Santiago, the capital and metropolitan hub of Chile, is like nowhere else on Earth and definitely deserves not only your attention but also the next available slot on your travel bucket list. Jam packed with cultural events, a vibrant and dynamic nightlife community, delicious food, epic shopping, fascinating museums, gorgeous architecture, world class wine, and entertainment that goes until the sun comes up, the gorgeous city of Santiago has what you need to make a truly unforgettable vacation. Close to both the mountains and the ocean, this city is a perfect location to explore the neighboring natural beauty that South America has to offer – if you are an ambitious explorer you could ski or snowboard in the Andes AND dip your toes in the ocean on the very same day. Often overlooked because of the big city factor, Santiago is very much underrated, and here is why:
Located in the central valley of Chile between the Andes to the east and the coastline to the west (a mere 90 minutes away), the fast growing city of Santiago is home to about 7 million people. The climate is Mediterranean, meaning it is blessed with hot, dry summers and mild winters. The best time to visit the city is in the shoulder season from late September to November, or from March to May since spring and fall are gorgeous seasons with lots of sunshine, less crowds, less tourists and more affordable flights. For all the wine connoisseurs out there, grape harvest wine festivals take place in April (remember the southern hemisphere experiences opposite seasons to the northern hemisphere). Snow lovers will enjoy winter sports in the nearby Andes from June to early September, but unfortunately the nearby snow makes for a smoggy, damp, and chilly Santiago during this time.
Getting There and Around
Santiago is home to the international Santiago Airport as well as bus terminals that connect to major destinations all over the continent. If arriving by air, check to see if you are traveling from a country that requires the payment of a reciprocity tax/visa fee upon entry so that you are prepared if necessary. Once you get to the city, you will enjoy the modern Santiago metro system. If you are in town for more than a couple of days, definitely purchase a Bip! card at any subway station which works for the subway and bus systems. The extensive bus and metro system cover pretty much anywhere you could imagine going. Keep in mind that trains and buses can get very busy during peak travel times in this booming city, so plan accordingly if you are in a rush or traveling with bulky luggage. Consider renting a car if you are interested in exploring the surrounding area.
Food and Drink
Chile is such a large producer of incredible meat, seafood, fruits, veggies, and wine that even the simplest prepared foods and drinks are absolutely delicious. Breakfast is usually your standard continental breakfast and is typically supplied by the place you are staying (as opposed to restaurants), from hostels right up to the fanciest hotels. Lunch (almuerzo) is a little later and a little larger than western lunch, and usually happens from 1:30 to 3pm. Enjoy a glass of wine (or two!) with your meal, and head for an afternoon nap with the rest of the city. Dinner happens late, from about 8pm until midnight, so make sure you grab an afternoon snack to tide you over. In terms of where to eat, you have so many incredible options in this bustling city – grab a quick and delicious sandwich at Sangucheria La Gloria or Fuente Alemana, go a little fancy at Peumayen Ancestral Food, try the local seafood at Aqui esta Coco or La Mar. Try upscale Chilean at PIPENO Mesa Chilena or Element, Satisfy your craving for Indian food at the famous Jewel of India, get your pizza fix at Pizzeria Italia Maestro Pizzero Italiano, or enjoy great coffee, snacks, drinks, and solid meals while viewing some beautiful art at CIAN coffee house. For wine, try Baco, Liguria (stick around for a great night out as well), or BocaNariz. Beer drinkers can enjoy Cristal and Escudo; both of which are brands of local beer, and everyone must try Pisco (the famous Chilean brandy) in a Pisco Sour just about anywhere that liquor is served.
