Our last stop on this classical tour of South America is Santiago, Chile. Santiago is named after St. James, patron saint of Spain. Santiago has been the capital of Chile since the colonial times and was founded in 1541 by the Spanish. Today Santiago has a population of over 7 million people and is the cultural, political and financial center of Chile.
I had visited Santiago back in 2010 as a stopover on my way to Antarctica. At that time, the tour I was on didn’t allow us the time to explore much on our own so I was excited to do a lot of exploring this time around. The history, architecture, and artistic expression throughout the city do not disappoint.
This morning we headed out on our city tour. The city tour is primarily centered around the Plaza de Armas, where you can find the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, Central Post Office, interesting statues, and other neoclassical architecture. The white building below is the presidential palace of Chile, formerly the Chilean mint. This is where the president works, not lives. When the president is in the building, the Chilean flag will include a coat of arms to indicate this.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago
The cathedral represents neoclassical architecture and was completed in 1800. The cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Santiago de Chile.
Gran Torre Santiago
As part of the city tour, we were taken up to the Parque Metropolitano for the best views of the city. From this vantage point, one can see how big Santiago is as well as the tallest building in Latin America, the Gran Torre Santiago. This building is 64 stories tall and is the second tallest building in the southern hemisphere (2nd to the Q1 building in Melbourne, Australia). It’s a beautiful building with an observation deck at the top and sprawling shopping center at its base.
We were also delighted to see the black necked swan which is indigenous to Latin America.
Wine Tasting at Santa Rita
Some of us took the optional excursion to do more wine tasting at Santa Rita, one of the largest Chilean wineries. Nestled at the foothills of the Andes, the vineyards were beautiful and have a wonderful history. The original hacienda of the family still exists and used for operations. We toured the wine cellars and wine making operations. Their wines can be found around the world and tasted pretty good.
Back in 2010, an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.8 took place off the central coast of Chile and was felt by many in central Chile including Santa Rita. In the cellars, you can see the extent of the damage where two columns collapsed which have been rebuilt. From the columns’ collapse, many barrels of wine were destroyed. However, the damage was quite minimal considering the magnitude of the earthquake.
Barrio Bellavista, the Bohemian Quarter
The neighborhood of Bellavista has numerous restaurants, art galleries, bars and clubs. It is also covered with beautiful murals. Many of the city’s intellectuals and artists call Bellavista home. The main thoroughfare is Pio Nono. At the end of Pio Nono, you will find the funicular that will take you to the top of San Cristobal Hill. It’s a good mile plus walk from the Plaza de Armas but well worth it.
Below are a variety of murals found throughout Bellavista.
Iglesia de San Francisco
We were actually staying at the hotel right next door to the San Francisco Church called Hotel Plaza San Francisco (which I’d recommend due to its proximity to the major sites and it’s a comfortable hotel). The San Francisco Church is one of the oldest colonial era buildings in Santiago having been consecrated in 1622. The bell tower has been rebuilt a few times due to earthquakes with the current tower in place since the mid-1800s. The interior was beautiful with a wood ceiling.
Visiting South America has been an awesome experience. From the cities to national parks visited, I was not disappointed. Finishing in Santiago, Chile was good for me since I had visited back in 2010 and was less than impressed back then. This time around, I was very much impressed by Santiago and look forward to coming back one day. I have found the arts to be such an important part of Latin American culture from public displays of art to the museums. The people have been great and you can see the pride they have in their cities by keeping them clean, protecting its history, and maintaining traditions.