Santiago is the capital of Chile, the long, skinny country on the Western side of South America. Chile is bordered to the right by the Andes mountains, to the left by the Pacific Ocean, to the North by the desert, and to the South by glaciers. Due to its isolated location, Chile is indeed unique and extremely proud of its country and local products. Side note – to protect this status, Chile is also very particular about what one can bring into the country (wine is allowed).
While isolated from the rest of the word, Chile, and Santiago, are developed and well-off compared to most of their South American neighbors. In fact, Chile is often ranked as one of the safest countries in Latin America – if not the safest. Being the capital and largest city in Chile, Santiago is home to lots of sky scrapers, lots of construction, and a busy, working population. During the week, Santiago seemed like any other big city anywhere in the world. That being said, there are, of course, some shady areas of Santiago, but most tourists should have no problem avoiding those areas.
Despite being generally safe and well-off, not that many tourists spend much time in Santiago. Santiago is often used as a base to fly into Chile and then head further south to the Patagonia region or elsewhere in South America. We did just that, and ended up in Santiago after visiting Uruguay because of its airport, but we decided to stay four days – a long weekend – before flying back to New York. We had a lovely time, and I really want to go back to Chile and explore more of the country.
I found Santiago to be beautiful. Santiago is a really “green” city and its almost completely surrounded by the Andes mountains. Santiago is also pretty chill. There are not that many bucket list sites. There are a lot of young people, and they seem to be out and about enjoying life. There only thing I did not love about Santiago is getting around – Santiago is huge and traffic can be pretty terrible.
Where we stayed in Santiago
Since Santiago is a big city, where you stay can make a huge difference in your experience. We opted to stay in the Vitacura area at the Double Tree by Hilton. We choose this area solely because of the hotel (we had points to stay for free). Vitacura turned out to be an upscale neighborhood and made a nice place to stay – very safe, lots of business people and tourists, and lots of Western chains with a presence here. The hotel was about a 20 – 30 Uber ride from the main touristy areas. We also LOVED our hotel, and they have an awesome newly renovated Executive Lounge that we very much enjoyed. I am going to write a separate post on it later this week.
If want to stay in an area with more personalty (i.e. more local flavor), I recommend staying one of the following neighborhoods: Lastarria, Bellas Artes, and Italia. Lastarria and Bellas Artes are great for first time visits and are close to most of Santiago’s tourist attractions. Italia is more of a cool, hipster neighborhood, still pretty close to the tourist attractions.
What we saw in Santiago
Santiago does not have many “touristy” sites. The most popular “site” is probably the Centro neighborhood, which is an old, colonial neighborhood and home to the famous Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral and the Plaza de Armas. We walked through the cathedral and its definitely worth a stop. The surrounding Plaza de Armas often has street vendors and performers working for tips, making a fun stop for tourists.
We skipped most of Santiago’s other major sites, including the Fine Arts Museum, St. Christopher Hill, and the Central Market and instead, concentrated on eating and drinking, which, in my opinion, is much better than the food offerings! We did spend an afternoon walking around Lastarria, and that is a very cute neighborhood worth some time, especially for the shoppers! Lastarria is home to a little open air market on the weekends. I bought several pair of really cute and inexpensive earrings. There are also lots of restaurants, bars, and cafes spilling into the streets of Lastarria.
We also took two day trips from Santiago – one to the Colchagua Valley to taste wine and one to Valparaiso. Valparaiso is an artsy, eclectic city on the Pacific ocean about an hour west of Santiago. Its a popular day trip from Santiago, and I would recommend it if you have a day to spare. I will be doing a separate post about Valparaiso if you are interested. I wrote about our tour of the Colchagua Valley here if you are interested. I loved our wine tour, but recommend it only to those interested in wine.
And, getting back to Santiago, we toured one of Chile’s newest attractions, the Gran Torre Santiago a/k/a the Constanera Tower! The Gran Torre Santiago is the tallest building in South America and is located inside the Constanera Center shopping mall. You basically just taken an elevator to the top and explore the viewing platform. Its worth a visit in the Vitacura area or if you have some extra days. Its construction is quite impressive and the 360 degree views are unmatched.
What we drank in Santiago
Obviously in Chile, Chilean wine, red, sparkling, and white. Chilean wine is readily available all of Santiago, especially in touristy areas. We really like wine so we did a wine tour to both the Colchagua and Casablanca valleys. Chilean wine was good, and there are some really great wines, but Chile does not have a long-standing wine culture, like Argentina, Italy, or France, so the whole industry seemed rather manufactured to me. The wine bar, Bocanariz, had a very good selection of Chilean wines if you are looking for the best of the best. We had a delicious 2010 Tonker Petit Verdot at Bocanariz, the best wine of the trip.
In addition to wine, Pisco is a very popular type of alcohol made and served in Chile. Pisco is also popular in neighboring Peru, and there is quite the rivalry between the two countries. Tourists can find Pisco at almost any bar, and there is even an entire restaurant/bar dedicated to Pisco – Chipe Libre! If you are not brave enough to drink Pisco alone (I’m certainly not), the Pisco Sour cocktail, made with Pisco and egg whites, is beloved in Santiago and can be found at most bars. They even served them at our hotel lounge. A must-try when in Santiago!
Finally, Santiago, long prone to earthquakes, has its own cocktail – the Terremoto (i.e. earthquake)! The most famous place to try a Terremoto is at the diver bar La Piojera near the Plaza de Armas, but you can find a Terremoto in many touristy spots. The drink is quite sweet and very strong. Another drink you absolutely cannot leave Santiago without trying! La Piojera is close to the Plaza de Armas, so they make for a good pair.
What and where we ate in Santiago
Santiago has really good food, all very local and much seafood based (which was surprising to me). Since its such an isolated county, Santiago has a lot of specialities and a lot of foods, particularly seafoods, that are unique to Chile. We tried a lot of things that we had never tried before, especially of the seafood variety, and all were quite tasty!
To start our trip, we spent one big evening dining at Borago, which may be Santiago’s best restaurant and was recently named as one of the Worlds 50 best Restaurants. This meal was excellent and allowed us to try lots of different types of Chilean food and wine that we would not have tasted otherwise. We even tried the conger eel here, which was surprisingly tasty (I would ever have ordered it otherwise!) The service and presentation were also excellent and is well worth the slightly outrageous price tag for the tasting menu.
We also ate a meal at the pisco bar, Chipe Libre (mentioned above), and the food was my favorite after Borago.
And, we dined at the local favorite Italian spot in Vitacura – Tiramisu. Tasty, but not quite Italian pizza. This was a fun spot to people watch, as its frequented by locals. We were two of the few tourists at Tiramisu.
Aside from these spots, Chile is also famous for empanadas, a hotdog called the Completo, asado (grilled beef), and dishes “a la pobre” (topped with an egg), Chilean steak sandwiches called Churrasco, pebre sauce (hot chili pepper sauce), among other things. When in Chile, my recommendation is to just order local!
Tips for visiting Santiago
- Chile uses the Chilean peso. Get at least a few at an ATM. Most places take credit card (Visa and Mastercard).
- Be really careful what you try to bring into Chile, and I’m taking food! Since Chile is so isolated, the country is obsessed with keeping out unwanted pests. Every bag at the airport is scanned and anything that looks problematic will be confiscated. Raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts are big problems (including granola), as are products made of wood. I recommended reading the latest from an official website before brining anything that you can’t live without to Chile. You can bring in wine (we brought in 8 bottles with no problem).
- While not expensive, Chile is more expensive than some of its neighboring South American countries.
- Santiago has a decent subway system that seemed quite popular. We only used Uber, which works well if you have access to the internet.
- Chileans speak Spanish. Many people in Santiago speak English well. Spanish will help, and will help a lot more the further you get out of Santiago.
- Due to the crazy traffic, I do not recommend driving in Santiago.
- The main tourist areas are safe, but use your normal city precautions.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Double Tree by Hilton Vita: Av Vitacura 2727, Las Condes, Región Metropolitana, Chile. Our hotel in Vitacura. Highly recommended, although we received a lot of perks due to our Hilton Diamond Status.
Uncorked: We did the full day Colchagua Valley wine tour at $255 USD/person. The tour was all inclusive, including pick up and drop off at hotel, two English-speaking guides, al wine tastings and a large lunch. While expensive, it was worth saving the hassle on a short trip. Book in advance, as the tours are only up 8 people and they do fill up.
Ecochile: Tour company that we used to visit Valparaiso, with a stop for lunch in Valparaiso and a visit to a winery in the Casablanca Valley. Cost was $120 USD, all inclusive.
Borago: Av San Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer 5970, Vitacura, Región Metropolitana, Chile. Open daily except Sunday at 19h for 2 seatings. Reservations essential (made on website), but you can make them at the last minute. Upscale attire. One of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World.
Bocanariz: José Victorino Lastarria 276, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile. Open 12 – 00 daily, 19h – 23h on Sunday. Reservations recommended (made on website). Upscale attire.
Chipre Libre: José Victorino Lastarria 282, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, Chile. Open daily 12h30 – 00h30, closed on Sunday. Casual attire. Reservations not required but can be made here, with some reservations mid week offering a discount.
Sky Costanera: Located inside the Costanera Mall in Vitacura. Open daily 10h – 22h, last elevator up at 21h. Tickets purchased on site for $15,000 or $20,000 (fast pass).
Tiramisu: Isidora Goyenechea 3141, Las Condes, Región Metropolitana, Chile (Vitacura neighborhood). Open daily 12h45 – 16h, 19h – 00h. No reservations, expect a small wait. This place is super popular with locals. Casual attire.
La Piojera: Aillavilú 1030, Santiago, Región Metropolitana, ChileOpen 12h – 00h, closed Sunday. Super casual; this is a dive bar.
ON A BUDGET
While expensive for South America, Santiago is still a good budget option. Stay in hostels and eat at some of the less expensive spots and you will be fine. Costs add up the further south you go actually, and can get quite pricey in the Patagonia region. I think this is due to the need or popularity of hiring a tour guide in these parts.