Is the city a place to raise children?
Let’s find out but first, a funny story:
The Wrong Bus
When I was in high school I used to walk a few blocks to wait for the “micro” (pronounced MEE-kro) that would take me home. I had a classmate that lived nearby and we would both catch the same “micro” (what we call buses in Chile). By the way, these are not school buses like you see in the US, but buses for public transportation. As a matter of fact, there are probably only two schools that have school buses and the rest of them have school drivers that drive yellow vans that can transport about 15 kids at a time with a specific route. Anyway, back to my initial story, I was not taking any of these because in the city kids take the public transit buses for school (and ride for free). Back in the day you had to raise your hand to signal the bus driver that you wanted to get on and the bus driver would stop near you (kind of) so you could hop on. So, one time I was so eager to get on the bus that I got on in the middle of the road and when I was halfway down the aisle, about to sit down, the driver kindly asked me to get out because the bus was out of service! I was so embarrassed, but mainly because I had to get off the bus right in front of the bus station where all of my friends were waiting for me, laughing at my mistake. It was pretty funny actually.
Public Transportation and Getting Around in Santiago Chile
One of the many great things a city can offer is that you can get anywhere via public transportation. In Santiago you have the metro, which is a super modern, clean and yet super busy subway that travels underneath pretty much everywhere. The buses have specific routes and you can get very far just by bus. There is the “colectivo” option which is like a cross between a bus and a taxi; it’s a sedan but has a specific route and fee depending on how far you’re going. And finally, you have the other more private options such as taxis, Uber and other similar companies that you can use to get to specific areas.
We loved taking the public transportation, but most people hate it. Of course! They have to commute to work using these services and it’s incredibly busy during peak hours. To kill the monotony, there’s always some form of entertainment en route via people getting on the buses or metros singing songs or performing and trying to earn tips. The controversy here is that this is illegal and travellers are encouraged not to donate to these entertainers (which people are pretty on-board with if the entertainers are bad). On the other hand many enjoy having them on board and gladly support them.
To pay for public transportation is simple. You get a card that you load with money at the metro stations or online called “Tarjeta BIP” (like “beep”) and it’s cool because if you have to take the metro AND the bus to get somewhere, you’re only charged once. We tried it and calculated that it was really cheap to travel from one end of the city to the other. Santiago is roughly the size of San Francisco at about 247 square miles but with almost 8 times as many people with a population close to 7 million.
Big City Safety
Safety? Typical big city safety tips: know where you’re going and at what time, never look like a tourist excitedly observing a building or people, no pointing too much or taking way too many pictures etc. and you should NEVER BE DISTRACTED. Santiago’s a GREAT place to learn to get your face out of your phone and look up more because people staring at their phones typically get them stolen by a passerby on a bicycle or someone running past them (some Chilean sarcasm there for you).
One time we took the wrong bus and ended up in “La Legua” which is considered one of the most dangerous parts of the city. We have no idea how we ended up there but we did. And thankfully nothing happened to us, nor did we see anything happen to anyone else. We might be fortunate but despite all that’s portrayed on the TV, we never saw anything bad happen in the city (crime-wise) nor did anything happen to us. Crimes DO happen however, and in my opinion the real thieves are the companies that people work for and work with. That’s where you truly feel you’re being robbed big time as they suck your life away to build their monopolies.
Since we felt so free and secure going from one end of the city to the other, we had no problem taking our kids to a bunch of family-friendly places and I’m going to list just a few here:
The first place we went is called “Mampato”, and is an entertainment park that has roller coasters and other similar attractions for children mainly ages 10 and under. There’s also an area with trampolines and obstacle courses where kids can play all day long. If you want to train your kids to get used to larger rollercoasters, like those at Fantasilandia (more info below), you’ll want to come here first since their rides are very mild. There is a single entrance fee and you can be there all day. There’s an area where you can eat and relax and order food or get out your sack lunch. We really liked it and it was easy to access. They have three locations in the city: Lo Barnechea, Puente Alto and Maipú.
2. The MIM – Interactive Museum Mirador
On a more educational note, we went to the largest science exhibition in Latin America, called the MIM (Museo Interactivo Mirador), which is an interactive museum that sits on 27 acres in the region of La Granja, Santiago. The building alone is almost 2 square acres and I just learned that public figures like Michelle Obama have visited this site as well. We had a blast because it’s truly amazing. It’s a hands-on museum that explores the physical sciences, the human body, music and sound and myriad scientific facts by having children touch and do experiments themselves as well as testing their abilities with age-appropriate challenging tasks. Our boys enjoyed the exhibitions of how the eyes work and also making enormous water bubbles. The MIM boasts a very professional staff and is neat and well-maintained welcoming any families wanting to spend a day out and relax as well as learn. They often have live performances on the grounds as well as workshops for children. We will come back here for sure!
3. Kidzania – Where you secretly wish you were still a kid
Another fun and incredible place you must take your kids is Kidzania. This place originated in Mexico and is in many places in the world but not in the US!! We went to Pretend City here in California and even though we loved it, Kidzania is next level. Simply amazing! So yes, it’s a pretend city but it’s truly magical. Kids get to “actually do” what they’re pretending to do. After working in one of the many venues (literally miniature versions of actual retailers and businesses) they get to use the money they earn for different experiences like making delicious bread and then eating it. They also learn to make pizza, ice cream and all sorts of different skills.
