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Pre/Post Cruise: Exploring Santiago, Chile

After two days of more than sufficient wine samplings, I returned to Chile’s capital to check in at the Grand Hyatt Santiago, with rooms that look out on the Andes.

Near the hotel is Cerro San Cristóbal and the adjoining Parque Metropolitano, Chile’s largest urban park. I walked to the park and hopped on a cable car to the top of San Cristobal Hill for sweeping city views. On a crisp spring or winter morning, the sight must be even more stunning, with the majestic, snowcapped Andes towering over the basin where Santiago sits.

Afterward, I returned to the hotel for a city tour (duration 3 hours) to see Santiago’s highlights, including La Moneda, the presidential palace where a 17-year military government began during a coup led by Augusto Pinochet.

Military rule ended in 1990, and Chile emerged as a free market with a strong economy that transformed the capital city. During my walk through the city, I saw striking contrasts to suggest that Santiago is struggling to embrace the future while preserving its past. In the Plaza de Armas square, for example, a new glass skyscraper towers over an 18th-century Metropolitan Cathedral and other colonial buildings.

So that I could feel the pulse of Santiago, my guide took me along the main pedestrian walkways (Paseo Ahumada and Paseo Huérfanos) that intersect in the city center. Bustling with activity, both streets were lined with shops and cafes.

Getting around the sprawling capital is easy thanks to a subway. I hopped on Line Number 1 to the neighborhoods of Providencia, Vitacura and Las Condes, where fashionable shops, clubs and restaurants are so abundant that Chileans have taken to calling the neighborhood “Sanhattan.”

Be sure to end your visit by Sunday, when the city shuts down. Before heading to the airport, take care to pack those few bottles of wine you purchased to remind you of time well spent in the narrow country south of the equator. — Ralph Grizzle, The Avid Cruiser

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