Tag Archives: Santiago

View from Cerro San Cristobal

Sally’s Walking Tour of Santiago

Sally has guided hundreds of visitors around Santiago over the last 8 years, and this is her recommended route for seeing very best sites of Santiago in an afternoon…

1. Taking the metro

The metro in Santiago is easy to use, clean, safe* and reliable – 1 ticket costing about CLP$500 (60p) will take you anywhere on the lines. These can be bought from manned booths in any metro station.

Take the metro nearest to your hotel to the La Moneda station on Line 1 (the red one). (When you get off the train, wait until the train leaves before leaving the platform, as the paintings are quite something). When leaving La Moneda station, take the exit for ‘Amunategui’

*a reasonable level of caution should be taken at all times to prevent pick-pocketing.

2. Av. Bernardo O`Higgins and the flag

As you come out from the underground you are presented with an enormous flag (find the flag then you know you´re in the right place!). This flag was placed here in 2010 to mark the Bicentenary of the Independence of Chile from Spain (in fact 1810 really marked the start of Chile’s war of independence against Spain as they didn´t gain full independence until 1818).

The avenue between yourself and the flag is the ‘Avenida Bernardo O’Higgins’ – commonly known as the Alameda – named after the poplar trees that line it. Bernardo O’Higgins, Chile’s hero of its Wars of Independence, had an Irish father and Chilean mother (hence the name).

3. Palacio La Moneda

Rounding the corner you will be presented with the Government Palace – Palacio La Moneda. This literally translates as ‘The Mint’ as it was originally designed for minting coins when built in 1805. In 1845 it became the government headquarters and home to all Chilean Presidents (although the President hasn’t actually lived here since about the 30’s). The building looks very clean and new considering the pollution problems of the city because in reality it is. During the Military Coup of 11th September 1973, the building was heavily bombed and much of it destroyed. During this coup, the democratically elected President at the time, Salvador Allende was killed (or, as some sources say, took his own life) and the military dictatorship ruled by Augusto Pinochet began.

Palacio La Moneda

4. Plaza de la Constitution & the Statues

Walk around to the other side of La Moneda to find the Plaza de La Constitucion.

Surrounded by trees and statues, this square is a great place to do a spot of people watching; also of interest are….

1)     The flags:  If the President is in residence there will be a flag flying above the palace with the Chilean coat of arms in the middle. If you pay attention you can see the Andean Condor and Huemul, a native Chilean deer. Surrounding the square there are also 14 flags which represent the 14 regions of Chile.

2)     The statues:

  1. Salvador Allende – complete with glasses, the statue of the ex-president shows his famous last words – “Tengo fe en Chile y su destino” (I have faith in Chile and its destiny).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Diego Portales – at the back of the square, directly looking at the palace is Diego Portales; famous for writing the Chilean constitution in the early 1800’s that lasted nearly 100 years. He was assassinated in 1837 – if you look closely at his statue, under his right eye is a bullet hole which the statue received 11th September 1973; this is apparently the exact place where he received the shot when he was killed.

5. Wandering to the Plaza de Armas

With your back to La Moneda, walk to the far right hand corner of the park (the corner of Agustinas & Morande). Continue along Morande for 3 blocks until the corner with Catedral, turn right 1 block on Catedral and you will reach the Plaza de Armas.

To point out along the way:

1)     Café Haiti – traditionally Chile was (and still is) a great tea-drinking nation. When coffee started to be introduced in the mid 1900’s a new form of café was thought up in order to entice people (men) to drink it; these were known as the “Cafés con Piernas”, quite literally Coffee with Legs. Whilst city men came to have this new drink on their coffee break and discuss business they were served coffee by ladies in rather short dresses. Many of these cafes still exist around the city (of varying levels of nudity), the Café Haiti being one on Morande/Huerfanos.

2)     (Ex) Palacio de Tribunales – although no longer the Palace of Justice this impressive building, recently restored, stands proud in the centre of Santiago. Around the top of the building you can see crests depicting important Chilean laws – one to note would be divorce, not legalized in Chile until 2004.

3)     Shopping Centre – with the law court on your right, step inside the shopping centre on your left, a complete contrast of old a

nd new. Take note of the interesting use of an old façade with a modern interior.

