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
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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.


Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

Updated 21 September 2018
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Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

DUBROVNIK, Croatia: Marc van Bloemen has lived in the old town of Dubrovnik, a Croatian citadel widely praised as the jewel of the Adriatic, for decades, since he was a child. He says it used to be a privilege. Now it’s a nightmare.
Crowds of tourists clog the entrances to the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. People bump into each other on the famous limestone-paved Stradun, the pedestrian street lined with medieval churches and palaces, as fans of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones” search for the locations where it was filmed.
Dubrovnik is a prime example of the effects of mass tourism, a global phenomenon in which the increase in people traveling means standout sites — particularly small ones — get overwhelmed by crowds. As the numbers of visitors keeps rising, local authorities are looking for ways to keep the throngs from killing off the town’s charm.
“It’s beyond belief, it’s like living in the middle of Disneyland,” says van Bloemen from his house overlooking the bustling Old Harbor in the shadows of the stone city walls.
On a typical day there are about eight cruise ships visiting this town of 2,500 people, each dumping some 2,000 tourists into the streets. He recalls one day when 13 ships anchored here.
“We feel sorry for ourselves, but also for them (the tourists) because they can’t feel the town anymore because they are knocking into other tourists,” he said. “It’s chaos, the whole thing is chaos.”
The problem is hurting Dubrovnik’s reputation. UNESCO warned last year that the city’s world heritage title was at risk because of the surge in tourist numbers.
The popular Discoverer travel blog recently wrote that a visit to the historic town “is a highlight of any Croatian vacation, but the crowds that pack its narrow streets and passageways don’t make for a quality visitor experience.”
It said that the extra attention the city gets from being a filming location for “Game of Thrones” combines with the cruise ship arrivals to create “a problem of epic proportions.”
It advises travelers to visit other quaint old towns nearby: “Instead of trying to be one of the lucky ones who gets a ticket to Dubrovnik’s sites, try the delightful town of Ohrid in nearby Macedonia.”
In 2017, local authorities announced a “Respect the City” plan that limits the number of tourists from cruise ships to a maximum of 4,000 at any one time during the day. The plan still has to be implemented, however.
“We are aware of the crowds,” said Romana Vlasic, the head of the town’s tourist board.
But while on the one hand she pledged to curb the number of visitors, Vlasic noted with some satisfaction that this season in Dubrovnik “is really good with a slight increase in numbers.” The success of the Croatian national soccer team at this summer’s World Cup, where it reached the final, helped bring new tourists new tourists.
Vlasic said that over 800,000 tourists visited Dubrovnik since the start of the year, a 6 percent increase from the same period last year. Overnight stays were up 4 percent to 3 million.
The cruise ships pay the city harbor docking fees, but the local businesses get very little money from the visitors, who have all-inclusive packages on board the ship and spend very little on local restaurants or shops.
Krunoslav Djuricic, who plays his electric guitar at Pile, one of the two main entrances of Dubrovnik’s walled city, sees the crowds pass by him all day and believes that “mass tourism might not be what we really need.”
The tourists disembarking from the cruise ships have only a few hours to visit the city, meaning they often rush around to see the sites and take selfies to post to social media.
“We have crowds of people who are simply running,” Djuricic says. “Where are these people running to?“