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Solo in Santiago: How to Spend an Afternoon in the Capital of Chile

I arrived in Santiago about 10:30 a.m. and walked over to the Holiday Inn at the Santiago International Airport where I had booked a room for one night. It’s literally just steps outside of the airport. I booked there for a couple of reasons. First, I had an early morning to Patagonia the next morning. Second, I had some concerns about staying in downtown Santiago because of protests that escalated late last year. I was thrilled my room at the Holiday Inn was ready. After a quick shower and nap I sent off to explore the city. I did ask the folks at the front desk about the protests. They said they’ve calmed down some but it’s a good idea to get out of downtown by 6 p.m. My taxi driver said the same thing on the way into the heart of the city.

He dropped me off at Plaza de Armas. Before exploring the plaza, I strolled along a multi-block promenade bustling with people walking and perusing the street vendor stalls and shops.

Plaza de Armas means “square of arms.” It’s the main square in the city’s square grid design dating back to the city’s founding in 1541. It’s anchored on one end by the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago de Chile. The neoclassical cathedral was constructed between 1753 and 1799. I love to explore cathedrals and places of worship around the world. I quietly walked in and admired the colorful frescos on the ceiling and gilded columns of the ornate nave and sanctuary. I was drawn to the left side and quickly realized why. It was a statue of Archangel Michael, the protector. I took it as a heavenly sign. I walked to the front of the nave and took a seat in the front row for a few moments of prayers. While seated I noticed the intricate design of the black and white tile on the floor. As I was lost in my thoughts and prayers, I noticed they were nicely ushering everyone out, so I obliged, taking one last look at the nave as I was the last one to exit. I’m not really sure why they closed the cathedral around 2 p.m. on a Monday but counted my blessings I got to enjoy the serene beauty of it for a good 15 minutes.

It was a hot afternoon with temperatures climbing into the upper 80s. I noticed a lovely fountain and trees. I walked over and stood in the shade to people watched. There were two young girls wading in the fountain and giggling while holding their mothers’ hands as they went around. There were older people just sitting, chatting and watching. There was a group of teens with their bikes. I was certain they were scheming up their next adventure.

I spotted a cute cafe on the plaza. Starving, I snagged an outside seat at Restaurant Marco Polo. Based on my server’s recommendation I order the chica (small) size of the Neapolitan pizza. I tried to order a glass of wine, but they only serve beer in the outdoor seating area so stuck with water. The pizza was pretty average but hit the spot to squelch my hunger pangs.

As I was getting ready to leave, I asked for directions to the palace. The gal sitting at the table next to mine spoke up and we chatted for a bit. She’s from Chile but lives in Australia and was just home on holiday. She told me how to get the palace and mentioned a few other things I should see. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the architecture as I walked for about ten minutes from the plaza to the presidential palace. I never felt not safe.

Normally you can go on guided tours and walk across the plaza of the La Moneda Presidential Palace, but I was greeted with a military band playing in the Plaza de la Constitucion. Everything around the palace was gated off with a high police and military presence. I made my way from side around to the other for a closer look at the stream of people walking into the plaza to the trumpets playing for each group before they ducked inside. Once a few folks started shouting from outside the fence, I decided it was time for me to move on.

On the back side of palace, I found the Centro Cultural La Moneda that the gal at lunch told me about it. The sleekly designed center build under the Citizenry Square and is filled with different galleries and art spaces.

I hailed a taxi and it cost me about $6.50 USD to go to Cerro San Cristobal, the second highest peak in Santiago. If you have the time to hike or bike it, I’d suggest doing it. I didn’t and decided to do the funicular and teleférico (gondola) combo for $4700 Chilean pesos, or about $6 USD, from Plaza Caupolican. The funicular is a fun and fast way to get to the top. It makes one stop on the way for the Chilean National Zoo. Once at the top I took in the view then hiked up for a better view of the 14-meter tall snowy white statue of the Virgin Mary, which is a symbol of the city. After pausing for a few moments to admire the Virgin de la Inmaculada Concepción and the panoramic views, I ducked into a small chapel off to the side of the Terraza Bellavista.

Afterwards, I took the gondola to continue enjoying the views of the city. I was busy chatting with locals in the car with me and didn’t realize I got off at a different place than where I went up on the funicular. I should have stayed on and gone back up to the top then ridden funicular down.

Instead I ordered an uber and headed back to the Holiday Inn Santiago Airport for a dinner of ceviche and Chilean wine as a great way to end an afternoon solo in Santiago.