In 2010 Santiago was shaken by a 8.9-magnitude earthquake. It lasted for 3 entire minutes and many people thought that it was the end. Since then the city recovered. New, earthquake-resistant buildings were constructed, parks were established and restaurants opened. In 2011 the New York Times also selected Santiago as the top touristic destination for the year. This great improvement and the ranking made me curious to visit the city, and see how does it look like after an earthquake and the reconstructions.
Before my travel I asked Chilean friends about the must-see sights of Santiago. Finally the list became so long, and the sights were in a whirl in my head, that I decided to plan a city tour for the first day, which would visit the most important places. I chose the city tour of Go Chile, and I was hoping that after this tour I would see things clearly, and would be able to walk around the city the next days without any rush.
A bit sleepy after last night’s party and a bit straggly after the rush-hour traffic, I arrived to the meeting point of the city tour. After seeing the smiling face of our tour guide, Sergio, I felt that I had arrived and I was fine. A big, blue luxury bus waited for us on the corner. Sergio greeted us in three languages – English, Spanish and Portuguese – on the board. Later he kept changing these languages with such a talent, that I did not even realize that he was talking in another language. While the bus was slowly flowing with the morning traffic, Sergio started to talk about the city and its history.
The first stop was the oldest square of the city, the Plaza de Armas. Its colonial-style cathedral with the palm trees around suddenly reminded me to the Spanish era. After stepping out of the bus in the chilly morning, Sergio talked about the establishment of the city in 1541, its war for independence against the Spanish, the huge growth in the beginning of the 20th century, and the big earthquake of 2010.
During the 30-minute-long free time I walked around the square quickly because it was full of with suspicious faces. I had an ‘italiano’ (hot dog) for breakfast, and was also sunbathing a bit on the benches. I kept thinking about this earthquake. It should have caused such a shock that people still talk a lot about it. Apart from some roofless houses or plinths without statues, I saw almost nothing from this tragedy. Still, it was scary to think about how long those 3 minutes were.
The next stop should have been a green hill inside the city, the Santa Lucia, if it was not closed because of a governmental delegation. First I was angry as we had to miss the so called ‘park of lovers’, but then I thought that probably things were like this here. Though we missed the delegation at the hill, we caught them at our next destination, which was the Casa de la Moneda.
Sergio stood silent because of the loud trumpets and drums, but as soon as the ceremony finished he continued talking about Santiago. Today the Casa de Moneda is the government’s residence, which was already functioning during the Spanish empire as a mint. I was surprised to hear that Santiago was still one of the biggest financial centers of Latin-America along with Sao Paolo and Buenos Aires.
While we went around in the city by bus, and saw the most significant park of Santiago, the Forestal Park, and the less significant Mapocho River, as well as the cozy streets of some districts: the Bellavista, the Providencia, the Lastarria, Sergio talked about the damages caused by the 2010 earthquake which cost one third of Chile’s GDP. During the reconstruction new and modern earthquake-resistant buildings are being designed, that is why one can see ancient and modern architecture peacefully standing next to each other.
Besides the ongoing reconstructions, Santiago has another pain point. Our tour guide told us that the city is struggling with the high smog concentration. Santiago is surrounded by the Andes on the east and the Chilean Coastal Range on the west, therefore there is not enough wind. The situation is especially bad during wintertime when the snow-capped mountains are almost invisible. For those who would like to get the best pictures about Santiago with the 6000 meter high Andes mountains in the background, it is best to climb up on one of the hills after a rain shower. The view is really breathtaking! Nowadays Santiago is establishing more green area to balance the bad air.
The last stop was an artisan shop, where we saw masterpieces from Lapis Pazuli, the most famous mineral of Chile, while we were invited to try another typical Chilean drink, the Pisco Sour. I usually do not like these commercial parts of the tour, but many tourists, who did not stay long in Santiago, bought their souvenirs here.
During the tour, while looking out of the bus, I saw neoclassical buildings besides modern skyscrapers, and it was good to see that neat and tawdry can peacefully exist next to each other. The colonial Cathedral and the modern crystal office modestly grew side by side. The architecture of the past, the modern technology of the present, and the consciously expanded parks for a greener future exist together in Santiago. There is still way to go, a little dusty, a little disordered, but the result is a very exciting city which everyone can enjoy.
The Santiago City Tour is 3 and a half hour long, therefore it shows the most important sights. I got exactly what I expected: lot of stories, history, data and tips for the upcoming days. The tour was professional and smooth. It is prefect for those who are in a rush and can not spend more than a day in Santiago. Or for those, who would like to see the sights in a structured way, to have more time later to wander around aimlessly. The tour is not enough to decide whether the New York Times was right by ranking Santiago as the top tourist destination, but I heard so many stories and data which helped me get the initial picture about the city.
The Santiago City Tour was organized and sponsored by Go Chile. If you have one full day in Santiago, and want to take a peek into the famous Chilean wine culture and to visit one of Pablo Neruda’s houses you can also try the Wine, Isla Negra Beach and Neruda full-day trip. You can reserve these or other daily tours on their website or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I would like to thank for Alvaro Rojas for all the help and coordination. As always, all the thoughts are mine in the article.