South of Plaza Italia, Avenida Vicuña Mackenna separates the comunas (boroughs) of Santiago Centro, on the one hand, and Providencia and Ñuñoa, on the other. On the Providencia side, the Museo Nacional Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna (Av. Vicuña Mackenna 94, tel. 02/2229642, 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.– Fri., 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Sat., US$1.20 for adults, US$0.60 students and seniors) honors the mayor, historian, journalist, and diplomat responsible for the capital’s 1870s modernization.
On the Mapocho’s north bank between the Padre Letelier and Pedro de Valdivia bridges, the open-air Parque de las Esculturas (Av. Santa María 2201, tel. 02/2232700, 10 a.m.–7:30 p.m. daily, free) showcases abstract works by contemporary Chilean sculptors. It also has an enclosed gallery with rotating exhibitions.
The Municipalidad de Providencia offers free open-air bus tours of the comuna, visiting sites such as the Museo Nacional Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, Neruda’s La Chascona house in Barrio Bellavista, and the Parque Metropolitana. These leave from the borough’s Centro de Información Turística (Av. Providencia 2359, tel. 02/3742743); schedules and itineraries change from month to month.
Barrio Bellavista and Vicinity
At the foot of Cerro San Cristóbal, compact Bellavista is a walker’s delight. In the daytime, Santiaguinos cross the Pío Nono Bridge to stroll its leafy streets, parks, and plazas and enjoy modest lunch specials at innovative restaurants. At night, they crowd the same places for elaborate dinners before a night at nearby bars, discos, theaters, and other diversions.
Daytime visitors may not even realize that this is a nightlife nucleus—most dance clubs, for instance, do not open until 1 a.m. or so, and few have prominent signs.
While most visitors see Bellavista as a single neighborhood, there’s a clear demarcation—Avenida Pío Nono—between the two comunas that comprise the barrio. To the west, rough-edged Recoleta has more rundown buildings and a lower density of fashionable restaurants than wealthier Providencia, which makes conspicuous efforts to prevent auto burglaries and other petty crime in what is generally a safe neighborhood. Especially on weekends, crowds are on the street well into the wee hours.
North of the river, the first major landmarks are Parque Gómez Rojas, whose weekend crafts market stretches along the west side of Pío Nono, and the Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Chile (law school) to the east. On weekends, Avenida Pío Nono has been a frenetic blend of crafts market, cheap sidewalk restaurants, and beer joints, but a recent makeover closed the gap between it and the side streets.
For a notion of Bellavista’s best, relax on a bench at Plazuela Camilo Mori (Antonia López de Bello and Constitución), a small triangular plaza. Walking north, turn into the Márquez de la Plata cul-de-sac where poet Pablo Neruda lived at the house he called La Chascona. A short stroll northwest, Plaza Caupolicán is the main entry point to the 722-hectare Parque Metropolitano, a hillside and hilltop public park.
On the Recoleta side, at the north end of Avenida La Paz, famous figures from Chile’s past are among the two million who repose in the Cementerio General (General Cemetery), whose imposing frontispiece dates from 1897.
Inconspicuous from the street side of its culde-sac, Pablo Neruda’s hillside house, which today houses the Museo Neruda (Márquez de La Plata 0192, tel. 02/7378712, guided tours by reservation 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Sun.; tours in Spanish US$5 adults, US$2 students or seniors; tours in English or French US$7 pp) is by no means extravagant. In fact, despite its idiosyncrasies, it may be the most conventional of his three houses (the others are in Valparaíso and the beach community of Isla Negra). Opposite the house, a small amphitheater tucked into the slope complements the residence, restored since its military sacking in 1973 (Neruda, a committed Allende partisan, died about a month after the coup).
The Fundación Neruda offers hour-long guided tours by reservation. The museum also operates a café, bookstore, and souvenir shop.
