Escape the heat and explore Chile

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Parque Farellones Ski Resort in the Chilean mountain village of Farellones. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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Panoramic view of Valparaíso from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's La Sebastiana home. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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The seafront of Valparaíso. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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One of many sculptures at the urban Parque Bicentenario in Santiago. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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Steep colorful steps in the quirky alleys of Valparaíso, Chile. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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The view from a cable car at the Metropolitan Park of Santiago's Cerro San Cristóbal. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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Fascinating sunset at a beach in San Antonio Province, Chile. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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View from the 62nd floor of South America's tallest skyscraper, Sky Costanera. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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View from Cerro San Cristóbal hill in Santiago. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
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Parque Farellones Ski Resort in the Chilean mountain village of Farellones, 36km from Santiago. (Photo courtesy: Lulwa Shalhoub)
Updated 03 September 2017

Escape the heat and explore Chile

SANTIAGO, Chile: As temperatures in the Gulf remain high, hitting the beach has become somewhat of a cliché. If you are looking to escape the heat and get an early taste of winter, however, you should try indulging in a Latin adventure in Chile.
The country stretches across the western coast of South America, bordering the Pacific Ocean, and offers tourists from the Middle East a chance to catch their winter season during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season. You can escape the heat of the Gulf for the cool climes of Chile without having to wait until winter officially begins here.
Chile has a natural asset in its diverse terrain, offering visitors the chance to experience different outdoor activities. For those who wish to explore snow-capped mountains but cannot travel between November to February, Chile offers a lovely midyear winter destination.
Hopping from the Gulf’s hot summer — and typically warm autumn — to the snowy mountains of Chile is extremely exciting. It should be said, however, that the journey is a gradual one if you are flying from the Gulf. You will need to catch a direct flight from Europe, the US or a neighboring country in South America and although the total journey can take more than 20 hours depending on how you configure your flights — my total flight time was a whopping 22 hours — it is worth it.
Saudi passport holders are required to apply for a Chilean visa through the Chilean Embassy in Amman, Jordan, as Chile does not yet have an embassy in Riyadh. I assume that once the visa process is made easier for Saudis, more tourists from the country would be interested in visiting this South American gem.
Applicants should note that it takes an average of three weeks for the visa to be processed.
The city, the mountains and the ocean
Chile was my gateway into South America and from what I had previously heard, I was under the impression that the whole continent was a dangerous place for tourists.
However, being in Chile for two weeks, I did not feel unsafe. Of course, using one’s common sense is advisable — walking alone in certain neighborhoods at night is, for obvious reasons, not sensible. Tourists should also try to avoid using the metro in the capital city of Santiago during rush hour.
When I first arrived in Santiago, I was amazed at how modernized, clean and organized the city is. Chile is among South America’s most prosperous and stable countries and the city reflects that.
The Chilean capital was founded in 1541 and has been the capital since colonial times.
Santiago is encircled by green hills and the snow-capped Andes Mountains. Even on a misty day, you can see the silhouette of the mountains. Cerro San Cristóbal is one of the iconic hills in Santiago — it dominates the capital’s skyline and can be seen from different parts of the city. The hill, which is 2,890 feet (881 meters) high, is home to the largest public park in the capital, the Parque Metropolitano de Santiago (Santiago Metropolitan Park). A funicular or cable car will take you to the top of the hill where you can capture memorable pictures along the way of the greenery around you.
Cerro Santa Lucia, a small 230-foot hill, is also worth visiting for the beautiful scenery of the city it offers and its yellow and white façade that was remodeled by the architect Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna in the 1870s.
Luckily, I got to witness a rare bout of snowfall in the city this July, something which has not occurred for a decade, meteorologists said.
Visitors can also try skiing in the mountain village of Farellones, which is an hour away from Santiago and boasts a number of ski resorts. If it is your first time on the slopes, take a quick lesson and then enjoy a new challenge.
If you plan to remain in Santiago, hitting the parks is a great way to spend your lunchtimes and afternoons. Grab an empanada, a popular Latin American snack of meat, seafood or vegetables stuffed in a samosa-like pie, and have a picnic in the park.
There is also an ice cream culture in the city, even during the winter. It is a good idea to try different ice cream flavors, especially those that are unique to Chile. If you feel like going native with your choice of flavor, try lúcuma ice cream. This delicious fruit tastes like caramel.
On the urban side, Santiago is home to Costanera Center, the tallest skyscraper in South America. The building consists of a six-floor shopping center and restaurants. You can enjoy a spectacular 360-degree view from Sky Costanera on the 61st and 62nd floor, which is the highest observatory on the continent. Choose a sunny day when the sky is clear to be able to enjoy the scenery. The art scene — from modern sculptures, graffiti and murals to historical statues and monuments — is also very much alive in the city.
Exploring the life of a Chilean poet
A key Chilean figure worth understanding is the late politician-diplomat and poet, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973). The Chilean poet had three homes that are now open for the public to visit and explore. Each home has a different name and offers visitors a glimpse into Neruda’s lifestyle, interests and travels. I visited two of his homes, one in Santiago and the other in Valparaíso with a mesmerizing sea view. The third home is in Isla Negra in San Antonio Province.
Neruda’s home in Santiago is named La Chascona and he shared it with his wife Matilde from 1955 until his death in 1973. This house is located in Barrio Bellavista, which is the center of the hustle and bustle of the city where graffiti and murals color the walls around you. The house takes you on a quick journey of the places the poet visited through the souvenirs that fill the place.
Neruda’s La Sebastiana is a must-see if you are visiting Valparaíso and its historic port, which is less than an hour-and-a-half away from Santiago. After a relaxing afternoon walk by the seafront and perhaps a boat trip, find your way uphill to Neruda’s house. You can take a taxi, but walking, although tiring, is the best way to get to know the city. Walking through its alleys, enjoying the graffiti and colorful steps and gazing at the unequally-sized colorful houses make for an interesting journey through the city. Besides, it is good exercise!
When you are finally at La Sebastiana, you can take some pictures from the terrace or the windows of the top floor, where you get a beautiful view of the ocean wrapped with green hills, cheerful-looking houses and palm trees.
Before you go…
A pro tip before you visit Chile would be to invest in a Spanish phrasebook. English is hardly spoken in Chile and traveling with a local, or at least having some Spanish-language skills, can be useful. If you are traveling solo or with non-Spanish speaking friends, it is advisable to keep a pocket-sized Spanish phrasebook handy to be able to communicate and make yourself understood.
Bearing in mind that the seasons are reversed in relation to our corner of the world, the next time you complain about the weather or feel yourself yearning for a quick change of season, Chile is definitely an adventure worth embarking upon.

