Santiago de Chile
Santiago is the capital and the biggest city in Chile. The cities within Chile are usually small but Santiago breaks all the norms of a Chilean city and matches any other Latin American capital. Santiago is the centre of the Chilean miracle of economic growth in the past but it is going through a difficult period right now with riots, protests, state brutality and hopes of a reformed country with lesser income disparity. It is a beautiful city nevertheless and definitely worth a visit.
Read my country guide about Chile to find answers to all your questions for a comfortable trip.
Santiago is comparatively expensive than the rest of the country but the opportunities it offers are a lot more immense both economically for locals and a visiting experience for tourists with its beautiful streets, museums and a unique graffiti culture that’s taken the city into its grip very fervently at the moment.
Fun Fact: Chile is a hotbed of volcanic activity and earthquakes are pretty common here. The strongest ever recorded was a 9.5 for the city of Valdivia whereas Santiago survived an 8.8 earthquake.
Live Stories and Food Suggestions
Getting to Santiago
Santiago de Chile is very well connected with the rest of the world from North America, Australasia as well as Europe. I met many a folks from around the world during my visit.
The international airport of Santiago is located close to the city and you can take a bus to and from the city easily from Pajaritos station. Buses are frequent with one every 15 minutes both ways. From Pajaritos you can take the metro to the city.
There are a few bus stations within the city and depending on where you’re going and coming from will determine which station to go to for buses. I found Bus Bud very helpful in finding information and tickets.
Tip: A lot of companies do not accept phone tickets, if you are not travelling at rush hour, buy the ticket at the station directly to avoid looking for printers around.
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Santiago is the only city in Chile with an extensive metro system although recent protests have left some stations unusable and transit from one line to another isn’t possible. You should buy a Bip card and load it with money to able to travel.
Buses are also quite frequent and easily available in the city centre but it is hard to communicate if you don’t speak Spanish.
Uber is very cheap in Santiago and the best source of travel. I used it extensively throughout my stay.
Fun Fact: It was a 30 CLP rise in metro fares that sparked the protests in Chile which lead to multiple deaths, police brutality leading to a lot of people losing their eyes and now a referendum for a new constitution.
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Where to stay in Santiago
The centre of Santiago is quite accessible but I loved staying in Bellavista. It is the party district and comes alive in the evenings. I got a hotel at the edge of Bellavista to avoid the noise at night which also saved me some money. There are plenty of hotels, hostels and Airbnb accommodations for all tastes in Santiago.
If you prefer something artier then Bellas Artes neighbourhood across the river is the best choice with multiple galleries, museums and other activities to do and things to see. Another good choice is the Lastarria neighbourhood which is posher.
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When to Visit Santiago
Spring or Fall are the best times. It does get pretty hot here during summer with temperatures going all the way to 40 Celsius during the day which makes it hard to explore around but days are long in summer with sunsets around 9pm.
How long to stay in Santiago
Most people visit Santiago coming into the country or while leaving mostly on the way to or from Patagonia in the south or the Lake District. It is a fun city and can be easily explored in 3 days at a leisurely pace. I spent 3 and a half days in Santiago which gave me plenty of time to do everything on my list.
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Food in Santiago
Being a big city Santiago offers multiple food options. Breakfast is usually rubbish everywhere; it’s not a meal Latin Americans are good at but the rest of the stuff is amazing. Peruvian restaurants are all the rage these days with delicious Ceviche, Chaufa rice and traditios and not to forget pisco sours, heavenly! Lastarria has some upscale and great restaurants, check my insta stories for recommendations.
Another amazing things which has happened to Santiago is the influx of Colombian, Haitian and Venezuelan immigrants which have brought their own cuisine and Santiago is going through a food revolution at the moment.
The best and cheapest food I have had in Santiago was in La Vega which is the market for fresh produce. Head to the upper floor and you will find many small restaurants offering amazing Cazuela soup, ceviche and lots more. It was absolutely divine.
I also purchased some amazing fruits, perfectly ripe much cheaper than supermarket prices.
Tip: Ditch the old municipal market in favour of La Vega, it has turned into a bit of tourist trap with time.
Another speciality of Chile is the Mote con huesillo. It is a sweet peach juice drink with tinned peach halves and huesillo, which is a bit of boiled wheat and other grains (hard to describe). It is the perfect drink for summer afternoons and you can easily find it around on the streets and in the cafes. The best I have had was from a street vendor.
Is Santiago Safe?
It is a tricky question, I found it perfectly safe to go around even late at night and I was staying in a supposedly dangerous area. I was advised not to walk home after parties because that’s when people get robed. Luckily that’s way past my bedtime so nothing happened to me. You should also be very careful with your phones and belongings on the metro.
About the protests, it is best to avoid Plaza Italia if you don’t want to be tangled in the protests. This area is ground zero but most other places in the city are not so intense with direct confrontation anymore.
Read about staying safe during solo travelling.