4)     (Ex) Congreso Nacional – although the Chilean congress is now in Valparaiso, the original Congress building takes up 1 whole block (Mornade/Compania/Bandera/Catedral). Unfortunately you can’t get into the grounds but the gardens are beautiful with native trees from all over Chile.

6. Plaza de Armas

The Plaza de Armas was first laid out during the founding of Santiago on 12th February 1541 by Pedro de Valdivia and has stood as the centre of the city ever since. During colonial times it served as the military headquarters, into the 1800’s it was the place for the upper classes to see and be seen, and today it serves as a place for protests, chess, religious preaching or for children to swim in the fountain; a hive of activity and definitely worth some time to just sit and take it all in.

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To point out as you sit and watch:

1)     Pedro de Valdiva – in the top corner of the square is the statue of Pedro de Valdivia, Chile’s own conquistador. After a failed attempt by Diego del Almagro to reach the Chilean central valley, Pedro de Valdivia set out from Peru with is troops. After walking through the Atacama Desert for months on end, they finally reach the green, lush Maipo Valley where they decided to found Santiago at the base of the Cerro Santa Lucia.

2)     Cathedral – designed by the same architect as La Moneda, Joaquin Toesca, this cathedral was first built in 1748. (free entry).

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3)     National History Museum –  built in 1808, this building first served as the head quarters for the Spanish Court, in 1811 it became the National Congress and later the central post office; since 1978 it has housed the National History Museum since 1978, built in 1808 it first served (10:00 – 18:00; Tues-Sun; CLP$600)

7. Mercado Central

From the corner of the Plaza de Armas by the Cathedral, walk 3 blocks along Puente – be especially careful of cameras and your bags.

Built in 1872 as the central market, this British structure now houses solely the fish market and plenty of fish restaurants. It is alive with life, music and fresh seafood. This market was chosen as the 5th best market in the world by National Geographic: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/top-10/food-markets/

8. Cerro Santa Lucia

From the Mercado Central, retrace your steps back to the Plaza de Armas, cross it diagonally to get to the corner of Estado with Merced. Walk down Estado for 2 blocks and then turn left onto 

Agustinas for 3 ½ blocks until you reach the base of the Santa Lucia Hill. Follow the path in – you’ll have to sign your name but the entry is free. As you go under the footbridge there is a staircase on your left – follow the stairs to the top.

View from Cerro Santa Lucia

When Benjamin Vicuna Mackena became Mayor in 1872, he set about to make major changes to the city of Santiago. He not only oversaw the canalization of the Mapocho river (the fast flowing brown trickle that runs through the city), but also transformed the Cerro Santa Lucia into the landscaped park that you see today; more than 1,000 trees were planted, and gardens and fountains built. The hill has the remains of an old fort on the top from which you get some great views of the city.

Stop off at the kiosk on your way back down, for a refreshing “Mote con Huesillo” – a traditional drink made of peach juice, peaches and pearl barley.

Follow the path back down through the park to get to the Neptune fountain and the other exit to the park (you don’t have to sign out). Turning right, you will see the Santa Lucia metro stop which you can hop on to take you back to where you started.

This tour will take you 3-4 hours (longer if you stop for lunch at the Mercado Central)

9. Do you have more time? My other top suggestions would be:

-Lastarria Nieghbourhood

Located at the foot of the Cerro Santa Lucia this neighborhood has been revitalized by artists who have restored buildings, quaint little bars opening and some new boutique hotels. For a great wine bar, check out “Boca Nariz Vino Bar” – more than 35 Chilean wines by the glass and a selection of up to 300 by the bottle.

-Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Chilean Pre-Columbian Art Musuem)

An amazing introduction into the indigenous cultures of Latin America from Mexico down to Tierra del Fuego. Inaugurated in 1881 and recently restored, this museum is famous in Latin America and located just 1 block from the Plaza de Armas. (10:00 – 18:00; Tues – Sun; CLP$3,900)

-Cerro San Cristobal & the Bellavista neighborhood

Between the Mapocho river and the San Cristobal hill is the bohemian district of Bellavista where you’ll find a mix students, artist, the after-work crowd and tourist all enjoying the delights of live music, street side cafes and local art. There are plenty of bars and restaurants but a few of my top picks would be, “Como Agua Para Chocolate” – great for steaks and fish dishes, and “Galindo” – great for reasonably priced local food, local beers and plenty of locals.

