Cerro Santa Lucía
East of Paseo Ahumada and north of the Alameda, the promontory called Welén by the Mapuche was the place where Pedro de Valdivia held out against the indigenous forces that threatened to expel the Spaniards from the Mapocho valley.
It took Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna to bring Santa Lucía’s potential to fruition, as his efforts transformed a barren quarry into an urban Eden with more than 60 hectares of gardens, fountains, and statuary. His own tomb is the Capilla La Ermita, a tiny chapel just beneath the 629-meter summit, 69 meters above street level.
From the summit, approached by meandering footpaths and reached by a steep climb to a tiny parapet, there are stupendous views of the Andes—at least on a rare clear day—and panoramas of the city and Cerro San Cristóbal. A lower but broader terrace offers less panoramic but almost equally impressive views toward Providencia and the Andes.
Royalists built Fuerte Hidalgo (1816) toward the park’s north end to defend against Chilean revolutionaries. On its lower northeastern slope, the Jardín Japonés (Japanese Garden) is a recent addition; along the Alameda, look for the inscription of Pedro de Valdivia’s letter to the king and the tile mural of Nobel Prize–winning poet Gabriela Mistral.
Fenced except around its lowest periphery and steepest slope, Santa Lucía has two main entrances: from the Alameda just east of Plaza Vicuña Mackenna, where twin staircases climb around the fountains of Plaza Neptuno, and by a cobbled road from the east end of Agustinas. There’s also a modern glass elevator, at the east end of Huérfanos, that’s often shut for lack of personnel (authorities apparently do not trust the citizenry to press buttons on their own). In an exaggerated attempt to improve security, they now require all visitors to sign in (as if muggers would do so), but the park is not really a dangerous place.
Hours are 9 a.m.–8 p.m. daily, but the best introduction is a guided tour (English and Spanish) starting from its municipal tourist-office branch at 11 a.m. Thursday. Tours include Vicuña Mackenna’s tomb and the still-functioning gun emplacement (several years ago, neighbors’ complaints halted the customary midday cannon shot, but broader public pressure restored the tradition at a lower decibel level).
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition