“A big city with little to offer and dangerous” was the description we read on-line prior to our trip, so with that in mind we hesitated to even venture into the huge metropolis officially called “Santiago de Chile” and what an unfortunate mistake that would have been! Oh sure there are areas that should definitely be avoided, just like any big city, and we did experience the old “pigeon poop” ploy. For those not familiar with this scam tourists are sprayed with a mustard/water solution that looks like pigeon droppings; once sprayed you are quickly approached by a concerned local who offers to help you clean off the droppings, distracting you, while their accomplice comes up behind to relieve you of your wallet, watch, jewellery, etc. We were aware of this scam and were on to them the moment it happened and think they must have been novices since the sheer volume sprayed on both of us made it seem like the whole flock had air-bombed us. Oh the joys of being tourists who stick out like a sore thumb!
When the decision was made to head to Santiago we had planned to stay only a couple of days, but once there quickly realized there is so much to do, see and explore and ended up extending our stay. The weather this time of year is absolutely beautiful, and despite the fact that fall was upon us, we woke every day to sunshine, bright blue, cloudless skies with daytime temperatures in the mid to upper 20s, perfect by our standards.
Similar to Buenos Aires, the city is divided into barrios so staying in central Barrio Lastarria meant we were steps away from the subway and could walk just about everywhere in the city center. With European style cobblestone streets it is an enchanting area with a wide range of hotels, restaurants, cultural centers, cinemas, bookstores, art galleries, and antique shops all making this small district an oasis for culture.
Santa Lucia Hill, a small lookout point with fountains and terraces, and the huge Parque Forestal were just around the corner. Bike paths are everywhere and every Sunday the city closes kilometres of streets along the Mapuche River with an amazing number of bikers taking the opportunity for a little exercise.
The focal point of the city is Cerro San Cristobal with a gigantic statue of the Virgin Mary at its peak that can be seen from most points in the city. This “hill” is expansive and also houses a zoo, numerous parks, pools and gardens and is accessible by funicular and cable car or driving up the steep incline. We started our sight seeing at this point only to realize how huge and far-reaching this city really is.
Plaza de Armas is the site where Santiago was founded and is considered “kilometer 0”. This area has several historic buildings surrounding the square and regardless of the time of day the area is buzzing with street performers, tourists or people just hanging out. The city extends out from here and includes the various barrios, each with their own characteristics and vibe. Each day we would pick an area to explore and with map in hand would hit the recommended must see areas but also discovered hidden treasures not mentioned in the tourist books. We could have easily stayed in the city for an extended time and not get bored.
Day trips are relatively easy so one day we headed to what has become one of my favourite little villages, Pomaire, where we found great traditional folklore clay pottery made by the indigenous Mapuche. Dozens of shops line the main street some with artisans demonstrating their work. I was like a kid in a candy shop and could have easily brought a truckload home with me. The area is also known for its traditional Chilean dishes including huge empanadas. We finally tried Pastel de Choclo here, a corn pie with meat filling, good but not exactly one of our favourites.
We did do a little side-trip to southern Chile, just a 10-hour bus ride followed by a car rental. The weather in the south is definitely cooler, a bit rainy and fall like – guess it was just getting us ready for our “spring” weather back home. In this area of the Andes, we started to see a number of volcanos, some still active, age old forests and crystal clear lakes. Visiting these small villages really reminded us of Lake Placid and the Adirondacks.
The area is also known for the huge number of natural thermal springs high up in the mountains, with water temperatures in some up to 45C. We spent a wonderful day in a rainforest environment enjoying the therapeutic qualities of the waters guaranteed to cure whatever ails you.
Heading back to Santiago we spent our last two days revisiting our favourite haunts and getting ready for the long trip home.
We sincerely thank you for following us in our travels and as always have really appreciated your comments. We look forward to future travels and adventures, (yet to be determined), after all it’s a big world and the clock isn’t slowing down. Until then Haste Luego!
“Every story has an ending, but in life, every ending is a new beginning” ~Unknown