Category Archives: Chile


Our first trip to Santiago was just a sampler to see if we would like the place and this time around we weren’t even planning on stopping. But the earthquake in Valparaiso saw us popping in for an extra couple of days.

The thing that I had forgotten was just how close to the Andes the city was. And that you could be at ground level sweltering at mid 30’s temperatures while staring at snow covered peaks. By rights the long vista would indicate a cold climate, but I wandered around in shorts sweating.

Upon arrival, what we found out was that we had gotten pretty good at identifying and visiting the main tourist sights of a city. We pulled up the things to do in town pages and found that the lists were basically made up of all the things that we had done the first time around.

Clearly, #1 on the list was to make your way to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. This is the hill overlooking the city with the broad views, the funicular to get up and the statue of the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepcion. Well, we clearly ticked all of those the first time around.

#2 on the list was to shop at the historic Mercado Central Santiago that dates back to 1872, well big tick here too, we even got the version of the shopping centre that included the dancing girls. #3 was to take a stroll in the various parks and squares around the city of Santiago, notably the Parque Forestal, that was another big tick.

#4 was to visit the Historic Museo de Bellas Artes. This was more a check the pretty building from the outside than a go in and wander about thing for us.

Needless to say that the list went on and the ticks kept on racking up. It was interesting to me that the main square (Plaza de Armas) only came in at about #8 on the list and the main cathedral was even lower.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, tick.

La Moneda palace is the Presidential Palace and pseudo parliament house area, tick.

Basilica de la Virgen de Lourdes and Gruta, tick.

So for the most part, we had seen all that there was to see (of note) in the city of Santiago. So with that in mind, it was time to bounce about and experience the food, wine beer and general feel of the place.

We liked Santiago our first time around and nothing on this trip has changed that opinion. The prices are relatively comparable with Australian prices (maybe a little cheaper). The graffiti that we saw in Valparaiso was here too but more effort had been put into cleaning it up. The streets felt as though they were safe (as long as you are aware of your surroundings) and the food is good (if a little heavy on the carbs).

We found a nice little spot and Jill got her much overdue ceviche fix. And before you knew it our second Santiago stint was over. And as we flew out of the airport, once again we were met with the snow capped peaks of the Andes within minutes.

Valparaiso, Chile

Our lead-in to coming here was filled with expectation as the research on this city seemed to promise so much. We were coming off a long period on the ship so were looking forward to being on land and eating dodgy street food again. So much so that we factored a whole week into staying here exploring the olden and current wonders that it had to offer. Even if it meant having to schlepp our bags again.

Lets set this up a bit, Valparaiso sits on the Pacific coast of Chile and was considered one of the most important port towns in the world, up until the building of the Panama Canal. In its heyday, the city provided respite to thousands of sailors heading from Europe to California.

Prior to the Panama Canal, ships from Europe would travel south down the coast and cut through the Strait of Magellan (to avoid rounding Cape Horn) in order to get to the Pacific Ocean.

During the gold rush it was a major trade route and became known as “the jewel of South America”. It is the home of Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, Chile’s first public library, and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world (El Mercurio de Valparaíso). In 2003, the historic quarter of Valparaíso was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Because of all of this trade in the 18th 19th and the 20th centuries some amazing colonial and post colonial-style buildings were built, along with palaces and estates of wealthy businessmen.

Well, Valparaiso was a bit of a disappointment. Since the building of the Panama Canal, the place has pretty much gone to pot. The stunning old buildings are now just crumbling down, are boarded up or are in just a disgraceful state of disrepair and neglect. What promised so much yielded a city in neglect.

Rioting and protests (over inequity) took place between 2019-2022 after economic assessments identified that 1% of the population in Chile controls 26.5% of the country’s wealth, while half of the population have only 2.1%. The trigger to the conflict and protests was the raising of metro fares. But this 3 years of unrest have left virtually every surface of the city scarred or vandalised.

But the recent rioting belies the decades of neglect that preceded it. To say that Valparaiso is poor is an understatement. Makeshift street markets are everywhere with people trying to sell the most inane low-value items just to make a buck. Used clothes and shoes, toiletries, and even used phone chargers lay on blankets on the streets while someone tries to turn over some cash from them. It is like a permanent car boot sale on every street (without the car boot).

Plazuela Anibal Pinto is the practical if not official heart of town. It features the statue of Neptune that was built in 1892. From the plaza as you look up the hill you will see a bright yellow house perched on the top of a cliff.

This house is on the corner of a barrio (neighbourhood) known as Concepción. The Concepcion neighbourhood is the home of all art in Valparaiso. Everywhere you look is street art of varying kinds. Some are mere graffiti that gets reinvented almost daily while others are exceptional murals by well-known artists. This area is the key to revitalising and reinvigorating the town.

We took a funicular up the steep hill to the Concepcion Barrio to check out some of the amazing street art. We wandered the streets and took our happy snaps and dodged the tour groups as they similarly checked out the artworks.

As great as this neighbourhood (Barrio) was, and as much potential as it held for revitalising the city there was still work to be done. From high on the hill, surrounded by artworks, there was only about 2-3 places to sit and have coffees, cakes and lunch. There was not a bar in sight and restaurants were almost invisible. An entrepreneurial spirit could set this place alight.

And then of course the whole thing was ruined by a recent trend of mugging tourists. The short-sightedness of people astounds me more and more often every day.


