Santiago: Fun to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live here.

We’re the type of people who look at real estate windows wherever we go – sometimes because we could imagine living there, other times because we’re just nosy. That has not been the case with Santiago. It’s been interesting to explore this city, but after nine days here, we’re ready to leave.

We’re not sure why we have found Santiago hard to love. Every day brought something new, but we weren’t blown away.

Possibly part of it is the architecture and lack of green space. Santiago has plenty of beautiful old buildings, but they are in pockets. Much of the city is residential and commercial high-rises; nondescript buildings with little to distinguish one from another.

There is a lack of upkeep, of cleanliness, of caring, that seems to permeate much of the city. While street art is a vibrant feature throughout Santiago, there are also a number of desolate graffiti-spattered streets like this one.

Even the Mapocho River which runs through the city is a muddy creek; home to stray dogs and garbage.

The city feels dirty. Split garbage bags spill their contents onto the sidewalks. Every sidewalk has evidence of doggie visits – fresh piles, desiccated droppings and smears from unfortunate encounters with people’s shoes.

Santiago, a city of almost seven million people (and their cars), is situated in a valley between two mountain ranges and has a significant air pollution problem. Most days a layer of smog coats the city, and particulate matter coats balconies and windows. It can be hard to breathe.

On the day we went up to Cerro San Cristobal, this was our first glimpse of the city below.

Still, we’re glad we came to Santiago, and we found lots to see and do – it just wasn’t how we had imagined it.

Each neighbourhood has its own unique character. We were staying in Santiago Centro, with a concentration of notable historical attractions.
The Court House.

The Stock Exchange.

The Metropolitan Cathedral, in Plaza de Armas.

The former National Congress of Chile.

The Museum of Fine Arts.

Parque Forestal. This beautiful park, situated across the street from the museum, runs for a few kilometres and provides the city with a peaceful oasis of walking and cycling paths, park benches, picnic spots and fountains.

You can tell from this photo that it is fall in Chile. It feels a little confusing to be experiencing fall weather now, knowing we’re heading home to spring.

Chile is considered to be one of the safer South American countries and we have felt quite comfortable walking about Santiago. There is a considerable police presence in the city; we have often come upon a cluster of cops standing on guard, particularly in tourist areas.

Plaza de Armas is one such area. It is a large square, flanked on all sides with important buildings and museums, and home to this intriguing sculpture.

We were having our lunch in the square when an unnerving scene took place. Two police officers in a vehicle slowed down by our restaurant and began to scrutinize all the patrons. Within a minute or two, two more officers on horseback showed up; again slowly scanning the tables. One of them dismounted, came in and demanded to see the ID of one of the patrons. Once that had been cleared, he approached a second man for his ID. When they left I asked the people next to us if this was normal. They seemed a bit uncomfortable, but the gist was the park could be dangerous and the police were trying to keep a lid on things by watching certain people.

We know that police and military operate differently in Latin American countries than they do at home. We are also skating on the surface as tourists – we don’t know the social, political and economic factors that affect the safety of the city. But we did wonder if perhaps the police state that was in effect during Pinochet’s time has not entirely vanished.

We came upon this memorial, and when I Googled it, I discovered that this man, Cristian Valdebenito, was killed during a demonstration after having a tear gas canister hurled at his head by police.

He had taken part in ongoing demonstrations against social injustice and this message reads: “I fight for the elderly, the children for a better world and if I die trying, so be it.

Our guide in Valparaiso told us that police tactics used to quell protests included firing pellets at point blank range into people’s eyes; one of his friends had been blinded as a result.

These circumstances are to be observed and wondered about – it is not for us, as tourists, to do anything more, particularly since we don’t live here and don’t have all sides of the story.

Murals! In certain neighbourhoods, there is another one at every corner, more interesting than the last.
Is Chile a sinking ship?

Something being buried – I couldn’t make out the translation.

A restaurant in Barrio Italia.

These two have distinctive faces and could well be famous in Santiago. Or, they may just be young and stylish.

While most people live in high-rise apartment buildings, there are some interesting neighbourhoods with less density and more variety in housing. This looks very South American or European to me – a four-story walkup with wrought iron gates, plants on the balconies and bikes lined up below.

A more upscale part of town, with classical facades and restricted traffic.

