Santiago de Chile
The capital city of Chile
, and as such also the centre of power during the military dictatorship era of Augusto Pinochet
. Today, there are several significant sites connected to that era for the dark tourist to explore.
>What there is to see
>Access and costs (incl. tours)
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
What there is to see: All of the sites given separate entries here are related in one way or another to the dictatorship years:
The state-of-the-art Memorial Museum
is now what must rank as Santiago's No. 1 dark tourism attraction – truly impressive. The former site of the city's principal detention and torture centre under Pinochet
, the infamous Villa Grimaldi
, has been established for longer, since it was turned into a national memorial to the victims of the military junta and its crimes against humanity. In addition, one of the city centre clandestine detention centres, at Londres 38
, has recently been converted into a memorial as well and forms a sobering counterpoint to an otherwise exceptionally pretty neighbourhood. And at the main cemetery, the unusual Cementerio General
, you can visit not only Allende
's tomb, but also graves of various other victims of the dictatorship.
The former presidential palace La Moneda
, scene of some of the most dramatic images of the military coup in 1973 (see under Chile
), is another significant stop on an Allende
trail in the city centre. It was here that Allende breathed his last, after delivering a moving and defiant speech to his followers on the radio, while Pinochet had the palace bombed by the airforce. At the side of the palace on Morande street spot the side door, which was the entrance Allende, being a humble president, preferred over using the grand main portal – and it was also the door through which he made his last exit, when his body was carried out by the military after his death (suicide or assassination … it's still not conclusively clarified).
The palace as well as the Allende statue erected at the eastern side of the square in front of the palace's northern façade are focal points for virtually all guided tours around the city. Plaques on the pedestal quote legendary passages from Allende
's final speech.
Other related spots are perhaps less obvious to general tourists – such as the former seat of the National Congress
(moved to Valparaiso
during the Pinochet era), or the Supreme Court
round the corner, at the intersection of Bandera and Compania de Jesus. The space ion front of the portal was full of demonstrators at the time of my visit. On the square in front of La Moneda look out for the still visible bullet hole scars in the walls of the building on the north-eastern corner, at the intersection of Morande and Augustinas streets.
On Plaza de Armas, the historical heart of the city, note the statue of Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez outside the cathedral. He was an outspoken opponent of Pinochet's and founder of human rights 'Committees' and 'Academies' that right from the start were campaigning against the junta's political repression, abductions and "disappearances". He is buried inside the cathedral.
By the way, though, don't falsely assume that all historical debate in Chile
is necessarily critical of the Pinochet
years. Oh no! There are still lots of people about who think it was a very good thing to "deal with the communists" the way Pinochet did. I encountered an example of this in a German restaurant (I followed a specific recommendation – normally I'd prefer other cuisines
), which is full of devotional objects not just of typical Germanic sorts, Emperors, the Red Baron, et al., but also is a kind of Pinochet "shrine"!
Apparently there's now even a proper Pinochet museum, sponsored by the "Pinochet Foundation". Amongst the things on display are said to be his collection of model soldiers and the uniform he wore during the coup in 1973! … needless to say, it is a rather controversial place. And I had no chance of seeing it. They are apparently quite secretive and exclusive.
Note that what at first appears to be the counterpart Allende museum, called Museo de la Solidaridad, is rather an art gallery, with little to offer that is actually dark (or as weird as the former dictator's shrine), even if the art displayed may have certain political overtones. I gave it a miss (also due to lack of time), but if you want to check it out: it's located on Av. Republica 475, south-west of the city centre. It's open Tue - Sun, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; admission 1000CLP, free on Sundays.
If wandering through the Barrio Brasil to the west of the inner city centre look out for the Casona de Cienfuegos 41 (which is home to the law faculty of the Universidad Alberto Hurtado). It's facade is adorned with some fantastic gothicy gargoyles – and a skeleton Mr Death complete with an hour-glass in one bony hand. He also has a particularly sinister grin.
Not far from there also have a look at the Basilica del Salvador – a large neo-gothic brick pile that was severely damaged in recent earthquakes and now lies derelict and unused, with wooden supports to prevent it from collapsing altogether.
A place to drop in for a combination of a bit of dark tourism souvenir shopping with a drink and/or meal is The Clinic – named after and home of Chile's premier satirical magazine. In its shop I purchased an addition to my collection of dark tack: a "Pinochito" voodoo doll (the set comes complete with plenty of pins!).
