Santiago is transforming itself into a tourist hotspot - The Singular Santiago
Santiago is transforming itself into a tourist hotspot rather than just a transport hub.
FLYING into Santiago is an ideal appetiser for any trip to South America, with the city surrounded by the Andes in all their glory.
Many people fly in and fly straight out to their next South American destination. But if you do that, you will be missing out on a city that is going through a renaissance of sorts — slowly transforming itself into a tourist spot, rather than just a transport hub.
On arrival, you will notice a smog haze hanging over Chile’s capital, as the country is booming (in mining, timber, agriculture, tourism and seafood) and is now one of the wealthiest countries in South America. It is more noticeable in summer, but is softened in winter when the surrounding mountains are covered in snow.
Chile is 4300km long and 180km wide, with a population of 17.8 million; with 5.4 million living in Santiago. It is believed that Chile takes its name from the hot, spicy pepper it resembles in shape. Fiery by name but not by nature, the Chilean people are often called “The English of South America” as they are much more reserved than their outrageous neighbours.
Most of the big chain hotels have located themselves in the business district. But unless you are on business you want to plant yourself in the latest revamped pocket of Santiago, the Lastarria neighbourhood. This is the cultural and historical centre of the city, with a whole lot more personality.
The latest place to stay is the luxury boutique hotel The Singular. This is the second hotel for the Sahli family, which own The Singular in Patagonia, for which they have won a truckload of design awards.
It is the rooftop bar that sets it apart though. From the 9th floor, you have a fabulous view to the Virgin Mary statue atop San Christobel Hill, the second-highest point in the city, as well as a voyeuristic view into the lives of the locals. Although if you want to take a dip in the rooftop pool you may be putting on a show of your own.
Though Santiago is surrounded by mountains, it’s relatively flat, making it a good city to explore on foot. Nine out of 10 of the city’s tourist attractions are within walking distance of The Singular or you can hire a bike from La Bicicleta Verde and do a three-hour local life and markets or parks and politics tour.
The morning tour was much more of “a day in the life of a Chilean” experience than a facts and figures tour. Cycling through the backstreets of Santiago, you really get a sense of what this city is all about.
You will find graffiti all over Santiago, but in the hip Bella Visat area, the graffiti has taken the form of murals as an expression of life after the years of repression in the ’80s and ’90s under the Pinochet dictatorship.
There are healthy, happy, well-behaved street dogs everywhere. They are the city’s pets, as everyone feeds them. The government even provides kennels for them in the public parks. Our guide, Matias has two that he looks out for and they happily jog beside the bikes.
Next stop is La Vega, the fruit and vegetable market and here there is a saying: “In La Vega, you will never go hungry!” It is the heart and soul of the city, buzzing with people and plenty of colourful fresh produce.
A short cycle and you arrive at the Mercado Central de Santiago (Central Market), one of the best things you will do in Santiago. The Central Market was designed by Gustav Eiffel and an Italian architect in 1830. It was built in Glasgow and shipped here. Originally designed to be an art gallery, it became the seafood market in 1876 and is now rated as one of the top five markets in the world. Not only is the building itself stunning to look at, but it is overflowing with fresh seafood and has a plethora of seafood cafes and restaurants to eat in.
If you have another day to fill, then you need to spend it travelling the 110km or 90 minutes drive to the coastal city of Valparaiso. Chile’s third- largest and most unusual city is stacked up a series of steep hills, only 250m from the coastline; making most buildings “ocean view”. From the 1880s until 1914, it was the second-most important port in the world, linking the Atlantic to the Pacific. However, after the Panama Canal opened in 1914, the port lost its reason for being.
This hardworking port town, on first sight looks like a dilapidated, colourful mess. On closer inspection, you can see that it is undergoing an ambitious urban renewal plan, reinventing the faded, falling down buildings into boutique hotels, cafes and museums, and fast putting Valparaiso on travellers’ wish lists.
It is a maze of steep, winding streets, alleys and stairways that link dozens of hilltop neighbourhoods. It is home to some of the best street art in South America, helping give it a distinctly bohemian vibe.
If ever a city was made for walking, this is it. It’s steep but it’s the only way to navigate your way through the Cerros (hills); with Concepcion and Allegre Cerros being the hippest of late. Make time for lunch at the Fauna Hotel & Restaurant on Cerro Allegre (Happy Hill), not only for its expansive views. Bring your appetite because the ceviche or any of the salads for that matter are big on taste and size.
The city was always a hub for creative types including Chile’s favourite son, Pablo Neruda, the Nobel prize winning poet. His eclectic five-storey home, La Sebastiana, now a museum, has been maintained with all his quirky artworks and decor.
LAN Airlines operates seven one-stop flights each week from Sydney to Santiago, Chile, via Auckland. LAN also offers non-stop flights between Sydney and Santiago every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday in codeshare partnership with oneworld partner airline. For more information or to make a booking see your local travel agent or call LAN reservations from Australia on 1800 126 038, or visit www.lan.com.
The Singular Santiago starts from USD 320 per room per night. The price is based on two people sharing a Patio Room and includes breakfast. To book visit your travel agent.