A narrow little street, partially hidden by a giant palm out front.

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda had three homes; La Chascona was one of them in the Bellavista neighbourhood. He built this rambling house on the hillside as a retreat for his lover Matilde (who years later became his third wife). This was the house he died in shortly after the 1973 Pinochet coup, and it currently houses his collection of books and artifacts.

We walked through the two buildings with an audio guide that provided a brief overview of Neruda’s life, his love of the sea, and his many writings and prizes, including the Nobel. It was quite fascinating, but interior photos were not allowed, so I only have a shot of his house and grounds to show you.

Just around the corner from Neruda’s home is the entrance to Cerro San Cristobal, which is reached by road (walking or bus only) or by funicular. The park is very large, with panoramic (albeit smoggy) views of the city and mountains, a statue of the Virgin Mary, a Japanese Garden and a cable car.

You know how some days none of your plans work out the way you had hoped? The day we went to the Cerro was one of those days. We stepped out of the apartment and I backed up into dogshit. After much scraping against a patch of grass, I felt safe to continue walking. We arrived at the base of the mountain to discover that a) the funicular was not in operation until after 1:00 pm and b) the cable car was closed all day for maintenance.

Our only way up was by walking uphill for 45 minutes, or by taking a bus. We took the bus, which was actually fun as it was open-air and hugged the curvy road for a 15-minute scenic drive. Once at the top, we enjoyed the views (the photos I showed at the beginning), and walked to the main attraction – the 22-m.- high statue of the Virgin Mary. She is lit at night, so can be visible from many parts of the city.

Signs for “Silencio!” were largely ignored by the Chileans.

Since the cable car was closed, we had no obvious way to explore much of the rest of the park, without possibly hiking for hours on dirt roads and/or getting lost. So after a pleasant couple of hours, we grabbed the bus back down. Not the day we had planned, but fun nonetheless.

There is another much smaller hill, Cerro Santa Lucia, in Santiago that is easy to access and offers a much-needed city break for the locals.

We were at the National Museum of Natural History yesterday and it was interesting to read about the geographical zones of Chile and gratifying to discover than we could understand most of the Spanish!

About a block away from the museum, we began to hear a tremendous din of squawking birds and realized they were parrots. Dozens of parrots, flying high up from one tree to the next. This is the best I could do with my camera – how I wish they would have cooperated and flown closer to us.

I want to tell you about our taxi scam. When we arrived at the bus station in Santiago after our day in Valparaiso, we tried to order an Uber (by far the cheapest and safest way to travel), but it wasn’t working, so we approached the taxi stand with trepidation.

Santiago taxis do not have a great reputation, but since we had travelled out in the morning with Uber for around $10, we figured we had a benchmark price. We then proceeded to forget everything we knew about taxi safety. We did not check the rear of the car for an orange licence (there wasn’t one, as it turns out), and when the drive didn’t turn on the meter, we asked him about the price. (Never get in a taxi without a meter). He said (I thought) “Five thousand“, which sounded right, so we carried on.

When we arrived at our place, I had the money ready, but he got very angry, and showed us a calculator that said, “54,000 pesos” – which would have been around $100. When we became indignant and refused to pay that price, he said, “Policia” to which I responded, “Si, policia.”

Stephen was by the passenger door, so I pushed him to get out, threw the money on the seat and we left the cab. The driver took off in a hurry, and I was annoyed that we had given him any money at all. Anyway, lesson learned – don’t travel in fear, but don’t let your guard down.

We have travelled for over 100 days with very little incident, and this is simply a story from the road. Our trip has been so much more than we had hoped for and we learned a lot. We’re in that funny suspended state of being nowhere – ready to go home and sorry that it is over.

Thanks to you all for following along with us and keeping us company. We hope to see many of you sooner rather than later. Until next time.

13 thoughts on “Santiago: Fun to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live here.

  1. Your blogs have been a highlight for us. We enjoyed them all. We’ll look forward to our first get together. Have a safe trip home.


  2. We loved “tagging along” with you through parts of South America. As always, your travels have opened up parts of the world we may never see; so, we are grateful that you took the time to share your discoveries with others.


  3. Thank you for taking us on your incredible journey. So many incredible places . Safe trip home and a very happy birthday to Steve.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.