Exploring Santiago, Chile

It was the final couple of days of our South American and Antarctic adventure. After spending our first day in Santiago actually touring the coastal are of Valparaiso and the wine region, it was time to actually see the sights of of Santiago city. Di had not been impressed on our first drive through Santiago, late at night enroute from the airport, 2 days prior. It did look a little more inviting as we drove through on the hotel pick up during our tour, but Di was yet to be convinced.

First was breakfast at the Plaza San Francisco, after a sleep in til 7.30am, the South American array of sweet treats continued.

Walking the sights of Santiago….

We planned to cover off a reasonable amount of the sights of the Santiago city area on a free walking tour. We had used the ‘Free Tours’ walking tours in Buenos Aires and enjoyed them. It was a Monday so the Santiago city tour was on for 10am. The meeting place was Plaza de Armas in the historic centre of Santiago.

Prior to leaving the hotel we made had a re-organisation of bags and took out most of our cash cards and made sure we didn’t have any accessible jewellery. Theft and muggings were a huge problem and we had been repeatedly warned not to carry valuables. I did want to take photos for the day so decided to risk a camera, but had an easily accessible and lockable bag to shove it in and did not carry additional lenses.

We had even been warned not to keep phones out while navigating using maps. I’d pre-loaded the walking route onto my phone and we easily made it down to Plaza de Armas without any incidents.

Our guide for the day was Alex, and our tour was a very small group of 6. Mum and myself, a couple from Melbourne and a couple from Brazil. It made for a change to the giant groups we had in Buenos Aires. Alex turned out to be a great guide, very knowledgeable and entertaining.

Our tour started with quite a long warning about safety. Apparently no one would bother us while in a group, other than to steal bags, cameras, jewelery and phones. Alex got us to put everything away, carry our bags on our front and told us to only take cameras or phones out to take a photo and put it straight back. Even the locals walked around with bags on their fronts and no jewellery. Di and I worked out a protocol where I’d take a few shots while she was keeping lookout and then the camera straight back in the bag. It was a giant pain, but we tried not to let it ruin the day as there was plenty to look at.

Plaza de Armas is the main square in Santiago and housed many important buildings including the Church La Compañía de Jesús and the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin, and the Central Post Office.

Alex showed us the ‘map’ of Santiago and how it changed over time and pointed out some of the areas we were visiting for the day.

We then left the Plaza de Armas and started our wander through the Santiago streets, Alex pointing out the major sights and the associated history of the last few hundred years. We wandered past Museo de Arte Pre-Colombio (the pre-Colombian art museum), Antiguo Congreso (the Old Congress building), the Corte Suprema (Supreme Court) and on to Palacio La Moneda (Presedential Palace).

The Presedential Palace was an impressive building, and just as we arrived a motorcade drove up and Alex guessed it was the President and his security. We hung around for a bit, and yes it was the president. We didn’t get a good look but Alex showed us plenty of photos of him and gave us a run-down on current Chilean politics.

As we made our way around to the other side of the presidential palace, we noted the giant Chilean flag. The flag was enormous!

We continued our walk through various neighbourhoods, and went past the Santiago Stock Exchange, Teatro Municipal (Opera House) and walked along various streets named after cities like New York, London and Paris. Each street has architecture that is meant to be reminiscent of that city. We visited the New York street on our walking tour and found out that Paris and London were right near our hotel, so made a plan to visit them later.

Our walking tour took us past several museums but all were closed on Monday’s. We weren’t planning on visiting many in our short time in Santiago, but definitely worth noting if you do want to museum hop that Monday is not the day.

We also managed to get a visit in some of the beautiful churches and cathedrals.

On our way to the Lastarria neighbourhood we went past Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) and plenty more statues. Bohemian Lastarria is dominated by the hill of Santa Lucía Park. Unfortunately Santa Lucia Park was closed on Mondays as well. I was quite keen to visit as you can’t see much from outside the gates. We planned to return the following morning if we had time.

We did walk past plenty of street vendors on our walking tour and there were quite a few selling interesting art work.

The final bits of the walking tour took us through Barrio Bellavista, the Bellavista neighbourhood, which is located between the Mapocho River and the San Cristóbal Hill. We saw plenty of restaurants and bars I’d heard were great, and Alex pointed out a few places that were great to eat both in Bellavista and Plaza Italia (the Italian square).

