After our delightful three nights in Chile’s lake district, we flew North to Santiago de Chile (‘Santiago’), Chile’s capital, founded by Spanish conquerors in 1541. We were picked up at the airport, arriving at our comfortable hotel circa 5pm, in a modern area with embassies, park and busy commercial streets. In total, we had four nights in Santiago, ‘2 +2’, with a break of two nights in Valparaiso on the coast. Given Chile’s recent political unrest and demonstrations, we were a little apprehensive, but we were excited visiting one of South America’s most important cities. The downtown core of 19th-century neoclassical architecture and winding side-streets, with art deco and neo-gothic buildings has been very seriously defaced by political graffiti. On the skyline are mountains and the Pacific Ocean is an hour away. Our first evening, we went to a well-known fish restaurant in the next street and had a memorable meal.
In the morning we had a private half day city tour of Santiago, with an excellent guide and driver. Our itinerary covered:
- Hidalgo Castle – built in 1816 on Santa Lucía Hill to protect the city – now an event center, with panoramic views of the city
- Constitution Square
- Palace ‘La Moneda’– current seat of government
- Plaza de Armes, main square, surrounded by Metropolitan Cathedral, Palace of Royal High Court, the main post office and other historic buildings
- Visited San Cristobal Hill for amazing views
- Our guide recommended against our planned visit to the central market because of safety concerns
- We witnessed, first-hand, several downtown demonstrations, and a huge amount of graffiti defacing all types of buildings
In the afternoon and evening, we explored our immediate neighbourhood, found a laundry, modern shopping mall and an excellent pizzeria and equivalent of a Paris brasserie.
Next day, after breakfast we left our main bags with the hotel, and took an overnight bag on our two night visit to Valparaiso, an important port city on Chile’s Pacific coast – prior to the Panama Canal, it was one of the world’s most important ports. It’s known for its steep funiculars and colourful, clifftop homes. In 2003, Valparaiso received UNESCO World heritage status for its excellent example of late 19th-century urban and architectural development in Latin America. Open this link to see UNESCO’s brief synthesis of Valparaiso’s unique contribution to universal value.
It took an hour to reach the coast, with our English-speaking guide and driver. First, we stopped in Vina del Mar, a former jet-set resort but now a little tired. Our guide pointed out the historic landmarks in downtown Valparaiso but we did not stop, presumably security risks. Like Santiago, there was an enormous amount of political graffiti and we witnessed several burned-out buildings after anarchists turned to arson. We walked for several hours with our guide on the hilly historic quarter of the city before reaching our quaint hotel for two nights, located in a famous passage, in the historic centre, with stunning views of the harbour.
In the day and a half that we had in the historic hillside part of the city, we explored the main streets, alleys and attractions. The buildings are generally brightly coloured, painted corrugated iron cladding. Most buildings are covered in wonderful examples of street-art but many needed serious refurbishment.
Our most vivid memories of Valparaiso are architecture, street art, dog poo everywhere, and cold and damp, compared to Mediterranean climate in Santiago. But Valparaiso must be the largest open air art gallery in the World.
Candidly, we were please to return to Santiago, where we had two more nights and a day for relaxation. Our next blog features Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
For best photos saved on Flickr, open these links