Patagonia 1 – Santiago prelude

Last December, L and I traveled to Patagonia with some close friends. We had a fantastic time and I will periodically drop in posts about it as time allows. Today’s post will cover a driving tour of Santiago, Chile. We arrived there early Monday morning, December 18th, 2023 and had several hours before our next flight to Punta Arenas. So, we hired a guide and headed out. We were rapidly approaching the longest day of summer for the southern hemisphere, and the warmth and bright sun came as quite a shock after arriving from the shortest, darkest, wettest winter days back home.

Santiago initially reminded me of some of the more blighted areas around Portland, Oregon – dirty, with numerous homeless encampments along the sidewalks and copious amounts of graffiti on rusty metal bridges. We soon left this behind, however, and headed to more modern parts of the city.

Most of the tour was focused on important sites and buildings around Santiago, so there won’t be very much about plants or gardens. But, it should give a general idea of what the city is like. This is the Torre Telefonica, built in the mid 1990s. It was designed to look like the state-of-the-art mobile phones of the time with the little antenna sticking out the top.

Many of the residential areas were charming full of trees, shrubs, and flowers that were similar in aesthetics to our middle class neighborhoods in the US. I wish I had gotten better pictures, but our guide drove through those sections fairly fast. I did manage, however, to snap a couple photos of a neighborhood display garden.

Off in the distance is the tallest building in South America, the Gran Torre Costanera, which was completed in 2013. It is 64 stories tall (980 feet or 300 m) and represents the fifth tallest building in the southern hemisphere. You can also see part of the Andes Mountain Range. The Gran Torre Costanera houses the largest shopping mall in Latin America (including Mexico, Central America, and all of South America).

We soon drove past the base of the tower. Ripley (left) is a Chilean department store and not part of the US Ripley’s Believe it or Not franchise focused on marketing oddities. You can just make out a mobile window washer platform to the upper left of the Ripley sign that was heading up to the barely visible crane up at the top. On right, the shorter tan building in the middle is the World Trade Center Santiago.

I really like the design of this apartment building (Edificio Florentino) with its balconies of plants. I know which apartment would be mine.

We passed several street markets. There were a lot of young tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera) and sycamores (Platanus hybrids) being used as street trees (left). I didn’t expect to see so many northern hemisphere trees being used this extensively, especially for tree species that tend to get very large. I did, however, also spot the purple flowers of a southern hemisphere Jacaranda tree (perhaps Jacaranda mimosifolia) off on a side street (right).

I thought these two buildings along Avenue Apoquindo were interesting. The one in front is the hotel Hyatt Centric and the one in background with the diamond pattern is the Municipalidad de Las Condes (Town Council building). The diamond pattern is an external concrete lattice that helps the building withstand earthquakes.

Approaching the Gran Torre again, but from the other side. The elevated pedestrian walkway was filled with plants (left). I also liked the overall design of the nearby Metrogas building (right).

We passed several more street markets (left) and then the Plaza Baquedano, where the monument Genio de la Libertad (Genius of Liberty) stands (right). This statue of a torch-bearing angel standing next to a lion hails from Italy and was dedicated in 1910 to commemorate Chilean independence. Plaza Baquedano is an important site for political demonstrations.

We headed to lunch next and passed right by La Iglesia de la Merced, a red church that reminded me of a light house from this angle.

We parked the car and started looking for a place to eat. This storefront was charismatic, with its volcanic rock and planters filled with aloes, jade plants, pink geraniums, and a small palm. Cute.

There weren’t many restaurants open at 1:00 pm. It was too early for most Chileans, who don’t eat lunch until 2 or 3 pm. So, we spent quite a bit of time walking around and enjoying the sights.

We walked by this European style mansion several times. It’s El Castillo Lehuede, built in 1923. Now, a boutique hotel.

There was also some pretty fabulous ironwork in this neighborhood, although I wish I had gotten better closeups of the curlique iron fence at Selvado, a Peruvian-style restaurant (right). Sadly, it wasn’t yet open for lunch. We did eventually find a bar that served burgers, however.

After lunch, we headed downtown to the Plaza de Armas Santiago. This concrete monstrosity is a shopping mall. I find it oddly attractive and ugly at the same time.

Looking in the other direction, across the plaza to the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago de Chile. We went inside, but I think our tour guide warned us not to take any photos of the interior (my Spanish isn’t very good). He ended up crying and crossing himself in front of the altar, which I found a little awkward. I couldn’t tell if it was a show for us or whether he was genuinely moved. It is hard for me to imagine visiting a cathedral as a tour guide, probably hundreds of times per year, and then still feeling that level of emotion. It was quite spectacular, however. Old cathedrals and churches do hold a special place in my heart.

