Rising to a tree-carpeted point above the capital of Chile, Santiago and centerpiece of its beloved Metropolitan Park of Santiago is the city’s second-highest point, Cerro San Cristobal, with the highest being nearby Cerro Renca, at 905 meters (2,968 feet). You can see it for kilometers around, topped by a 22-meter (72-foot) statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception.
The thing to do is either hike, take the cable cars or ride the funicular to the top of the mountain (many people take the cable cars up and return on foot). Fantastic views of the snow-capped Andes and sprawling cityscape are just part of the attraction. Weekends are crowded, when it seems all of Santiago is recreating in the park. On Sundays, Cerro San Cristobal gets packed for the open-air Masses held at noon.
The mountain isn’t the park’s only attraction. This is one of the world’s largest urban parks, sprawling 722 hectares (1,785 acres) to include Chagual Botanical Gardens, the Japanese Gardens, the Chilean National Zoo, two beautiful pools, hiking trails, picnic spots, restaurants and much more. Families will find all sorts of innovative playgrounds for working off some energy.
Many people spend all day trekking or mountain biking in the heavily wooded wilderness. In winter, the park is also a draw, when fresh snow on the trails brings families and kids to the cerro. The city sponsors all sorts of activities, including guided hikes, exercise classes, assorted sports leagues and pickup games, most on weekends only. Check out the park website for schedules and information.
In the late 1800s, this shady green-space was a wasteland, the hill denuded for lumber and ignored by its multiple owners. In the early 20th century, however, city officials put together a plan to transform the eyesore into the “Lungs of Santiago.” In 1903, the Lick Astronomical Observatory opened, and in 1908, the Virgin was erected atop Cerro San Cristobal. Reforestation programs were implemented in the following decades, and soon, the city of Santiago could boast one of the world’s biggest, and most beautiful parks.
Today, this is one of the most popular attractions in all of Santiago, easily accessed from the Baquedano Metro Station. The park is free, but most attractions do charge a separate fee. While crime isn’t a huge problem, the sprawling park does have its share of muggers and pickpockets; it’s always best to go in groups or stick with the crowds.