“The trees are coming into leaf/Like something almost being said,” wrote the poet Philip Larkin, bringing to life the ephemeral potential of spring.
Spring is even more special for me in Santiago de Chile than it is in London, my famously grey home city. The key elements are there for both – the lengthening days, brightening skies and slowly emerging blossom – but in Santiago, the season comes with an extra shimmer of promise.
It’s partly because winters here are tough for northern hemisphere expats. Hotter year-round temperatures mean houses are less likely to have central heating and insulation, and Santiago’s air quality can be poor in the colder months. Skiing is a welcome antidote to the winter blues, but other outdoors escapes are tougher to get to because of dark evenings.
Santiago springtime, though, is more than just relief at getting out of a dark and chilly winter. The trees awaken and with them a million plans, schemes and ideas for exploring the fabulous combination of a Mediterranean climate, the Pacific Ocean and the longest mountain range in the world. The sun on your skin makes you smile more and makes the blood pump faster. So now’s the time to put that energy to use.
Here are This is Chile’s top active spring recommendations:
Hiking in the Santiago cordillera
The capital is the jumping off point for a truly impressive range of hiking trails which can take you well into the heights of the Andes. One of the most accessible parks is Parque Mahuida in the eastern district of La Reina. Walks range from short (although steep) half-day strolls in the precordillera to multi-day treks to Cerro La Cruz and Cerro San Ramón (take camping equipment).
The park is genuinely easy to reach on public transport from downtown Santiago. From Metro Plaza Egaña (Line 4) take the D02 bus which will carry you along Avenida Larraín. The entrance to the park is at Av. Larraín 11095, and entry costs CLP 500 (US$1) for pedestrians. The park is closed Mondays.
Take a run through the city parks
There are few better ways to get fit than running, and it’s much more enjoyable in the warmer, cleaner spring air. If you’re in downtown, try jogging in Parque Forestal (Metro Bellas Artes) up to Metro Salvador or down into Parque Bustamente, where there’s a free public outdoor gym with neat machines that use your own body weight to create resistance.
If you’re in the upscale eastern districts of Las Condes and Vitacura, running trails are everywhere and even the central divide of city thoroughfares often have winding gravel tracks and more public gym equipment. The larger city parks such as Quinta Normal (Metro Quinta Normal), Parque O’Higgins (Metro Parque O’Higgins) and Parque Hurtado (Metro Francisco Bilbao) offer large green spaces, or you could push yourself and run up one of Santiago’s iconic cerros, such as Cerro San Cristobál.
Hit the beach and catch some waves
Central Chile’s beaches come to life as the sun begins to shine and surf schools in the Pacific resorts near Santiago open their doors again. Beach towns close to the capital include Maitencillo, a three-hour drive from Santiago (95 miles, 150 km) and Reñaca, two-and-a-half hours from Santiago (80 miles, 130 km). Maitencillo has four surf schools with rental gear available all over town, and from December 1, 2011, it will be home to Chile’s first surfers-only zone on its popular Abanico beach. So what are you waiting for? Book a bus ticket and head off for a weekend in the waves.
To get to Maitencillo, Condor and Pullman Bus currently run direct routes departing from Terminal Alameda in Santiago (Metro Universidad de Santiago). To get to Reñaca, you can take one of the many buses from Santiago to Viña del Mar and from there take a local bus or shared taxi (colectivo).
By Clare Bevis