Travelblog LA#1: Santiago – Chile

22nd February – 9th March, 2023


So, I have been away for almost a month now, and some of you are probably wondering why it has taken me this long to write my first blog.

Well… if I am honest, I do not feel like I am properly ‘travelling’ yet. Not in the way I usually do, at least. Chile is a country that I have not only been to before but spent a lot of time exploring during my last trip. It is a country that I am very fond of because not only did I do some of the most rewarding trekking of my life here (particularly throughout Patagonia in places such as the eight-day circuit through Torres Del Paine), but it is also a place where I made a lot of friends. Some of whom I have kept in touch with since I left four years ago.

Chile wasn’t originally on my itinerary for this trip. My plan was to start in Ecuador and then make my way north – as a compliment to my previous trip where I also started in Ecuador but instead made my way south – but when I was looking at the flights it didn’t cost me that much more to make a little detour to Santiago so I thought I might as well make the most of being at this side of the world again.

So here I am. Besides a week spent in Pucon (which I will cover in a later blog), I have been basing myself in Santiago, Chile’s dry and bustling capital city at the foot of the Andes. For the first ten days I stayed with Rodrigo, a friend I made last time who has a small apartment downtown near the Centro Cultural Gabriela.

I was surprised by how much Spanish I had forgotten over the past four years. By the end of my previous trip I was far from fluent but very conversational and was even starting to think and dream in Spanish. Rodrigo was more than patient with me though and we eventually adopted a practice that I spoke to him in Spanish and he spoke to me in English (which I do realise sounds counterintuitive, but in practice, it actually makes perfect sense because despite taking more time to form sentences and consider our words we always understand each other and both get to practice). He took some time off work to show me the sights and, whilst I won’t bore you too much by listing all of the museums, galleries, and monuments we visited, I will give you some highlights.

The Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (or ‘Museum of Memory and Human Rights’) is a must-see for those visiting Santiago. It primarily focuses on events surrounding the Pinochet regime but also has some displays about human rights violations throughout the world (if you are a Brit, like myself, prepare to be humbly embarrassed). Such places are not a ‘fun’ activity of course, but I am a big believer that it is important to remember these things, and also, that when you are visiting countries that have endured hardships – enjoying all of its scenery, attractions, etc – you owe it to them to understand their cultural context too.

Another museum I would implore those visiting Santiago not to miss is El Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, which has a very impressive collection of pottery, antiques and other artefacts, mostly from the Mapuche, Inka and other cultures from the Chilean region, but the upper floors also host treasures reaching all the way up into Mesoamerica (a prelude for what I have to come later in this trip). They also had a temporary exhibition on Shamanism (which those of you who either know me or follow my blog closely will know I was very excited about).

As far as churches and cathedrals go, most of Chile’s aren’t quite as venerable as others in Latin America, as sitting on the junction where three continental plates meet means that many of the older ones sadly did not make it through the centuries. The Iglesia de San Francisco is one that has somehow managed to endure since the 17th century and has an attached museum of religious art, whilst the newer, baroque-style cathedral located at its plaza is more modern but elegant, unassuming and usually filled with devotees, lighting candles to various saints whilst priest chant prayers through a microphone.

As I mentioned at the start of this blog, Santiago is based at the foot of the Andes, and even on the foggiest days one can still see a hint of its jagged outline that suddenly rises out from the ground, dividing Chile from its neighbour Argentina. Many of the more affluent neighbourhoods are based close to it, and the construction of high-rise buildings in these areas is tightly regulated and comes at a high premium. Views can also be seen from some of the cities’ hilltops, however, such as at Cerro San Cristóbal with its statue of the Virgin Mary overlooking the city.

Mendoza – Argentina’s famous wine-making region – is actually only just over a hundred miles away, although the road that snakes through the mountains takes over six hours. It is a spectacular journey. One that I would recommend to those for whom it is an option. It is one I made last time, but Argentina is not on my itinerary for this occasion.

Rodrigo did, however, organise a little day trip to Cajón del Maipo, a valley just over thirty miles into the Andes. It was a bit of a shock to the system to suddenly find myself at over 3000 meters of altitude, and I did feel a little lightheaded a few times that day. The tour included a visit to both a waterfall and a reservoir, where the guide explained that Chile is undergoing a drought that has so far lasted thirteen years due to a combination of climate change and unfavourable La Nina/El Nino cycles and is now considered the 16th most water-stressed country in the world, so consumption is regulated. This reservoir is one of several, but if things get critical, it is only enough to quench the thirst of Santiago’s 5.6 million population for two years.

After ten days spent with Rodrigo, I then went to stay with Francisco and Cristobal, who live in Las Condes (one of the suburbs closer I previously mentioned). The two of them were working during most of my stay, so I entertained myself during most of the daytimes by going for wanders around the local parks and museums, whilst evenings were spent catching up whilst trying wines from various vineyards around Chile (I have now grown rather fond of Carmenere).

Other than that, I prepared my hiking gear ready for my trip to Pucon, a part of Patagonia I missed last time. Coincidentally Francisco and Cristobal will be in the area too (for a wedding), but I am heading down there a few days earlier to spend a few days camping in Huerquehue National Park.

Before I sign off on this first blog entry I do want to say (for any of you who are new) that this is probably not going to be a great example of my travel blog. As I said, these first few weeks have been more like a holiday than backpacking. I was originally going to just briefly summarise my time in Santiago at the beginning of covering my time in Pucon but ended up writing more than I anticipated when I got to my keyboard. My next blog – covering my time camping and hiking in one of Patagonia’s national parks – should be a bit more interesting, and once that is over, I am going to be flying to Ecuador to spend five weeks volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation centre before crossing over into Colombia. That is when my adventures will truly begin, but until that point (sometime in late April or early May) it will be fairly quiet here.

For more photos from Santiago, please click here to view them on my Google Photos. Also, feel free to follow me on Instagram or Twitter with more live updates on my activities.


3 thoughts on “Travelblog LA#1: Santiago – Chile

  1. love the blog tej! dropping my bro to heathrow on tuesday because he is flying out to santiago on monday, my mum goes on thursday too…all the best with your travels mi amor xoxoxox

    1. Oh, I am going be back in Santiago on Friday too, but just for one day before I fly to Ecuador. Hope you are well, and thanks. Glad you are enjoying the blog!

      1. Oh nice! Looking forward to reading the Pucon blog, I loved it there so keen to see what you saw. I am very well thank you, flying out to Canada in May to start a seasonal job at a resort so excited for that. Enjoy Ecuador, hablamos pronto!

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