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Exploring Accessible Santiago de Chile as an Accessibility Ambassador

My name is Daniela Zapata, I’m 32 years old, I’m a human resources engineer and a bilingual executive assistant. This year, I was an Accessibility Ambassador for Wheel the World, where I mapped my hometown of accessible Santiago. I’m also a double-world champion in wheelchair dancing, and I was selected as part of Chile’s national basketball team for 7 years. I’m an activist for women with disabilities, a feminist, but above all:

I am a traveler, a daughter, a sister and a girlfriend.

I was born in Concepcion, Chile, but I’ve lived most of my life in Santiago. I was recognized as one of the 160 most influential women with disabilities in the world by Her Abilities Award 2019. I’m involved in a lot of motivational talks and workshops concerning disabilities.  I love my little world,  communication and fighting for our rights as individuals is very important to me!

I was born with a disability called Lipomeningocele.

What is that?

Well, it is a kind of Spina Bifida that’s not visible. When I was a kid, I had walking problems but they were not severe, such as loss of balance, if I was pushed too hard I would fall easily. I was born without muscles from the knees all the way down, but I had the life of a normal child: I was a Scout, I would participate in everything that I could because I loved sports and spending time with my friends!

A woman in a wheelchair with her arms up and her back facing the camera. She is in the middle of a road surrounded by nature.
Daniela explores nature in the Chilean countryside

But when I was 15, my body began to give me some signals. Something wrong was happening. I had a lot of headaches, back pain, and after three years of exhaustive studies they found a tumor hidden in my backbone, which they had to take out because it was pressing on my spine, and the pain was becoming more and more unbearable. 

I was operated on when I was 20, while I was in nursing school. 

Being in a wheelchair was one of the risks of the operation.  For the next three years after the surgery, I didn’t feel anything from the waist-down. But little by little, and day by day, I felt my thighs, my hips. Today, I have sensitivity up to my knees. It won’t get any better, but I’m lucky enough to be able to move my legs with the strength of my thighs. 

After this operation and the fact that I had to be in a wheelchair all my life, everything  re-started and I began to travel non-stop!

Last year, an Austrian production company offered me the opportunity to participate in an accessible tourism project in Europe, from February 2019 to July 2019. I was doing local tourism in the lower part of Europe: Slovakia, Austria and Germany. 

Basically my job was to visit some areas in Europe, to analyse their accessibility and to promote accessible Spanish speaking tourism in the area! It was an incredible experience and I had the opportunity to travel to places I never thought I could.

My story with Wheel the World

I have known about Wheel the World for a long time, since they were partners with  BAU Accessibility where I used to work. I was aware that they created accessible experiences and I am still looking forward to participating in some of those experiences. 

I am a very adventurous person, and Wheel the World stands for all the values of my day to day life, to make this world accessible for everyone. 

I have been lucky enough to be their accessibility ambassador in Santiago, and I participated in the Wheel the World Inclusive Virtual Fair by teaching an adaptive dance class.

I also tried to participate in some of their activities such as Santiago Cycling on Sundays, but it overlapped with my basketball competitions so I couldn’t participate in any of them. When they start organizing them again I am sure I will participate! They look awesome.

Four people on three different types of adaptive bicycles
Participants in Santiago Cycling

Accessible Santiago

I would like to tell you a little bit about my city, Santiago. I always say that I don’t know Santiago since I’ve traveled to a lot of places, so for me it was a small challenge to become an accessibility ambassador for Wheel the World in this city. 

Santiago is an amazing city, and I really love living here. It has a little bit of everything, it’s a city that has day and night, it has parks, rural areas, and everything very close by!

I like to share everything with people, even strangers! (which unfortunately we can’t do today because of the covid-19) I like to go shopping, visit the farmer’s market, talk to people, and learn more about their stories. I have a vocation for service. 

Of the must-see places in Santiago, I’ll choose La Vega. It’s busy, but accessible. With patience to navigate crowds of people, you can wander from one side to the other without any inconvenience for wheelchair users. Although it is important to make the distinction between the new Vega and the old Vega, two markets next to each other. 

