What to see in one week in & around Santiago
When our long-time friend, and fellow travel enthusiast, told us he was coming to visit us on our trip, we thought about where we would take him. He wanted to experience our journey with us, and get a taste of Chile. We decided to share some of our favourite places, within easy reach of Santiago. These are the highlights of his time with us, and could easily be a basis for a short trip to Chile for a week or more.
Santiago de Chile
First we introduced him to the convenience of the Metro system to bring him from the airport to his accommodation. Despite his long trip from Sydney, we spent the evening with our friend Odette, who gave all of us a lesson in making the perfect Pisco Sour – including tasting, of course.
The next day we spent some time sitting in, and wandering about Plaza de Armas – the heart of Santiago. It is looking great since its makeover – for the whole of last year it was shrouded by a tall timber fence. The cathedral has also recently had its scaffolding and drapes removed, so the whole area is looking very fresh and attractive.
One of the best museums in Santiago has to be the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino . It was one of the first I visited last year, and Juergen also went later in the year. [Our previous gallery post! ] Pete and I spent several hours there, and he was absolutely impressed by the layout and the exhibits. It has 3 floors: the top floor exhibits pre-Colombian art from all of the Americas; the ground floor has temporary exhibits; and the basement is aptly named ‘Chile antes de Chile’ – pre-Colombian artefacts just from Chile.
The third Santiago ‘tourist attraction’ we introduced him to was Pueblito Los Dominicos , an artisanal market at the end of Metro Line 1 in Las Condes. We have visited this market several times since our first visit in 2009. It is housed on a former ‘fundo’ and the adobe buildings, some original, give it a rural and rustic feel. Pete was pleased to be able to buy a shawl from a shop where the weaving process was shown and explained to him – and the owners even get the wool from their own herd of alpacas.
Other sights to include during a short stay in Santiago
· The centre of Santiago is dominated by modern buildings, but there are some remarkable historical buildings left which can be discovered by following the heritage walking tour around town; the self-guided tour is marked with round silver plaques set into the footpath.
· Visit the ‘Cerro Santa Lucia‘, a small park on top of a hill near the ‘Santa Lucia’ Metro station, to gain an overview of the city centre.
· Stroll through Barrio Brasil, and the neighbouring Yungay, to see some beautiful, older residences and many examples of South America’s outstanding street art.
It’s not very pleasant to be in Santiago during winter because, if it doesn’t rain, the smog is really bad. So we headed for Valparaiso , an important port city, but also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is famous for its unique and eclectic mix of architecture, huge collection of street art, bohemian atmosphere, and the list goes on. We find it a fascinating city and we were happy to be visiting for the fourth time. Two full days of wandering its hills and streets was just barely enough.
On the first day we took a taxi to Cerro Alegre where we found an excellent restaurant for lunch – La Cocó Sangucheria Artesanal – that served tasty vegetarian sandwiches on wholemeal bread rolls. We were then ready to walk a bit, sharing an area of Avenida Aleman with Pete, that we had been to last year. He was fascinated by the street art, which is everywhere. Juergen was happy to find new pieces added since our last visit .
There are also some great views of houses that appear to be perched precariously on the hills. We walked slowly around and down, the journey broken continuously by stops to photograph more wall paintings. When we arrived at the bottom, we found a bar that served pisco sour to celebrate our day (but not quite up to Odette’s standard). It was a great day!
We started a little later on our second day, having lunch at a café before joining a ‘free tour’ at 3 pm. These tours are offered for free and participants tip the tour guide at the end. They last around 3 hours and take in quite a lot of interesting places. Our tour guide was informative and very friendly and, for the most part, we were able to keep up. He made use of a funicular (local name: ‘ascensor’) to take us up to Cerro Concepcion. Walking around up there was fairly easy, but the steps to go down again were a bit difficult for those of us that are more mature, and have a few creaky joints… After a couple of hours we had a rest stop at an empanada shop, where we could get food and drink, use the toilet, and taste ready-made pisco sour.
After this the guide seemed to be in more of a hurry. We had to climb a lot of stairs to reach the ‘Happy Hill’ (Cerro Alegre), which was quite arduous, and we were left a bit behind. But we caught him again at Baburizza Palace, which houses the Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes. There is a lovely overlook of the city from that point. Unfortunately, when he was finished there, he raced down the hill and, by the time we got to the bottom, the group was nowhere in sight. So we stopped off in a café on Plaza Sotomayor, and spent our tip money on refreshments! A shame, since we would have liked to thank him for what was a great tour.
