Santiago is what can only be described as a sprawling metropolis; it is huge, with districts varying from shantytowns by the river to glassy, high-rise offices and apartments that look like they belong in New York. Indeed, there is an area nicknamed Sanhatten.
Amongst all this are several parks and natural spaces including 2 rather well known “cerros” (hills – well they’re classes as hills here but I’m sure in England they’d be mountains).
Cerro Santa Lucia
Whilst still recovering from the flu I decided to stop feeling so sorry for myself and go explore the city a bit. I didn’t leave the house til after 4pm, leaving precious little time for the museum trips I had planned, so instead I went to go be at one with nature, at least as much as you can be in a big city.
Since the 1540s Cerro Santa Lucia has had many purposes: look-out point, cemetery, fort. It was only in the late 1700s that the mayor decided to transform the hill into a public area with fountains, gardens, walkways, a chapel and viewpoints out over the city down below. It has a number of little pathways winding up and around the hill for you to reach the look-out point at the top, all of which are filled with canoodling couples. (Never seen so much PDA in my life. I actually felt pretty awkward every time I came across one, like I was invading their private space, but then I realised that actually I was in a public park and really they should go get a room.)
The entrance of the Cerro sets the benchmark really. A courtyard flanked on either side by large, white sweeping staircases; a large fountain in the middle and a backdrop of a beautiful yellow and white arched façade. When you look up you see higher up on the hill another, much larger fountain and a beautifully ornate building amongst the palm trees and other foliage. In the sunlight the yellow and white colours look really spectacular, so summery! 🙂
As I climbed further up the hill I really regretted wearing a full skirt – it was more than a little tricky to protect my modesty with the wind, hold up my DSLR that was weighing down my neck and hold my rucksack in front of me so I wouldn’t be pickpocketed! Approaching the top of the hill I came across a little garden called “Darwin’s Jardin”, named after the famous naturalist who visited the hill in the 19th Century and declared the view from the top to be “most striking”. Perhaps it was most striking then, perhaps it still is to most people, perhaps it is on better days. However, I personally found it to be quite disappointing. Looking down upon hundreds of high-rise concrete apartment blocks and large, ugly offices was not my cup of tea. The worst part about it all was that what could have been a magnificent vista of the mountains was shrouded in such thick smog that I really pitied my poor lungs.
The next day my Chilean Mama took me to the biggest cerro in the city:
Cerro San Cristóbal
Cerro San Cristóbal is absolutely huge. I’m certain it’s a mountain. You can get a funicular up the “hill”, but we drove and watched the poor, crazy cyclists tackling the steep roads. I’m not sure why that’s a fun Sunday activity. Don’t think I’ll ever understand.
It took quite a while to reach the top even driving, where there is a lovely stepped garden with benches going up to the 14m high snow-white statue of the Virgin Mary. The view from here was impressive; you can see the whole of the city laid out in front of you up until the mountains. There were loads of tourists taking selfies with the city background, but I was trying to get good photos of the surrounding mountains. I think I’ll have to go back one day after it has rained and the pollution mist has disappeared so I can appreciate the view of the Andes in all their glory.
This is also the site which Pope Juan Pablo II visited in1987 to give a mass to the people of Chile and said these words: “My blessing is for all of Chile; my words are for every Chilean and the best of my affection for the smallest and those most in need.” (Rough translation by me) Which I think is rather nice.
Both cerros are really lovely places to visit, both beautiful in their own way, and it is interesting to get a view over the whole city to really understand just how big it is!
PS. On Saturday after visiting Cerro Santa Lucia I decided to go for a little walk in the area and I walked straight into a march that was going on! Lots of armoured vehicles, policemen with guns running about and zooming around on motorbikes, it was quite a surprise to me! Couldn’t figure out the motivation for the march either. Later, I was told it was kind of a general march for any grievances that people had ha!