Santiago is one of my favourite cities.
I can’t tell you why. There’s nothing that particularly stands out in a WOW kind of way; not like Rio which is bursting at the seams with things to do and places to go and sites to see. There’s not one particular place or experience that explains why I like Santiago so much. I just do.
I don’t claim to be an expert on the city, not in any way, shape or form. I only spent about a week there and honestly? I spent a lot of time in my rented apartment hiding from the rain (LOL at me for not realising it was Winter there) watching Season 1 of Jane the Virgin and eating sour skittles, but what I did see of the city, I absolutely loved.
So these are the three things I would recommend to anybody visiting the city.
You could even cram all three into one jam-packed day: start with the Museum, move on to La Chascona and head up to Cerro San Cristóbal to catch the sunset.
Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos
English: Museum of Memory and Human Rights
Visiting this museum was one of the most sobering experiences of my entire life.
In fact, I would probably put it on par with the Anne Frank House and Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
The museum itself a dedication to the commemoration of victims of human rights violations during Pinochet’s civic-military regime between 1973 and 1990; victims of an era in time that I am ashamed to admit I had no idea even existed; victims of absolutely horrendous crimes that occurred in an age when we as a species really should be past all of that.
The museum is full to the brim with propaganda from that era, newspaper clippings reporting the atrocities that occurred, torture devices used by Pinochet’s regime, items belonging to some of the victims, drawings made by children of the victims, some of whom were victims themselves. According to reports, 150 children under the age of 18 were executed for political reasons or killed during protests, 39 simply disappeared with no trace and 1,244 children were imprisoned and tortured. Many children were kidnapped along with their parents, but returned home without them, likely having witnessed their extreme torture and subsequent murders.
It’s absolutely horrific to think about.
There are also testimonies – both written and in visual – of survivors of the regime, survivors of the kidnappings, survivors of the torture. There are letters filled with love and hope written by the victims to their families – some of whom never made it home. There are videos to watch, excerpts to read, all in all a lot of items to reflect upon.
Undoubtedly the most harrowing part of the museum is the candlelight memorial. A small, room filled with candles, it faces out onto a wall full of photographs of those who were killed or “disappeared” and are still unaccounted for. Seeing the smiling faces of these victims, who when their photos were taken had no idea of their fate, really brings it all home.
The museum is a difficult experience – I walked out with tears running down my face – but it’s necessary if you want to learn more, if you want to educate yourself about the Chilean people and their history, and if you want to truly understand what they have gone through to get where they are now.
Admission is free, but you can elect to pay a few thousand pesos for an audio-guide and is open every day except Mondays. I highly recommend that anybody planning a trip to Santiago add this to your itinerary!
Otherwise known as Pablo Neruda’s house
Without a doubt one of the most notable and important figures to come out of Chile, Pablo Neruda has a special place in the hearts of the Chilean people.
Built especially as a love nest for Neruda and his mistress-turned-wife, La Chascona is one of three of the Nobel Prize winner’s houses open to the public, the others being in Valparaíso and Isla Negra. La Chascona gives you the chance to learn all about his life (the good and the bad), his death, his career, and most enjoyably gives you the opportunity to enjoy his eclectic collection of furniture and trinkets from all over the world!
The museum works on an audio-guide only basis, so there’s no wandering around on your own. However, you choose as and when you wish to start the next track, so technically you are kind of still guiding yourself.
Neruda’s works have been translated into every major language in the world, and many of the lesser known ones and to this day he remains of utmost importance and relevance to the literary world. So it has to be said: a visit to this museum is a must for any lover of literature.
General admission is $6000 CLP and includes an audio-guide available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German.
Cerro San Cristóbal
A hill with a nice view
Everybody likes a good ole panoramic view of a city, right?
South America has absolutely tons to choose from! Some of them aren’t that great (this is you, Medellín!) and some absolutely take your breath away (oh hey there Rio). Cerro San Cristóbal has a nice view. It’s not quite Rio, but it’s nice. Definitely above average as far as views go!
If you are superhuman you can choose to walk up. Don’t ask me how or how long it takes because my legs can barely take me up a flight of stairs let alone 300m up a steep hill, so I took the easy option: funicular! A return ticket on the funicular is about $2000 CLP but really depends on what day and time you go, as they do that thing where they charge you more on a Saturday or after school, so don’t quote me on that!
You have the option to get off about half way up the hill and visit the zoo, which I really wish I had done, but my visit was after 4pm and so it would have been pointless to go there for half an hour.
There’s a cute little chapel atop the hill, which isn’t unique for a South American hill with a view, but what is unique is the fact that Pope John Paul II performed mass there in April 1987. So of course, there is a statue to commemorate him.
And on the subject of statues, what’s a hill in South American without a biblical statue?! Enter the 22-metre high tribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Eat your heart out Christ the Redeemer!
And for those with no interest whatsoever in the Pope, Mother Mary or anything religious whatsoever, there is of course the views! Which is the reason for going up the hill in the first place, really. You get the modern-day city view in three directions, an incredible countryside in the other and, of course, the snow-capped Andes in the background.
Has anyone been to Santiago? What would be your number one thing to do that you’d recommend to a first-time visitor?