There is so much to see and do in the city of Santiago. Consider a free walking tour or spend a little cash while exploring your way around by renting a bicycle when you first get there to get the lay of the land and see the major landmarks. Visit the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos to visit a great new museum and learn about the Pinochet years. Kids will love the interactive Museo Interactivo Mirador and art lovers will enjoy the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. Spend some time exploring the beautiful squares of San Cristobal and Santa Lucia. Check the schedule to try and catch a performance at the Municipal Theater, and enjoy the vibrant jazz scene at the Club de Jazz de Santiago for some of the best jazz around. Grab some coffee and snacks and then head to Metropolitano, Araucano, Bicentario, or Forestal Parks for a picnic and some fresh air. If your trip can’t accommodate an escape to a nearby winery, take the metro to the end of Line 4 to enjoy the wine scene within the city.
No matter what your scene is, you can find a place to enjoy yourself in Santiago. Try Subterraneo, Club La Feria or Las Urracas for a club night out on the town. If you get sick of the typical Latin beats or pop music, try Blondie, where they continually switch up the music to keep the party going. Bunker Discotheque, a gay dance club, is another awesome option for a great night out dancing. Salsa lovers should head to Havana Salsa, while beer lovers unite at Cerveza Loom and Flannery’s Irish Pub. Enjoy a drink in the cozy Phone Box Pub or head to Casa de Cena for tasty drinks and local live music. If you don’t want to settle on a particular destination, let the night take you where it will and grab a friend, walk around the streets of the exciting Bellavista neighborhood and stop into a variety of little bars and restaurants for some late night fun.
In such a large city, you have plenty of fancy, mid-range, and budget options to fit your needs and your price range. Don’t mind dropping some cash? Head to the beautiful Boutique Castillo Rojo, the Renaissance Santiago Hotel, La Reve Hotel Boutique, or The Aubrey Boutique Hotel for some incredible, luxury options. For some more affordable options, consider Hotel Ismael 312, Hotel Bidasoa, Su Merced, or Carmenere EcoHotel for beautiful hotels that won’t break the bank. For budget hotels, consider Novotel Santiago Vitacura or Ibis Santiago Providencia, or consider staying in one of the many hostels that span the city. Your best bet for hostels are Che Lagarto Hostel Santiago, La Casona Hostel, H Rado Hostel, Castillo Surfista Hostel, Ventana Sur Hostal, La Chimba Hostel, or Andes Hostel -all are well rated, solid options that will not only provide you with a bed to sleep in, but give you a chance to meet other travelers from all over the world and make friends for life.
There are plenty of great options for shopping in Santiago. The pedestrian zones in the city center are a great place to shop where you can stroll down the streets while perusing the street markets and poking your head into little shops along the way. Get your fancy gifts at Despensa 1893 Gourmet, enjoy the beautiful mall Parque Arauco, the large and busy Costanera Center Mall, or Mall Sport. If you are looking for hand crafted Chilean goods for souvenirs or personal keepsakes, consider taking a day trip to nearby Los Dominicos Handicraft Village to practice your bartering skills while picking up some local goods, or stick around the city and head to Centro Artesanal Santa Lucia for your souvenir needs. Want to bring home a Chilean antique or two to commemorate and remember your amazing vacation? Stop by Galpon Persa Balmaceda Brasil to see what deals and steals you can find -just remember to barter!
Santiago itself is full of green space but it’s also a great platform to jump off and explore the natural beauty nearby. Take a trip to nearby Parque Natural Aquas de Ramon for gorgeous opportunities for hiking, trekking, bird watching, and picnic-ing. Stay close to the city but feel like you are in a whole other world by visiting Santuario de la Naturaleza el Arrayan for trekking just outside the city. If you are interested in exploring the nearby Andes, consider getting in touch with some of the most reputable tour companies in Santiago such as Andes Explora, Ecochile Travel Day Tours, or Turismo Fleca Extrema, where you can plan your exploration of waterfalls, glaciers, hot springs, mountains, rivers, lakes, lagoons, and forests on foot, kayak, horseback, skis, snowboards, or bikes. If you need your ocean fix, head west to the ocean and consider visiting Pichilemu (3 hours away) or Vina del Mar (only an hour and a half) to get your surf on in these beautiful beach towns.