Central / South America

Emerging Destinations: Santiago, Chile

Santiago is a diverse city where old meets news

Given our natural curiosity, our ease with different cultures, and a willingness to trust, Canadians have been known to venture off-the-beaten-track in search of the most authentic travel experiences.

Such adventures, say vacation pundits, are readily found in “emerging destinations”, a reference to the undiscovered up-and-coming places now emerging into the global spotlight. It is, in places like these, where authenticity is found in simple happenstance:

Happenstance: “After spending some time in Peru and Bolivia, we made our way into Chile. With only our backpacks and the last of our travel budget, we decided to be adventurous and hitch-hike our way from the northern tip of Chile to Santiago, located in the middle of the country. Although we thought that our Spanish was at an intermediate level, we quickly realized that Chilean Spanish is quite different and much harder to understand.

So, I plopped my backpack down on the side of the narrow, single-lane highway and my husband hid behind a bush to keep out of sight. A tractor-trailer was approaching so I put my thumb out and just like that, the truck came to a screeching stop. My husband and I ran up to the passenger side and met 2 men who were hauling freight back to the capital. Through our broken Spanish (they didn’t know a word of English), we managed to get the OK to get on board. These two truckers, a father and son, had families to support on their very low income and had suffered the heartache of losing a daughter/sister to illness. We stopped at a gas station where they prepared us sandwiches and gave us their one bottle of water. When we arrived in Santiago, they would not take a single peso from us. They just enjoyed our company, as we did theirs”. (Editor’s Note: We do not condone or encourage this practice)

Santiago is the capital and largest city in Chile. With a population of some 5,000,000 souls, you can expect to find almost everything you need and / or want here. After all, it’s why you came (or want to go to)

The most remarkable thing about Santiago is perhaps its diversity. It is a city with many faces, great and varied changes, and a social and political landscape that sometimes takes us back to the colonial city it once was.

Santiago was founded by Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia on February 12, 1541. Valdivia chose the location of Santiago because of its climate, abundant vegetation and the ease with which it could be defended –the Mapocho River then split into two branches and rejoined further downstream, forming an island. Despite the city’s long history, there are only a few historical buildings from the Spanish colonial period, because Santiago – as was the rest of the country suffered from numerous earthquakes. The remaing buildings from this period include the Church San Francisco (1586), Posada del Corregidor (1750) and the Casa Colorada (1769).

Today, Chile’s economic growth has transformed Santiago into one of Latin America’s most modern metropolitan areas. The heart of Santiago is the Plaza de Armas, which lies along the Alameda about five blocks south of the river. The city’s European heritage is evident in the Parque Forestal, designed by a French landscaper on the model of Parisian parks. Walkers pass along tree-lined paths along the Mapocho River, past small squares and the Museo de Bellas Artes.

Across the river, the Bellavista neighbourhood is home to many restaurants and cafes. For stunning views of the city, you should head to the top of Cerro San Cristòbal, accessible by bus, funicular, or by a vigorous hike. Also in the Bellavista area is La Chascona, the house designed by Nobel-Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, whose work recently gained popularity in the film Il Postino.

Santiago is also the central point of a region filled with attractive sites and activities. Only 60 km away are the main South American ski centers, and the beautiful beaches of the Pacific are only an hour’s drive to the northwest. Just south of Santiago lie the rich and beautiful vineyards of the Maipo Valley, one of the world’s most esteemed wine producing regions.

Did you know …

In the northern region of the country, there are some of world’s largest telescopes and many famous observatories located here including Cerro Mayu, Collowara and Mamalluca observatories in the Coquimbo region; Tololo, Pangue and La Silla observatories and the like. Chile is also home to the Elqui Valley, situated in the Region of Coquimbo, which has the maximum reports of UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) sightings in the world.

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