We started off with a little scary twist though. As we were entering Chile and Santiago for the first time ever in the middle of the night, we had read about picking your taxi carefully as some robbing and kidnapping have occured. But hey, how do you know about the taxis at the airport unless you take the official one at the counter. And still, once you’ve taken the official one and no one walks you to an actual official one, but instead you get directions and walk over with your luggage and there are no clear lines, signs of spots for those official ones… how do you know when someone wearing an “official” vest saying “yeah, you take that one” while pointing you to go to a black car with no taxi signs on it… You get on the black car with a local guy, a bit older, with your family including a child. As you drive away from the airport you get immediately stopped by police who come investigating your driver, the car and you questioning whose child is it in the car. Apparently the driver gets clean papers so you drive off while the driver tells you there’s been some kidnappings lately so the police are watching. And how do you know when coming from a Scandinavian country that you can trust the police or the taxi driver in the first place…? Then you arrive luckily in one piece to the adress where you have booked your apartment stay at…only to find out in the middle of the night that there is no such company in that adress… Oh well, fortunately it was only these a bit frightening moments that our hearts missed a few beats.
Other that that, everything went perfectly well! Our apartment, which eventually WAS in that given adress but had only recently changed the company name and that receptionist on shift just didn’t recognize it and when phoning after 5-10 minutes again the responsible was there again to welcome us to our great place only a few blocks away from Plaza de Armas, the main square in centro historico =)
Our top picks to see and do in Santiago
When walking around in different barrios, or parts of the city, it sometimes reminds you of New York and at others of Madrid. Santiago is a huge metropol – the city itself inhabits some 6,5 million, but the metropol region some 17 million, one third of the whole country. Better living and work is possible in Santiago, say the locals.
As there are so many things a vibrant metropol can offer, here are our three picks and recommendations when you only have a couple of days to spend:
1) Parque Metropolitano
Our definite number one in Santiago is the enormous Parque Metropolitano de Santiago with its several places to see, to do and to excercice besides seeing stunning views over the city spreading far in between surrounding mountains. This park, celebrating its centennial this year 2017, is the fourth largest urban park in the world and the largest in South America. It is where the locals escape city chaos, noice, pollution and heat. They even call it “lungs of the city”. It extends to 1,785 hectares with several hills to climb, several parks and cultural points to see and more than 14 kilometres of nature trails on only one top level in the area. The park extends to a long area of hills starting at Cerro San Cristobal from the river side or the city center and extending all the way to Bosque with several excellent hiking trails on the mountains to the west. In between are two more Cerros Piramide and Chacarillas.
-> Take the old funicular cable car – original since 1925 – up to a great viewing point at Cerro San Cristóbal, the “first” hill in the park when entering the park from riverside. Admire views from the 15 meter tall Virgin Mary statue overlooking city center. There’s again another cable car connecting the two mid-cerros with outstanding views.
-> On a hot day a perfect option is the go swimming in one of the two large public pools. We spent an afternoon on Piscina Tahoe (entrance tickets abt 3 € per adult). It is quite a walk from the city center, so rent a city bike or take a taxi to the pool and walk back. If taking a taxi, prepare to pay an extra 3-4 € fee for a car to enter the park.
-> Eat at the restaurant, have a coffee break in one of the quite many little kiosks, go on a picnic, enjoy the multiple gardens (like the Japanese garden) or just walk, run, bike, hike the trails.
-> Visit the zoo (Zoologico Nacional) at the bottom of Cerro San Cristóbal next to the funicular castle. You can access the zoo from north side of the hill too.
2) Barrio Bellavista
One of the most adorable, liveliest and bohemian district of Santiago is definitely Barrio Bellavista. The blocks around are filled with restaurants, cafes, clubs, theatres and funky stores. Just stroll around on the streets people-watching and admiring the colourful murals and paintings on the building walls.
One of the main tourist attractions in this areas (besides the above and entrance to the Parque Metropolitano, the funicular cable car and the zoo) is La Chascona, house of the Nobel price winner poet Pablo Neruda. La Chascona, now a museum, was one of his three houses, two others being in Valparaiso and Isla Negra on the Pacific Coast. Each house has strong personality, as Neruda designed them to resemple things and places he loved the most. And all have great collectibles too he received from all over the world. Enjoy an audio tour at the museum and meanwhile dip into some of country’s history too! Tickets 5000 CH pesos / adult.
3) Centro historico – Centro Mercado
Besides historical Plaza de Armas (from 1541) and old colonial buildings such as Primera Cathedral de Santiago (from 1561) around it in the neigbouring blocks with multiple stores that carry pretty much everything, there is the central market, Centro Mercado. It’s and old and original trading place; however, the center is turned into a court with many sea food restaurants. I would definitely go and enjoy a proper lunch there, since closes at five p.m.! Food court in the middle, a circuit of shops around and specialized grocery shops on the outer circuit, makes it a neat place to visit.
There are quite many parks in the city despite its looks of tall city buildings and overpopulation with sadly a lot of pollution. There are many parks along the river front (eg Parque Forestal) – where you see people enjoying their time. Then there are cute little gems just like a park with an old castle Castillo Hidalgo just next to our apartment building. Walk up the steps to enjoy views or just relax in a little Japanese garden within the park. Other places of interest are the Cerro Recoleta with a beautiful cemetary (similar to the famous one in Buenos Aires, Argentina) and Fantasilandia south of city center. Santiago city consists of several city disctricts and municipalities, each having their own shopping malls. Chileans love to spend time in the malls, so shopping possibilities are endless too.
All in all, this vibrant metropol is one of the cities that stole our hearts – we definitely want to return one day! Maybe for a basecamp to visit Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego in the south? Or Easter Island on the Pacific – only a 5 hour flight away? Remains to be seen… Meanwhile, allow this city to positively surprise you too.