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At the end of Pio Nono you will find the start of the San Cristobal hill and the funicular station to take you up to the top. Exiting the funicular you will have to climb a few stair to get you up to the 14m-high statue of the Virgin with incredible views of the city of Santiago, the Coastal mountains and the snow peaks of the Andes.

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View from Cerro San Cristobal

Are you visiting Buenos Aires? Here are Sally’s tips on Things to do in Buenos Aires

Next blog to follow – 10  must try flavours of Chile

mcdavid trek

Barbara & Douglas’ 5 Week Patagonian Adventure

Barbara and Douglas returned in February from a 5 week trip that included a 4 night Patagonian Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. Here they tell us about their trip, and their experience of booking with Swoop and our partners…

‘Swoop Patagonia was the main reason why we had such a successful trip… Luke was absolutely brilliant in helping with our itinerary’

What was the highlight of your trip?

Our trip was 5 weeks altogether with 4 nights of it on the cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. Overall the cruise was one of our many highlights, with the landing on Cape Horn very special and the experience at Pia Glacier quite something.

Did you manage to visit anywhere else in Chile or Argentina on your trip?

Yes, we visited Santiago and Valparaiso before flying south to Balmaceda where we picked up a rental 4×4. We spent a week driving south on the Carretera Austral and were able to drop the vehicle at Villa O’Higgins. This was difficult to arrange and expensive but we managed to book through a local agent and Europcar.

Another highlight was our 2 day crossing into Argentina, from Villa O’Higgins, by boat and on foot and our first sighting of Mt. Fitzroy! 5days in El Chalten was a recommendation from Luke which was excellent, great day hikes and fantastic food and drink.

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We had a brief visit to El Calafate and visited Perito Merino glacier, then on to Puerto Natales to go to Torres del Paine. We completed  the W Trek ourselves using pre booked refugios which proved to be very good and Luke had given us advice about this.

The weather was kind and the scenery was awesome. We went to Punta Arenas and the the cruise after this. Spent 2 nights in Ushuaia and 2 nights in Buenos Aires before flying home.

How well did Swoop Patagonia do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trip or operator for you?

Swoop Patagonia was the main reason why we had such a successful trip. Luke was absolutely brilliant in helping with our itinerary and we organised the whole trip ourselves using  Luke’s knowledge and advice. He directed us to their excellent partners for both our flights and our cruise booking.

Were you well looked after by the cruise operator?

The cruise operator was excellent, not cheap but a very special part of our trip at the end of our 5 weeks. We were ready for some luxury and they hit the mark, nice cabin, great meals, excellent service and well organised excursions.

How did you find the services and excursions provided?

Services and excursions were all very well executed, swift disembarkation for all excursions with safety a high priority. Enjoyed the on board presentations by knowledgeable staff.

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Was there anything that you wish had happened differently/or not happened at all?

Not at all, all our pre planning paid off and we would do the exact same.

Do you have any tips for other people who are planning a trip?

-For anyone planning to do the crossing from Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten: be aware that the company Heilo Sur in Villa O’Higgins does not operate this any longer and the website information is out of date. The boat across Lago O’Higgins is now run by Robinson Crusoe, the man and horse who helps with luggage was not there(!) so be prepared to walk the 22kms if you go. Robinson Crusoe sold us tickets for a bus from Desertio Lake to El Chalten which never turned up.

-Bring American dollars if you plan to visit Argentina as this is the currency they wish.

-The crime levels in Buenos Aires seem to be escalating, we heard many reports of street crime and scams to distract tourists while pickpockets were at work.

-The walking tours for tips are an excellent way to see a city, we did these in Valaparaiso and Buenos Aires

Rob’s Patagonia Cruise

Rob recently returned from a Patagonia Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia and back to Punta Arenas as part of a wider trip to South America. Here he tells us about his experiences on the cruise, and booking through Swoop…

How was your trip?

Overall I had a great time and the overall enjoyment was greater than I had anticipated before departing.