The café had caught our eye because it is called the Melbourne Café . It is obviously the creation of a Melbourne-ophile, with the walls decorated with photos and street signs from that city. They also claim to make their coffee after the Melbourne art.
Eating out suggestions for Valparaiso
Valparaiso offers some excellent fresh seafood.
· On a previous visit to Valpo , we went to the fishing port, ‘Caleta Portales, which has a buzzing atmosphere in the fish market when the boats come in during the morning. There are also several seafood restaurants there, open for lunch, serving the fresh catch.
· Alternatively you could visit one of the up-market restaurants on ‘Cerro Concepción’ or ‘Cerro Alegre’ for a dining experience with a vista across town towards the port.
Casa de Isla Negra
After two exhausting, but exhilarating days in Valparaiso, we took Pete south to visit one of Pablo Neruda’s houses. There are three Neruda houses open to the public – one in Santiago and one in Valparaiso – but most people say that the one at Isla Negra is the best. We had visited it last year and found it fascinating. Pete had been reading Neruda’s poetry in preparation, and he was not disappointed. I suppose he was in there for at least 2 hours, and returned to us with a satisfied smile on his face.
While in this area around Algarrobo we also took him to see San Alfonso del Mar, the ‘world’s largest swimming pool’! We had also been there before, but it’s an interesting place to see. Pete had the same reaction as me – why would you build a great big swimming pool next to the ocean? Worth pondering!
Originally the plan was to return for more sightseeing in Santiago for the last couple of days of Pete’s stay. But the smog had literally ‘left a bad taste in our mouths’! Instead we decided to take him to another area that we both like – the beaches north of Valparaiso . We chose Maítencillo because we thought we should be able to easily find somewhere for Pete to stay, and also because of its laid-back atmosphere – at this point in time it’s less developed than the other nearby coastal towns.
We drove around Valparaiso on Ruta 60, which gave Pete the opportunity to see examples of the vulnerable Jubaea chilensis (Chilean wine palm or Chile cocopalm) endemic to this central region of Chile. He was also humorously interested in a string of motels along the route, when we explained that ‘motels’ here were not the same as at home, because here they are rented by the hour!
In Maítencillo Pete found a nice room at J C Cabañas . The owners are a friendly and welcoming couple – she Swedish and he Chilean. We spent our 2 nights in our camper in a parking lot in the southern part of town where we had parked before. Pete was happy to sit by the ocean, watching the surfers, taking photos, and chatting to them occasionally.
We also took a short drive to Cachagua, to look for penguins at the Monumento Natural Isla Cachagua (Cachagua Island Natural Monument), which is also called Isla de los Pingüinos (Penguin Island). It is home to both Magellan and Humboldt penguins and is about 100m from the mainland. You are not allowed to go there but we sat at a lookout and, with the help of Pete’s camera, got a good look at them. There were lots of other birds too and some very friendly dogs hanging about. Despite the drizzle and threat of heavier rain, it was a lovely afternoon.
We had spent 8 days visiting these places and on the 9th it was time to return to Santiago for Pete to continue his journey – next stop, Buenos Aires. He had a stroke of luck with his hotel for his final night in Chile, because it was in Barrio Brasil in Santiago. It gave him the opportunity to check out an area we would have taken him if we had returned to Santiago earlier. This area was an upper-class neighbourhood in Chile’s capital from the middle of the 18th century, and many of the buildings are still from that era, in various states of repair. It also has a lot of outstanding street art ! Hotel Mery is in a nice old building and looked like a homely place to stay. Pete checked in, left his bags in his room, and walked us back to Berta. It was sad to say goodbye but we had all enjoyed the time together.
So what did Pete think of this ‘taste of Chile’?
Gee, we certainly did a lot in a week and a half. Still not enough to fully do justice to a country as varied as Chile, but a great taste for a longer visit. Highlight for me was undoubtedly the amazing street art of Valparaiso. And, of course, learning how to make a real Pisco Sour. But most special was catching up with two remarkable and dear friends who are living their dream. Miss you already!
What do you think of this itinerary to visit sights in and around Santiago de Chile?
Have we forgotten anything important? What would you recommend to add to it?
Please comment below!