I was very excited when I was assigned a trip to Santiago, Chile, to oversee a group of ROL Cruise guests during their pre-cruise stay in the city. Not only had I not been there before (another tick off my bucket list) but I was keen to see what Chile had to offer. It’s never really had the same appeal as some of its South American neighbours in the way of world-famous cities and tourist hotspots.
I associated it with the Andes Mountains, international football, lovely wines and some miners who got stuck down their mine and were safely pulled out one by one, as reported in a heartwarming news story in 2010.
We landed in the world’s narrowest country after a comfortable 14-hour journey. The latter part of it made for some great photos as we flew over the pointed snow-capped peaks of the Andes and into the valley in which Santiago sits.
Views en route to the city centre tell a story straight away about the city’s demographic. Vast areas of land are covered with make-shift homes, protected only by some tarpaulin and sheets of iron. “These are the residences of mainly immigrants,” explained our escort, “and they form a large percentage of the poorer residents.” As with many Latin American cities, the gap between wealthy and poor is vast. That said, Chile is one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations with a population of around 15 million.
After settling into our hotel, my colleague and I ventured out to see what Santiago had to offer. On first impressions, it was everything I always imagine every large South American capital to be; hot, bustling, noisy and a little bit chaotic. Straight away, however, I could feel the warmth of the locals, they seemed to exude that happy and carefree Latino mood.
It was always going to be hot during our stay here due to the time of year we visited but as per the locals, we were to experience a heatwave. They were not wrong, with temperatures exceeding 37°. It was a very dry heat, the arid air streaming into the city from the Atacama Desert on Chile’s Pacific coast.
There are a few must-sees whilst in Santiago. We duly checked them all out before welcoming our guests to the exquisite Ritz Carlton hotel for their two-night stay. We were rather surprised to learn that Santiago boasts the tallest building in Latin America, known as the Costanera Centra. A tall, thin razor-shaped structure housing a very clean and modern shopping mall with 6 floors and over 100 shops. At the top, you’ll find Sky Costanera, where you can pay a reasonable fee to head to the viewing terraces at the top. It’s safe to say that the views were spectacular, allowing us to see just how sprawling the city is. The lovely thing about most viewpoints in Santiago is the blend of impressive, modern city structures and beautiful, domineering mountain peaks of the surrounding Andes. A word of warning, don’t get too close to the protective glass if you have a fear of heights, weakening of the knees is a guarantee.
You can also get panoramic views of the city by taking the funicular ride up to the top of San Cristobal Hill. Replicating Rio de Janeiro on a much smaller scale, you’ll find a sanctuary at the summit with a 22-metre high statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Next to it is a small chapel in which Pope John Paul II prayed and blessed the city of Santiago in 1987. The feeling up there as you admire the city from 850 metres above sea level is simply quite exhilarating.
A visit to a famous wine-producing country would not be complete, of course, without a trip to one of its vineyards. We chose a tour to Concha y Toro, home to the famous Casillero del Diablo. This brand is known locally as ‘the wine legend,’ due to a fable dating back to the 1800s when the owners first started producing their precious produce.
We were taken on a tour of the owner’s original home, a beautiful pastel pink and lemon coloured villa with 360° views over the vineyards. After a walk through the vines and a tour through a couple of the cellars, we were finally lead into the oldest cellar, the one in which the devil himself protects the wine, according to the legend. With amazing special sound and light effects, we were told the story in the darkness of a night over 100 years ago, when some locals attempted to steal some of Don Melchor de Concha y Toro’s wine. They were scared off by what they could only be described as a devil shaped figure standing in front of them. They escaped to tell the tale and nobody ever attempted to enter the cellar again, besides the family who only did so in daylight.
Our tour also included 3 wine tastings plus some terrific views en route to and from the vineyards of the Maipo valley and river which runs right through Santiago and its surrounding countryside. A wonderful experience, which I will fondly remember whenever I now choose this wine as my weekend tipple at home.
We were delighted to chat to some of our guests who thoroughly enjoyed their experience of Santiago. Many chose to view the city on the hop-on-hop-off bus which runs frequently around the main highlights. After 2 days of enjoying the steamy metropolis, we waved our guests off to the picturesque coastal town of Valparaíso. Just over an hour from Santiago, this is the increasingly popular port town from where many cruise lines choose to start their South American voyages. Celebrity Infinity was waiting to transport our guests on a relaxing 14-night journey, taking in more Chilean ports, Uruguay and beautiful Buenos Aires. As one of our guests humorously pointed out, today’s coach ride to Valparaíso was to Infinity and beyond!
Overall, I was very impressed with Chile and would love to return one day to see more of it. We learned that it really has so much to offer beyond its capital. With soaring peaks and rushing rivers, Chile has one of the world’s best displays of diverse and spectacular nature. From its Pacific coastal resorts to the ski slopes in the heart of the Andes. From the wild and vast Patagonia desert land to the breathtaking beauty of the fjords and glaciers. Chile should not be underestimated. In fact, on many of the souvenirs we browsed in local shops, I loved that they proudly refer to their country as paraiso al fin del Mundo which means ‘paradise at the end of the world.’ Well, why be modest when you have so many things to show off about?