Santiago, where an estimated 40% of Chili’s population resides, is a modern metropolis sprawling in the large, beautiful central valley region. Blessed with a perfect mediterranean climate and deep fertile soils, this part of the world produces some of the world’s finest wines and tremendous volumes and varieties of fruit. The capital snugly occupies a wide valley floor between old, rounded coastal mountains and the foothills of the gigantic Andes, the highest of which loom faintly but majestically on the city’s horizon. Santiago, though truly enormous, is built on a human scale with abundant parklands and lovely boulevards. We discovered thoughtful design features almost immediately as our very comfortable van from the airport conveyed us quickly and efficiently into the heart of the city in under an hour. When installed in our high rise hostel we took some time to walk around the downtown neighbourhood near our new digs.
We quickly discovered several important landmark in the the city centre. First, the highly engineered, fast moving, and arrow straight Mapocho river and then several blocks perpendicular from the parklands that bound the river, the impressive rocky outcropping of cerro San Cristóbal. The 300m tall hill is entirely forested parkland, playing host to a zoological gardens at its base and a 22m tall statue of virgin Mary at it’s summit. The spiritual sanctuary at the top houses the impressive statue and touching memorials to departed loved ones and provides stunning views in a wide arc of the urban area below. We discovered how wonderfully quiet and serene the summit was though in the heart of a city of six million after reaching the summit via a wonderfully old fashioned funicular. This hard working vehicle erected in the 1920’s steadfastly climbs and descends the steep slopes every 20 minutes. It is just rusty enough to elicit some small safety concerns while simultaneously looking sturdy and robustly cabled, abating any real panic. The expansive urban park also attracts the city’s most avid cyclists. They are prettily on display from the many lookouts at the top, winding their way up the formidable roads on the backside of the hill, emerging through wooded trails to the top of the city. When they rode by us at the summit they looked sweaty but no doubt happy in the knowledge that the descent would be effortless though at heart racing speed. The neighbourhoods below, just near the main park entry point, are really worth the quick descent as they are chock-a-block full of artsy street cafes, galleries, murals and lovely small alley ways leading to court yards full of dining and music. We enjoyed strolling through this intensely cosmopolitan area flanked by several University campuses. It was pleasant to overhear the laughter, intense conversation and music being shared among the young stylish looking locals. We wandered our way back to our rental flat via a brightly coloured open air art market, through lively parklands and along the broad, fast moving boulevards. The return journey brought contentment about witnessing such a prosperous, positive urban environment.