Green Amid Gray: Urban Parks around Downtown Santiago

Even a brief jaunt through downtown Santiago can inundate the senses. Constantly colliding into one another, thousands flood the narrow sidewalks and dodge the vendors enthusiastically hawking their wares. Only the incessant blasting of car horns hides these salesmen’s shouts from those trekking through a city permeated with the odor of candied nuts, exhaust fumes and empanadas.

Santiago Chile
Cerro Santa Lucia. Photo by Joanna Rozniak (click for more photos)

Although this chaos found in downtown Santiago often delights residents, it can also overwhelm them. Escaping to the countryside, however, frequently proves challenging as the city seemingly extends indefinitely in all directions. Consequently, the various urban parks dotting downtown Santiago and its abutting suburbs provide excellent alternatives. Not all such refuges are equal though; their merits vary depending on the visitors’ planned activities.

Santiago Chile
View from Cerro San Cristóbal, Photo by Joanna Rozniak

If, for instance, an individual seeks to explore one of the largest swaths of forest within the city limits, they should journey to Parque Metropolitano. Although many identify this park with Cerro San Cristobal and its magnificent vistas of Santiago and the Cordillera, it also includes two other hills and acres of forestland to discover. In certain parts, visitors can feel entirely removed from the urban mayhem just beyond the park’s limits. Those who prefer to maintain some semblance of civilization in their sanctuary can visit some of the park's more developed sections, including picnic areas, the national zoo, the public pools or the aforementioned peak of Cerro San Cristobal.

Couples hoping to spend a few, somewhat tranquil moments together while gazing at the city below should visit Cerro Santa Lucia instead.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Joanna Rozniak

Located in the heart of downtown Santiago, the hill features plenty of narrow staircases, stunning viewpoints and flowery knolls. Although a bit cliché and very popular amongst young Chilean couples, the park serves as an excellent spot to relax with someone special. Just try to avoid the observation deck atop the hill; it’s teeming with tourists which makes it impossible to enjoy anything remotely close to serenity.

With many sections of both Parque Metropolitano and Cerro Santa Lucia overrun by hoards of tourists, those who seek a more relaxing environment with similarly glorious vistas should consider visiting nearby Parque Cerro Blanco in Recoleta. Although this hill is not nearly as tall as nearby Cerro San Cristobal, it still proves to be an excellent perch from which to view the city and relax in a less crowded environment. Ongoing construction will most likely further improve the park, but has also already resulted in the temporary closure of the park to visitors.

Santiago Chile
Parque O’Higgins, Photo by Joanna Rozniak

While these hillside parks offer the best views of Santiago from within the city’s confines, other refuges allow residents to enjoy greenery without slogging up the slopes. The largest such place, known as Parque O’Higgins, is found along line 2 of the subway on the edge of downtown Santiago.

The park features numerous green spaces including a Japanese Garden and some trails. If the guest seeks a more energized environment within the park, some paved trails and sections allow for roller skating, running and biking. Although these areas overflow with residents enjoying a refuge from the endless cement blocks dotting the city, the liveliest area of the park can actually be found within its amusement park known as Fantasilandia. Unfortunately, the small and overpriced facility offers little beyond infectious energy; unless an individual absolutely loves roller coasters, Parque O’Higgins is best enjoyed outside the amusement park’s gates.

Santiago Chile
Parque Forestal, Photo by Joanna Rozniak

Like Fantasilandia, Parque Forestal generally seems overrated. Although many compare it to New York City’s Central Park, this is a stretch, since the facility barely covers a few blocks near El Museo de Las Bellas Artes. It is also extremely narrow, making it a challenge to escape from the horns blasting from the major thoroughfares on both sides. Even the city’s grime seems to have overtaken much of the park; while some elegant trees do provide greenery and shade, most of the grass areas have seemingly been replaced by dirt. Essentially, the park proves to be nothing more than an extension of the city’s grimy streets as opposed to a refuge. It is, therefore, an excellent spot from which to watch some of the characters dotting these roads, but not to temporarily escape.

Santiago Chile
Parque de Recuerdo, Photo by Joanna Rozniak

Although Parque Forestal is the most extreme example, none of the aforementioned parks provide full and complete refuge from the city. Residents seeking such isolation must somehow journey to the parks outside the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. Unfortunately, most of these locations prove difficult to access via public transportation, with the exception of Parque del Recuerdo located on the outer edge of Recoleta.

The park is only a few blocks from the Vespucio North Metro Station, making it easily reachable by anyone living within the downtown area. Yet, once inside it seems as if one has traveled well beyond the city’s borders. Surrounded by verdant hills, the park features lush lawns dotted with flowering trees. Occasional fountains line the pathways that often lead to the small lagoon and its surrounding pagodas. Given its tranquil environment, Parque de Recuerdo allows visitors to curl up with a book or simply relax amid greenery only a few metro stops from the city’s chaotic downtown. However, the park only caters to those looking to quietly enjoy its serenity; it also serves as a cemetery and all guests must consequently respect it as such.

Regardless of whether an individual desires to hike, run, or simply relax with a book, Santiago and the surrounding comunas feature numerous parks catering to each person’s unique needs. Only some of the larger refuges have been noted within the article; smaller parks also abound and only through individual exploration can one find their favorite spot to escape the city’s grimy and overcrowded streets.

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