Because of its extreme geography and stunning variety of landscapes, tourism in Chile is often associated with hiking, rafting and other outdoor adventures, but a recent endorsement from National Geographic Traveler has confirmed what those who have delved a little deeper already know; the country’s cultural heritage more than justifies a trip to “bottom of the world.”
In the September 2011 edition of the influential travel magazine, Santiago was listed among the top 10 “Literary Cities” of the world, capping off a year of high-profile recommendations for Chilean tourism, in which Santiago was named the number 1 travel destination by the New York Times and Easter Island earned a spot on Forbes magazine’s bucket list.
National Geographic Traveler listed the must-see attractions dedicated to the country’s literary greats, including the famous La Chascona house of Pablo Neruda, where the Nobel Prize-winning poet held clandestine rendezvouses with his lover, muse and eventual third wife, Matilde Urrutia.
Located in Santiago’s leafy, bohemian Bellavista district, La Chascona is one of three former Neruda homes that have been converted into museums, housing his enormous collection of art, artifacts and oddities from around the world and offering an insight into the larger-than-life personality of Chilean poetry’s golden child.
The Chilean capital also pays tribute to Chile’s other Nobel Prize-winning poet, Gabriela Mistral, with an intricate mural on the ceramic tiles lining the side of Cerro Santa Lucía, a fortified hill in the downtown area, while one of the city’s most iconic cultural centers is named Centro Gabriela Mistral.
National Geographic Traveler cites the capital’s booming secondhand book market as a major draw for bibliophiles, noting the open-air book and flea market in Lastarria – a strip known for its cafes, bars, street performances and university crowd – as well as an arcade on Avenida Providencia (near the intersection with Miguel Claro), where around 30 independent book vendors cluster together in one of the city’s best places to pick up a literary bargain.