November 20th, 2011 – by: Jollyjetsetter
View of urban Santiago from the apartment roof in Bellavista
Setting foot on an unfamiliar continent for the very first time is, for a seasoned traveller, one of those vital discovery processes which is sure to breathe new life into their familiar process of tackling uncharted territory. Well, as a first foray into South America, Chile was perhaps not the most obvious starting point, but, as the stay in central Chile went to prove, some destinations clearly deserve far more exposure than general perceptions will stretch. Touching down in Santiago provided a tremendously scenic view from the plane window, and a bus ride into central Santiago after a long-haul trans-atlantic flight was clearly the final step before the magic of Chile was set to reveal itself. Upon first glance, Santiago comes across as a booming metropolis, with sufficient evidence to suggest that development and modernity have all but erased traces of a once-poor nation with an infrastructure barely in solid shape.
One of the prominent buildings in Plaza De Armas, the main square in Santiago
Staying in the Bellavista neighbourhood was a wise move, since the striking wall art and splashes of colour here and there which characterize the place added a kind of extra depth to the emotional impact of the Chilean capital city. Santiago is well equipped with a comprehensive metro network, which makes it simple enough to get around all the city's highlights, but central Santiago contains such a cluster of attractions that a certain amount of walking will ensure that a pedestrian can experience the beating heart and living soul that make up the fabric of the Chilean capital city. A night out at the restaurant / show venue of 'Los Buenos Muchachos' is a great way to indulge in the best of Chilean food and festivities, and upscale shopping malls such as the delightful Parque Arauco complex go to prove just how much even a casual shopping session can become an eventful excursion.
Indicative wall art in Valparaiso
Staying for the last leg of the Santiago stay in the well-endowed neighbourhood that is Providencia reveals a side of Chile which is so appealingly liveable that you might well have, by this point, cast aside any preconceptions of South American nations being peppered with elements of either poverty or danger. A coach trip to the port city of Valparaiso
is a must, and the startling contrast in city styles between this and the Chilean capital city could easily be the traveller's first constatation. The sublime spirit of the colourful wall art in Valparaiso is kept well and truly alive thanks to numerous reminders that you are in one of the world's most colourful and artistic cities, per square metre, and working my way up to the city's higher echelons via one of Valparaiso's numerous funiculars was a great way to assess the city in its entirity from up on high.
The flower clock at Vina Del Mar
The city's status as Chile's chief port, as well as the well-known length of the country's coastline are two factors which a visitor to Valparaiso's maritime museum are reminded of, and the museum's contents are fascinating and highly relevant to its geographical location. A 10 minute train ride on Valparaiso's urban metro network will take you to the nearby seaside city of Vina Del Mar
, and, despite its proximity to Valparaiso, a wholly different atmosphere is present, and the pristine nature of Vina's skyscrapers and shopping malls serve as an indication that this is perhaps a city modelled on the US template for beach resorts, with some pretty convincing results. All in all, Chile lived up to expectations, despite not gaining a taste for other areas the country is famous for, namely the Atacama desert, and the national park at Torres Del Paine.
Chilean hospitality, for my money, made the experience a more humanistic one, and as the imminent arrival in Uruguay drew ever closer, I was chock full of curiosity and anticipation over just how far Uruguay could go to match the emotional quotient of the Chilean experience.