Santiago’s greatest asset is its ideal location, with ski slopes to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west and wineries in every direction. Here are 10 things to do in Santiago Chile.
1-Watch the changing of the guard
The 18th century Italian-designed Palacio de la Moneda is the place to watch the carabineros, or police, perform the changing-of-the-guard ceremony each day. For a building that houses the offices of the current president, it is surprisingly accessible to the public. The building was the city’s official mint before it became the presidential palace in 1846.
Chile has had its fair share of colourful leaders including the country’s first president, Bernado O’Higgins, the illegitimate son of the Irish Viceroy to Peru, who came to office in 1818. The country’s most notorious leader was General Pinochet who was stood trial for laundering the kingly sum of $US28 million and countless human rights abuse allegations.
Horseback riding southeast of Santiago in Cajon del Maipo (Rio Maipo canyon) offers spectacular views of the Andes. The Andes mountain range stretches from Venezuela to the southern tip of South America through Ecuador, Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile. The mountains began forming about 60 million years ago and reach 6893 metres at Ojos del Salado (in Chile) which is the highest active volcano in the world. There are a number of horseback-riding lodges offering horseback riding, fly fishing and nature walks. El Ingenio mountain lodge also offers accommodation and meals. Cajon del Maipo is an easy day trip from Santiago. See www.cajondelmaipo.com.
Chile has some excellent ski fields, some of which are accessible as a day-trip from Santiago. 32km from Santiago, Farellones is a good ski resort for beginners. El Colorado (www.elcolorado.cl) has 22 runs ranging from beginner to expert. Its 18 ski lifts climb to 3333m above sea level. Chile’s ski season runs from June to October. There are several companies that offer transportation from Santiago to the main ski resorts. You can leave the city at 830am and return at 530pm after a good day on the slopes. See skitotal.cl.
4-Explore organic wineries
With a hot and sunny climate and few major viticultural pests, Chilean wine producers have recently turned to making organic wines. Located between Santiago and the Pacific Ocean is one of Chile’s newest wine-producing areas, the Casablanca Valley. Matetic Vineyard (www.mateticvineyards.com) offers tours of its multimillion-dollar gravity-flow winery.
The winery’s 2004 EQ syrah was picked as one of the world’s top 100 wines by Wine Spectator magazine in 2006. Stop for lunch at their new gourmet lakeside restaurant. Another winery that stands out for its responsible attitude towards the environment is Vinedos Organicos Emiliana (www.emiliana.cl). A visit to this winery reveals biodynamic farming practices where alpaca droppings are used to fertilise vines and insect-attracting flowers are planted as a natural form of pesticide.
5-Experience a touch of luxury
Wander around the upmarket El Golf precinct where historic European architecture and gleaming modern glass towers stand side-by-side. In the evenings, the atmosphere around El Golf is vibrant with diners filling the area’s al fresco restaurants. Try Wine 365 restaurant in the Ritz Carlton (phone: +56 2 4708500 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com) which stocks over 365 Chilean wines and serves a selection of tapas.
6-Discover ancient wonders
The city has several good museums but if you only have time for one don’t miss the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Museum). The ancient Chinchorro mummies on display are a result of Chile’s indigenous culture and are thousands of years older than the Egyptian mummies. There are exhibits of ceramics, textiles and jewellery displaying 4500 years of pre-Colombian civilization.
7-Take the funicular to the top of the hill
The best view of Santiago is from the lookout on top of Cerro San Cristóbal hill, which is around 300 metres above the city. Catch the funicular railway at Plaza Caupolican to the top of the hill where a 14-metre statue of the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepcion stands above the lookout.
8-La Chascona museum
La Chascona (Museo Neruda) is a museum dedicated to Pablo Neruda who was one of Chile’s most influential 20th-century poets. Neruda’s works range from erotically charged love poems to political manifestos. The poet’s ship-like house sits at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal. The decor includes a beautiful bar from Marseille and Bauhaus furniture. On display is a whimsical array of the poet’s keepsakes including his library of books and the medal for his 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature. English tours are available.
9-Vina del Mar
100 kilometres to the west of Santiago lie the sandy beaches and beachside towns around Vina del Mar. It’s a popular weekend and summer destination for the locals and beaches can become really crowded during the holiday season. The city’s art deco casino is also a drawcard.
Valparaiso is a delightful World Heritage site with funicular elevators that connect El Plan (the flat city centre) to a colourful chaotically planned city above. The upper city is a photographer’s dream with crumbling mansions, cobblestone alleyways and a labyrinth of narrow winding streets.