Santiago: Poetry and motion in Chile's capital - Americas - Travel - The Independent

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

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
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
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

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week