While the Chilean capital may seem to be but a thriving, modern hub of skyscrapers and trendy eateries, if you search in the correct places, you’ll find some hidden, historic gems. Among one of the oldest is Cerro Santa Lucia, a small hill at the heart of downtown Santiago and one of the city’s most memorable natural spaces.
Cerro Santa Lucia
Although it might be surrounded by some of Santiago’s busiest streets, Cerro Santa Lucia is a surprising oasis of calm in what can feel a hectic, chaotic city.
But it wasn’t always such a haven. It was on Cerro Santa Lucia that Pedro de Valdivia, a Spanish explorer and conquistador, defeated the indigenous forces and officially founded the city of Santiago in February 1541. Known in the local Mapuche language as Huelén (which means “curse”), Valdivia instead gave it its modern name, Cerro Santa Lucia.
What to see on Cerro Santa Lucia
It was only in the 1870s that Cerro Santa Lucia was turned into an attraction for Santiaguinos. 150 prisoners were set to work building the winding pathways, spacious plazas and lush collection of native flora and fauna that you can see today.
Defensive fortifications were built here, including La Marcó and Castillo Hidalgo (Hidalgo Castle), the latter of which still exists and is now used for functions such as weddings.
Nowadays, visitors can climb the steep footpaths to the park’s highest point, Torre Mirador, to be surprised by panoramic views over the city and to the Andes Mountains beyond. It’s also a perfect haven of tranquility for a few hours’ reflection and relaxation.
Opening hours: Dec-Feb 9am to 8pm and 9am to 7pm during the rest of the year.
How to arrive: The closest metro stop is Santa Lucia on Line One.
Other places of interest close to Cerro Santa Lucia
A formidable, neo-classical building, a short distance from Cerro Santa Lucia, La Moneda is the presidential palace and was the site of the coup de e’tat that saw President Salvador Allende unseated by Augusto Pinochet in 1973. A statue on the north side of the building now commemorates Allende, who died there.
Visitors to La Moneda can watch the elaborate changing of the guard ceremony, a tradition which has been in place since the mid-1800s. The building can also be explored with pre-arranged guided tours.
Opening hours: Tours of La Moneda must be requested online at least seven days in advance.
The changing of the guard ceremony takes place at 10am weekdays and 11am on weekends, every two days on odd-numbered days in odd-numbered months and on even-numbered named in even-numbered months.
How to arrive: The closest metro stop is La Moneda on Line One.
Plaza de Armas
As central Santiago’s main meeting point, most tourists find themselves admiring the architecture of this tree-lined square. Some of the city’s most beautiful colonial buildings are found here, including the splendid Metropolitan Cathedral, a neo-classical building constructed in 1748.
The Palacio de la Real Audiencia, a building which has served as the home for the royal courts of justice and the seat of government, is now the site of the excellent National History Museum, which charts Chilean history from the arrival of the conquistadores up to the coup d’état.
Opening hours: The Metropolitan Cathedral can be visited for mass during the week and weekends, while the National History Museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00am to 5:30pm.
Cost: Entry into both is free.
How to arrive: The closest metro stop is Plaza de Armas on Line Five.