Your kids even get to put out an “actual” fire when they pretend to be fireman. After training, they’ll put on fire-suits and hop on a mini fire-engine that drives down the cobblestone streets with sirens and lights blazing to the scene of a building on fire. We were in awe at how well done this place is and how they didn’t miss one detail! It’s so amazing! Kidzania is also extremely safe. When you arrive, every member of your family puts on a wrist band that has a sensor and you cannot take it off without an alarm sounding. The alarm will also go off if any of your children were to leave the premises without an adult from their group. These safety features allow a lot of parents go to the loft area and chill while their kids play in their little grown-up world. A great place to host parties, this venue offers a private event room and staff with full catering. Oh my goodness, we love it!! Of course the kids had fun too…
4. Fantasilandia – A Chilean Fantasyland
Fantasilandia is another entertainment park that has rollercoasters and looks like a mini version of Disneyland. I used to go there as a teenager and I had a lot of fun. We didn’t take our kids while living in Chile, but I leaned that they have a section now specifically for little ones with age-appropriate rides and attractions. Fantasilandia is located in the famous Parque O’Higgins which is a 175-acre park located in the middle of the city. We frequented the park many times since it has many areas for running, riding bikes, horse back riding, public pools, rollerblading as well as miniature towns offering food and many other areas for picnics or simply relaxing in the grass under a huge tree on a hot summer day. For Independence Day, they do the famous military parade here where hundreds of people gather to watch. It is also the new location for the famous music festival Lollapalooza.
5. Quinta Normal Park Train Museum
We did a lot of museums and parks and, since our kids love trains as well, we did a train museum in Quinta Normal park. This is another large park covering 88 acres located in the middle of the city. The Quinta Normal metro station is right next to the park. Entering the park from the metro, you’ll go right into the railroad museum where our children got to enjoy seeing all different types of steam engines and actually get inside some of them! The Chilean National Museum of Natural History is here as well as the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. In the summer time they open the water parks where kids get to play in the middle of a plaza and they also have a lagoon for families to row canoes and enjoy water games. Since I grew up in this area of the city, coming here was very special to me especially because when I left Chile, there was no metro station here and not much was happening at this park. It was actually considered a somewhat dangerous park and now it’s transformed into a cultural hotspot that is is inspiring and well-maintained. It’s a very touching place rich in cultural history and we got to visit it many times during our time performing for “Música a un Metro”.
Many places in Santiago that were previously mistreated and uncared for, have turned around and are now cultural places preserving the patrimony of the city and its people. Santiago now has patrimony days where volunteers, such as one of my dear friends from my childhood, get to go around and talk to people about some of the great historical buildings and their stories as they give tours. Citizens get to learn about what lies beneath them and how this beautiful city was built. Now the people are taking care of what once was history, such as the building where I graduated from high school. It burned down a few years ago and now, coming back to visit it, the building has become a centre for the arts and culture called GAM in honour of the Chilean Nobel prize poet Gabriela Mistral. We went there several times because it’s so inspiring and the little book store there has some truly unique literature for both children and adults. We also liked it because it offers fully-equipped rooms for practicing and recording music, dancing or hosting meetings and events. There is always at least a couple of dance crews outside practicing and you feel free to express your artistic side here.
7. Cerro San Cristobal
Santiago not only has mountains but it also has hills and there are two that we became very fond of. The first one is Cerro San Cristobal. It’s huge with an elevation of almost 2,900 ft. There are many attractions on this hill. On one side of it you can walk or take a tram-elevator called the Funicular that takes you to the Teleférico (a ski-lift style gondola) where you can see the whole city. These were upgraded from when I first went as a child and they are super clean and modern. The kids had a blast!
Once you’re at the top, you can continue hiking/walking until you arrive at the 72-foot statue of the Virgin Mary where you have to stop and get the famous “mote con huesillo” which is a traditional, cold, non-alcoholic drink that is made with the sweet nectar from cooked dried peaches and mixed with freshly cooked, husked wheat. My absolute favourite even though it looks kind of gross… On the other side of the hill there’s a zoo and this time we didn’t go so I can’t say much about it. Last time I went I believe I was 12 years old and I remember… nothing. The hill also hosts a Japanese botanical garden and two large community pools that can be accessed by car as well.
8. Cerro Santa Lucia
The second hill is much smaller at just 230 feet but offers panoramic views of the city and two castle forts. Rich in cultural history, Santa Lucia has gardens, statues and architecture that has been renovated to immerse you in history.
9. Buin Zoo
Speaking of zoos, we did go to one called the Buin Zoo located a little bit outside of the city and we truly loved it! I’ve been to the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park in California several times and this Zoo was like a tiny version of it, but the quality of the staff and the well-maintained facilities and animals made us feel like we were at the San Diego Zoo. It’s super clean and organised and the kids enjoyed interacting with the animals. There were petting areas where you could feed animals like Emus and other areas where animals like peacocks were free to roam around.
10. Padre Hurtado Park
“Parque Padre Hurtado” is a large park in the middle of the city that covers about 124 acres. You can go there to play soccer, ride horses, ride the trains, celebrate patriotic parties like the big Independence Day celebration on September 18th or for cultural events like seeing a performance of the Vienna Children’s Choir, which we saw for free. We also got to see a great historic Chilean family circus here, The Tachuelas.
Santiago on foot
Oh Santiago… The list goes on and on. We recommend if you’re visiting Santiago that you take at least a few days to do it on foot with the public transportation. You miss a lot of things just cruising around in the car: the architecture, the people selling you food on the streets, the different types of stores, the different faces and all the variety of things people are doing while you’re just soaking in as much as you can of the culture, language and experiences.
Kids and adults, young and old will enjoy Santiago. There truly is something for everyone.