The Cerro San Cristobal (San Cristobal Hill) rises up from the center of Santiago and houses the city’s largest public park. At the top of the hill are several spacious terraces and lookouts from which one can take in the breadth of the capital from the peace of the hill’s greenery, high above the hustle and bustle of downtown. The hill is accessed from its base in Barrio Bellavista, from which one can reach the top either by car, via the road that winds up the hill, or the ascensor (elevator), which carries visitors up the length of the hill and offers a variety of views along the way (about C$5.000 round trip). One can also opt to walk up the hill via the auto-access road, though this is not recommended as the road is not geared toward pedestrians and several points along the road are quite isolated.
Before reaching the top of the hill, the ascensor makes a stop at the Zoológico Nacional, Chile’s National Zoo; one can choose to hop off and visit the zoo, or take in the jungle-like fauna from the ascensor and continue to the top (note: the ascensor does not stop at the zoo on the way down). The zoo is home to a mix of 158 native and exotic species of animals, including a host of bird species that inhabit the zoo’s large aviary. While not the most impressive zoo, it is a good stop especially for children, and to catch a glimpse of the tiny and rarely-sighted pudú deer. The zoo is popular with Chileans and often gets crowded on weekends in summertime; if you can, opt to visit on a weekday. The zoo is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-5pm. Entrance is $C3.000/adults and C$1.500/children up to age 13.
Once at the top of the hill, one can explore the many different vantage points for viewing the city and the Andes from the Terraza Bellavista, as well see the 14 meter-high Virgin Mary statue and adjacent outdoor church up close. There are several shop selling tourist garb and empanadas, as well as a cart offering up some of the Santiago’s best mote con huesillo, a traditional drink made with dehydrated peaches, wheat, and sugar. There are no options for a full meal, however, so while the top of the hill is a great place for a picnic, it’s recommended that you bring your meal up with you. On your way to the hill, you can pick up food at one of the many eateries along Pio Nono and Constitución streets in Barrio Bellavista, offering options from sushi to falafel.
The hill is also home to the small and impeccable Japanese Garden, a modest oasis within the city, accessed via the Providencia entrance to the hill. Take the Metro to Pedro de Valdivia, exit the station and walk north along Pedro de Valdivia to the park’s entrance. Entrance is free.
At time of writing, there is a project underway to build an extensive pedestrian path leading up the Cerro San Cristobal, which is set to include restaurants and tree-lined bicycle and jogging paths to be completed by April 2014. For progress on this project and other information on the hill, visit the park’s website: http://www.parquemet.cl/.