Santiago Travel Guide
Chile's capital, Santiago is a sprawling, unforgiving megalopolis whose growth seems to have careered out of control. Gridlocked and choking, high rise and high tech, it is as far away from the quintessential vision of Chile as you could imagine. But take a closer look and you'll find a heart of gold nestling with its small central core where colonial charm is king; where majestic streets lead to wonderful plazas surrounded by impressive public buildings and beautiful parks diffuse the urban hubbub. Above it all the Virgin Mary stands watch from the top of the 2821ft Cerro San Cristabel in the lovely Parque Metropolitano, Santiago's recreational centrepiece and escape route for the stressed out workforce. Despite the congestion and ever-expanding population, Santiago remains a clean and relatively safe city, with an impressively efficient public transport system and a remarkably friendly and vibrant atmosphere. What it apparently lacks in self-control is more than made up for by the attention to detail and the quality of the service available.
Santiago's principal edifice is the immense Palacio De La Moneda , a late colonial building that fills virtually an entire block. This former mint and presidential residence is perhaps best remembered for being the place where Socialist leader Salvador Allende took his life during the US backed military coup of 1973. A visit to the City simply must include a ride on the funicular railway to the top of Cero San Cristobel to stand at the feet of the Blessed Mother and enjoy the views over the City. Whilst there you should visit the Inglesia Catedral; its exterior may be slightly worse for wear but the exterior of the cathedral is simply breathtaking, the beauty of the stained glass matched only by the awe inspiring statue of Mary in a flowing white robe that guards the altar. You should also visit at least one other church, Templo San Francisco, the oldest church in Santiago, which, like the Catedral hides its light under its proverbial bushel. Within the plain exterior is a wealth of magnificent works of art, lovely windows and countless statues. Other prime historic buildings include the Pre-Columbian Museum, Museo De Santiago and the Palacio Bellas Artes, which was modelled on the Petite Palace in Paris and contains an impressive collection of European and Chilean art.
When you tire of sight seeing and feel in need of replenishment head for Bella Vista in the Paris Quarter, perhaps the most vibrant area of the entire city. Here you'll find numerous restaurants serving a vast array of different ethnic and local cuisine. Chilean food is amazing; both the seafood and beef dishes are up there with the very best in international fare. The red wine is also delicious with a spicy full, bodied bouquet and a distinctly heady effect; it's also very cheap, which is nice. If you fancy shopping the pedestrian only mall, Paseo Ahamuda is a lively bustling centre which turns an afternoon at the shops into an adventure, its superb coffee bars, local 'fast food' restaurants, buskers and peddlers making it amongst the most colourful malls you could wish to visit.
If the wonderfully spectacular countryside is Chile's soul, then Santiago is its beating heart. It is the warmth and good humour of the country personified. It is intellectual and broad-minded and one of the world's genuinely awe-inspiring cities. What's more it elicits a craving for a taste of the rest of this tantalisingly delicious country.
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