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Santiago, Chile

A Vibrant City Under the Summits of South America


DAY 2

Donde Augusto at Mercado Central
Donde Augusto at Mercado Central

Cerro Santa Lucia: this is the site where the city started on December 14, 1540, when Pedro de Valdivia established his first encampment. Lucia was the Saint of the day, and “cerro” means “hill,” hence the name. This bizarre 250-foot-high rock formation hanging over the Alameda was tamed at the end of the 19th century into a romantic park where stairs—unless you choose the elevator—lead you to fountains, exotic gardens and shadowy alleys (Station Santa Lucia Red Line N°1).

Cross the road, the Alameda, to visit the Santa Lucia Handicraft market, the best place to buy handicrafts from Chile and from neighbouring countries. Nearby is the San Francisco church and convent, which has miraculously survived all the earthquakes since its construction in 1618. The colonial art museum housed there displays a collection of Latin America baroque paintings.

One block east of the hill begins the Calle Jose Victorino Lastarria, the gate to a quarter of antique and book shops, art galleries and restored colonial houses. After a walk in this quiet and pleasant section, you will be ready for lunch in one of the many unpretentious restaurants of Lastarria, where you will rub elbows with the artists and intellectuals for whom this is a place of predilection.

Street musicians outside La Moneda

In Parque Forestal, along the Rio Mapuche (and a stone’s throw north of Lastarria), the Palacio of Bellas Artes is the oldest museum in Latin America. Designed by a French architect, based upon the Petit Palais on the Champs Elysées in Paris, it boasts temporary and permanent exhibitions of paintings, sculptures engravings and drawings. This fine art museum is suffused with light filtering through the glass cupola crowning the building. One wing is devoted to Chilean and South American artists from the colonial era, another to contemporary painters with a huge canvas of surrealist artist Roberto Matta titled "The Birth of America." Some great European artists—Rubens, Corot—are also represented. In the same Parque Forrestal, it is intriguing to see the Fuente Alemana (German Fountain) offered in 1910 by the German Colony to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Chile’s Independence from Spain, indicative of the importance of the Germanic component that differentiates this city and this country from its neighbors.

Architecture lovers should not miss the metallic structure of the Central Railway station built in 1817 by a French company, now a Landmark monument (Station Estacion Central Red Line N°1). Another hot architecture spot is the race track built by Mr. Cousino (who made a fortune with nitrates) based on the model of the Longchamp racetrack in Paris immortalized by painter Raoul Duffy.

Continue to Day 3

Chile is a World in a Nutshell

In the Oymara language, "Chile" means "where the world ends." In Quechuan, it means "snow and cold." Both fit the description of this country, the thinnest (150 kilometres from east to west) and also the longest, at 4,300 kilometres from the north to the southern tip of the continent, the redoubtable Cape Horn. The highest mountains in the Americas as well as volcanoes—some still active—cover three quarters of the Chilean territory. From the Atacama, the driest desert in the world, to the eternal snows and glaciers separated by fertile valleys and immense lakes, Chile has every conceivable climate and landscape. The entire world is summarized in a nutshell.

In the Norte Grante, you’ll find rich mines (copper, silver, sulphur, manganese, borax, lead, zinc, bauxite, cobalt and molybdenum), rivers that dry up before reaching the sea, and mountains that climb abruptly from sea level to 4,000 meters and to 6,983 meters in the impressive Cordillera. The gentler Norte Chico, still deserted, boasts an oasis on the Pacific Coast. Further south, in the center lies the heart of Chile. Most of the population resides in these large fertile valleys fringed by summits and dotted with the most populated cities: Concepcion, Valparaiso, Talcahuano, Rancagua and the capital—Santiago. Unfortunately this heaven is also the most seismic area of Chile.

The region that attracts the most tourists, the Lake District, precedes the mythic Patagonia, a gigantic puzzle of mountains and water covering thirty percent of the Chile, hardly accessible by land. In infinite estancias, farmers herd immense flocks of sheep. Oil and gas were recently discovered. Eroded mountains take fantastic shapes in the Torre Del Paine National Park.

Easter Island (Rapa Nui), with its 320 mysterious statues in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the Juan Fernandes Island (supposedly the site of Robinson Crusoe’s adventure) belong to Chile, as well as a large portion of the Antarctic continent.


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La Moneda

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PLH053107
(Updated: 06/09/08 HC)

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