Santiago is the sprawling capital city of Chile. It has a population of over 6 million people and is divided into 'comunas' which are similar to large suburbs, each with their own city council.
Since Santiago is such a big city, you will sometimes need to travel from one side of the city to the other. One way to get around is using the very efficient Metro (which is the underground / subway system). It happens to be one of the cleanest and safest I have seen in the world. The other option is to take one of the local buses. To learn how to use a bus in Santiago (which is pretty much the same as in the regions).
Many national monuments are open to the public for free on the last Sunday of May. Going downtown (where many of them are) will be well worth your while since you will get to enter places and see things that normally you would not be able to see. Make sure you go as early as possible because there are always queues of people lining up for a couple of hours to see some of the attractions.
What to See and Do in Santiago
Some of the main attractions and places to visit in Santiago are:
Cerro Santa Lucia Hill - The hill that was the original founding place of Santiago which is now adorned with wonderful facades, fountains and stairways including Terraza Neptuno. (Metro - Santa Lucia)
Santa Lucia Craft Market - The most traditional place to buy handicraft and souvenirs in Santiago. It's just across from the hill that has the same name. (Metro - Santa Lucia)
Paris Londres Neighborhood - One of the oldest streets in Santiago that has still maintained its old architecture. (Metro - Universidad de Chile)
Patio Bellavista - In the heart of the Bohemian Bellavista district, this beautiful plaza has become a meeting place for tourists and locals alike. Here you will find around 50 shops and restaurants to enjoy as well as frequently cultural events from music to art. It's a great place to spend an evening.
Parque Araucano - The large park in Las Condes that has beautiful rose gardens with fountains, an aviary, basketball and tennis courts, a bike park, many playgrounds from children and lots of grass areas to relax on. It is across from the Parque Arauco shopping mall.
Escuela Militar - The large Military School in Las Condes.
Plaza de Armas
The main square of Santiago was cleared and leveled when Pedro de Valdivia founded the city in 1541. The West flank was reserved for the church, where the Cathedral now stands. The present building, built between 1748 to 1775, is the fifth to be constructed on the site due to earthquakes. The North side of the Square he appointed for himself and eventually the governors of Chile and later the presidents lived there until 1846 when La Moneda Palace was eventually constructed for them. Today the northern side contains the Central Post Office, a museum and the Santiago city council office. Between 1998 and 2000, a controversial renovation of the zone gave origin to the present layout, which mixes sectors for cultural activities, especially for classic painters and humorists, gardens and a central pergola for the municipal band.
There are a few cafés around the plaza if you don't mind sipping your coffee surrounded by swarms of pigeons. Also, if you think you game is up to it, you can challenge one of the locals to a game of chess. Be warned, they're really good.
One of the most interesting statues depicting the Mapuche heritage is also located here in the South-East corner of the square. At the North-West corner you will find another statue of Pedro de Valdivia riding a horse.
Be careful while in the area, it is known for being a pickpocket haven and is also a meeting place in the morning for men looking for work.
The Presidential Palace is a beautiful building, although there is no formal tour. We recommend that you get your picture taken with the Carabineros who guard the palace in there impressively imposing uniforms. While some are unable to speak to tourists you will find that others are there purely to help lost tourists locate the museum below ground or other nearby attractions. The museum hosts several different exhibitions throughout the year, mainly by Chilean artists. If you go at 10 in the morning every second day you will be able to see the changing of the guard in all its glory. (Metro - La Moneda)
Cerro San Cristobal
The highest point of Santiago at 880m above sea level (323m higher than Plaza de Armas). At its peak is the statue of the Virgin Mary which is illuminated at night as a beacon for the city. The Sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception, with its great statue at the summit of the hill, was inaugurated in 1908, by initiative of the archbishop of Santiago, Mariano Casanova, thanks to several private donations. The statue, visible from a large part of the city, is considered as a symbol of Santiago. There is an open air sanctuary at the foot of the statue where mass is offered. Pope John Paul II visited the sanctuary in 1987. The walk up is rather long and most travellers choose to arrive at the summit by taxi, tour bus, or cable car. If you do choose to hike with the pilgrims making their trek to the virgin on their knees it will take you approximately an hour. There is also a public swimming pool on the hill and a small zoo, which is more appreciated for its beautiful gardens than the small variety of animals within it.
