A to Z of Adventure Travel: S is for Santiago

22 05 2009

Santiago is the capital of Chile and is surrounded by sweeping vistas of snowcapped mountains. An ancient colonial city and thriving modern cosmopolitan centre, Santiago is an excellent destination in its own right or the perfect place to spend a few days before or after some travelling.

Settled by Spanish conquistadors in 1541, a number of buildings from that period survive to this day, despite being located in a significantly seismic area. One in particular is the Church of San Francisco which was built between 1586 and 1628 and is the oldest building in the city. The neighbouring convent is home to the Museo de Arte Colonial and its unmatched collection of colonial art and artifacts. The courtyard with its lush garden and wonderful tranquility also provides a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the busy city.Santiago 2 mw

There are enough museums and galleries in Santiago to occupy a week without seeing anything else. Whether your taste lies in mystifying pre-Columbian treasures or modern art, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Sadly, with only a handful of notable exceptions, Latin American art is generally overlooked and neglected by the rest of the world and Santiago’s museums provide an excellent crash course with some of the finest collections anywhere.

The Presidential Palace, or Palacio del Moneda, is not only an impressive building and worthy home to the country’s seat of power but has also featured prominently in the country’s history. In 1973, the forces of General Augusto Pinochet shelled and bombed the building in an effort to remove President Salvador Allende from power. The coup was successful although the palace suffered considerable damage in the process. Fully restored now and featuring works of art in the palace’s courtyards, the only evidence of its violent past lie in photographs and displays. Unlike many similar buildings throughout the world which keep its citizens well away behind barbed-wire topped walls and concrete tanks traps, Chile allows anyone to stroll past the ceremonial guard and through the palace’s gates to show the openness and democracy that replaced years of totalitarianism.

For an overview of the city, visit Cerro San Cristobal, the highest hill in Santiago and one that provides panoramic views. There is a funicular that operates almost to the top and the hill also offers beautiful botanical gardens and other sites of interest. At the foot sits the eclectic Bellavista neighbourhood with its studios and great bars and restaurants.

And of course, Chile is renowned for its wines and there are several vineyards within easy distance of Santiago that offer tours and tastings including Vina Concha y Toro, Vina Cousina Macul and Vina de Martino.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009