As we are coming to the end of our two hours flight from Buenos Aires and prepare to land we are passing by the Andes mountains, the longest continental mountain range in the world. And slowly far ahead appears a city; Santiago de Chile, if it was not hidden behind these mountains it would not give you the sensation that you were arriving to a city at the end of the world. Cities such as Lima or Bogotá that are located at the far West of the South American continent may also be remote cities if you’re coming from Europe but especially when you arrive in Santiago you feel more the distance because of the geographical sensation you get watching these mountains covered with snow.
At the airport our luggages are also excited as we are since they will be passed through a strict control and should not carry any item such as fruits, vegetables or any other animal product. Chile protects its land from any bacteria that could be carried from these and the penalty of bringing them is USD 300, so I get a last glance at my bag and get out to head to downtown.
We go along the River Mapoche where we see some slums by the river. It is not often you see them in Santiago, a city of five million, with few immigrants. Actually, it is a new phenomenon in Chile seeing immigrants from Peru, Colombia, Haiti. It is a country with a stable economy and for the past years it started to get these immigrants from nearby countries. We stay at the Lastarria neighborhood, just across the O’ Higgins Park and walking distance to the Plaza de las Armas, the historical centre of the city. Both Lastarria neighbourhood and Bellavista neighbourhood at the other side of the river are bohemian and chic neighbourhoods that have gone through a renovation process, where you find nice cafés, colourful streets and lots of museums. The chic business neighbourhood of Las Condes is about six-seven kilometres from the center. The Italy Square is the centre of the Providencia district and it is where all political manifestations take place.
Some sightseeing tips: if you like museums you are lucky. The Pre-Colombian Art Museum near the Plaza de las Armas may be the most important one with all the pieces from native local cultures. The Fine Arts Museum will make you feel like you are in Paris. The other most important museum is the Museum of Memory where the history of the Chilean military coup is documented and you hardly get out from there without a tear in your eyes. At the same avenue, Matucana, you will find the Museum of Modern Art as well as MAT 100, a modern art space. In the Lastarria neighbourhood the Cultural Centre of Gabriela Mistral is always lively. At the Bellavista neighbourhood you can visit Pablo Neruda’s house La Chascona.
To explore the old town you can take the walking tours that start at the Plaza de las Armas everyday at 10.00 and 15.00, the square and its surroundings, the Presidential House, The Theatre, and the pedestrian streets can also be explored on foot. You will find lots of bookstores that will make you surprised when you see how many Chilean poets there are, the country is literally astonishing. To watch opera and ballet you can check the programme at the Municipalidad, the main Opera House. Santiago is really rich in cultural terms. And finally the Chilean gastronomy as well as the Peruvian restaurants are fantastic.