When 1870s mayor Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna envisioned Santiago’s beautification, he thought of Cerro San Cristóbal as well as Cerro Santa Lucía, but he lacked the means to implement his plans for a larger hill. The idea resurfaced around 1909, when Mayor Pablo Urzúa began a modest afforestation program; widespread support developed shortly thereafter under Ramón Subercaseaux’s administration, which expropriated property and built roads and canals. Despite improvements, it did not officially become Parque Metropolitano until 1966.
From Plaza Caupolicán, the Funicular San Cristóbal (tel. 02/7376669, 1–8 p.m. Mon., 10 a.m.–8 p.m. the rest of the week, reduced winter hours, US$1.50 to Estación Cumbre, US$3.50 round-trip, discounts for children; funicular-teleférico combination US$6 adults, US$3.50 children), built with support from Santiago’s Italian community 1922–1925, gains 240 meters in elevation en route to its upper terminal at Terraza Bellavista. At the midway point, there’s a stop at the improved Jardín Zoológico (zoo, tel. 02/7776666, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Sun., US$6 adults, US$3 children), which opened about the same time as the funicular. It emphasizes native fauna such as puma, pudú, and ñandú.
Above Terraza Bellavista, a 14-meter statue of the Virgin Mary with a 10-meter armspan, atop an 8-meter pedestal, towers over the amphitheater of the Santuario Inmaculada Concepción (which owes its own conception to the 50th anniversary of that particular papal dogma). In 1904 workers placed the cornerstone for the Paris-built statue, designed by Italian sculptor Jacometti and based on a similar work in Rome. After the 1906 earthquake, though, they altered plans to anchor the 36,000-plus kilogram monument to bedrock, and it was finally inaugurated in 1908.
From the nearby Estación Cumbre, a modern two-kilometer Teleférico (cable gondola; 2:30–7:30 p.m. Mon. and Tues., 12:30–7:30 p.m. Wed.–Fri., opens two hours earlier on weekends, reduced winter hours, US$3.50 round-trip adults, US$2 round-trip children; funicular-teleférico combination US$6 adults, US$3.50 children) connects the summit sector with Providencia’s Avenida Pedro de Valdivia Norte, an alternative route to and from the park. About two-thirds of the way, passengers can descend at Estación Tupahue to visit the Piscina Tupahue (swimming pool, US$12 adults, US$7 children), the Casa de la Cultura Anájuac (art museum; 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, free concerts Sun. at noon), the Enoteca (a wine museum/restaurant), and the Jardín Botánico Mapulemu (an erstwhile quarry reclaimed as a botanical garden). The even larger Piscina Antilén (US$15 adults, US$8 children) is within walking distance.
Buses from Plaza Caupolicán make the loop to Avenida Pedro de Valdivia Norte.
All but two of Chile’s presidents are interred among the Gothic, Greek, Moorish, and Egyptian-style sepulchers of the Cementerio General (Av. La Paz s/n, tel. 02/7379469, 8:45 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.– Fri., 8:45 a.m.–2 p.m. Sat.–Sun. and holidays, free). Bernardo O’Higgins’s remains rest beneath Plaza Bulnes, and Gabriel González Videla was buried in his native La Serena. The notable figures buried here include diplomat Orlando Letelier (killed by a car bomb in Washington, D.C., by army terrorists under orders from Pinochet’s henchman General Manuel Contreras), Venezuelan-born scholar and educator Andrés Bello, and cultural icon folksinger and songwriter Violeta Parra. Nobel Prize poets Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda were both interred here as well, but Mistral’s body was moved to her Elqui Valley birthplace and Neruda’s to his Isla Negra coastal residence.
Salvador Allende moved in the other direction—after 17 years in Viña del Mar, following the end of the Pinochet dictatorship, he regained his freedom to travel to a monumental memorial here. Another indicator of change is sculptor Francisco Gazitúa’s Rostros (Faces), a memorial to the regime’s detained and executed victims.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Chile.