There is so much natural beauty to see in Chile; the arid deserts of the north, coastline, lakes and glaciers in the south. It can be overwhelming to fit this into say, a 5 day trip. Or perhaps you don’t have the funds to travel Chile from top to bottom? You may think that Santiago is a pretty dull city compared to all the rest the country has to offer; a limbo, a middle-ground that you must traverse in order to arrive at the real Chile?
I wouldn’t blame you. How could uninformed travellers know about all the hidden gems of Santiago that make it a venturesome city to spend time in?
HERE IS A LIST OF 5 HIDDEN GEMS IN SANTIAGO THAT CAN TURN YOUR 5-DAY STOP-OFF FROM A SECOND-RATE TRANSIT, TO THE OUTDOOR ADVENTURE THAT CHILE REALLY IS:
Cerro San Cristobal
The famed Cerro San Cristobal. You can climb it (medium difficulty as there are some steep slopes), you can mountain-bike it (still not quite sure how they manage that), or you can do the lazy option and take the cable-car up (I like to refer to this as the brave option.) Provided that vertigo may have hindered my full appreciation of the beautiful santiaguino views; green valleys, and shiny skyscrapers, whilst dangling 2,890 ft above in the air.
Even though this addition to the list is quite obvious, it wouldn’t be right to leave San Cristobal out of this countdown. There is so much to do and see here; visit the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Chilean National Zoo, the Japanese Garden, and more!
Cerro San Cristobal is one of the main cerros, and attractions of Santiago. It boasts two public swimming pools Antilén and Tupahue that open during the Chilean summer months, and there you can spend the day playing cards and dominos with friends, having a picnic, all the whilst being surrounded by the cityscape below.
Mirador de San Carlos de Apoquindo
As mentioned in a previous article 5 reasons besides wine travel Chile 4 reasons not to
(see https://vamospanish.com/5-reasons-besides-wine-travel-chile-4-reasons-not) , Santiaguinos love their sunsets. And for a compelling reason; with all the natural beauty their city has to offer.
Miradores, or “viewpoints” are places where you can see the entire valley and landscape. These are the perfect places to go watch the sunset or the city nightlights with friends, or perhaps a romantic outing with the polol@. There you can choose to contemplate the view, your existence, or perhaps just exchange some saliva with your date.
Oh, I ought to mention that Mirador San Carlos de Apoquindo is locked up in the evenings, so you’ll have to bring out your inner rebel and squeeze through some delinquently warped bars to get through. Nevertheless, once you are through, you can recline on a bench and breathe in that fresh Santiaguino air that smells heavily of marijuana.
Cajón del Maipo
Cajón del Maipo is a canyon within the metropolitan region of Santiago that’s got the entire package. Forget about that 10 hour bus trip to Pucón and saunter yourself to Cajón del Maipo.
Hills, hiking and horse-riding. Rivers such as Volcán, el Colorado, el Yeso where you can windsurf and river raft. And thermal water baths where you can relax those sore muscles after all that extreme sporting – “¡si, por favor!”.
The Canyon is breathtakingly beautiful, and equipped with cabins so that you can spend a couple days making the most of what the area offers. You will completely forget you are technically still within the metropolitan region of Santiago!
This one is a no-brainer. Where is the best park in Santiago? Bicentenario! Of course! Why? Ok let’s start by describing it as a green oasis in the middle of a big and bustling city. The park is a huge 30 hectares, it literally stretches through Santiago like a ribbon and even connects with Cerro San Cristobal.
El Parque Bicentenario offers a quiet and relaxing place to get away from the fumes of the city. I enjoyed brining a picnic with friends and playing cards under the shade of a tree, or doodling in a notebook by my lonesome whilst listening to music. So relaxing.
For the sport-seekers, there are bicycle paths. For the nature and animal lovers, there are ponds with swans and flamingos. The air is clean! Who needs to leave the capital anyway?
Santuario de la Naturaleza el Arrayan
I’m not saying that I’ve left the best for last, but neither am I saying that I haven’t.
Have you found yourself in Santiago during those scorching months of December, January, or February? It can be tough. No pool? Santiago’s already got you covered! (see reason 1). But are you looking for something more natural than a chlorine-drenched pool? And do you want to actually able to SWIM in the water rather than being assaulted by it? I’m not naming any names but VIÑA DEL MAR. So, if you are looking for something more in tune with nature, but not too much of a trek out of the city. Look no further than Santuario de la Naturaleza el Arrayan.
Santuario de la Naturaleza el Arrayan is an excellent escape from the craziness of the city. It’s a charming set-out with picnic areas, quinchos for barbeques and a trekking path that follows the Mapocho river which extends deeper and deeper into the mountains, an entire 10 kilometers before ending at a waterfall. As you make your way up the trekk you’ll come across natural pools such as “Baños del Cal” where you’ll be able to do more than flounder about, and actually submerge yourself in the revitalizing chilly, freshwater.
Not to mention there’s an abandoned castle to discover, and horseback riding trips can be arranged as well. If that doesn’t sound like a blissful day out in Santiago, I think you should reevaluate your life.
5 more reasons to come to Chile!
- Chilean Spanish is endearing
Weon cómo estai? Oye perro, sácate unas minas po culiao. Bacán. Shesumadre, caña de mierda. Filete. Fome. Sipo. Yapo. Po-po-po…Cachai?
Before arriving in Chile you’ll most likely be warned about how impossible it is to understand Chilean Spanish. Although it’s true that once in Chile, you’ll need to update your textbook Spanish vocabulary with some chilenismos in order to make it through the trip. This process can actually be extremely gratifying, as Chileans use a ton of fun-sounding words as well as playful expressions in their everyday lives.
