Once the four day journey from Puno was done we were elated to have finally made it to Santiago, Chile. The charming cities of Arica and La Serena were entertaining stops on our way and we were happy to have spent time there, but we start craving big city life after weeks of deprivation.
We started off staying in a great location of Santiago called Providencia, which was just walking distance to the well known bohemian district of Bellavista. In dire need to work off the calories we ate and drank during our New New Year’s Eve in Cusco, the first thing to do was check out the cities jogging paths. Luckily, there's a perfect dirt path and small parks for bicyclists, walkers and joggers along Providencia, a main road separating the districts of Providencia and Bellavista. We love cities where the people are active and the city is able to accommodate them – which is just how Santiago is.
Another great way to sightsee around the city while squeezing in a work out was to hike Cerro Santa Lucía and Cerro San Cristóbal, two hills that are right within Bellavista so there’s no need to venture outside the city for a descent hike. Not knowing anything about Cerro Santa Lucía (as we rarely plan ahead!), we came across it after needing to walk off a lunch we enjoyed on a nearby patio. Making it to the top, we discovered Fort Hidalgo, an old, recently restored fort where pedestrians who climb up the stairs to the top are rewarded with a fantastic viewpoint. The smog of the city can take away from the beauty of the view, but we could still see the outstretching distance to the mountains that surround Santiago.
A couple days later into our visit we switched from our hostel bed to a stranger's couch. It was our first time CouchSurfing in South America and our host Danilo, who was actually from Brazil, had been living in Santiago for about six years. His apartment was in the perfect location of the Bellavista district creating the best base camp for our last couple days. He and his boyfriend were as amiable and welcoming as ever and we wish we could've spent more time getting to know them better.
Anyway, after our first night with them we spent the following morning at Cerro San Cristóbal. This hill is much larger than Cerro Santa Lucía and even has the Chilean National Zoo shortly up the base. Normally, I don’t really care for zoos because I find it disheartening to see all the animals in cages and I'd rather just watch an animal documentary if I feel the need to increase my knowledge of evolution's creatures. But it had been awhile since we visited one and I didn’t mind the idea of observing the most majestic of all wild animals: the penguin. They're silly and they make me smile.
Come evening it was time to input some calories so we headed to the Plaza de Armas (as nearly every notable city in Latin America seems to have one) in search of a cheap meal. This is where we ate a churrasco completo (basically a steak sandwich) at an excellent price. The plaza is also a central gathering point where people congregate, painters sell their art, and multiple shops and restaurants line the streets that lead to and from the square.
We truly enjoyed Santiago and were happy with our choice of Chile over Bolivia (maybe next time!) but the real test we give to any big city we visit is the “Would we live here?” test. Unlike Hong Kong, Tokyo and even Mexico City where we decided we could absolutely live, Santiago to our surprise didn’t pass this test. The culture was intriguing, the city metro was convenient, the hills were beautiful and the people were kind. But it’s hard to describe why certain cities don’t pass. For this one, we just didn't feel that unique spark that separates a city from the rest.
As always, we didn’t spend enough time there to really get to know it, but our travels took us onward to Montevideo in Uruguay rather quickly.