All in all Santiago must be regarded as South America's premier hotspot for dark tourism, not only for the range and quality of the sites within the city itself, but also for the fact that is the jumping-off point to other great dark tourism destinations both within Chile
and beyond that are practically accessible only from here.
Roughly in the centre of the northern two-thirds of this long stretched-out country of Chile
, over a thousand miles (1700 km) from the northern city of Arica, a whopping 1400 miles (2200 km) from Punta Arenas in the south, but only a good 100 miles (170 km) from Mendoza in neighbouring Argentina
to the east.
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: quite easy to get to; not necessarily the cheapest of cities.
: all roads – and domestic flights – in Chile
lead to Santiago, the undisputed travel infrastructure hub of the country. International flights to/from Arturo Merino Benitez airport (SCL) connect to numerous other hubs in the Americas, a couple to Australia
and a few destinations in Europe too (Madrid, Frankfurt, Paris
). The adjacent domestic terminal makes much of the rest of Chile regularly and conveniently accessible too.
Given the distances in this long and thin country, flying is often the only sensible option to far-away places such as Punta Arenas in the far south or Calama in the Atacama in the north (see Chuquicamata
). Overland transport is mostly provided by bus, typically modern comfortable coaches. The train network, on the other hand, has shrunk to a measly few lines around Santiago that are mostly worth it only for the train experience itself.
Within the city, the squeaky clean and efficient metro could put many a European or Northern American system to shame, and is both cheap and easy to use. It's useful for covering longer distances, such as to the Memorial Museum
or the Cementerio General
, but within the heart of the city walking is both pleasant and safe.
Santiago in general has the reputation of a reassuringly safe city to explore these days – compared to many other, much more dicey Latin American cities. Local bus services have been markedly improved in recent years, but they will only rarely be of much use to tourists – quite affordable taxis provide a more convenient and readily available alternative (and are safe to use too in Santiago).
Accommodation options are plentiful, starting with very cheap budget hostels and ending with five-star luxury hotels, but in between are various really good mid-range places.
Regarding food & drink
: Santiago has an interesting restaurant scene too, of which those offering quality Chilean fare are of course the most intriguing. Of the international cuisines offered, several Peruvian restaurants are renowned (I had one of the most outstanding
Latin American meals ever in a Peruvian place in Bellavista). At the other end of the scale, fast food is available too, of course, from the depressing omnipresence of big chain M-burgers to the rather more enticing street food delicacies available in and around the markets. Empanadas are a national staple. But I found the tasty simplicity of sopaipillas the most enjoyable. These are little pumpkin and flour patties smothered with a hot salsa – hmmm. Sandwiches are currently immensely popular too – but beware of the mountains of mayonnaise that Chileans routinely apply!
As for sightseeing arrangements: When I was in Santiago for the first time (in December 2011 / January 2012) I used the alternative tourism company La Bicicleta Verde ('green bicycle') a lot. For starters, they offered quite exhaustive 'Human Rights' walking tours of the city. Shortly after I went on one of these, they had sadly been suspended for a few years, but now I have been informed that they are back on!
The tours are normally offered for 4 participants and cost 70 USD per person, but on request they'd also do them for two to three persons, but then the cost rises, The base price is 180 USD, whether you cover it alone for a single-person private tour, or shared between two or three participants. This may seem steep, but you also have to take into consideration that guides on this type of tour are specially trained on the complicated subjects covered here. I certainly thought that the added value you get from the guide's personal insights and memories, and putting it all in a wider context, made it worth every cent.
The regular variety of their 'Human Rights Tour' that I was on (we were just two couples on it) already included most of the individual places in the city centre that are described above, as well as Londres 38
and the cemetery
. So that's a perfect introduction to the dark sides of the city, if you don't want to do it all independently.
On my request they also arranged specially tailored excursions further afield, including the Villa Grimaldi
and the Memorial Museum
– all with transport and an English-speaking guide. That's of course just perfect for anyone like me who is interested in the dark drama of Chile's politics of the 1970s, and the military dictatorship era, but who doesn't speak sufficient Spanish to do it independently.
Such special arrangements have to be made well in advance, obviously, and would cost an estimated 40 USD per person extra (for the Villa Grimaldi excursion – the museum can just as well be done independently now that it has introduced English audio guides).
