Ancient-modern city - Santiago de Chile

In 2010 Santiago was shaken by a 8.9-magnitude earthquake. It lasted for 3 entire minutes and many people thought that it was the end. Since then the city recovered. New, earthquake-resistant buildings were constructed, parks were established and restaurants opened. In 2011 the New York Times also selected Santiago as the top touristic destination for the year. This great improvement and the ranking made me curious to visit the city, and see how does it look like after an earthquake and the reconstructions.

Before my travel I asked Chilean friends about the must-see sights of Santiago. Finally the list became so long, and the sights were in a whirl in my head, that I decided to plan a city tour for the first day, which would visit the most important places. I chose the city tour of Go Chile, and I was hoping that after this tour I would see things clearly, and would be able to walk around the city the next days without any rush.

A bit sleepy after last night's party and a bit straggly after the rush-hour traffic, I arrived to the meeting point of the city tour. After seeing the smiling face of our tour guide, Sergio, I felt that I had arrived and I was fine. A big, blue luxury bus waited for us on the corner. Sergio greeted us in three languages - English, Spanish and Portuguese - on the board. Later he kept changing these languages with such a talent, that I did not even realize that he was talking in another language. While the bus was slowly flowing with the morning traffic, Sergio started to talk about the city and its history.

The first stop was the oldest square of the city, the Plaza de Armas. Its colonial-style cathedral with the palm trees around suddenly reminded me to the Spanish era.
After stepping out of the bus in the chilly morning, Sergio talked about the establishment of the city in 1541, its war for independence against the Spanish, the huge growth in the beginning of the 20th century, and the big earthquake of 2010.

Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago
The Silver Altar of the Cathedral
Virgin Maria's sculpture was damaged during the 2010 earthquake

During the 30-minute-long free time I walked around the square quickly because it was full of with suspicious faces. I had an 'italiano' (hot dog) for breakfast, and was also sunbathing a bit on the benches. I kept thinking about this earthquake. It should have caused such a shock that people still talk a lot about it. Apart from some roofless houses or plinths without statues, I saw almost nothing from this tragedy. Still, it was scary to think about how long those 3 minutes were.

The next stop should have been a green hill inside the city, the Santa Lucia, if it was not closed because of a governmental delegation. First I was angry as we had to miss the so called 'park of lovers', but then I thought that probably things were like this here. Though we missed the delegation at the hill, we caught them at our next destination, which was the Casa de la Moneda.

Sergio stood silent because of the loud trumpets and drums, but as soon as the ceremony finished he continued talking about Santiago. Today the Casa de Moneda is the government's residence, which was already functioning during the Spanish empire as a mint. I was surprised to hear that Santiago was still one of the biggest financial centers of Latin-America along with Sao Paolo and Buenos Aires.

Entrance of the Santa Lucia Park

Ceremony in front of the Casa de Moneda
Here I did not yet know that I made a shot about the Chilean president

While we went around in the city by bus, and saw the most significant park of Santiago, the Forestal Park, and the less significant Mapocho River, as well as the cozy streets of some districts: the Bellavista, the Providencia, the Lastarria, Sergio talked about the damages caused by the 2010 earthquake which cost one third of Chile's GDP. During the reconstruction new and modern earthquake-resistant buildings are being designed, that is why one can see ancient and modern architecture peacefully standing next to each other.

Damaged roof on the right, also from 2010

Besides the ongoing reconstructions, Santiago has another pain point. Our tour guide told us that the city is struggling with the high smog concentration. Santiago is surrounded by the Andes on the east and the Chilean Coastal Range on the west, therefore there is not enough wind. The situation is especially bad during wintertime when the snow-capped mountains are almost invisible. For those who would like to get the best pictures about Santiago with the 6000 meter high Andes mountains in the background, it is best to climb up on one of the hills after a rain shower. The view is really breathtaking! Nowadays Santiago is establishing more green area to balance the bad air.

