When we scheduled our trip to Chilean Patagonia, the obvious way to break up our travel was to spend a night in the nation’s capital, Santiago. After our 9-hour flight from Atlanta, it was a necessity and a welcome break to spend a fun day exploring the city.
I can’t say that we thoroughly explored Santiago, but walking around the city a little bit gave us a taste for the culture and provided some great views. The first thing one notices about Santiago are the towering Andes Mountains just outside of town. Our hotel was in the Financial District of town and the surrounding area felt pretty familiar to a typical American city. The architectural styles in use were very modern; giving little indication of the rich history dating back to Santiago’s 1541 founding. To be clear, Santiago boasts several interesting historical areas and is interesting architecturally.
Our starting point in the center of town was notably commercial and modern. Given the amount of moving travel time on our itinerary, we opted not to explore the mountains or wineries on the outskirts of town. We really enjoyed our day in Santiago, but a short time into our walk we found ourselves ensconced in the Costanera Center, a luxury six-floor shopping mall. We enjoyed lunch at one of the many restaurants in the complex. Costanera is full of fancy stores such as Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, Ermenegildo Zegna. The mall also somewhat mysteriously contained an apparel store for the construction equipment company Caterpillar (CAT). Most of the apparel was more in the fashion realm than being a store to purchase practical work gear. In fairness, a quick visit to shopcaterpillar.com makes me think that the store in Santiago wasn’t that unique after all. Work with me here, I’m trying to make a mall exciting!
The mall itself didn’t make a strong impression on me; however, the Costanera complex also contains the Gran Torre Santiago; a 64-story glass building which dominates soars in the middle of town. In fact, the Gran Torre Santiago is the tallest building in South America and is the 2nd highest in the southern hemisphere. When we visited in November 2014, the observation deck at Gran Torre Santiago wasn’t open yet. However, it is said to be a wonderful viewpoint on Santiago. That said, it hard to imagine it being more enjoyable than the amazing outdoor vantagepoint we visited while in Santiago.
After lunch, we walked over to the funicular (tram) and rode to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. The hill is about 1,000ft higher than the city, so the top presents panoramic looks at the city. In addition, a beautiful statue of Virgin Mary watches over Santiago from Cerro San Cristóbal. I’ve read in numerous places that the views from the top of the hill can be somewhat riddled by smog, but we had a really nice day and enjoyed a peaceful afternoon (Santiago’s mountain surroundings that I mentioned earlier make it more susceptible to smog). After heading back down the hill, we walked through Barrio Bellavista; which is a fun neighborhood of town full of patio restaurants and culture.
Overall, Santiago seemed like a cool city and we enjoyed our day of sightseeing. I’m sure there are other fun things to do around the city, but Chile is an truly amazing country that beckons adventure outside of city life. Luckily, we were headed to the end of the world toward Punta Arenas the next morning!