Hike Santiago, Chile
We didn’t travel to Santiago in search of hikes (we would have plenty of hiking to do in Patagonia the following week), but we were looking for fun, free ways to explore the city. As a major metropolitan hub of South America, we were pleasantly surprised to find great hikes within Santiago’s city limits. The cerros (hills) are hard to miss in Santiago and there’s nothing better than a bird’s eye view to get your lay of the land. Plus, we could consider the hikes a good warm up for our upcoming Patagonia trek in Torres del Paine. From our experience, we recommend the following two hikes in Santiago: Cerro Santa Lucía (during the day) and Cerro San Cristobal (at dusk to watch the sunset).
Cerro Santa Lucía
Cerro San Lucia is in the center of Santiago and encased by fences with entrances at opposite sides of the hill.
The hill boasts a park over 65,000 square meters, decorated with gorgeous gardens, fountains, statues, and staircases.
Paths are gradual at the bottom, and eventually lead to steep, narrow stairs to a popular little lookout, resting 69 meters above the city.
At the viewpoint from the top, which looks like an old fortress or castle, we were treated to 360 views of the city with Cerro San Cristobal to the northeast.
We ran into the park on the north side by accident on our first day in Santiago and briefly explored the lower parameter, but jet lag and hunger (post red eye) kept us from reaching the top until the following day. This time we entered from the south by the Fuente Neptuno, which is also across from a metro station named after the hill.
Fun fact: The hill is the remnant of a volcano 15 million years old (thanks Wikipedia!).
Cerro San Cristobal
Cerro San Cristobal is an unforgettable place to watch the sun set behind the Andes mountains in Santiago. You can reach the top by car, funicular (steep rail car) or gondola, but we opted to use our feet (free!). Cerro Santa Lucia was a great warm up, as the hike up Cerro San Cristobal is longer and steeper (more than 3x), standing 300 meters above Santiago (850 meters above sea level). The hill boasts a zoo, pools, and other attractions, but we didn’t come across them on the hike up.
We walked up from the lively Bellavista district to the south end of the hill, heading left up a street inside the park gates where our ascent began. We were told the trail takes 45 minutes and started our hike around 7 pm for the 9 pm sunset in the summer month of January, to ensure we would have ample time to chill at the top and take pictures. Even in the early evening the sun was still scorching, dropping just below 90 degrees, with the sun on our backs. We came across the trail head on the right, where a man monitoring the trail informed us that we couldn’t stay in the park overnight (at least that’s what I think he said in Spanish).
The trail is dusty and has a moderate incline, and eventually loops back right to view the white Blessed Virgin Mary statue at the top of the hill, appearing larger and larger as you make your way to the top. After most of the elevation has been gained via switchbacks, the trail wraps back around to the north (behind the Virgin Mary statue) and ends on the opposite side of the hill where a road beings.
There is a parking lot, small café and shortly after a small store, where we bought a big Gatorade to replenish our electrolytes (so American, I know). On the road, we caught our first glimpse of the gondolas above us and eventually ran into the top of the funicular.
A choir singing hymns in Spanish, amplified by speakers, echoed through the warm air as we got closer to the Virgin. We were surprised to hear a church service in session on the Wednesday evening. Under the statue lies a chapel (Santuario de la Inmaculada Concepción) and amphitheater. To avoid interrupting the service, we took a winding path decorated with ornate crosses in order to reach the statue.
We stopped at an area dedicated for people to light prayer candles and leave mementos of loved ones – no candles were burning, all were melted down to nothing more than strands and globs of wax. I wished I had something with me to leave in memory of my mom.
We reached the base of the 22-meter-tall Virgin Mary statue. Some people sat on the large steps, interested in the service below, most were interested in getting the perfect selfie with Mary. A small chapel is housed inside the base of the statue (blessed by the Pope in 1987), but was locked during our visit. We observed the remainder of the service from above while taking photos from various lookouts.
As we staked out a place to get the perfect view of the sunset, a police officer kicked everyone out of the amphitheater just below Mary – apparently, it closes at 8 pm (right before the magic of the sunset begins, maybe that’s what the guy at the bottom was trying to communicate to us in Spanish earlier on the hike?). We snagged a few final frames in the empty amphitheater, lingering to be the last ones to exit.
Fortunately, we were able to move to another lookout point below the statue and were treated to an incredible view of the sunset over the mountains. With many others gathered facing west (several with cameras and tripods), we knew we had found the right place to watch mother nature put on her show.
After the sun slipped below the mountains in the distance, we were again kicked out by police from the lookout at 8:30 pm. Since it was getting dark, it was probably best to begin our way back down the trail anyway. We were surprised to find an enormous full moon, bigger than we could remember seeing, shining bright over the mountain.
As we continued our descent down the trail, back under the Virgin Mary, the city lights began to sparkle in the distance and the first stars appeared in the sky. Remnants of the sunset’s colors lingered on the horizon. I wanted to stop at every other switchback to take more photos and Matt agreed at the first few, but as the trail got darker and darker he made me promise to keep going in order to exit the park before we were left in the darkness of the unlit trail.
Off the path and onto the road (still on the hill), street lights were widespread and sporadically flickered off and on. The final leg of the hike was a little spooky, as we joked morbidly about horror film scenarios, but luckily we ran into another couple walking ahead of us.
Gates surrounding the hill were closed with the exception of an exit on the street for cars, which we swiftly left through. We descended back into Bellavista – clearly a young spot for nightlife with many open air clubs blasting dance music from the street (we spotted “Pub Ohio University”).
Starving after our hike, we ate on the street outside a bar and ordered the local beer Cristal to celebrate the completion of our hikes and our first full day abroad. The Cristal turned out to be Cristal Cero, which turned out to be a nonalcoholic beer, although we didn’t realize this until receiving our second beers (these ones had a label that clearly stated “sin (without) alcohol.” Talk about a buzz kill. But hey, it’s all part of the journey!