After a long flight, we touched down in Santiago on Thursday morning. Immigration was pretty straightforward, though we did have a little bit of a scare with customs. As we were walking to have our bags X-rayed, one of the customs dogs gave Emily’s day pack an extra long sniff. We clarified we had no food, but had to have the bag searched after the X-ray. The culprit? Vitamin C cough drops that smelled like oranges! I think the pooch had an ulterior motive; wanting to play fetch with me.
We had a shuttle arranged to take us to our apartment at Altura Suites. Our driver, Enrique, was very kind. We had a nice conversation (in broken Spanish) along the way. We talked a bit about the forest fires plaguing the central region of Chile. You can read more about the devastating fires here. Altura Suites was located just a few blocks away from the Plaza de Armas, and Cerro Santa Lucia, two of the main attractions. It was nice being so central to the city and was a great base for exploring.
Heat and Haze
The biggest hurdle for us to overcome (other than the language barrier) was the heat. Though Minnesota had been unseasonably warm for January, it was above 90F each day in Santiago. We didn’t have AC in our little apartment, so it felt like we couldn’t escape the heat the entire time we were there.
The heat and haze made us both feel a little jaded about Santiago. It’s the height of summer, so air quality in the city isn’t great. Most of the buses and trucks are diesel powered and not equipped with the latest pollution control technologies. So, we didn’t get to see the breathtaking views of the Andes mountains that you see all over Instagram. It would be better to visit Santiago during the spring or fall.
Cerro San Cristobal
However, this did not deter us from a bit of an adventure at Cerro San Cristóbal. The largest urban park in all of South America is pretty amazing, even with the haze.
Instead of taking the funicular (cable car) up the hillside, we thought we would walk to the top. The path we chose wasn’t far from the funicular, but little did we know it was closed! So, what was supposed to be a 3 mile walk turned into an 11 mile adventure, complete with a stop at a local swimming pool near the top of the park. While the entrance fee was a little steep, it was nice to cool down in the pool.
Unfortunately the Cerro San Cristóbal experience wasn’t completely rosy. When we stopped at the base of the park, Emily sat on a bench with both of our bags. I was less than 20 feet away looking at an interactive map. An older man approached Emily, and pointed at pesos he had thrown on the ground. While he was attempting to distract her, his partner picked up my bag and got about three steps before Emily realized what was happening. She saw him with my bag and yelled at him. He dropped the backpack and they both took off. It was a big reminder that even in a very crowded area with families and lots of small kids, you have to pay attention to your surroundings. Lesson learned….
Making the Best of Santiago
Despite the heat and the bag snatching scare, we absolutely made the best of our time in the city. Santiago’s architecture is a unique blend of Spanish Colonial style and modern buildings. The Palacio de la Moneda (Presidential Palace) is not to be missed. This is where Salvador Allende vowed to stay instead of going quietly into exile during the 1973 Coup d’état. The Plaza de Armas is a great place to go and people watch, and if you are fortunate, take a peak inside Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago.
Santiago’s parks are also incredible. We loved walking through Cerro Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal. The parks were clean, full of beautiful gardens, and lovely fountains.
Tomorrow we are heading west to the port city of Valparaiso, a unique city full of street art and colorful houses.