Time required: To cover even just the places outlined here you need at least two full days, another day or two more if you want to explore beyond the darker sides.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Being the hub of the country, Santiago is also the jumping-off point for travels all over Chile
(and beyond – e.g. Easter Island
). Nearest to the city, and just about doable as a day return trip is Valparaiso
. Places further afield require domestic flights or a lot of time going overland ... it really is a very long country!
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
As a city destination, Santiago does have its appeal, even if it can't quite compete in the league of, say, Buenos Aires
. Architecturally, Santiago's splendours are far fewer and further between to make for a truly great city, even though the overall quality of living is said to be possibly the best in the whole of South America.
Despite being a sprawling big metropolis (some six million inhabitants, a third of the whole of Chile
), the parts of most interest to tourists are comparatively manageable. The inner core square mile around the pivotal Plaza de Armas can even be explored comfortably on foot and contains the majority of museums, galleries, colonial-era buildings and other such mainstream sights, too many to list here – regular guidebooks and online sources do so better than this site ever could.
The bohemian entertainment and nightlife quarter of Bellavista is just to the north and features some splendidly flamboyant graffiti on refurbished old houses, arty shops cafés and restaurants. Especially on bar-lined Pio Nono street, between the funicular and the river, life goes on all night.
A particular daytime delight of Santiago are its food markets. The most touristy and architecturally pleasing is the Mercado Central (central market), where the main focus is on fish and seafood, of which Chile, thanks to thousands of miles of coastline, has a stunning abundance both in quantity and number of species. But the fruit & veg focused markets further north are at least equally worth exploring. It's not just about shopping, but also for eating cheaply and interestingly on the spot … and of course for people watching. Unlike in other markets I have encountered around the world, Santiago market vendors don't seem to mind a bit being the target of the tourists' gaze and cameras; quite on the contrary. It's all very convivial and fun. (Bicicleta Verde – see above
and this sponsored page
! – also offer walking tours of the markets and surrounding "genuine" locals' quarters; also recommended!)
More "upscale" shopping area, (i.e. where the boredom of all-too-familiar "designer brands" are likely to dominate, are further out to the east of the centre in and towards affluent Las Condes, while neighbouring Providencia is home to many of the city's hotels.
North of the centre towers Cerro San Cristobal with its huge white Virgin Mary statue overlooking the city. A funicular and cable car ease the ascent for those who may want to join the big girl in enjoying this view ... though it isn't really that much to shout about, certainly not when Santiago is choking in smog, as it often is. The smaller Cerro Santa Lucia offers a more central and horticulturally landscaped alternative.
- Santiago 01 - La Moneda
- Santiago 02 - door Allende entered and exited through
- Santiago 03 - Allende statue
- Santiago 04 - former National Congress
- Santiago 05 - Justicia in Chile
- Santiago 06 - Plaza de Armas
- Santiago 07 - the epicentre of Chile
- Santiago 08 - Cardinal Henriquez statue outside the cathedral
- Santiago 09 - HQ of Bicicleta Verde
- Santiago 10 - pretty two-tones house in Barrio Bellavista
- Santiago 11 -The Clinic
- Santiago 12 - typical of The Clinic
- Santiago 13 - present-day prison coach passing by
- Santiago 14 - one of the generous metro stations
- Santiago 15 - architecture
- Santiago 16 - the cell phone building
- Santiago 17 - Cerro San Cristobal
- Santiago 17b - Cerro San Cristobal with its famous Virgin Mary statue
- Santiago 17c - the mainstream touristy thing to do would be to take the funicular up
- Santiago 18 - strange sculpture
- Santiago 19 - Barrio Bellavista
- Santiago 20 - Bellavista graffiti
- Santiago 21 - Peruvian rocoto ceviche
- Santiago 22 - Central Market
- Santiago 23 - proud strawberry vendor
- Santiago 24 - berries galore
- Santiago 25 - Latin American delights - black corn, red potatoes, rocoto peppers
- Santiago 26 - crazily boarded-up window
- Santiago 27 - balcony rendered useless
- Santiago 28 - colourful Barrio Brasil
- Santiago 29 - Basilica del Salvador
- Santiago 30 - heavily earthquake damaged
- Santiago 31- beyond repair
- Santiago 32 - Universidad Alberto Hurtado
- Santiago 33 - with gargoyles
- Santiago 34 - and Mr Death
- Santiago 35 - evening light in Providencia