The center piece of Santiago’s metropolitan parks system is Cerro San Cristobal, a forested hill sitting smack-dab in the middle of the city. A single road and various trails lead to the top of the sizeable hill. From the hilltop one is greeted by a massive white statue of the Virgin Mary and a 360 degree view of the city.
The park is often busy with Santiaguinos walking, running, and bicycling to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. It is probably the most popular place in the city for outdoor exercise. Free outdoor exercise classes are offered to the public on the weekends, weather permitting. There are also two large swimming pools which are open during the summer and charge a use fee.
The park is also popular with devout Catholics who visit the blessed Virgin to pray. The top of the hill is a holy site. At the summit there is an open air area with an altar and seating for mass. In 1987 Pope John Paul II visited Cerro San Cristobal and stood at the top to bless the entire city of Santiago.
On a clear day, the view from the Cerro San Cristobal is stunning. The city sprawls beneath you, stretching out in every direction. The precipitous peaks of the Andes loom large and glorious. However, on many days Santiago’s smog can obscure the majesty of the Andes.
When I first visited this park, I was amazed at how the city sprawl was consuming every bit of available space in the Central Valley. I was told that the best soil in all of Chile is found in its Central Valley, which was well on its way to being completely paved over.
Cerro San Cristobal was also one of the only places where I could reliable find other foreigners. Santiago wasn’t a super popular tourist destination. But I could always find a concentration of tourist walking up San Cristobal. Most of the tourists were from other countries in Latin America. Brazilians made up the bulk of South American visitors. On a number of occasions I came across Japanese and Chinese tourist groups. North American tourists were few