Nestled against the Andes, the City of Santiago is home to about one-third of the country’s 17 million residents. Before coming to Santiago we had heard mixed reviews, but by the end of our 6 night stay we were thoroughly impressed. The city was smoggy as a result of its geography and size, but it was really clean and refreshingly orderly. It nevertheless has some really interesting neighbourhoods with great restaurants and bars. It also boasts a number of green spaces along its riverside as well as the second largest urban park in the world – Cerro San Cristobal. It may be a bit cheeky to call Cerro San Cristobal a “park” though given the fact that it is really a massive hill with walking trails and only a few flat sections.
We started our stay in Santiago with a Tours4Tips walking tour that focused on the city’s main highlights. We are finding it very useful to begin our stay in the larger cities with a walking tour – not only do they give us a quick orientation to the city, but they also seem to come along with good recommendations on where to eat or have a drink. Another bonus of this particular walking tour was that it came with a free bike rental for a day. We took advantage of this by pedalling alongside the river towards a newly developing area of the city. The entire ride was along separated bike paths (by the river or in parks), corroborating Santiago’s claim in being the most bike friendly city in South America.
Another highlight of our stay was the walk to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. It actually ended up being much steeper than we had anticipated – it was no walk in the park! This was indeed further proof that it is cheeky to call Cerro San Cristobal a “park.” Santiago also saw our very first trip (on this trip) to a museum! Free and absolutely fabulous was the brand new Museum of Memories and Human Rights, chronicling the military coup in 1973 and the subsequent Pinochet dictatorship that lasted until 1990. Not only did this museum give us insight into Chile’s recent history, but also made us realize how little we know about Latin American history. It’s actually quite scandalous how such little time is dedicated Latin America even in advanced high school history classes.
From Santiago we did a day trip to the UNESCO port-side city Valparaiso, which was just less than a two-hour bus ride away. Valparaiso is still the country’s largest port, but has much more unemployment than the capital and, as a result, isn’t as polished (this however is part of its appeal!). Valparaiso’s heyday was in the early 20th century, when Europeans on their way to the California gold rush stopped over along their journey. Valparaiso’s fortunes quickly changed though in 1915 when the Panama Canal opened (making it possible to bypass South America). Valparaiso is a super colourful city scattered amongst various hillsides – 100 year old funiculars still provide quick access to the top of the hills. Many of Valparaiso’s buildings are also covered in graffiti art, a tactic actually used to deter graffiti tagging. Valparaiso was an excellent place to spend the day lingering around and taking in the cobbled stoned streets and ocean views.
Of course no visit to Chile is complete without wine! We had a number of opportunities to sample excellent Carmeneres and Cabernet Sauvignons from grocery store shelves and restaurants alike. We had an excellent experience at la Bocanriz – a wine bar serving only Chilean wines and offering smaller glass sizes for sampling. We also took the subway (yes, the subway) and a short taxi ride to a vineyard basically within the city limits (Vina Aquitania). We were shocked to see how close the Maipo Valley, so renowned for its Cab Savs, was to the city. It was clear that sprawling housing developments into the valley were beginning to threaten the vineyards. Our visit to Vina Aquitania included both a tour and a tasting, which was a real nice way to learn a little more about the Maipo Valley and Chilean wines in general.
We are now headed to Mendoza, Argentina!
Where we stayed: Maybe our favourite apartment yet – modern and centrally located with an amazing view.
Best meal: Tapas at Bocanriz (amazing salmon tartar), our meal at Caleta Lastarria is also worth mentioning (great tuna ceviche).
Best experience: Tours4Tips (in Santiago and Valparaiso) and the Museum of Memories