Between 1883 and 1916, around 30 funiculars (bizarrely, sources seem unsure of the exact number) were constructed to connect the businesses of the Lower Town with the residential districts on the hills above. Many of these still survive and are officially listed as National Monuments, although not all of them are currently in service.

These Funiculars save some serious leg work for the princely sum of about 50c. As we were at the bottom of the plaza, we took the Ascensor Concepcion, one of the first funiculars built in Valparaíso.

Palacio Baburizza is the former residence of Croatian businessman Pascual Baburizza located in Valparaíso, Chile. It was built in 1916 by Italian architects, and eventually turned into a museum in 1971, and declared a historic monument in 1976.

The Plaza Sotomayor is the original customs square and is lined by the old buildings of the city that fill the full blocks of the surrounding streets. But mostly it is dominated by the palatial blue-coloured Edificio Armada de Chile (headquarters of the navy). The focus of the square is a monument that honours the Chilean sailors who fell during two battles that took place in 1879.

At the northeastern side of the square are two similar towers, which create a sort of gate entrance to the port from the city. 

The statues were nice, or they would have been if they were not all covered in spray paint and pigeon shit. The parks were nice, even if mostly used as urinals and beds for the homeless. It is not that this place was terrible because it wasn’t. It was just the disappointment of how far it had fallen from where it once was and where it could be.

Despite the poverty and threats of muggings, at no point did we feel unsafe. The town was nice, if a little dishevelled and mostly friendly. The prices were pretty comparable with what you would pay for things in Australia, but the quality of what you would get was lesser.

I guess the thing for us was that our accommodation was substandard. We were paying a high price for a place that had no interest in having guests. It was a hostel, but in reality it was more of a rest home for lazy millennials. They had carved themselves a beautiful niche for themselves where they listened to music with noise cancelling headphones and ate free food and did nothing. They had multiple wifi options but only theirs worked. The ones for the paying guests would not even connect.

The list of what was wrong was too long to get into but suffice to say the place was terrible. So after a couple of days when we were woken at 3am by a massive thump that was enough. As it turns out, we had just experienced our first earthquake. The town was set against an ocean and on the side of a mountain. Neither places you really want to be in the case of a major earthquake.

A mere 5km from where we were was the epicentre of a 5.0 magnitude earthquake. So we got up at 3am, packed our bags and dressed for a rapid departure (in the fear of aftershocks etc).

The rest of the evening/morning was drama-free but with all else going on in Valparaiso, we took this as a good enough sign that it was time to move on. So we found our way downtown and hopped on a bus and went to the capital of Santiago.

Valparaiso could have been an amazing experience, and can again be one. I am certain if our accommodation was not so shitty we might have been less inclined to dash away. A quick investment in some urban renewal and a curbing of petty street crime and this place could once again be fantastic.

A few public toilet blocks, some paint given to those seeking jobs and this place could be very different. They are already trying. There has been an addition of market stalls along Avenida Argentina where the open-air food market takes place every Wednesday or Saturday. If this was open to the other marketeers in between times the place would be tidied up and given an aura of legitimacy rather than the current version.

It would be interesting to come back in 3-5 years to see if progress is made. It is now on the cruise ship ports of call so there is regular trade starting. A clever plan, well executed could see this place getting back towards its former glory.

Santiago, Chile

Well, we left Sydney at around noon, and flew sleeplessly for the next 12 hours to arrive in Chile a bit after noon on the day we left… in notional terms, we left at 11:10am to arrive at 12:20 the same day. In actual terms… long haul flights seem tougher now than they did when we were younger.

Being both sleep deprived, and in a Spanish country we were happy to have the siesta…so we asked the dude at the hotel who replied “we don’t have that custom here”…well we did…so we crashed for a couple of hours to try and cope with no sleep and a 14 hour time difference. Upon waking we headed along the road to reach Plaza de Armas…this is in essence a large square surrounded by some absolutely stunning buildings.

The town hall, the tourist office (now a museum), and the post office lined the northern edge of the plaza. As you pan to the left the cathedral (of Santiago de Compostela) is a major feature before the square blurs into shops, cafes and restaurants.

Possibly the most stunning thing for us was the fact that the park was actually used…in fact, it was packed at all times of the day. Coming from Australia there are many parks and green spaces but for the most part, they are empty. Not in Chile…as we wandered around the city every park bench was full, and the lawns were also crowded. There were preachers, artists, activists, couples, people watchers and dogs…lots of dogs.


We took the “tip only” walking tour a few days later and got the history behind these and many more local sights of the city.  The walking tour saw us adding the High Court, Pre-Colombian Museum, Congress (former), Presidential palace (which was once the mint and now bears the title La Moneda), the stock exchange / financial district and the opera house.

img_1975 MVIMG_20190309_125629_1 MVIMG_20190309_123216 IMG_20190310_132358_1 IMG_20190310_132212

On day two we did the walk across the river to Barrio Bellavista, the bohemian quarter of the city. It is packed with bars, nightclubs and restaurants and the streets are adorned with street art and murals of all shapes and sizes. But we were here to visit San Cristóbal Hill. This is the hill that rises around 300m (984 ft) above the city and is the site of a 22-meter statue of the Virgin Mary and the place to get almost panoramic views of the city as it lays nestled among the Andean Mountain Range.

IMG_20190309_112935 MVIMG_20190309_124600_1

And of course, my job was to sample some of the local ales. This is a task that has long since challenged me, but I endure. Add to this some of the fantastic scenery and even a view from the rooftop bar of our accommodation.

IMG_20190309_201456 img_2030