It’s not too early to make plans for next Christmas.
Travel is always a great idea. My friend Denis wrote this a while back. He certainly knows holiday travel. Anyway you may want to check out his blog. So here’s Denis on one of his many adventures abroad. Chile is a great idea.
We had always heard that Chile is more expensive than other South American countries. I think it could be true, but Santiago is a value because of its people and the experiences you can embrace. Also, if you visit Chile certain times of the year, your experience and value is enhanced.
We went at Christmas time 2014. Many Chileans are travelling but most are going to family homes and that creates opportunities for tourists. Since hotel occupancy is low, and hotels need to keep things going, many luxury hotels offer values. For example, some are available through airline packages that make it attractive. Most of the year we stay at moderate hotels, but this is a real opportunity to stay in a first rate room in a wonderful neighborhood.
Staying at the Ritz
We chose the Ritz Carlton to celebrate our Santiago Christmas. It was all part of our initial package with Delta Airlines, but it gets better. We upgraded to the Clubroom level for less than one-third the usual cost.
This was a tremendous value for us. Of course, the Ritz is pleased since it avoids a stagnation period during a slow time.
I’m sure any first class hotel would make similar arrangements, but we are perennial Ritz satisfied customers and are quite comfortable with their superior style.
So the time of year is the key to raising the value of our type vacation. Choose a hotel that you like, and let them provide value for you. It is very much like buying your straw hats in the winter.
A second value enhancer is the ability to make your own side trips avoiding the high cost of professional guides.
Riding the Metro
Santiago has an efficient Metro system whose mainline runs right under the central avenue bisecting the city. Several branch lines communicate with the main red line service and allow internal transfer within a two hour period with a Bit card that holds credit. It is swiped at the beginning of each ride.
The Bit card is a tremendous asset and allows you to get lateral transfers to the wine country, easy bus access to Valparaiso, and other bus communications to all parts of Chile.
It is important that each individual have his own card, because transferring to the bus lines is also permissible but it does not allow transfer if more people are using the same card.
Definitely try the Bit card. It is very much like buying a carnet of tickets for the Paris Metro. You never have to stop and purchase before riding. We only tried it after being delayed a few times. It is indispensable. I wish my mentor had said it that way to me.
Clean Public Spaces
The clean and well maintained trains make it a pleasurable experience to plan and execute your own side trips for a fraction of the cost charged by the commercial services. I don’t want to cut out all tourist vendors, but I feel we can pick and choose more easily this way. There are always going to be certain areas that can only be reached by local guides. But doing it yourself is cost effective and rewarding.
One more note on the Metro. The walls and floors of the stations are constantly being cleaned by helpful staff that seem to like their job. The clean and tidy environment adds to the travel enjoyment.
Speaking of keeping things pristine, I could not help but include this man in tie and sweater at the Catholic University polishing the floor at the Chapel as you enter the main building.
We found that the Chilean people made us feel welcomes and kept us well informed.
Here’s another worker with a creative sweeping device that’s makes sure every leaf and piece of paper is removed.
I’m not kidding. We watched several street workers and they did a very thorough job.
Santiago: A City Surrounded by Mountains
Here’s picture that represents what you see when looking at the surroundings of Santiago. Enormous mountains surround the city of which some are snow-capped all year long. Tupungato at 21,560 feet and some 50 miles from Santiago is visible on a clear day.
While leaving the serious climbing to professional climbers, there are hills to climb right inside the city. Two highlands or cerros are in Santiago proper and easily reached.
Cerro San Lucia
What to do on Christmas day? We decided to go to the largest hill, Cerro San Cristobal. However, we were unsure about our safety in a large park with no one around, thinking everyone would be at home with family on the holiday.
We were pleasantly surprised when we approached the Cerro area on Christmas Day, and we saw hundreds of people on bicycles coming and going.
People were not only walking and riding, but lots of families were pushing baby carriages. Was anyone staying home for Christmas Day?
Cerro San Lucia is nearly downtown. It is an easy trek for almost anyone, and everyone seems to enjoy the views from its top.
And this is the other entry to the Cerro San Lucia. It is just as elaborate as the other side, but presents a different vibe. Both sides were originally designed for defense of the Cerro.
Alternately, a tramway or funicular train will take you up and down the mountain if you choose not to walk. Formerly, a teleferico could take you up and down the mountain, but for some unexplained reason, it no longer is in operation.
Two really oversized swimming pools afford people a place to cool off. Because Christmas day is very close to the start of their summer, the pools were beginning to attract crowds. Many families were entering the pool areas pushing baby buggies stacked high with supplies, and we suspect maybe even Christmas gifts to be opened.
Our worries about being alone in the park were assuaged by the thousands of people enjoying a lovely day in the park with picnics and ball games. Hundreds of joggers and multitudes of families made us feel comfortable on this Christmas Day.
After an exhausting walk up, a visit to the statue of the Virgin overlooking the city is not to be missed. On this site Pope John Paul II said mass in 1984. Pope Francis plans to visit Chile in 2016.
The usual sale of relics and candles keeps the faithful amused. Having just been to Lourdes in the previous fall, we were use to the sight of spent wax candles.
Here it was a small attraction, while in the French Pyrenees offerings of burning candles are an art form. People spend several hundreds of dollars to get an appropriate size candle to burn, hoping for intercession on a Divine level.
After several hours on the mountain, we opted for the ride down on the Tram. Halfway down we could have stopped off at the zoo, but decided that our outing for Santiago Christmas Day had been successful, so we headed off to browse the surrounding neighborhoods.
Another cost saving plan is to have studied the local maps, so that walking between areas is maximized.
The exercise function cannot be underestimated. We plan every trip to have walking as our main means of transport.
At the end of the day, usually at the cocktail hour, we hope to be tired enough to appreciate sitting down in a relaxing atmosphere before dinner.
Santiago’s skyline of skyscrapers is surrounded by mountains. It’s a city that contains an architecture of infinite variations, and a people who go out of their way to give you direction or insight.
Santiago is unlike any other highly populated city that I have ever visited. It is the city of choice for an easy experience for the unseasoned traveler.
I would even suggest that Santiago would be a good place to visit for anyone trying South America for the first time.
This post was created by Denis Molloy for Hispanic Globe
Born Chicago 1942, second generation Irish immigrant family. Educated at Jesuit Loyola Academy, Wilmette, Illinois; Marquette University, then Marquette University Dental School. Retired after 45 years dental practice. Enjoys golf, sailing, and canoeing the wild and pristine waterways of Northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Many years of international travel have led to a second career in writing. You can reach Denis at “Vigor” at www.quora.com or here.