I have always wanted to visit Santiago. I had a friend who studied abroad there many years ago, and I remember her talking about how fun it was. After a nonstop backpacking tour though Perú, we were looking forward to some downtime around the city, and lucky for us, Santiago is a great wandering city. Here are a few of our favorite ways to spend time:
Cerro Santa Lucia is a great place to get lost if you don’t mind walking up hill. The views are fantastic, and there are plenty of green paths to make it feel like you’re somewhat secluded. It once served as a lookout point for Spanish conquistadors, which gives it a really magical feel. There are castle structures, ornate fountains, sitting areas peppered throughout the park, and I hear they fire a cannon sometimes as well (but we didn’t see it.)
The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Contemporary Art Museum are both fantastic museums that are connected and free. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, they are surrounded by a gorgeous park, and you can venture out to explore the Barrio Lastarria if you still feel like wandering.
La Chascona Museum House is one Pablo Neruda’s 3 homes, all of which have been turned into museums. My husband studied Spanish literature in college and is a huge Neruda fan so we had to see at least one of the houses. The one in Santiago is designed to be more like a boat than a home, complete with water features. In fact, when his home was taken over by the dictatorship, it was flooded. His wife never fully repaired it in order to keep a record of what happened. Their story is heart-wrenching, and the museum does a great job of unwrapping the tragic story as you walk through their historical home.
The Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) is a stunning memorial museum. People living in Chile today are still greatly affected by the memories and repercussions of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Loads of Chileans remember it firsthand. This museum does an incredible job of presenting a heavy subject in a beautiful and honest way. Even though Will is young, we were able to have some interesting conversations about history and responsibility. I wish I could have spent more time perusing through all the documents and videos, but we didn’t want to dwell too long with a young child. There is a thought-provoking section with children’s artworks during this era, and we spent some particularly meaningful time in this area.
Not far from Santiago is the unique city of Valparaíso, or “Valpo” for short. It has a wonderfully energetic and free-spirited vibe, and if you’re looking for a place to get lost for a few days, I can think of few better options (as long as you don’t mind hills.) My only regret is that there is another Pablo Neruda house here that we would have loved to have seen, but we got too distracted by wandering around the city, as you can see…
We even ran into a few great protests. The marches were super family friendly and included people of all ages, people in costumes, and choreographed dances. Plus, we got to have some great family conversations about freedom, fairness, and solidarity – a few of my favorite topics. It’s really amazing to be able to talk about how these ideas are expressed in so many different places with such a young and curious human.
Dunas de Concón:
A friend living in Valparaíso recommended a day trip down the coast to the Dunas de Concón. I suggest taking public transportation since there are tons of awesome performers working for tips. (We always keep our tips in a separate pocket so it’s easy to support the local artists.) We saw the dunes from the bus and set out for a morning of wandering around. Will had so much fun in the sand that he wore himself out and took a little nap while Jesse and I had an almost childless conversation, a rare and welcome moment while traveling.
If you like wine, Chile is great place to indulge. If you’re an aficionado, you’ll see some brands you recognize for much, much cheaper. Although this is fun in its own way, you’ll want to try something you can’t buy back home as well. (It’s all delicious!) “Terra Andina” as a great cheap wine that was recommended to us, and for only a few bucks, it was terrific.
I hope we find an excuse to go wander around Valpo again soon, maybe for a while longer next time.