For many of us, Chile
was just a long, skinny country stretching along the west coast of South America
. That all changed on August 5, 2010, when a rock fall at the San José mine in Atacama Desert in northern Chile left 33 gold and copper miners trapped 700m underground.
Chile's desert then became the focus for the world press. More than 2000 journalists flocked there and the usually barren area around the mine site was packed with campervans, generators, satellite dishes and chemical toilets. Anxious families, friends and colleagues kept vigil not knowing when or even if the miners would safely return to the surface.
On October 12, prayers were answered and all 33 miners were returned to the surface as the world held its breath. Each of the dirty, unshaven and much thinner men was greeted by cheers and hugs before being taken to hospital (read more about the rescue here).
Chile's President Sebastián Piñera had spent much time at the site and was there to rejoice. "Chile is not the same country we had 69 days ago when the accident occurred," he said. "Today Chile is more respected, more valued."
It took a disaster to stir up curiosity in Chile, and Jules Lund found people at home were asking him just what it has to offer the tourist, so he flew to Santiago, gateway to Chile, famous for its wine and now the 33 heroes.
Santiago is South America's fifth largest city and rests on an inland plain with the Andes glimmering in the distance. It's bisected by the Rio Mapocho and Pacific beaches and ski areas are easily accessible.
A good place to start the Santiago journey is in its main pedestrian hub, Plaza de Armas. The city's birthplace in 1541, it has captured the South American energy and vibe. It shares the title "Little Europe of the Southern Hemisphere" with its neighbour, Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Many nationalities have a distinct presence there making it a cosmopolitan and diverse place. And while it's surprisingly modern, has its own identity and has preserved its sense of history.
While everyone was still talking about the miracle of the mine rescue, locals have noticed that sales of Chilean wine in Europe have surged and it's expected tourism will follow suit.
Jules enlisted Kumuka guide, Fernando Aranda, to show him the hot spots of the city. They stopped for a chat and coffee, and immediately the humour of the city was evident. Americans like their coffee with cream and sugar, Italians prefer it strong, but Chileans like theirs with legs.
In the 1950s, coffee importers wanting to increase sales decided to have attractive girls with good legs serving customers, and a tradition began!
The Central Market Mercado Central is a highlight of the city. British in design, with wrought-iron ceilings imported in the mid-19th century, it was the venue for national artists to display their works. These days it's a market with a wide variety of fresh, exotic produce and seafood from its 6000km of coastline. There are lots of restaurants to enjoy, and Jules noticed one of them has already created and named a special dish in honour of the miners.
Across the river, the bohemian Bellavista neighbourhood is home to restaurants and cafes. Jules ran into a couple of Australian tourists who recommended Santiago as a destination. They loved its colour and passion, wine and empanadas, bread or pastry stuffed with meat or vegetables.
European heritage is represented in Parque Forestal, which was modelled on Parisian parks. Tree-lined paths along the Mapocho pass small squares and the Museo de Bellas Artes.
Parque Metropolitano is the city's playground with walking trails, picnic areas and a zoo. For the best views of the city, head to Cerro San Cristòbal by bus, funicular or a vigorous hike.
Santiago, the capital of Chile in South America.
Kumuka Worldwide Tailormade Tours has three-day, two-night stopover packages in Santiago. They include two nights' accommodation at Vespucci Suites, hotel transfers, breakfast, half-day city tour and full day winery tour of the Maipo Valley. They cost $280 per person twin share and are valid until June 30, 2011.
LAN Airlines has flights to Santiago from:
- Sydney $1948
- Melbourne $2070
- Brisbane $2071
- Adelaide $2283
- Perth $2471
Valid for travel until November 30, 2011. Conditions apply.
Prices correct at February 3, 2011.
For further information
Ph: 1800 221 572
Kumuka Worldwide Tailor Made Tours
5/387 George Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Ph: 1300 667 277 or (02) 9279 0491
Fax: (02) 9279 0492
Visas: Australians do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. A US$61 reciprocity fee, payable in US currency, will be charged on arrival and the receipt acts as a multiple entry visa, valid for three months. A passport is required.
Electricity: 220V at 50Hz. Plugs with two round pins are used.
Time zone: GMT -4.
Currency: Chilean peso.
International dialling code: +56.
It is recommended travellers to Chile see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au and www.welltogo.com.au.