Santiago is pretty generous with residents and tourists. Admission is free to many great museums—including the Museo Historico Nacional, the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, the Museo de Artes Visuales (MAVI), the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos—and parks are open to the public until late at night.
Few places are off limits in the capital, except, quite understandably, the Palacio de la Moneda, the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile and functional headquarters of several ministries. You can’t miss it, though—it occupies an entire block downtown Santiago between Moneda (North Side), Morandé (East), La Alameda (South) and Teatinos (West).
You’re welcome to enjoy the many free activities and exhibitions in the Centro Cultural de la Moneda, located under the Plaza de la Ciudadanía, on the South side of the palace, but the Guardia Palacio de la Moneda won’t let you get too close to the massive white building at ground level.
A tour of the Palace has been on top of my to-do list for a few years for two reasons: first, I like to visit places that are usually off limits; second, this is where the 1973 military coup took place and President Salvador Allende was overthrown.
However, I never had the chance to go because only way to visit the palace is to apply online well ahead of time and hope to be invited for a scheduled guided tour.
This year since I knew I was going to be around Santiago for a while, I filled out the form shortly after arriving in Chile. It took a few attempts—the first time, it didn’t get through because I was stating I was alone, not part of a tour group, then it refused to accept the fact I don’t have a Chilean “RUT” (the local “SIN”).
Eventually, it got through.
For days, I received regular formal emails informing me that the (free!) visit was still scheduled as planned.
On Monday, I showed up with my passport and the email confirmation. I was half-expecting to be turned away—Chile is pretty bureaucratic, maybe I was missing a crucial document, some authorization, a piece of ID—but after a close passport inspection, the guard let me in.
Right in front of the main door, another guard called the roll—just like at school!—, collected our passports and gave us a visitor pass. They were ten of us, an eclectic group representing Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and me for Canada.
“Alright, I won’t use Chilean slang, promise,” the guide said.
The tour started with Patio de los Naranjos, named for the orange trees around the fountain. Next, Patio de los Cañones is named after the two canons by the door—“El Furioso” and “El Relámpago”. This is where the president and dignitaries enter the palace, and president’s offices overlook the patio. Finally, Patio de los Canelos has Mapuche totems and a sacred canelo tree. This is the part of the palace that was heavily damaged during the coup, and Allende committed suicide in one of the rooms overlooking the patio. His body was carried out of the palace through a door in the small room attached to the patio, and this door was then sealed by Pinochet. The door was eventually reopened in 2003, 30 years after the coup.
Salón Pedro de Valdivia, named for the Spanish conquistador founder of Santiago, is the official waiting room of the palace. Salón O’Higgins, named after the founder of independent Chile, is where the president greets official guests and ambassadors.
We spent close to 90 minutes exploring the three patios and the downstairs rooms, being quizzed about Chilean history and comparing our respective political systems. The guards were remarkably friendly and smiling and overall, the atmosphere was very relaxed.
Definitely a cool Chile experience.