One of Pablo Neruda's three houses in Chile, it is located in the bohemian arts district of Santiago called Barrio Bellavista. The home is open to guided tours every day of the week, except Mondays (10am - 6pm). The home contains many of his collections, books, and artwork by his third wife and his friends. There are over 9.000 books in the library and here you can see the diploma he was awarded along with the Noble Prize.
From metro Baquedano, cross the river and continue north along Pio Nono. His house is located at Márquez de la Plata 0192, near the end of Pio Nono and built on Cerro San Cristóbal itself. His other two houses are in Isla Negra and Valparaíso.
While normally this park is quiet with more dogs than people, on Sunday the park and neighbouring streets come alive as they are filled with street performers such as jugglers and actors, making it a fun environment for families as well. You will also come across a lot of second hand stuff such as books, clothes or handmade jewellery. The main focal point of people is around the Museo Bellas Artes, especially behind it. Another reason to visit on Sunday is that entrance to the museum is free that day.
Museo Bellas Artes / Museo de Arte Contemporáneo
This palace holds two museums in one. While the museum features different exhibitions downstairs, upstairs there is also a permanent display of colonial art. The most stunning aspect of the museum however is not the art, but rather the building itself, especially the front foyer which filters in light over the marble walls and floors as well as all of the statues throughout the room. You can take the metro to Bellas Artes, or if you are on Line 1, you can hop off at Metro Baquedano and walk along the park Parque Forestal.
The building is constructed of steel that was made in England in 1868 and brought to Santiago. The building was completed in 1872. Nowadays it is a favorite tourist spot for the colorful restaurants that are located in and around the seafood market stands. We recommend that you have lunch at one of the small bistros. However, if you are looking to buy your groceries, cross the river to La Vega for cheaper prices at the same quality. La Vega also has it's own form of restaurants with two or three stools where you can have freshly prepared ceviche for a fraction of the price, but with a rather different ambiance. (Metro - Cal y Canto)
Also while you are there, try checking out the Mercado de Flores (Flower Market) across the river were there are dozens of shops making flower arrangements (mostly wreaths). The bright colours found here are a nice change from the brown river Mapocho flowing nearby.
A great place to hang out at night for travelers on a budget. The architecture in the area is beautiful, if you can look past the flaking paint and years of dirt. There are several little bars serving cheap beer and an assortment of traditional Chilean street food mixed in with elaborate restaurants serving sushi and martinis. Fortunately there are several hostels nearby. Remember to be careful with your bags in this area. (Metro - Republica) To get there, get off at Metro Republica and walk north along Av. Brazil.
While not the cheapest of outdoor markets, this surely one of the most orderly and high class ones in all of South America. You will surely be impressed by all that it has to offer and can pick up a few gifts for friends back home. Most of the products are made on site and sold in this make believe small town. It is a little out of the way from most of the other tourist sights, but a trip there is well worth the bus ride as you can go from the Center of town to upscale Las Condes. You can also take the metro (subway) to the last station (called Los Dominicos) on line 1. When you com out you will see a beautiful colonial style church called Iglesia Los Dominicos, but it is usually closed. Los Dominicos to the right of this church.
Museo de Ciencia y Tecnología
This interactive Science and Technology museum is a great place for kids (young and old) interested in learning a little bit about science, namely physics, while on vacation. There a lots of hands-on games and different gizmos that you might just find yourself getting into the spirit and learning a thing or two. Open Tuesday to Sunday.
