I have always loved street art and while Valparaiso is world renown for its amazing, slightly overwhelmingly large collection of street art, in my opinion Santiago is not too far behind. Despite not having the sheer size and scale of murals as found in Valparaiso, the street art scene in Santiago is equally as colorful and fascinating. If you adore street art, it is definitely worth your time exploring the Barrios Bellavista, Brasil and Yungay. Since our time was limited, we picked the trendy Barrio Bellavista for our first flavor of Chilean street art. We were not the least bit disappointed.
We began our stroll from our wonderful hotel, the CasaSur Charming Hotel in the Barrio Italia -an up and coming tree-lined neighborhood loaded with delightful restaurants, boutiques and shops- and followed the Parque Bustamante towards the Plaza Italia and the Rio Mapocho, the main river that meanders through the heart of Santiago.
It was a typical hot, summery day in Santiago and the city was alive with the bustle of people and students going to and from class at one of the country’s top universities in Bellavista. As we crossed the bridge at Pio Nonio, I couldn’t help but notice that even the walls surrounding the river were painted in graffiti. It was a sign of what was to come. I also wondered why the water was so brown in color and was soon to learn that it was due to all the sediment coming from the melting glaciers that feed and nourish the entire Maipo Valley surrounding Santiago with water and life.
As we crossed the river, I saw that the bridge was covered in locks. Curious, I asked our hotel what it meant and they said that the locks are placed on the bridge by couples to represent unbreakable love. The couples write their initials on the locks and then throw the key into the river to symbolize everlasting love. I found it quite interesting.
After we crossed the river, we were finally in the infamous Barrio Bellavista, a bohemian neighborhood known for its artists and intellectuals as well as dining and late night partying given its numerous bars and discos all smooched together within the narrow streets between the river the the Cerro San Cristobal. Bellavista is also home to “La Chascona“, the historic home of Chilean Nobel laureate poet Pablo Neruda, which is now a museum open to the public. We didn’t have time to visit but did see his other house in Valparaiso which is definitely worth a visit.
While the nights are known for its wild carrete (nightlife), the quiet, calm afternoons in Bellavista are perfect for exploring its colorful streets and snapping photos. I felt ridiculously giddy at my luck at having such brilliant sunshine and not a soul in sight as we wandered the charming streets. I instantly noticed that the colors felt like they were bursting off the walls and sides of the buildings. They were so incredibly vibrant and bright.
Within just an area of three or four blocks, I spotted an immense variety of street art ranging from comic-bookish, to large walls of graffiti and cartoons, and finally to more powerful works of art. All of it was brilliant and made me wonder what the message is behind each work of art. I secretly want to name each piece.
I loved how the sun caught this side of the buildings and made the gold colors shimmer in the light. Apparently some of the street art was painted by professional artists while others were done by amateurs. The sheer level of creativity blew me away. I felt like I was walking in one giant outdoor work of art.
I also adored the bright colors and themes featuring people. These murals were painted on the outside of restaurants and clubs. It is hard for me to pick a favorite.
Last but not least, I included a collection of colorful murals I found along walls, sides of buildings and painted over garages and storefronts. There seems to be not a single space wasted and unpainted into a work of art. What an incredible way to beautify a city!
After an hour of shooting street art, I could tell that my dad was becoming a bit impatient with me and it was time to head back to our airy Barrio Italia for a glass of red Chilean wine. All in all, it was a successful first day in Chile. I was already smitten and little did I know my love of the art, culture and ethereal beauty of Chile had only just begun. I still had the mountains, the vineyards and the epic Valparaiso waiting ahead.
If you go:
Barrio Bellavista is easy to navigate all by yourself. I’d highly recommend staying at the delightful CasaSur Charming Hotel in Barrio Italia. It is rated number 1 on TripAdvisor and only has six rooms but is a fantastic place to stay and explore all that Santiago has to offer, and is only about a fifteen minute stroll to Bellavista.