The last stop was an artisan shop, where we saw masterpieces from Lapis Pazuli, the most famous mineral of Chile, while we were invited to try another typical Chilean drink, the Pisco Sour. I usually do not like these commercial parts of the tour, but many tourists, who did not stay long in Santiago, bought their souvenirs here.

During the tour, while looking out of the bus, I saw neoclassical buildings besides modern skyscrapers, and it was good to see that neat and tawdry can peacefully exist next to each other. The colonial Cathedral and the modern crystal office modestly grew side by side. The architecture of the past, the modern technology of the present, and the consciously expanded parks for a greener future exist together in Santiago. There is still way to go, a little dusty, a little disordered, but the result is a very exciting city which everyone can enjoy.

The Metropolitan Cathedral besides a crystal office building

The Santiago City Tour is 3 and a half hour long, therefore it shows the most important sights. I got exactly what I expected: lot of stories, history, data and tips for the upcoming days. The tour was professional and smooth. It is prefect for those who are in a rush and can not spend more than a day in Santiago. Or for those, who would like to see the sights in a structured way, to have more time later to wander around aimlessly. The tour is not enough to decide whether the New York Times was right by ranking Santiago as the top tourist destination, but I heard so many stories and data which helped me get the initial picture about the city.

The Santiago City Tour was organized and sponsored by If you have one full day in Santiago, and want to take a peek into the famous Chilean wine culture and to visit one of Pablo Neruda's houses you can also try the Wine, Isla Negra Beach and Neruda full-day trip. You can reserve these or other daily tours on their website or sending an email to tours@gochile.clI would like to thank for Alvaro Rojas for all the help and coordination. As always, all the thoughts are mine in the article.

Subscribe to tiny girl with big bag by Email
 Subscribe in a reader

Best Blogger Tips

About Tiny Girl With Big Bag

Hobby writer and autodidact photographer whose passion is to travel and get to know new people and cultures. She has been on 4 continents and 30 countries, and the outcome is this travel blog where she shares travel stories, thoughts, tips and photography always through a subjective eye.

Follow her @ Twitter | Facebook | Google+


  1. Very nice article about my city Mariann, and for me it's very interesting to read about your point of view about the earthquake, by the way, I must say that the consequences, in Santiago, were not so bad than other citys, but the feeling in the middle of the earthquake was like "the world is ending"... I think after the 1985's earthquake (in Santiago too) most of the buildings and houses were built with high quality and with anti-seismic technology... Otherwise Santiago would be ruined now... but, as you say, the people maybe is still in shock

    1. Thanks Felipe :) For me, coming from outside it sounded shocking, because I only saw such on TV. When I traveled I still did not know much about 2010, but then suddenly I heard it everywhere. Although I know that it's part of your life and you are used to it :)

  2. I really enjoyed this article. I have a pen-pal from Chile and I have read Isabelle Allende books, so I think I know a bit this country. The tour seems to have been great, I love all the photos.

  3. Also, I remember this after posting the comment, so: Isabelle Allende wrote in her book that when she moved to the USA to live with her husband she was the only person ever who kept their glasses and dishes on the bottom shelf. When earthquake or strong winds--if I remember well- hit the States, they were the only ones who had intact dishes. Habit?

    1. Wow, thanks for sharing this great story! Too bad that the experiences I collected about the earthquake were published in Hungarian, but I paste it here if you are interested, also with many interesting stories from locals :)

  4. This article is exactly as your tour must have been: a great introduction to a new city! It reveals some interesting facts and sights, but it leaves you with curiosity. Job well done :-)

    1. You perfectly got my point! In a big city, bus tours can help to get the initial taste and feel the distances. Once I have the first impression, I can decide what I want to check out in more details, or explore the hidden places with no rush :)

  5. Wow. So this is how Chile looks like! Beautiful!

    1. This is central Chile, between the driest desert of the world and the land of forests and volcanoes. It is beautiful indeed. Thanks for the comment :)

  6. Thanks for this great share. This site is a fantastic resource.