Chile’s capital Santiago is one of the most picturesque cities in South America. Santiago has the skyscrapers of an American city and the bohemian cafés and alleyways characteristic of Europe, but its location in the shadow of the Andes is the core of its visual identity.
While exploring neighborhoods and markets allows you to appreciate the finer details of this 21st century metropolis, it is only from Santiago’s miradors or “viewpoints” that your perspective of Chile’s capital does it justice.
Cerro Santa Lucía
The most central of Santiago’s main viewpoints is Cerro Santa Lucía, which is actually the remnants of 15 million year-old volcano. In 1514, Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdvidia conquered the hill, which would for many years be used as for reconnaissance.
More recently in 1820, Fort Hidalgo was built for the purpose of defense. Eerily, Cerro Santa Lucía also served as burial ground for non-Catholics before dissent from the religion was permitted in Chile — a monument damning them to tell still stands.
The most visible feature of Cerro Santa Lucía from street level is its yellow and white façade, designed by Chilean intellectual Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna in the late 1800s. Once you reach the top of the hill, however, the bottom will be the furthest thing from your mind.
By most accounts the view from Cerro Santa Lucía, which you can reach by taxi or via the aptly-named “Santa Lucía” metro station, is the second-best in Santiago.
Cerro San Cristóbal
Indeed the title of “best view in Santiago” goes to Cerro San Cristóbal. Located north of Santiago’s bohemian Barrio Bellavista, Cerro San Cristóbal towers more than 1,000 feet above Santiago — by comparison, Cerro Santa Lucía stands just 200 feet tall at its highest point.
Cerro San Cristóbal’s orientation also works in its favor. While Cerro Santa Lucía is literally in the middle of Santiago (you therefore can’t see the whole city at one time), Cerro San Cristóbal is far enough north of the city center that you can easily see it all.
Another charm of Cerro San Cristóbal is the massive virgen that stands atop it. If you’ve traveled anywhere else in South America this won’t seem novel (virgins on hilltops are a dime a dozen), but the virgin of Cerro San Cristóbal is particularly attractive.
To get to the base of Cerro San Cristóbal, walk north of Bellavista’s Pio Nono Street until you can’t walk any further north. From there, you can take a hillside train to the top or, if you’re lucky enough to have a sexy Chilean man like I did, sit on the back of his motorcycle.
Santiago by Cable Car
Or, if you’re crazy, you can take a cable car to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. I say “crazy” because I’m deathly afraid of the things — even in Switzerland, which has practically engineered accidents out of the realm of the possibly, I get anxiety at the thought of boarding one.
No matter which Santiago mirador you choose (I recommend you don’t choose and visit both), you literally don’t get the full Santiago picture until you see the city from several hundred feet in the air.