The first thing you’ll probably ask yourself is “Who the hell is Po?!” And that’s a valid question, because Chileans like to say “po” a lot! Po a slang word for “pues” (well) and is somewhat comparable to the Argentine ”che” as it is used to emphasize what is being said, as can it be used in practically any sentence.
“Sipo” – yes, “Yapo” – ok, “Vamos po” – Let’s go guys , “Qué bacán tu auto po”- Your car is awesome…
“Mi pololo me dijo que no, y yo le dije que ná que ver po”… You get the gist.
The word “po” is so heavily ingrained into the Chilean vocabulary, that even my lecturers at the very prestigious Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, managed to slip it into every other one of their sentences during seminars.
But asides from “po” there are so many other fun words you’ll never want to give up even once you’ve left Chile. Such as “taco” for traffic, and replacing “mucho” with “harto”.
And let’s not forget my personal favorite, “pololo” and “polola” for boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s so much more fun to say than “novio”. Try it! PO-LO-LO.
Although some may complain that chilean Spanish is unintelligible, to me it sounds warm, playfulness, with just the right amount of attitude to keep you on your toes.
- Carrete! Chilean Nightlife
Chileans know how to have fun and they definitely know how to party. An opportune time to witness this is during the Fiestas Patrias in September when the air will waft of asado you´ll be surrounded by a sea of people holding the national cocktail; the terremoto. Terremoto literally mean an earthquake, and consists of pisco, cognac, rum, grenadine syrup, and a scoop or two of pineapple ice cream on top.
Santiago nightlife is also vibrant, especially around Bella Vista which is always full of drunkards, monday till sunday. Santiago is also diverse and LGBT celebratory; I would find myself in gay bars more often than not, and even attended a “Drag” Beauty Queen contest – “Reinas de la Noche” in which my friend’s father was competing. (He came in 3rd place, we were very proud.) This was a completely new experience and I was blown away by the entire catty, yet well-humored charade.
The point is that Chileans are a well-humored people, with a more open mind than they are often accredited to.
There is a stereotype that Chileans are somewhat timid when compared to other Latin Americans. One of the first things I learned about Chileans, was that they were shy, reserved, and antisocial, in comparison to their Argentine, Brazilian, and other Latin American cousins. And this can be true sometimes. But I’ve figured it out!
What I’ve found is that the best time to approach Chilean people – is to wait for the right moment. And that moment, my friend, is when they are heavily inebriated. Damn, Chileans will treat you like their best friend when they are inebriated.
That’s how I made all of mine.
- Sunsets and Landscapes
In a country with such picturesque landscape, it’s no surprise that Chile homes a nation of nature loving, introspective people. Chileans love their sunsets; they love to contemplate their country’s beauty. In fact, it’s pretty typical for a santiaguino to end their workday by mountain-biking to the top of “Cerro San Cristobal” making it just in time to watch the sun sink behind the jagged silhouette of the Andes, before speeding their way back down. Or if at home, a moment will always be taken at that time of the afternoon to stand out on the balcony and witness in awe as Santiago’s hilly cityscape basks in the sunset’s glory.
Chile is a country of extreme biodiversity, with desert, coastline, mountains, forest, lakes, volcanos and glaciers, all within its borders! There is so much to do and see, so many places to go.
In need of a mini-break from the hustle-bustle of Santiago city life? That’s not a problem, an hour’s drive will have you snowboarding and skiing the slopes of the Valle Nevado. Or if you’re more of the surfer-type, in the same time you can be at Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, riding the waves and enjoying the beaches.
Or perhaps you’re in search of a soul-healing experience. In that case, a two-hour flight up north will get you to the arid deserts of Atacama where you can lie beneath the cloudless night skies and stargaze into infinity and beyond.
Fancy a road trip? Why don’t you head south down the Ruta 5, stopping along the way at the hot-springs of Chillán, maybe visit a winery in Talca, and the Laja waterfall, before arriving at the lake district where there are number of quaint towns such as Pucon, Villarica and Puerto Montt to explore. You’ll be spoilt for choice with the amount of activities available such as watersports, day treks through wildlife, mountains, volcanos. The experience can be intense, but the views are well worth the vertigo.
Chile is a place to be outdoors! Its sublime natural beauty makes for a truly humbling experience
Music is another reason to fall in love with Chile. Not only were musical groups such as “Los Prisioneros” an active, and iconic part if of the Pinochet dictatorship counter-cultural rebellion during the 80s. Today, contemporary musicians such as “Los Bunkers” and “Francisca Valenzuela” continue to contribute to Chile’s solid musical status in the spanish speaking world.
Not to mention that whilst in many countries street artists are regarded as nuisances, this is not the case in Santiago, with it’s practically magical street music scene. As you make your way through the crowded streets and metro, there are designated areas for musicians to impress passers by. These musicians’ skills are acknowledged. As do they bring a certain surreal essence to the city experience of stumbling through the santiaguino streets; almost as if you are being followed by a movie soundtrack throughout your day.
- Chilean Spirit
History has been harsh on the world, and Chile is no exception. Having endured two consecutive military dictatorships until 1990, the people of Chile endured massive oppression that included massacres and disappearances. Perhaps this has something to do with the sentimental core of the chilean people. In no other country have I seen so much love and affection towards friends and relatives; relatives gazing and waving frantically through the glass window at customs, cherishing every last moment to see their loved ones off.
Even the way chileans treat the stray animals on their streets demonstrates a loving spirit. Most street dogs I have seen in Santiago and well fed, dressed in doggy coats during the winter, and in the summer are usually seen sunbathing in such a carefree manner that they almost look dead.