I can’t remember quite what I was expecting flying into Santiago at the start of my first visit to South America. But I have to admit that Chile’s capital city was a revelation.
I guess I hadn’t imagined it would look so European. Much more so than the vast majority of North American cities. Although over the following three weeks, I was to learn this is the norm for South America.
I was also surprised at the apparent prosperity of Santiago, and indeed all the parts of Chile that I saw. Although obviously there are still some very poor areas, our guides Antonio and John (from AFI Services) told us that things have been getting better and better over the last 15 years or so, and the country’s future seems very bright.
Antonio and John gave us a real flavour for Santiago (not to mention Valparaiso and up into the Andes). After introducing us to some of the districts to the west of the city centre by car, they took us for a stroll through a tiny plaza in the Barrio Concha y Toro with the grand title of Plazoleta de la Libertad de Prensa (Small Square of the Freedom of the Press). It was like being back in any number of small towns in Spain or Italy.
Our main walking tour with Antonio began in Plaza de la Ciudadanía, outside the Palacio de La Moneda, the old mint that now serves as Chile’s Presidential Headquarters.
From here we wound our way through the streets of the historic centre, via Plaza de la Constitucion, to the city’s foremost open space, Plaza de Armas.
Next we relocated to the beautiful Cerro Santa Lucía. This small hill in the centre of old Santiago was once the site of a fortress, but is now a green oasis where locals and tourists come to enjoy spectacular views of the city.
That evening we wandered across the bridge from our hotel off Plaza Baquedano into the vibrant Barrio Bellavista neighbourhood. Here we tried Pastel de Choclo (Chilean corn pie) in an authentic local restaurant. I can tell you, it wasn’t the last time we had that for dinner… it was delicious!
The next morning we saw a bit of the modern district at the eastern end of Providencia, before heading up into the Andes for the day. (Doesn’t that have an amazing ring to it? “Heading up into the Andes for the day!”) This area is the business heart of the country, which has earned it the nickname Sanhattan, a tongue-in-cheek combination of Santiago and Manhattan.
Once again left to our own devices after a wonderful day in the mountains, we took a walk into the heart of the historic centre, returning to Plaza de Armas at dusk. What a wonderful way to spend our last evening in this beautiful city.
And do you know what the best thing is about Santiago?…. Next February I get to go back again! I’m really looking forward to meeting up with Antonio and John once more!
This post was inspired by Cee’s Which Way Challenge and Jo’s Monday walk. I suppose you could also say it fits with Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge for the week, which is Habits, since exploring new places, taking photos of my Journeys (actually, Rich does this part, since they don’t really make proper cameras small enough for me to use) and writing blogs about my experiences are some of my favourite habits!
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