Across the street from the cathedral is the Museo Historico Nacional (National Historical Museum). We didn’t have time to go inside and I mainly took a picture because of the rather large plant growing out of the decorative molding near the roofline.

We walked by the landscaped grounds of Palacio del ex Congresio Nacional de Chile. The garden was a mixture of fairly tropical plants (like the bird-of-paradise in front and the palms in background) and more temperate, northern hemisphere species (there was a large, red-leaved specimen of European beech out of frame to the right).

Next, we headed over to the Plaza de la Ciudana (left, City Square) and the Palacio de la Moneda (right, Palace of the Mint, the presidential seat of power with several government ministries). It was getting fairly hot by this point, near 84°F. It felt oppressive as I just wasn’t acclimated to that amount of heat yet. The giant nutcrackers standing next to the actual armed guards (under the white umbrella) reminded us it was almost Christmas.

Behind the Palacio de la Moneda in the Plaza de la Constitution (Constitution Plaza), we spent quite a bit of time contemplating this statue of Chilean president Salvadore Allende Gossens whose leadership was overthrown in a 1973 military coup d’état that was supported by the US CIA. This was quickly followed by General Pinochet’s brutal military dictatorship.

The guide described how important Gossens leadership was to the country and about the dark times that followed. Obviously a very important chapter in Chilean history and a disappointing reminder of our country’s involvement. We walked around the Plaza, which was lined with a pink-flowered tree that I was unfamiliar with. Back home, I’ve identified it as the lacebark tree (Brachychiton discolor), a tree in the mallow family that is related to linden (Tilia), hibiscus, cotton, and hollyhock. Huh, I didn’t know Tilia was in the mallow family.

Then, it was time to head back for our flight on to Punta Arenas. Off we went, flying over the Andes.

I’m surprised I managed this spectacular shot of a volcano. Normally, photos from an airplane window don’t turn out this well.

We landed fairly late, just as twilight was stretching across the land around 10:30 pm. It was cold and windy. The airport was about a 20 minute drive (13 miles) from our hostel. But, we made it in record time barreling down the road full tilt, causing people dash out of our way as we came screeching around corners, backfiring loudly. Apparently, there aren’t very many taxi drivers in Punta Arenas, so there is heavy competition to ferry as many tourists as possible in the short period of time after each flight lands. The faster the driver makes the trip, the more tourists they can shuttle, and the more money they earn. It was, um… a thrilling adventure. Arriving safely at our hostel, we checked in, showered, and crashed. It had been a long, restless series of flights from Oregon and we were looking forward to our first day in Patagonia.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. danger garden

    Of course you shared the date at the beginning of the post, but after all that sunshine and happy plants the nutcrackers were a visual shock. Looking forward to sharing more of your adventure with you.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      It certainly didn’t feel like Christmas. Several of the places we drove by had an inordinate fondness for abstract, “Christmas tree” cones made out of ratty tinsel and faded plastic.

  2. Kris P

    Thanks for sharing your brief but very interesting tour of Santiago. It looks like a beautiful and very modern city but seeing the Andes mountains in the distance puts it over the top. A close friend of mine visited Patagonia years ago on a tour but, if she took any photos, she never shared them so I’ll enjoy seeing yours.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      I am looking forward to sharing my favorite photos. It’s going to be hard selecting which ones to show!

  3. Tracy

    Such a wonderful visit you had, the photo from the plane! Wow, was there much turbulence when you went over?

  4. Beth@PlantPostings

    Wow, that is beautiful. The skyline, the mountains, the blue skies, the architecture…all are impressive. Sounds like it was a great trip, and I look forward to more coverage!

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      It’s a beautiful part of the world and it was so nice to be in the sunshine that day.

  5. hb

    Your travel posts are excellent. Making note of plants seen–just what we all like. :^)

    You go to such interesting places, too!

  6. Botanica Chaotica

    I’m glad you like the travel posts. I wasn’t sure if they would be too much of a departure from garden content to hold people’s interest.

  7. Elena

    I’ve been looking forward to your posts on Patagonia, as I had planned a trip there a few years back. Unfortunately, there was political unrest in Santiago at the time, so I cancelled my trip., and nowadays I don’t have the resources to even think about trying to re-schedule. So I’m enjoying your posts by way of vicarious travel. Thanks for your details on the sights at Santiago!

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      I’m glad you are enjoying them. The political unrest is definitely a factor impacting travel, not to mention the lost years during the pandemic. We are fortunate to have been able to go.

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