Santiago is easily one of the worlds’ best cities. This might seem like a bold claim, but anyone who has already had the pleasure to spend time in Chile’s bustling capital would agree. It has everything that a traveller is looking for — a diverse culture, a rich history, and views that will take your breath away. Last year, I was fortunate enough to spend over a week in Santiago. When travelling, I tend to make my stops quick — no more than 4 days — so I can fit in as many destinations as possible. But even after a week, I didn’t want to leave. That being said, a weekend is enough to experience the main highlights of the city, whilst still leaving you with a craving for more.
Plaza de Armas
Start your visit to the nation’s capital by visiting the heart of the city. The square was set up by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia in 1541. It’s surrounded by some of the most important buildings in the city, including the Cathedral of Santiago and the Central Post Office Building, which is built on the lot of Pedro de Valdivia’s former residence. The square has a pretty gruesome history. In the colonial era, it was a large public execution site, with gallows acting as the centrepiece. But you wouldn’t guess this by visiting Plaza de Armas today — palm trees adorn the charming square and a fountain sits where the gallows used to be. Take some time to wander through the square and view the impressive architecture surrounding it. And make sure to take a seat and do some people watching — there’s always something to see here.
Museum of Memory and Human Rights
Once you’ve had your fill of the square, go to the Plaza de Armas Metro Station and take the Line 5 metro to Quinta Normal. This 10-minute journey takes you pretty much directly to your next stop – the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. The Museum was created to educate visitors on the human rights abuses that Chileans suffered under Pinochet’s dictatorship, from 1973 to 1990. The museum was inaugurated by former Chilean President and current UN high commissioner Michelle Bachelet, whose father was killed by Pinochet’s government.
Entry to the museum is free of charge, but if you aren’t fluent in Spanish it’s definitely worth paying for the audio guide. For the equivalent of just £2, you’ll get a much deeper understanding of the exhibits. The museum uses a mixture of video footage, photographs and audio to depict the atrocities of the dictatorship. The use of Newspaper front covers caught my attention most. I always thought I understood the power of the media, but this exhibit opened my eyes to just how dangerous it can truly be if it’s controlled by the wrong people. But by far, the most powerful, gut-wrenching part of the museum is the wall filled with images of the 3000 people executed by Pinochet’s government. This stark reminder of this dark period of recent history brings home the message of the museum: we cannot let this happen again.
Cerro Santa Lucía
After your museum visit, take the Metro back to Plaza de Armas and make your way over to Cerro Santa Lucía. If you’d rather spend less time walking you can get off at Bella Artes instead, but Santiago is such a picturesque city that you probably won’t mind the extra 10 minute walk if it allows you to soak up even more of this marvellous city. In the 19th century, then governor Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna made the decision to turn the remnant of a 15 million-year-old volcano into a park. The park itself is beautiful, with plenty of picturesque buildings scattered throughout. But the views are what makes it. Standing at around 230 meters above the rest of Santiago, you’ll be able to see for miles. The mesmerising snow-capped mountains towering over the rest of the city are truly something to behold.
I cannot enthuse enough about this cafe. It’s been over a year since my visit and I still can’t get it out of my mind. I’m pretty sure I ate here every day I was in Santiago. The cafe is just a 2-minute walk away from the entrance of Cerro Santa Lucía. It’s the perfect place to relax after your walk, and cool down or warm up, depending on the season you’re visiting in. You’ll find adorable trinkets and beautiful artwork dotted throughout this cosy sanctuary. But most importantly, by jumping down the rabbit hole into this Alice in Wonderland inspired cafe, you’ll find some of the best food that Santiago has to offer. Highlights from the menu include afternoon tea, the South American staple Submarino, and the best bagels that you’ll ever taste. If you have a sweet tooth, make sure to get a chocolate brownie freakshake. You’ll be so full that won’t be able to move afterwards, but it’ll be worth it.
National Museum of Fine Arts
Start your second day in Santiago by visiting the National Museum of Fine Arts to get your fill of culture. This art museum was created in 1880, making it the oldest one in South America. Although there’s so much to see inside, the building is a work of art in itself. Make sure not to miss the artwork above the entrance, as well as the stone flowers on the archway. Once you enter the building, you’ll find that the glass dome roof fills the room with light, which allows the work to be seen in its best form. A large section of the ground floor is dedicated to marble statues, which are an absolute must-see. Another highlight of the museum is the room dedicated to the artwork of Israel Roa, a Chilean born expressionist painter. Once you’re done, cross the road to wander through the beautifully peaceful Parque Forestal.
The next stop is my favourite in Santiago. You don’t have to venture far for it either — the entrance to Metropolitan Park is only a 15-minute walk away from the National Museum of Fine Arts. One of the best parts of the park is the journey you’ll take to get there. The park rests atop two hills and is most easily accessible via funicular or teleférico — a form of cable car. We opted for the latter, and the views of the city were unbeatable. The teleférico first stops at Tupahue, where you’ll find Casa de Cultura Anahuac. This cultural centre offers a wide range of musical performances, and has a large collection of artwork out on display. The second stop is the peak of Cerro San Cristobal. Not only are the views phenomenal from this height, but you’ll find an impressive statue of the Virgin Mary too. Standing at 14 meters high, this statue has been a symbol of the city since its creation in 1908. The statue sits atop a chapel, which was visited by Pope John Paul II.
The penultimate stop of the weekend is the highest observatory in Latin America. To get there, head to Salvador metro station, which should be no more than a 20-minute walk from Metropolitan Park. Take line one to Tobalaba (the coolest sounding metro station ever!), and from there it’s a five minute walk to the Costanera Center. The observatory deck is on the 62nd floor of the building, and it stands at 300 meters high. For the price of £15, you get to experience 360° views of the city, as well as the amazing backdrop of the mountains. For the best views try to get here around sunset — the mountains look even more beautiful with a pink hue. And if you’re in the mood for a shopping trip, you’re in the right place. The Costanera Center has the largest mall in South America. Although it’s mostly filled with international brands, there are a few independent shops so make sure to keep an eye out for them to get your hands on some great souvenirs.
Finally, no trip to Chile is complete without drinking pisco. Although Chile claims that their national drink originated from the country, Peruvians dispute this and claim the pisco they create is of a higher quality. But wherever the drink originated from, there’s no doubt that drinking pisco in Chile is a must. The best way to consume the liquor is in the form of a Pisco Sour; a cocktail comprising of sugar syrup, lime juice, egg whites, and of course, pisco. For a great night out, and an even better pisco, head to Bellavista. This hipster district of the city has the best bars and the liveliest atmosphere. For the perfect end to end your perfect weekend, visit Azotea Matilde. Boasting amazing views of the Andes, this rooftop bar is the perfect place to enjoy your pisco sour and commemorate your amazing weekend, in an amazing city. ¡Salud!