Santa Lucia Hill might not be the biggest park in Santiago, but over the centuries it played an outsized role in the transformation of this former Spanish colony into a thriving metropolis. Formed by a volcano, the peak was chosen by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia in 1541 as the site to declare Chile a Spanish colony. By the early 19th century, as Chile fought for independence from Spain — which it won in 1818 — the hill served as a fortress for Spanish troops.
Today it’s hard to imagine this lush park as a former bastion: Ornate staircases shaded by mature trees lead through a vertical greenspace filled with sculptures, fountains, chapels and dramatic overlooks.
The hill isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Beyond the ancient church spires and broad plazas of the historic center, Santiago’s outward development spans a shining sea of skyscrapers spreading nearly to the mountains and including Latin America’s tallest building.
According to the World Economic Forum, Chile is not only Latin America’s most competitive nation, but — thanks largely to exports of minerals, wood, fruit, seafood and wine — it also boasts South America’s highest gross domestic product. The country also remains one of the United States’ strongest partners in Latin America and a leader in promoting respect for the rule of law, economic stability, education, environmental protection, human rights and sustainable development.
As Chile grows, planners work to ensure infrastructure will meet demand. After five years, Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport completed its expansion project. The new international terminal, which will allow the airport to handle 30 million passengers per year, expects to open in early 2022. In 2020 the country launched Chile on Rails, a $5.5 billion investment plan to expand and improve passenger and cargo rail service. The program will also work to integrate trains with other modes of transport, including Santiago’s Metro system. An additional $330 million in roadwork projects will keep truck and automobile traffic flowing in and around the sprawling capital city.
CHECKING IN WITH JUAN JOSÉ ORTEGA PÉREZ
Manager, Chile National Tourism Service
Santiago presents a fascinating blend of old and new. What are some of your favorite places to send visitors to help them see both sides of the city?
Las Condes, in the eastern sector of the city, is an outstanding gastronomic neighborhood where visitors can also appreciate several parks and some of the newest real estate development in the city.
In the historic center, I recommend visiting Palacio de la Moneda (the presidential palace). At 11 a.m. on odd days and weekends, you can watch the changing of the guards. The Palacio stands on the Plaza de Armas, where the city was founded. You’ll also find various attractions on the plaza including the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, which houses the largest collection of pre- Hispanic art in all of Latin America.
Cerro Santa Lucia is another must-see in the historic center, offering a 360-degree view of the city. Finally, Cerro San Cristóbal Metropolitan Park is one of the four largest urban parks in the world. You can hike through the park or ride a funicular to its cable car.
What would surprise first-time visitors to Santiago?
The great variety of attractions nearby. The largest skiable area in the entire Southern Hemisphere lies less than two hours from Santiago and offers first- rate services. You’ll also find more than 35 vineyards nearby where you can enjoy a world-class wine tasting, dine in their restaurants or explore by bicycle.
El Cajón del Maipo is incredibly beautiful; it offers plenty of outdoor adventure including rafting, hiking, climbing and horseback riding through the mountains. Also, less than two hours from Santiago you can visit Valparaíso. Its graffiti-covered streets were declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
What Chilean dishes should visitors try when in Santiago?
Caldillo de congrio, a hearty soup made from conger; curanto, a full meal cooked in the ground; and machas a la parmesana, baked razor clams with Parmesan cheese, are all part of our culture.
How is Santiago changing?
Santiago underwent great changes in recent years as a result of economic development and commercial openness. Chile has an open economy and many free trade agreements, which has made it an excellent place to do business. The change is noticeable in the strong real estate development, in the architecture and the new skyscrapers. Immigration has also brought talent from different cultures, which makes Santiago a cosmopolitan city filled with new businesses, services, foods and ideas.
Santiago proves an easy and enjoyable place to spend time away from work. The Plaza de Armas anchors the historic section of the city; the elegant plaza includes several 19th-century buildings. After a stroll through the shop-lined streets of the Lastarria neighborhood, hop aboard the funicular and aerial tramway that floats above the city’s massive Metropolitan Park for views of the city. The ride ends in Bellavista, a hip neighborhood known for street art, galleries and outdoor cafés. Farther northeast, in Las Condes and Vitacura, you’ll find designer boutiques and elegant restaurants. For more low-key shopping, visit Centro Los Dominicos, an artisan village where you can wander through more than 200 stalls filled with gorgeous wool and alpaca goods, local foods, jewelry and art. Farther afield, in the coastal city of Valparaíso, street artists armed with nothing but paint and imagination transformed brick walls, buildings, staircases and even curbs into works of art. Wine lovers can visit Maipo Valley’s Undurraga Winery, established in the 19th century with vines hand-carried from France. The winery’s graceful historic hacienda hosts wine tastings.
Occupying a pair of 1920s mansions in trendy Bellavista, the 15-room Aubrey boutique hotel welcomes guests with a pisco sour at check-in. Complimentary breakfast is served in a leafy courtyard.
Constitución 317, Bellavista
Mandarin Oriental, Santiago
A parklike setting, gorgeous views and a highly regarded restaurant serving Asian fusion cuisine make this Las Condes high-rise popular with both business and leisure travelers.
Presidente Kennedy Ave. 4601, Las Condes
The Ritz-Carlton, Santiago
Situated in Santiago’s posh Las Condes neighborhood, this clubby hotel features a wood-paneled lobby bar and a rooftop pool within a glass cupola.
El Alcalde 15, Las Condes
Hyper-local Boragó is widely regarded as Santiago’s top dining experience; in 2021 it ranked as one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Each dish, sophisticated or rustic, is a love letter to Chile’s bounty.
Av. San José María Escrivá de Balaguer 5970
Though Mestizo is best known for super-fresh ceviche, tender grilled octopus and creamy mascarpone risotto, the lakeside setting on the edge of Bicentennial Park proves equally stunning.
Dinner at 040 unfolds each night like a theater performance, with each of the 12 courses arriving like clockwork, perfectly paired with wine or a miniature cocktail.
Calle Antonia López de Bello 40
JUST THE FACTS
Time zone: GMT -3 in summer (Southern Hemisphere); GMT -4 in winter
Phone code: Country code: 56
City code: 2
Currency: Chilean peso
Key industries: Agriculture, mining, construction, health care, telecommunications equipment
COMING AND GOING
U.S. citizens must have a valid passport; no visa required. You will be given a tourist card upon arrival; it must be surrendered when you leave. If it is lost or stolen it must be replaced before you will be allowed to leave, a process that may take days.
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