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of the trip for me was always going to be the landing on Cape Horn, and this was one of the prime reasons for undertaking the trip in the first place. The glaciers, the penguins and the wind and the waves were all part of a fully supportive cast and all played their part in making the whole thing so good.

Did you visit anywhere else in Patagonia?

I didn’t visit anywhere else in Patagonia other than the Cruise, but continued on to visit other areas of South America.

How well did Swoop and our partners do in planning and arranging your trip?

The holiday was planned well and if there were glitches they were not major and were probably because I hadn’t read the itinerary properly.

Is there anything you wish had happened differently?

The cruise itself was excellent in most respects.

I do feel that more care could have been taken by the ship in ensuring that there were at least 3 English speakers out of the six people on each meal table. On the return leg we had five -a Chilean doctor and his wife who could speak Spanish English and some Italian and who was happy to translate in order to be inclusive, and the lovely smiley mother and grandmother of the waiter, who could speak no English. At the mealtimes when the doctor was not present or engaged in doctoring there was a lot of pointing and smiling but not much else! I don’t remember being asked which if any other languages I could speak or understand.

How were the other sections of your trip in South America, organised by our partners?

All of the trips and events around the cruise were good particularly the tour of Santiago. The guide was informative and knowledgeable and obviously loved her job and her city.

I was surprised by the day adventure up into the hills on the turn around day in Ushuaia as I don’t recall that being mentioned. It was enjoyable but came as a bit of a surprise to get a phone call saying that the guide and land rover were outside! I still can’t see it mentioned on the itinerary.

I suppose the one slight problem for me was the transfer from the cruise ship to a rendezvous in a café c 0.5 kms away. My bag was 18 kgs and had no wheels and I struggled somewhat even over that distance (I had earlier in the trip hurt my leg a little bit). I think that someone older than I would have struggled more particularly if it had been raining and /or very windy even over such a short distance. Many travellers were being met with taxis, perhaps to get to the airport, but I think a meet and greet at the ship would be a nice idea.

Apart from these few relatively minor things the trip was thoroughly enjoyable and was helped by the large amount of support out there -it wasn’t just getting you to the airport, it included check in, emigration, customs etc and really took the pressure off.

‘I would have no hesitation in recommending the whole experience to others. Despite the little grumbles it was really a wonderful holiday…Thanks a lot for making it so enjoyable!’

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Jenny & John’s Full Circuit in Torres del Paine

Jenny and John returned in January from a Full Circuit Trek in Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their experiences…

‘We had a superb time. The other people in our group were lovely and proved to be great company and our guide, Fransisco, was brilliant.’

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What was the highlight of your trip?

Seeing the Grey Glacier for the first time as we went over the John Garner Pass and completing the Torres del Paine. Also the wild flower meadows between Torres and Seron. 

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Did you manage to visit anywhere else in Chile or Argentina on your trip?

We spent 12 days in Pucon and enjoyed climbing Volcan Vilarrica and Sullipulli, rafting, hydro-speed, thermal springs etc. We have now picked up a couple of Honda Falcon 400 motorbikes for three weeks & plan to ride down the Caraterra Austral through the seven lakes of Argentina.

We spent New Year in Valparaiso to see the fireworks which were fantastic and spent a few days in Santiago going to good steak restaurants and shopping. After the bikes we plan to go to La Serena to star gaze and chill out on the beach.

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How well did Swoop Patagonia do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trip or operator for you?

Luke and Chloe were both helpful in answering our many questions.

We endured terrible weather during the TDP and it would have been helpful to add mountaineering boots instead of walking boots on the kit list along with lightweight trainers for muddy camps in the evenings. 

Nonetheless, whilst the weather was poor, it actually added to the challenge and made the circuit more memorable. 

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How was the operator we put you in contact with for your Full Circuit Trek, and how were their guides on the trip?

Gonzalo was on hand to answer all my emails! We didn’t get to meet him unfortunately, however Francisco our guide was absolutely exceptional, working tirelessly as the group of 5 had two distinct paces and was like a yo-yo between the two groups ensuring our safety was paramount. He had a good knowledge of the park and landscape, mountings etc. he was so kind and thoughtful and just basically made the trip. He was exceptional.

