The city of Santiago was founded on February 12th 1541 at the Santa Lucia Hill by the Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia. Today it reflects a mixture of modern economic growth whilst still retaining a traditional and historic feel. The buildings that surround the gardens of the Plaza de Armas in the centre are just a few places that are testament to the history of the city. There are numerous churches dating back to the 17th and 18th century and the Metropolitan Cathedral, on the western side of the Plaza, stands on the same spot where the first church in Chile was built. The National Museum of Chile and Museum of History plus the Government Headquarters and La Plaza de la Constitution are also nearby as are some picturesque parks including the Metropolitan and Forestal Park which give the city even more variation.
Santiago has its own well run Metro subway system, a fairly impressive modern skyline of office blocks, a brand new international air terminal and numerous fine restaurants and hotels to satisfy the city’s new breed of successful professionals. In contrast the city also shows the working class society that you would expect to see in South America, with street vendors and cheap markets everywhere.
The capital has a great outdoor lifestyle with the Andean Mountain Range visible and in close reach of the city. There is easy access to both ski slopes and beaches and the villages in the surrounding countryside offers the chance for visitors to get away from it all and relax in tranquil surroundings
San Pedro de Atamaca stands 2440m above sea level at the northern end of the near evaporated salt lake, Salar de Atamaca. It was first visited by Pedro de Valdivia in 1540 and was once a major stop on cattle drives from Argentina to the nitrate mines of the desert before the nitrate business collapsed. It is now both a popular stop on the “gringo trail” and for young holidaying Chileans. Its main attractions are the geysers of Del Tatio, a 12th Century Indian ruin, a flamingo reserve and the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), where erosion has left a number of weird shaped polychrome desert landforms. The main source of local employment, besides tourism, is the irrigated farming of the indigenous communities that surround the village.
By Jonny Willes