Palace Literally translated as the Mint Palace, was built in the 18th century during Spanish colonial times as the mint. It is an unique building in the sense of being the only building in pure Italian Neoclassical style to be found in Latin America. Nowadays is the Presidential Palace. You can get on a free tour to visit inside, but this has to be pre-booked at least 7 days in advance.
-Central Bank of Chile Built in 1925.
-Intendencia de Santiago Is the City Hall.
- Plaza de la Ciudadania Located at the opposite side of La Moneda Palace is this square of recent creation in order to give a much grander look to the Moneda Palace façade. There is a nice fountain and gardens in the middle.
-Paseo Bulnes This pedestrian thoroughfare was built in 1937 as part of the larger project of creating a government center to reunite in one place official and governmental buildings, which were built following an urban plan and therefore of the pretty same design and volume.
- Mapocho Train Station Although no longer serving as a train station,. The building was retained as a cultural center. Built in 1913 it is a very beautiful building worth to see, specially the grand interiors. Nearest metro station Cal y Canto, just north of Plaza de Armas.
- Mercado Central Is the main market in Santiago, a beautiful metallic structure building from 1872. Located by metro station Cal y Canto, near the former Mapocho train station.
- Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins and nearby Commonly known as La Alameda, is the principal artery in Santiago. It begins at Plaza Baquedano (where a metro stop under the same name is located) and is one of the major transport hubs in the city. Along the way there are many tower blocks, some are apartments, other office towers, and in between and nearby many of Santiago’s historical buildings, being noteworthy:
-Stock Exchange Nice classical style building where trading operations started in 1893.
–Ariztía Building Is considered as the first “skyscraper” in Chile. Located at number 52 New York Street, next door to the Stock Exchange, was built in 1921. It was also the first office building in the city with elevators.
-National Library of Chile Established in 1813, the current building dates from 1925 in French neo-classical style. The nearest metro station is Santa Lucia.
-San Francisco Church Built in 1622 is the oldest colonial construction still standing in the country. Next to it is the convent of the same name where the Colonial Museum is housed.
-Barrio Paris-Londres Those are 2 streets right behind the San Francisco Church built in 1923 resembling the Latin Quarter of Paris with cobblestones and mansions.
-Club de la Union Is a reputed gentleman’s club housed in a beautiful building from 1925, declared National Monument.
-Entel Tower Is a telecommunications tower with an observation platform from where to get nice views of the entire city.
-Alameda Train Station This is the only train station serving Santiago. Built in 1897 upon designs of Gustave Eiffel. Listed as a National Monument.
-Municipal Theatre Built on French neo-classical style in 1857 is the most prestigious in the country. Nearest metro station Santa Lucia.
- Santa Lucia Hill Located at one of the junctions of La Alameda is this hill with beautiful landscaped stairs, gardens and fountains and an advantage viewing point of the city due to its higher location above the rest of the city.
- Parque Forestal Running parallel to the Mapocho River, is a nice area of greenery where you will also find some of the major museums. Metro Bellas Artes.
-National Museum of Fine Arts Housed in a splendid neo-classical/baroque style building with touches of art nouevau.
-Museum of Modern Art Housed in a neoclassical/art nouveau style building from 1910.
- Barrio Bellavista Is the bohemian district of Santiago. Until not long ago, a decaying area but now the trendiest area of the city where you will find a thriving nightlife. Hundreds of bars, restaurants and trendy cafes most of which housed in beautifully restored old and colourful houses. The nearest metro station is Baquedano on line 1.
-La Chascona Is one of the three houses of world known Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, today a museum. Located in the Bellavista neighbourhood at the foot of the Metropolitan Park and the Zoo. 5000$ entrance fee, or 1500$ for students/senior.
-Metropolitan Park This is the largest urban park in Santiago. Not far from Parque Forestal. Within the park there is San Cristobal Hill where from the top you will be able to see the entire city and the Andes on a clear day. The nearest metro stations are Baquedano or Cerro Blanco.
From the airport, the easiest and most cost effective way of reaching the city is by bus. There are two companies operation with similar routes. CentroPuerto (Ch$1350 one-way) and TurBus (Ch$1450 one-way). Both companies stop along the way at Pajaritos metro station, which is in line 1, from where you can connect to anywhere else along central or the outskirts of Santiago.
Within the city, you can count with 5 metro lines (another 2 are currently under construction as of April 2015). For the large size of city Santiago is, the metro does not cover much but to the needs as a tourist is well enough to keep you moving hassle free. The Line 1 is by all means the key to move to all the tourist/sightseeing areas. The fare for a single ticket depends if peak or off-peak time, and varies between 660$ to 1250$.
Apart from the metro, there are hundreds of bus routes and commuter trains. Going from A to B might involve a transfer in the middle but overall, the city is well connected through a fast, secure and frequent public transportation.
Santiago is one of the largest cities in South America, and one of the key financial centers in Latin America. The amount of hotels and overall accommodation is countless, but expect higher fares than what you originally might have thought. Even that we went already in low season, March which is over there Autumn, we still paid more than we are used to pay for a night elsewhere in the world on a same star rate, same quality hotel. In any case, finding a deal is not difficult due to the large choice. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Best Western Premier Marina Las Condes, on Avenida Alonso de Cordova 5727. Located meters away from Manquehue metro station in line 1 which crosses the center of the city east to west and takes you to the main square near Palacio de la Moneda in barely 20 minutes time. The hotel was grand, and even it was a 4* property, the facilities, service and overall look was well worth it 5*. The stuff was great and extremely caring, everyone speaking fluent English and very helpful in every sense. The breakfast was a great choice and the pool and hot tub were absolutely wonderful! From the roof terrace you can also get very nice views of Santiago and the Andes mountains in the far (weather or pollution permitting). We will definitely not hesitate in returning to the same hotel on a next visit.