Our final stop for the day, also in Bellavista was La Chascona, a house in the which was owned by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. La Chascona reflects Neruda’s quirky style, in particular his love of the sea. It was built in 1953 by the poet for his lover Matilde, still secret at that time, and was later used by the couple till the death of the poet a couple of days after the coup in 1973.

Sadly, La Chascona is also closed on Mondays! Monday definitely wasn’t the best day for a tour, but oh well. We had fun sitting outside the house in the shade (it was over 30 degrees).

In the just over 3 hours of the walking tour we’d covered almost 9km and were thoroughly hot and sweaty. Our small group was great and Alex had given us lots of insight into Santiago’s history, politics, and everything from student riots to earthquakes.

Cerro San Cristóbal

The walking tour had finished right near the base of San Cristóbal Hill, an 850m peak in Northern part of Santiago. Cerro San Cristóbal was named by the Spanish conquistadors for St Christopher. The hill can be seen from quite a distance and we could see people walking and driving up as we finished our walking tour.

It was now quite warm and after 1.30pm but we thought we’d go up San Cristóbal and check out the views before heading back to Bellavista for lunch. You can get to the top of the hill by following the winding path for approximately 45 minutes, driving, using the funicular or the cable car. The cable car was closed on Mondays and Di firmly vetoed walking in the heat, so the funicular it was!

The views on the way up were pretty impressive. The funicular was first opened in 1925 and the track is 485m long, stopping at 3 stations on it’s way to the summit, including the zoo. With no small children in tow, we gave the zoo a miss and headed straight to the summit.

As we moved through the trees there were great views across to the city and the different mountain ranges in the distance.

The track was good and steep but we made it to the top without incident, and definitely less sweaty than walking in the midday heat.

First stop was checking out the views across the city.

Then it was off to see 22m statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the amphitheatre and a chapel dedicated to the Immaculate conception. The statue is up quite a lot of stone stairs, but it offered more excellent views and was worth the hike.

From the top we could see the Andes bordering one side of the city and the very dry landscape of Santiago. It was not unfamiliar of Australia after a hot dry Summer. Santiago is very flat, bar the mountains surrounding the city on every side.

There were a few good priced souvenir shops at the top funicular station and we did a little shopping before bidding farewell to San Cristóbal and heading back down on the funicular to Bellavista.

When in Chile….

After a long morning it was definitely time for a late lunch. We found a Venezuelan restaurant in Bellavista that looked ok and decided to try Peruvian Pisco Sours, that turned out to be delicious and very strong. These went with some salads which were tasty and caramel pancakes because it was holidays, so why not!

We didn’t finish lunch until almost 4pm and then started the slow wander back to our hotel.

In the warm afternoon sun we wandered the 4.5km slowly back through various streets we’d already been, hoping to find a couple of the street vendors we’d spied interesting artwork in. A few had packed up and gone for the day but we had a nice wander anyway and made it back to Plaza de Armas without incident. There were a few markets in the Plaza but we didn’t find anything we wanted and decided not to push our luck being out too long as we’d been followed a couple of times.

Iglesia de San Francisco

On the way back to the hotel we stopped past the Iglesia de San Francisco. A church we could see from our hotel window. This catholic church is thought to be Chile’s oldest and has a neoclassical clock tower (that we had a great view of from our bedroom window). It was very pretty on the inside and worth the visit.

The final drinks and dinner….

We’d met a few people in the hotel who had also been to Antarctica, although on a different ship and cruise. They’d suggested meeting up for dinner. Trish, Robert and Rita were from New Zealand and had been on a much longer Antarctic voyage from New Zealand to Ushuaia. Rita’s children and husband had headed off to hike Machu Pichu so she was keen for some company and to hear about our trip. Everyone was tired and not keen on heading out at night so we voted for dinner at the hotel again. The drinks and pizzas were pretty good at the hotel. I had been keen to try a local pisco bar but that was going to have to wait for a future trip.

The final morning…..

It was Tuesday the 14th of March, and the last morning of our trip. We both woke up at 6.30am, which was not ideal before a long few days of travel. Nevertheless, we had a relaxing breakfast and decided to knock off a few last sights before our airport transfer.