The new Vega is 100% accessible and the old one is a bit more off-road, but it still has ramps. 

There is also the gourmet area, which is the market where there are a lot of restaurants, and where they display the best of Chilean food, seafood, products from our coasts and typical food. You can arrive via metro, which has an elevator to make the station accessible, or you can even take the bus or go rolling or walking from the center of Santiago. 

Speaking of the center, there is a lot to see in the heart of Santiago, next to the Mapocho river.  You can find all different kinds of expos, fairs, even concerts at the Mapocho station cultural center depending on the date. It’s largely accessible, but parts of it are preserved as cultural heritage, and some of those parts have not been made accessible. However, accessible bathrooms are available.

A riverbed with some water running next to a road with a park and buildings on the other side
Accessible Santiago de Chile

This area is actually one of my favorites! Then, there’s Parque Bustamante, which provides a wide accessible bicycle path to explore. 

The only thing that is not accessible in this tourist area is the Bellas Artes Museum, which does not have a ramp, and unfortunately a lot of stairs.

In the Lastarria neighborhood you can go for a drink with your friends or family in the afternoon or evening, this neighborhood has many restaurants and bars.

Barrio Italia, which is a little further away from the center, has many restaurants, cafes, and boutiques.

People walk down a cobblestone street, with nineteenth century architecture
Barrio Lastarria, known for its restaurants

Transportation in Accessible Santiago

In general all these places can be accessed through the subway. The metro in Santiago is 98% accessible! The oldest line, line 2, is not completely accessible, but most of the other lines are.

I always move around Santiago by metro or micro!

A map of Santiago metro lines and accessible stations
A map of Santiago metro lines and accessible stations

Where to Stay in Accessible Santiago

Talking about accommodation, the truth is that I haven’t stayed in many hotels in Santiago as I am from here. But I have some recommendations!

The Atton Santiago Hotel is 100% accessible, it offers four accessible rooms. I was able to be part of the process of adapting the rooms for people with reduced mobility.  It has everything at hand, the closet, the light switches, furniture, the lever to open the curtains – it’s all within reach!

The bathroom is also accessible and in their restaurant they have a place designated for people with reduced mobility. 

We can also find the NH hotel, which is accessible, but is a stopover hotel that doesn’t have much in terms of activities inside the hotel. It’s a great place to spend a night if you have a long trip and you’ re passing through Santiago!

The W hotel is quite new, and it is very large, located in the “Sanhattan” area, the business district. It’s very close to the Costanera Center, the tallest building in Latin America, and a huge mall. 

Within the hotel there are many restaurants and stores. This sector is also quite accessible, the subway reaches a central point and then you have to walk a little!

The Sheraton hotel is also 100% accessible, but it has a super steep access ramp and you can’t get there walking. But, the hotel is completely accessible inside if you arrive via vehicle.

Where to Eat in Accessible Santiago

As for the restaurants, there is a chain of restaurants in Santiago called Liguria. It’s cuisine is traditional Chilean with a twist. You can find everything that is eaten in Chile, from the North to the South. 

The outside of a building with a large window and text that reads Bar Restaurant Liguria
Liguria Restaurant

There are three Liguria restaurants in Santiago. What I like most about this restaurant, besides the food, is that two of them (the old one is not so accessible), have people with disabilities working among their waiters, in the kitchen and in the administrative area. The restaurants are also accessible for people with reduced mobility.

Accessible Activities in Santiago

Moving to the must-do activities in Santiago, you must take the gondola to the top of San Cristobal Hill. The gondola is accessible and takes you to a beautiful lookout over Santiago and the Andes mountains.

Wheel the World also offers activities in Santiago, such as: Historical Tour in Santiago, half day or full day tours in the Casablanca winery and Adaptive Skydiving in Melipilla (just one hour from Santiago).


What are you waiting to come and visit us? Santiago is an incredible city, urban with great green areas, you won’t want to miss it!

I hope you liked this article, see you in Santiago or around the world!

Daniela Zapata

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