World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Updated 13 June 2018

World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide


Both Tunisia and Iran are based in the vibrant 800-year-old Russian capital, renowned for its golden domes and stunning orthodox architecture. It is home to the famous Russian ballet and a wealth of art, culture and iconic scenery, including the breathtaking Red Square. A truly multicultural capital, Moscow is home to a sizeable Muslim community, which first began to settle here around the time of the Golden Horde. If you want to explore some of the capital’s Islamic heritage, visit the historic Muslim area, Zamoskvorechie, and head for the ‘Historical Mosque,’ built in 1823 by Muslim tatars. Reopened in 1993 after a lengthy closure under communism, the mosque has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Along with the 10k-capacity Moscow Cathedral Mosque (pictured), it is the capital’s most significant Muslim building.
Halal Food: You’ll find plenty on offer, from highly rated restaurants including Mr. Livanets (Lebanese), Dyushes (Azerbaijani), and Gandhara (Asian) to halal food carts.
Mosque: The Moscow Cathedral Mosque on Pereulok Vypolzov.
Qibla: South.

Saint Petersburg

Saudi Arabia’s national team will be based in this bastion of Russian imperialism, known as the Russian ‘Venice’ for its stunning network of canals, neo-Renaissance architecture and its plethora of culture, arts and all things splendid. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of museums, galleries, open promenades and the finest dining in the northern hemisphere — talking of which, sun lovers will be delighted to know that during the World Cup the sun will barely dip below the horizon. Muslim visitors should not miss the St. Petersburg Mosque’s sumptuous Central Asian architecture and mesmeric blue tiles (pictured) — a design inspired by Tamerlane’s tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Halal Food: Limited, in comparison to Moscow, but both Eastern European restaurant Navruz and Oh! Mumbai (Indian) have received generally positive online reviews.
Mosque: St. Petersburg Mosque on Kronverkskiy Prospekt.
Qibla: South-east.


Egypt’s ‘Pharaohs’ should feel right at home in the Chechen capital, which is home to a huge Muslim population (its coat of arms features a mosque), making it one of the most halal-friendly destinations on our list. The mosque in question is the city’s flagship monument and main tourist attraction, the Ottoman-style Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Modelled on Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque and sited in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River, it is part of an ‘Islamic’ complex also housing the Russian Islamic University, Kunta Hajji, and is the spiritual headquarters for the Muslims of the Chechen Republic. Much of Grozny is still being rebuilt after being virtually destroyed in two wars with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, much of it through investment from the UAE.
Halal Food: Chechnya is majority-Muslim, so you’ll be spoiled for choice, from fast-food chain Ilis to high-end restaurants in five-star hotels.
Mosque: Akhmad Kadyrov on Prospekt Putina.
Qibla: South-west.


Morocco are based in quiet (at least until the tournament starts), picturesque Voronezh. The city is littered with lush green spaces and stunning churches. It’s home to a large orthodox Christian community, as well as small Jewish and still-smaller Muslim ones. The city’s beautiful 114-year-old synagogue on Ulitsa Svobody is a popular tourist attraction. Those looking for more ‘familiar’ heritage should head to the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts on Revolyutsii Avenue, home to an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian works of art on stone and sarcophagi.
Halal Food: Very sparse. The Asian restaurant Bahor bills itself as offering the “only halal food in Voronezh,” and there are reportedly a couple of grocery stores selling halal meat, one in the city’s central market.
Mosque: While no official mosque has yet been built in Voronezh, Muslims do gather to pray. According to, there is an informal mosque on Ulitsa Gvardeyskaya.
Qibla: South.


Essentuki, which will host Nigeria in its Pontos Plaza Hotel (pictured), is famous for its health spas and mineral water, so the 'Super Eagles' should at least be able to relax after their games. Muslim visitors may want to drop by Kurortny Park, where the drinking gallery was inspired by Islamic Moorish design.
Halal Food: Hard to find. There is a kebab house that may be able to provide halal options. Otherwise, head to the area around the mosque in nearby Pyatigorsk.
Mosque: The nearest mosque is 25 minutes drive west in Pyatigorsk, on Skvoznoy Pereulok.
Qibla: Southwest.


It’s all about space exploration in the city where Senegal will be based. Space travel pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky taught in Kaluga in his early years. The town’s main attraction — unsurprisingly — is the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, reportedly the world’s first space museum. Second billing goes to the rocket scientist’s quaint old wooden family home.
Halal Food: Very hard to find. Asian restaurant Chaikhana and Russian eatery Solyanka (pictured) appear to cater to alternative dietary requirements, and may be worth a call.
Mosque: The town’s main mosque is a converted building off Ulitsa Annenki.
Qibla: South.