Santiago de Chile is a big city, several times larger than Chile’s next largest and thus dominates the country’s discourse. Although not a must-see tourist attraction in its own right, the city has enough culture and sites to entertain one for many days. In April Santiago hosted me for two weeks, with a trip to Valparaiso in the middle.
With a semi-arid climate, Santiago usually receives little to no April rainfall. 2016 was different. Substantial precipitation fell during my first days in the city causing significant consequences. Businesses and homes flooded and most of the city lost their water supply after it was contaminated by catchment area landslides.
The fast-flowing Mapocho River in front of a mural depicting people attempting to cross a water course
The rain and flooding made finding an open restaurant doubly difficult. Flooded streets required kind lifts from motorists to cross and almost all restaurants stayed closed due to a lack of water.
An armoured vehicle speeding through a flooded Santiago street intersection
The late afternoon Mapocho River with the moon in the distance between a lamppost and a skyscraper
After days of rain, the sun finally came out on the the 19th of April. Rain may have caused chaos in the city but it also cleared the city’s persistent smog, allowing for rare, clear views of the surrounding Andes Mountains. To take advantage of this I caught the funicular up San Cristobal Hill.
The funicular travelling from Barrio Bellavista past the National Zoo up San Cristobal Hill
Later on the 19th I took a bus to Valparaiso, returning to Santiago four days later.
Chile has a very efficient postal service. Sending a postcard from Chile to Australia was more than four times cheaper than from neighbouring Bolivia. This surprised me greatly as almost everything else in Chile is more expensive.
On the 25th, another clear, post-rain day, I visited Latin America’s tallest building, the Costanera Center, for the spectacular views from its Sky Costanera observation deck.
The Costanera Center casts a shadow over Santiago with the snow-capped Andes in the background
Standing on the Sky Costanera observation deck
Due to its geography (and pollution output) Santiago is usually surrounded by smog. This spectacular twilight view from Sky Costanera was only available after rain washed the smog away temporarily
Butterflies feasting on geraniums at Santiago’s Santa Lucia Hill
From the foreground to the background: Chile’s flag, an obelisk, a horse and rider monument and the snow-covered Andes Mountains
Santiago’s metro system is critical for mass people movement and the stations feature works of art, brightening up the commute.
To better understand Chile’s recent violent past, one must visit the Museum of Memories and Human Rights, a sober record and place of reflection. The divisions from this time have still not fully healed. I was amazed to find out that Pinochet, dictator from 1973 to 1990, remained army commander-in-chief for eight years post-dictatorship. Chile’s political and economic machinations are complicated.
One area of dispute in current day Chile is the philosophy and cost of education. Most universities in Chile are private with very high tuition fees and I witnessed multiple education-related protests in country.
Chairs piled up against the fence at a Santiago university protest: “They say inclusive and pluralistic but Chile is elitist”
One of Chile’s most famous people is the late poet, diplomat and politician Pablo Neruda. Neruda’s former house in Santiago’s Bellavista district, La Chascona, is now dedicated to him and his former secret lover and third wife, Matilde Urrutia. The audio guided tour gives insight into Neruda and provides another perspective on Chile’s 20th century history.
Hundreds of purple stalactites and stalagmites at the centre of Santiago’s National Museum of Fine Arts
Norton Maza’s El rapto at Santiago’s Museum of Fine Arts
Snow storms at the Andean border crossing into Argentina delayed my Santiago departure for two days. This was a blessing in disguise as it enabled me to enjoy some of the finest tiramisu made by someone other than an Italian nonna. The Original Green Roasters’ manager can take a bow for his culinary masterpiece.