First on the agenda were the pretty ‘Paris’ and ‘London’ streets which were just behind the hotel. There were not too many people around, mostly people heading off to work so we had a little wander checking out the interesting buildings.

Cerro Santa Lucia

Our final destination was Santa Lucia Hill, which we hadn’t been able to see the previous day as it was closed. There seemed to be some debate as to whether it was actually opening at 9am or 10am. Neither google nor our tour guide, Alex, were sure. We had wandered down there and just after 9am the gates were open, so we were in luck.

Santa Lucia hill has an altitude of 629 m and a height of 69 m over the surrounding area. The hill is reportedly the remnant of a volcano 15 million years old. The surrounding area is a a 65,300 square metre park, with ornate buildings, stairways and fountains. At the highest point there is a viewpoint popular with tourists, the paths popular with joggers and the a meeting point at the top popular with locals.

We had gone into what looked like the prettier end of the park, and wandered up towards the top past many ponds and fountains. There weren’t many people out yet, a few joggers and mostly staff cleaning the park.

We wandered around a few of the paths, admiring the pretty buildings and plants. We didn’t get time to go all the way to the other end of the park, but it was certainly worth a visit.

Sadly our airport transfer was imminent so we quickly navigated back to the hotel, a long trip home awaiting us.

Farewell Chile….

We were back to our hotel around 9.40am and threw the last few things in suitcase, sat on them to get the souvenirs all in, and we were in our airport taxi before 10am. The hotel had advised we needed to be at the airport 4 hours before our flight. I wasn’t keen, but given our issues with Santiago airport so far, we decided not to risk it, which was wise.

Of course today it was a very fast 15 or so minutes to airport, as there was not much traffic.  There the good run ended as when we got to check-in and self check in not working, we waited forever for a counter, and didn’t get our upgrade.

After a quick bit of souvenir shopping, yes there were a lot of souvenirs! It was through to immigration in a very long line. This is why we needed 4 hours!!! It took forever, but at least this time there were no issues with visas.

With 20 minutes until boarding we eventually made it to the LATAM lounge. We did sneak in a some quick food and of course the last Pisco sours of the trip.

One day I’ll make it back to South America for more exploring, and probably more pisco sours 🙂

Of course after the long walk to boarding we stood around waiting for a good 20 minutes, time we could have been relaxing in that lounge! Finally on plane and we had exit row to ourselves (with a hostess who was only there for take off and landing, so bonus room). The views of Santiago on the way out were good, but I was definitely ready to be heading home to Anto and the kids.

Our flight had a lot of headwind so was a little slow and we basically flew back over Antarctica watching the flight tracker. Four and a half movies, no sleep and 16 hours later we landed in Sydney. Di had managed a little sleep but I didn’t fair so well.

Hello Australia….

We finally landed in Syd 6.15pm on Wednesday the 14th, a bit late, and a flight that was again almost entirely daylight (not helping with the sleeping).

We were efficiently through immigration and customs (no Santiago issues in Sydney), on the bus to the boring side of the airport. We might have been a bit tired but it was so close to home, a bit of dinner in the lounge and onto the final flight at 9pm.

Our pilot was in a hurry so we took off 10 minutes early, the plane was mostly empty, and we were landing in Canberra 25 minutes later, the quickest Sydney-Canberra flight ever. The hostie commented it was the last one of the day, so they weren’t mucking around.

With Max waiting for us at the airport, we were very smartly homeward bound. Well until we were 3km from my house when the airport called to say we’d left a bag behind. The extra one we’d checked for the trip home, full of all the souvenirs. A 40 minute round trip back to the airport did not sound fun after all that travel, but I’d have cranky kids in the morning, so Max dutifully took us back.

We did finally make it home by 10.30pm, after 18 days of adventure!

I enjoyed the bits of South America I visited and would love to return one day and see a little more, especially Patagonia, that was awesome! But Antarctica wins hands down. I had very high expectations and it surpassed them. I had some very happy kids and husband to see me when I got home, now I just need to win lotto to take them all to Antarctica one day….

In the meantime there have been more overseas adventures with the kids in tow. Photos incoming eventually and I’ll keep planning another Antarctic adventure for the future!


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