Rising 300 metres above the Santiago and surrounded by the stunning, 722 hectare El Parque Metropolitano, Cerro San Cristobal not only offers heavenly views ( the city, the countryside and even the Andes on clear day) it is, itself, a piece of paradise.
The original people of Chile called the hill Tupahue because of its resemblance to the native head dress but the Spanish conquistadors, who used it as landmark, renamed it San Cristobal in honour of the patron saint of travellers.
Even the trip up to the summit of San Cristobal suggests an ascent into heaven. The funicular glides away from La Chascona in Bellavista, leaving the heat and glare of the city behind, into a shady tunnel of overhanging trees; birds sing, animals call and chatter from the nearby Zoologica nacional and often a busker leaps on board to serenade the travellers. It bursts into the light again on Bellavista terrace. An old stone chapel stands to one side and stalls selling souvenirs and fast food to the other. A man offers rides on a meek little donkey
But the eye is immediately drawn to the summit where a radiant white figure, stands with arms outstretched, stands against the sky. She is la Vergen de la Immaculada Concepcion, a statue donated by the people of France in the 1920s. Pilgrims trudge the steep path that wind through tiered gardens to her feet. Here mass takes place every Sunday and in 1987 thousands gathered to celebrate it with Pope John Paul II.
Like Brazil’s Corcovado with its famous Cristo, San Cristobel with its Vergen is a place that gives pause. It’s not just the magnitude of the monument, nor is it simply the magnificent view nor even the beauty of the parkland that wraps round it – it’s the majesty of the place that seems to reduce you to a mere speck.
The descent from San Cristobel on the telepherique is another celestial experience. You swing through the sky in a glass bubble with a thick carpet of forest at your feet and alight among trees on the lovely leafy fringe of El Parque Metropolitano.
Other attractions in El Parque Metropolitano include the Japonese Gardens, two swimming pools Tupahue and Antigen as well as numerous hiking and cycling trails through stands of indigenous and exotic forest.