The one thing about Santiago, Chile’s amazingly modern glass-and-steel capital, is that you are never far from nature. I just returned from a trip there, and was shocked to see the almost 18,000-foot peaks of the Andes showing their heads from above the tall buildings. I had to spend a couple of days snowboarding in the rich spring snow of Valle Nevado, a mere 90-minutes drive from Santiago, tucked up a long valley that seems to head to the sky. With two other adjoining ski areas, Valle Nevado is South America’s largest ski area, with world-class dining and a worldly following to boot (I heard Portuguese, German, French, and of course American English).
Branko, a gay friend of mine who works in one of the best Santiago hotels, the Ritz Carlton, took me on one of the hotel’s side trips out of the city to nearby Cajon Maipo. Here, we rode horses inside a lush cactus-dotted valley with even more snow-capped Andes. Of course, we brought a bottle of excellent Chilean wine and drank that at the top of the peak.
That’s not to say there isn’t enough right in the immaculate city of Santiago to keep you busy for ages. The old colonial Bellavista area is a low-rise, leafy, laidback, and also gay-popular neighborhood where the hipsters hang out, patronizing the sophisticated and sleek New York-style bistros and artsy San Francisco-style bars. Bellavista is full of everything from small gay bear pubs to large multilevel gay discos with strippers. Sure, the scene may not be as big or out as in Buenos Aires or Rio, but I preferred the underground, local aspect to it all. I don’t think I saw one other tourist.
The next day, I strolled down JM De La Barra Avenue in the Parque Forestal neighborhood, where a long line of sidewalk cafes host gays sipping on cortado coffees and coyly eyeing one another. Chic Parque Forestal, with its jutting crown of Santa Lucia Park, its Art Noveau-era Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and its designer shops and restaurants, looks like it could have all been imported directly from Paris. It’s no surprise that most of Santiago’s gay population resides in the tony apartments here.
Chile is enjoying a newfound freedom, after decades under the military abuses of the dictator Augusto Pinochet. Homosexuality was legalized in 1998, an anti-divorce law was finally abolished in 2004, and with a gay-friendly female president and talk of legalizing gay marriage in the air, Chile is sure to make a big bleep on the gay travel radar soon. I recommend getting there now before the rush.
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Matthew Link is the Editor At Large for The Out Traveler magazine, as well as a contributor to Newsweek. Having been to over 60 countries and all 7 continents doesn’t keep him from getting on the next plane away from his home in New York City.