If you want to mingle with average working class Chilean families then try coming here on a weekend anytime from Spring to Autumn and have a picnic in one of the grassy shaded areas, take a visit to Fantasilandia or tour one of the small museums on location. Fantasilandia is Chile's version of a roller coaster theme park, although it more closely resembles a permanent fair ground with rides that spin and swirl, but no real major rollercoasters. The museums are generally lacking, although the Museo del Huaso does stand out with the traditional Chilean cowboy's gear on display. There is also a large photograph of the former Pope John Paul II wearing a traditional huaso poncho during his visit to the small museum during one of his visits to Santiago. To get to the park take the metro line 2 to Parque O'Higgins station.
This is currently one of the hot spots for Chileans to hang out in. It is full of different pubs, restaurants and dance clubs at night and different artesian shops during the day. Cross the river from Metro Baquedano and walk along Pío Nono to the outdoor market. This is probably one of the cheaper places to buy "authentic" Chilean knick knacks, and if you go early when few people are there you can sometimes get good deals from the bored vendors. There are also a lot of stores here overflowing with different lapislazuli carvings. At night we recommend staying away from Pio Nono, as the sidewalks are just chalked full of tables and plastic chairs with bars offering two different selections of cheap beer.
Off this street you can find Plaza Bellavista. Both the restaurants and the shops in the plaza are a bit overpriced, but it is worth at least a walk through if you are in the neighborhood. The district is well known for its bohemian roots; who knows which local artist you might bump into while there. Be careful late at night, while it is becoming less dangerous you should still keep your eyes peeled and your hand on your purse at all times while out at night. Great places to check out in Barrio Bellavista are:
Patio Bellavista: In the heart of the Bohemian Bellavista district, this beautiful
plaza has become a meeting place for tourists and locals alike. Here you will
find around 50 shops and restaurants to enjoy as well as frequently cultural
events from music to art. It's a great place to spend an evening.
Etnico: This trendy spot serves up great sushi platters for sharing with the whole group. The décor is done in beautiful wood panels… you'll have fun watching people try to figure out how to enter the bathroom door.
X Oz: For dancing at night you might want to try this place, just around the corner from Neruda's home, La Chascona. There are different theme nights, the most popular of which is 80's night. Often if you come before midnight you can get in free or at a lower price.
La Maestra Vida: Although Chileans aren't renowned for their dancing, this is one place where you can actually learn how to salsa with the best of them. There tend to be a lot of regulars that come every weekend and don't mind helping a gringo learn to shake it. There are also classes earlier in the night. Women get a discount price before 1 on the weekends. It is worth it to come early, especially if you are shy about dancing and just want to get a good table to watch all the action. There are some beautiful murals in the second room. Located near the end of Pío Nono, you'll recognize the red building on the corner before the entrance to Cerro San Cristobal where seedy looking guys normally pass out propaganda for other bars.
The barrio itself is more of a sleepy residential area, with a generally older population, but the plaza just off of Calle Irrarrazaval comes alive at night. This is the perfect place to have a beer and chill out with friends at one of the outdoor tables all along the plaza. It generally attracts young college students looking for cheap beer and French fries covered in onions, fried eggs and sausage…. yum! A lot of times you will find young kids hanging out in the middle of the plaza, no matter how cold it might be, practicing their free style rapping, or sometimes there are even gypsy bands and other street performers. There are also a few stalls selling jewelry and other items, but nothing overly impressive. At night try stopping in at one of the places with Kuntsman beer on tap, or during the day be sure to visit the artesian ice cream parlor. The metro doesn't come close to here, so you'll need to take a micro or cab. Check out Batuto one of the only clubs in the area with regular live music, it is a little on the small side and filled with an eclectic group of people depending on the night.
El Golf is the financial heart of the city where most of the top businesses and embassies are. Walking around El Golf and Apoquindo you will being amazed by the modern architecture of the buildings that makes this part of town on a par with any of the major cities in the world.
If you are dying for the food back home and you just can't get into the local Chilean cuisine you can always trod on over to this plaza where elegant Chileans somehow convert themselves into Americans. The whole street of Isidora Goyenechea is lined with American based restaurants whose menus are normally written in English too. In fact the only real difference between these chain restaurants and the ones back home are the lack of free refills. If you go at lunch time chances are good that you will run into foreign business men negotiating over a cheeseburger and fries. This is also one of the many places to grab your classic cup of joe that you have been craving. You can easily walk there from metro El Golf or metro Tobalaba. If you are walking down Bosque Norte to Plaza Peru you just might not make it. Instead you might feel the draw to have a beer in Flannery's, the local Irish bar. It is a favorite with ex-pats and is filled every night of the week. Sometimes there are karaoke contests upstairs and large red headed Irish men belting their hearts out. They have a variety of beers, including some they brew themselves, although unfortunately there is not Guinness. The typical bar food is pretty good. The whole week of St. Patrick's Day there are shows, but you have to pay a cover to enter. (Flannery's recently burnt down - Let's see if they reopen soon)
Most travelers will begin their trip arriving in Airport Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez in Santiago. The airport is located approximately 20 minutes outside of the city, from the tourist sectors of Santiago. It is very modern airport with many international flights arriving every day.
From the airport to the city you can take a cab (around US$35), get a shared transfer which cost between US$15-20 or the blue Centropuerto bus which is the cheapest though it only takes you to the Los Heroes Subway Station.
In Chile all roads lead to Santiago. The Pan American Highway that runs from the north to the south of this vast continent cuts through the city. If you are arriving to Santiago by bus it is most likely that you will be dropped off at Estación Central or one of the other small bus stops near there. There is direct access to the metro from Estación Central and the area if full of taxis and colectivos (shared taxis) night and day to take you where you want to go.
Metro / Subway:
Santiago has one or the cleanest and most efficient metro/subway/underground systems in the world, let alone South America. It is delightfully clean at all times and you can be sure of getting from one place to another with ease. It is now a part of the Transantiago public transport system so the same 'BIP' card that you use for the buses is the same one you use for the metro. It tends to be overly crowded during rush hours (7-9am and 6-7pm) so don't be afraid to squeeze in with the rest of the sardines. There are currently five lines, but construction is underway on a new line as well as extending line 1. Line 1, or the red line, is the most important for tourists visiting the area, as it goes below the Alameda and east to Providencia and Apoquindo.
Check out our page exclusively about taking buses in Santiago: Santiago Bus System
As Chile is a generally safe country, the taxis tend to also be a safe form of transportation. All normal taxis are the same colour (black and yellow) with an orange license plate number. Some Hotel taxis are different colours (usually a dark blue) though also with an orange license plate number. Taxis charge you CLP$300 and then around CLP$120 per 200 metres however, they are allowed to charge more at night. Rather than give a tip, you normally just round up the final fare.
Colectivos (Shared Taxis):
Perhaps a little more comfortable than cramming into the bus you can cram into a shared taxi called a Colectivo. These specially indicated taxis drive along a fixed route, generally leaving from Metro stations. Usually the driver waits until the car is full (with 4 passengers) before it heads off.
When to Go
Santiago can be visited comfortably any time of the year. In the winter it can be rainy and cloudy, which is not a problem if you plan on heading up to the snow covered mountains to ski. Though the downside is that the city is polluted with smog in the colder months. Summer is really hot which is why most people leave Santiago in February to go to the beach. The city is amazingly quiet and peaceful during this holiday month. You will find that it almost never rains in Summer, making it easy to plan outdoor activities. We recommend coming early autumn or late spring when the weather is just beautiful.
Where to Eat
In the Bellavista neighbourhood of Santiago you will find a large array of restaurants and pubs. One that we recommend is Como Agua Para Chocolate. Its name comes from a magical book which became a movie of the same name (Like Water for Chocolate).
If you want to have a Chilean/Polynesian style restaurant with a dance show, check out Bali Hai.
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