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Was there anything that you wish had happened differently/or not happened at all?

Better weather!!!!!

Do you have any tips for other people who are planning a trip?

Even if the weather is lousy it is still well worth the challenge!

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Thank you very much – we really are very proud of our achievement and grateful to Swoop for organising the trip.

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Review of Patagonia, Santiago and Torres del Paine

We speak to Jon who spent a day in Santiago before flying down to Patagonia to trek the Full Circuit of Paine and mountain bike for 12 days in November.
 
 
 
What did you think of Santiago and what did you do there?
I had a day stop over in Santiago so decided to venture into the city. A frequent bus takes you from the airport to the city for a very cheap return fare dropping you in the main thoroughfare. The city is easily navigable with a guide book and has a number of parks and other tourist type attractions.
 
From what I saw it’s a nicely spacious well laid out city with a laid back population. Wandered around the Barrio Bellavista area which is the bohemian quarter. Brightly painted houses, walls and (tasteful) graffiti add colour to the area of relaxed bars and coffee shops. One of Pablo Neruda’s houses is situated nearby which you can view but only on one of the scheduled tours, so check beforehand if possible. I walked up to the summit of Cerro San Cristobel (there is a funicular service available if you don’t fancy walking) to see a fantastic view over the city with a great view of the mountains in the distance.
 
What did you think of Patagonia?
Well you don’t need me to tell you what an amazing place Patagonia is but needless to say the trip was fantastic. I’ve been wanting to visit the place for sometime now and it didn’t disappoint. The scenery was spectacular, everything I imagined and more. The combination of green forests, snow capped mountains, glaciers and blue sky is the natural world at its most beautiful. I often say I want to return to a country I’ve visited but this one really is a must, there is still so much more to see. Having seen it in spring, I would also like to see in the other seasons. Since it is such a beautiful place, the area consequently attracts people from all over the world, the ones I met who had settled there all had interesting stories to tell.
 
How was your trip and what was your guide like?
I combined the circuit trek of the Torres park with two days cycling. Trekking was easier than I anticipated, if you have a reasonable level of fitness then you won’t have any difficulties.  The scenery was amazing, one of the group summed it up quite nicely when they said it was like appearing in a postcard. We were constantly in awe as different parts of the park came into view. The park didn’t just boast great views of the mountains and glaciers but equally stunning  lakes, rivers and forests.
 
Mountain biking was much harder than I bargained for though on the first day when the legendary Patagonian wind made an appearance. Second day was much better and cycled the remaining distance from just outside Camp Serron to Puerto Natales about 80K so was pleased with myself for that. The guide (Dario) had recently won the a race on the same route we took but luckily he went easy on me! I finished off with a couple of days in Puerto Natales. I was still feeling active so walked up the nearby vantage point Cerro Dorothea which offers stunning views over the town, fjord and surrounding areas.
 
The guides were fantastic, knowledgeable friendly and were sympathetic to the differing abilities of  the group. As well as knowing all about the mountains they were conversant with the fauna, birds and animals that inhabited the park. The porters were equally friendly, helpful and efficient as well.
 
 
What was the top highlight?
I can’t choose a single one but the top two for me were the Torres towers and Glacier Grey, I’ve seen them before in photographs but they really don’t do them justice. You’ll never forget seeing them with your own eyes. I’ve seen some amazing views during my life and travels but these two were something else.
 
The Torres towers had an almost mystical aura to them, nothing else was on my mind as I sat looking up at them. You couldn’t help but just focus on them and be absorbed by their sheer presence. The expanse of Glacier Grey as it came into view as we passed over Paso John Gardner was a similarly mind blowing experience. It streched as far as the eye could see and only as we got closer could we get an idea of how high it was and how big the crevasses were.
 
What do you think of Swoop and the operator that we recommended?
Swoop were really helpful in putting together the trip and tailoring it to my needs. What attracted me to them was they were focused on the area, offering a number of choices. The local operator was equally as helpful sorting out the itinerary and transfers. I particularly appreciated the efforts  they went to in retrieving my bag when it went missing between Santiago and Punta Arenas. I hope to be able to use them again if I can make another visit.