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Why Santiago, the vibrant Chilean capital, is the Andes’ crown jewel

Why Santiago, the vibrant Chilean capital, is the Andes’ crown jewel

A stunning section of the Andes mountain range overlooks Santiago – the largest city in Chile

As a child I would look at maps and think how ridiculous Chile looked. Stretched out and elongated, it defied all the norms about the shapes of countries. I never got round to finding out why it was that shape. Now, it was obvious.

I was on a flight from Sao Paulo in Brazil into Santiago – the capital of Chile – and the pilot had just warned us to fasten our seat belts in anticipation of turbulence as we flew over the Andes.

This mountain range stretches from one end of South America to the other. It defines the Chilean boarder with its neighbours Argentina and Bolivia. Chile is basically the gap between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean.

The Andes not only define the boarder of Chile, but rise up and tower over the city of Santiago itself. These mountains help create a climate which, during the UK’s winter months, allows bright, dry, hot sunshine day after day.

In January and February, Santiago hardly sees any rain. There are infinite cloudless skies, and temperatures heading into the 86 F and upwards .

Indeed, now is the ideal time to visit. Especially for those in the UK – today, British Airways launches new non-stop flights from Heathrow.

sunset-santiago
Photo by Pixabay

The sunny weather is matched by a warm and grown up attitude towards LGBTIs – civil unions became law in 2015.

Plus, it’s relatively safe. It’s therefore a much more chilled travel experience than the sometimes edgy nature of Rio de Janeiro, and other popular LGBTI travel destinations on the continent.

I stayed at the Grand Hyatt, and made sure that I requested a room with a view of the mountains.

Going up ☝🏾#Cheers to @peeramaytha for capturing this great #photo! #livinggrand

A photo posted by Hyatt (@hyatt) on

The mountain view and the hotel’s stunning atrium-like elevator shaft make it the perfect place to stay and explore a city so different to others in Latin America.

Start your trip to Santiago by visiting the Cerro San Cristobal. It’s a peak in the city which gives fantastic views of the metropolis below. It’s a good 45 minute walk to the top, if you feel like some exercise. But the 300 metre climb is well worth it.

The entrance road to Cerro San Cristobal is in the Bellavista district of Santiago.

santiago
Photo by Pixabay

This bohemian district of tree-lined avenues is a great place to drink coffee in the day, and beer or the renowned Chilean wine by night.

By day there are restaurants, galleries and boutique shops. At night this is the best place to head for gay nightlife. Elsewhere the city is cultured with markets, museums, great architecture and food.

The thought of hiring a car to self-drive in South America would never have occurred to me unless I was in the middle of dark nightmare.

If Italians have a reputation for being erratic drivers, the manners on most South American roads will put things into perspective. But again, Chile feels different.

Take the plunge, hire a car and drive towards the coast from Santiago for a little over an hour to the fabulous town of Valparaiso. It’s been described as Latin America’s most unusual city.

From a commercial perspective, it’s one of the South Pacific’s most important ports. From the second half the 19th century, it’s been a cultural melting pot of sailors, immigrants, prostitutes, artists, wealth, trade and influence. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So how do you absorb and experience Valparaiso?

valparaiso-1
Photo by Martin Popplewell

It’s simple – you walk. Just spend a day wandering aimlessly around the cobblestoned streets, built up on steep hills around the port.

They’re lined with beautiful houses and gaudy street art. Noisy squawking seagulls hang in the sky above you.

Stop at the quirky Mm 450 Boutique Hotel in the heart of the cultural action of the city for good food and a great coffee. You might just end up staying the night in Valparaiso.

Words by Martin Popplewell