Santiago: Poetry and motion in Chile's capital

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Santiago carries reminders of a troubled past, but Simone Kane discovers that art and architecture are much in evidence too

Look at the map: Chile is a very long, thin country – from north to south it stretches further than the distance from London to Baghdad. Which means that the position of Santiago de Chile, at its geographical centre, is paramount. Almost every traveller will pass through the city, which is well worth a stay. Chile's sprawling capital, wedged between the Andes and the Chilean Coastal Range, has a charming colonial-era centre to wander – and a turbulent history to explore.

The city's rapid expansion over the last decade has brought prosperity to many, but by no means to all. Last August, students repeatedly took to the streets in their fight for a free education. But the winter of discontent has passed, and there are still a couple of months of fine summer weather to enjoy, making now a great time to visit.

The quieter side of the city is immediately apparent as you start your walk at Plaza de la Constitución. On the south side, the Palacio de la Moneda (see panel) is Santiago's pre-eminent landmark Almost all of it is open to the public. A fine, late 18th-century building, it was designed to house the national mint. In the mid-1840s, it was designated as the seat of government and still acts as the presidential palace. This was the site of socialist leader Salvador Allende's (still-disputed) suicide in 1973, as he succumbed to General Pinochet's military coup.

A short stroll north-east, Plaza de Armas is dominated by the symbol of another influential force in Chilean society. The neo-classical Catedral Metropolitana (Mon-Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 9am-noon) was built between 1748 and 1800. The site was nominated in 1541, in the city layout ordered by Santiago's first royal governor Pedro de Valdivia. The cathedral's baroque interior – with its altar of marble, bronze and lapis lazuli – offers respite on a warm day.

Plaza de Armas is also where you'll find the Museo Historico Nacional (00 56 2 411 7000; www.museohistoriconacional.cl). There's a limited display on pre-conquistador culture; the emphasis is on the periods of conquest and colony, independence and industrial revolution. It ends rather abruptly – perhaps fittingly – with the military coup. President Allende's broken spectacles are a stark symbol of the onset of dictatorship.

Head south on Estado to pick up Alameda, an avenue that carves through the city from east to west. Its official name, Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins recalls another of Chile's founding fathers. O'Higgins led the fight for liberation from Spanish rule and became the first leader of the newly declared independent state in 1818.

Continue east along Alameda until you reach Cerro Santa Lucía. Back in the 16th century, Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago on this then-barren hill. Today, it's one of the city's popular parks. Ornate façades and fountains, sweeping stone staircases, terraces and little castles enhance the idyllic scene as paths wind their way to the Torre Mirador. The compensation for the 69-metre climb is one of the best views of the city.

Post-Pinochet Santiago is a capital that's coming to terms with itself. The modern is embraced in the growth of areas such as Vitacura, where Beverly Hills-style boulevards are lined with high-class boutiques. Yet, it is still protective of its past. This is evident in the regeneration of the central, historic barrios such as Lastarria, just east of Cerro Santa Lucía – check out the aptly named Bar La Junta (00 56 2 638 6864; barlajunta.cl) on José Victorino Lastarria.

Satisfy your cultural appetite by shadowing Cerro Santa Lucía's western boundaries to its north exit and taking José Miguel de la Barra to reach the Parque Forestal, a strip of green by the Mapocho River. In the middle is the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It is home to two of the country's most important art museums: the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (00 56 2 4991 600; www.mnba.cl) and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (00 56 2 977 1741; mac.uchile.cl, closed Feb); the focus of the permanent collections is on homegrown talent.

Another local talent, Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, celebrated the diverse Chilean landscape, but also wrote about the exploitation of his countrymen. His house-turned-museum, Museo Casa La Chascona (00 56 2 777 8741; fundacionneruda.org), epitomises his eccentricity. To get there from Palacio de Bellas Artes, head north on José Miguel de la Barra, which becomes Loreto. Turn right on to Antonia López de Bello and after five blocks go left on to Constitución, finally turning right onto Fernando Márquez de la Plata. Here, La Chascona presents an eclectic selection of art and anecdotal artefacts. Neruda's Nobel Peace Prize is also here.

Hop on a funicular at Castillo station to reach Cerro San Cristóbal (parquemet.cl). The hill stands 300 metres above the city and has panoramic views. The best vantage point is the east side. Stand beneath the 14-metre high Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción, who watches over the city as it sprawls for miles. Santiago's growth is only curtailed, it seems, by the physical obstacle of the Andes.

The big attraction

The Palacio de la Moneda, spanning the south side of the Plaza de la Constitución, is an imposing, late 18th-century legacy of the colonial era. The north façade of this symbol of nationhood was damaged by missile attacks back in 1973 as General Pinochet seized power. It has had a facelift, though, and visitors can walk the corridors of power and enjoy a few moments' peace in its pretty inner courtyards.

Palacio de la Moneda: Morandé, 130, Santiago (00 56 2 690 4000). Open Tues- Fri, 10am-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-2pm, entry free.

Travel essentials

Getting there

With no direct flights between the UK and Chile, the usual approach is via Madrid: Iberia (0870 609 0500; iberia.com) has connections from Heathrow and Manchester, or fly BA to Madrid and connect to LAN (0800 977 6100; lan.com) to reach Santiago. Simone Kane travelled with Cox & Kings (0845 154 8941; coxandkings.co. uk), which has a 10-day private tour to Chile, from £3,950 per person. The price includes return flights with LAN; three nights with breakfast at the Hotel Lastarria in Santiago, two nights full board at The Singular in Patagonia, and three nights full board at Tierra Patagonia, plus transfers and excursions in Patagonia.

More information

Chile Tourist Board: chile.travel

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
books
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Chosen to lead the women's wing of the ruling Zanu-PF, the wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding the 90-year old
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model of a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution