Santiago, Chile is one of the largest cities in Latin America and the capital city of Chile. It is the cultural, financial, and political center of Chile and has continued growth with many large multinational companies having regional headquarters located there. The modern transportation and infrastructure, along with cultural focus, has made Santiago a popular city for migrants for the US and Europe.
If you would rather hear about our 5 weeks in Chile, listen to the Podcast Episode – Podcast 28: Chile Travel – Santiago, Valparaiso, San Pedro de Atacama (& Other Beauty)
Things to do in Santiago, Chile: Located between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, always sunny, a slight breeze, little to no humidity (except during their winter) and almost no rain from October through May, Santiago, Chile is a slice of paradise. A Santiago summer average temperature of 86F (30C) is perfect for the many outdoor activities the city has to offer.
See the views– Santiago is surrounded by the Andes and several hills. One hill, in particular, Cerro San Cristóbal (Saint Christopher Hill, the patron Saint of travel), rises 850 meters in height, on its summit has a 22-meter statue of the Blessed Virgin of Mary, and provides amazing views of the entire city of Santiago. The summit can be reached by foot (approximately a one hour walk), bicycle, car, or by the Funicular of Santiago (cable car ride).
The hike to the top itself is not as easy as it may appear. Make sure to bring plenty of water to keep hydrated, wear the proper clothing/ shoes for “hiking” up a hill, and depending on what time you visit Santiago, you may be in direct sunlight the entire time, so be sure to wear sunscreen and bring your sunglasses. The hill has different routes/ trails that will lead you up the hill more steeply and quickly, however, these routes are not paved and the signs along these routes are scarce.
Grocery shop at Mercado Central– Mercado Central has it all. You can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, fish, seafood, and much more. The atmosphere is noisy and crowded. Vendors are trying to compete for your business as you walk by their stand. The experience itself is exciting but could be intimidating for those used to going to a regular supermarket or for those who do not know Spanish well.
Vendors at Mercado Central want to sell their products in bulk. The prices are normally posted on a sign per kilogram. Most vendors will not sell to you if you want to purchase less. You will also have to bring your own shopping bags with you to bring your items home. They do sell large shopping carts at the entrances of Mercado Central if you are in need of something larger to haul your goods around.
Eat Chilean street food- Prior to coming to South America, I was closed to the idea of eating street food due to previous bad experiences. While walking around on the streets of Santiago, my husband and I continued to see signs for vegan empanadas and vegan sandwiches. We decided to give some vegan empanadas a try and to our surprise, they were delicious!
The empanadas were baked, not fried, filled with vegan cheese, tomato, roasted corn, and red chilli peppers. Throughout Santiago, we have seen various street vendors selling vegan and vegetarian options such as a hamburguesa de frijoles negros (black bean burger), hamburguesa de soya (soy hamburger), hot dog de soya (soy hot dog), empanadas de queso y tomate (cheese and tomato empanadas).
Travel Tip: If you walk as much as we do on your travels, good shoes and socks are critical to your enjoyment. You do not want to have to deal with blisters or aching feet after a fun day walking around town. We have ‘invested’ in a more expensive pair of socks for their durability, cushioning, and comfort. Darn Tough Socks are made of Merino wool which is naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial. Though they cost a bit more than your average pair of socks, you will get your value out of them over the long haul. Find this and other tips on our Travel Tools page.
Take a free walking tour– This is one of the best ways to discover the city. There are several companies that offer free walking tours however, we used a tour company called Spicy Chile which we found on TripAdvisor. The concept is simple; you choose the tour you want to go on, you can sign up online or show up at the determined meeting place/ time, walk the free tour, meet new people on the tour, and tip your tour guide at the end of the tour. We loved the first tour so much we did two tours in one day!
Each tour was approximately 3 hours in length. We were able to see the entire city in just one day and meet some interesting people along the way! The first tour we took was called The Fruit Market. During this tour, we saw the outside of the Bellas Artes Museum (the Chilean Museum of Fine Art) and Cerro Santa Lucía (Saint Lucia Hill, where Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago in 1541).
We visited Barrio Patronato (the Patronato Neighborhood, located in Recoleta, where one can find Arabic, Korean, Indian and Vietnamese cuisine all within one area) and the famous Vega Fruit Market and Estación Mapocho (the former Mapocho train station serving Valparaíso, Argentina, and northern Chile, the station is now declared a National Monument/ heritage site, dedicated to Chilean culture. We also visited Santiago’s oldest dive bar, La Piojera, famous for its drink called “Terremoto” (“earthquake”), which consists of pipeno, white wine (45% alcohol), bitters, grenadine, and a scoop of pineapple ice cream.
The smaller, weaker version of the drink called a “Réplica” (“aftershock”) exists. The bar only allows patrons to consume one of each. From here we visited the Mercado Central (the Central Market, where one can purchase fresh fish, seafood, etc. in one half of the building or eat a freshly prepared fish dish at a restaurant in the other half of the building). The last stop of the tour was Plaza de Armas (the main square of Santiago where one can find the Central Post Office Building, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, and see people playing chess, sitting on park benches, street performing, and hanging with their families).
The second tour was called Hola Santiago 360. During this tour, we saw the Old Congress Building, La Moneda Palace (the palace takes up one entire city block and houses Chile’s presidential offices), and the Santiago Stock Exchange. We also visited Barrio Lastarria (Lastarria neighborhood, the neighborhood itself has a very bohemian-chic feel to it; very trendy restaurants, bookstores, wine shops, and bars intermixed with boutique hotels and street vendors and cinemas). Plaza Italia (Italy Square has unique antique stores, furniture stores, art galleries, and Italian restaurants).
Barrio Bellavista (Bellavista Neighborhood, the next stop on our tour and where we stayed in an Airbnb apartment during our entire stay in Santiago, is a neighborhood full of bars, restaurants, cafes, street food vendors, nightclubs, and supermarkets at every corner. The buildings are splashed full of color from street art and the energy is palpable 24/7. This neighborhood always has something to do, although the nightlife seems to be the main attraction.
Most people start to go out for dinner at around 9 pm and stay out until 5 am). I do want to mention that the tour guides do not get paid by the tour company to take tourists on guided tours. In fact, the guides have to pay the company a small fee per person that signs up for the tour. It is customary to tip the tour guide anywhere from 5,000-10,000 pesos ($7.60- $15.25 USD/ person) depending on how large your tour group was and how well you think your tour guide did.
Drink a glass (or two) of Chilean wine
Have a “schop” of beer- So what exactly is a “schop”? There are signs everywhere advertising beer “schop” specials. A schop is simply a draft beer. Chile has many local beers Cerveza Cristal, Escudo, Royal Guard, Dorada, Baltica, and Becker, just to name a few. Chile also has lager and pale ale from local microbreweries to choose from.
Visit Bellavista Neighborhood- From street art to bars to restaurants to discotecas, Bellavista is a neighborhood known for its art and nightlife. This city always has something for you to do and for those of you who like to stay up late, meet new people, have a cocktail and dance the night away, this is the neighborhood for you.
Traveled February 2017