Things to do in Santiago
Visit the Old city centre
The old or Spanish city centre is very lively at all times of the day. At its heart is Plaza de Armas and you can explore the old city centre on foot easily with the free walking tour. With many colourful buildings including the court of justice, ex congress building and the presidential balance it is meant to impress. I went in the evening when there were fewer tourists to enjoy the views of this beautiful part of the town which did modernise a bit but not to the extent where it would lose its character.
Paseo Ahumada is the main shopping district here with many brands available but the best thing was the locals selling stuff on the street like a makeshift flea market. With the recent influx of migrants, this area has come to life as well.
Do looks out for Chinchinero performances which is a Chilean dance performance where a man dances in circles with a drum tied to his back which he beats with the rhythms of the dance and the song. It is quite fun.
Fun Fact: There are two cafés on Paseo Ahumada; Café Caribe and Café Haití. These are known as ‘Café with legs’ because of the skimpy dressed waitresses wear. Most clients are old men who like a bit of flirting.
Tip: If you’d like to visit the Pre Colombus museum to see the amazing indigenous historical material, visit this museum on the first Sunday of the month, it will be free. It costs CLP 7000 otherwise and don’t miss those mummies in there. I sadly missed it because I forgot to put an alarm and took a 4 hours long nap.
Take the Free Walking Tour
There are a few different free walking tours that take you through the old and new city. It is a great way to understand a few things and get some recommendations but most importantly it gives you a sense of direction about the city. The guide was very friendly and didn’t mind my many questions. It was my first-hand experience with a local talking about the protests, riots and whatever is happening in the Chilean society.
We started at Plaza de Armas and went through Plaza de la Justicea, the old financial district, Lastarria neighbourhood, Bellas Artes and then finishing in Bellavista. The 4 hours walk was totally worth it.
You can learn how to manage your budget during travelling in this guide.
Be local in Plaza de Armas
l loved sitting in Plaza de Armas in the evenings. It is the life and centre of most cultural activities. There is a tree-lined area with benches in the middle with lots of beautiful European style buildings around. There are Mapuche statues(an indigenous group of people from the south), the central cathedral, the old Spanish court of justice and prison and a lot more but the real fun is in the evening. Many locals come here for entertainment, to meet friends, enjoy the evening breeze and to perform. It an open theatre and there is no better way to explore Santiago like Plaza de Armas.
Visit the New York Street
The old financial district is called Calle Nueva York or New York street. It has beautiful architecture and most buildings here the strongest of earthquakes for more than a century. It is also the perfect insta spot in the evening. I met a local guy and we spent chilling with some tea here one of the evenings before heading to the slightly more hidden London and Paris Streets.
Visit the London – Paris Streets
There is a certain obsession with Europe in this part of the world and you can see it in Santiago as well. My local friend took me to see the Londres and Paris streets to see if they actually do seem anything like London and Paris. I did wish London had streets that wide with so much sunshine but apart from a slight resemblance I wouldn’t particularly say so but these two streets were quite beautiful regardless of the inspiration. The streets are small but beautiful and another cool insta worthy spot in the heart of Santiago.
Spend an afternoon in Santa Lucia Hill
Santa Lucia Hill is a small part of Santiago that’s very fascinating. At the edge of Lastarria, this little hill park is quite a spot for a warm afternoon. The entrance is free and you can enter from the front or back. I was asked to make an entry in the register and in we went. I’d grabbed myself some amazing green tea from Wonderful Café nearby and was ready for some relaxation when I met a local. We ended up taking a stroll through the park which isn’t as small.
The very top of the hill has a miniature castle with view of Santiago cityscape. We walked a little while through the fountain of Neptune and then settled on a small grassy patch and ended up talking for hours. It was a fun afternoon.
Nearest Metro Station: Santa Lucia
Be Cool in Lastarria
Barrio Lastarria is the posh side of Santiago city centre. It has beautiful, neatly lined streets which have been turned into a graffiti festival recently during the protests. In a way, it made the area more cool and trendy. After the protests, the main street has sort of become a small flea market cum artists fest cum fun zone. Lastarria has some really cool restaurants and wine bars and the famous Chipe Libre bar. Chipe is a lovely abbreviation of Chile and Peru combined. The pisco sours are legendary here.
Lastarria is also host to two really cool rooftop bars for some more sunset view in style with drinks. My choice was The Singular which I was already familiar with from Puerto Natales and remember its beautiful spa. It is a cool area to just browse through even and whenever I’m back I’d love to stay in Lastarria next time.
Party in Bellavista
Bellavista is the party district of Santiago and has tons of bars, clubs and restaurants. It is also much cheaper and happens to be the ‘gay’ area of Santiago.
Pío Nono street is mainly for student bars for cheap drinks and eats and it is full of character and life even when the night has just started.
Bombero Núñez street is host to gay bars and clubs and there are plenty of choices here too equally fun and colourful.
Patio Bellavista is at the edge of Bellvista and Providencia barrios and offer a great combination of cheap drinks, great food and slightly more upscale seating area. It is famously joked as the area for Brazilians which is a huge positive as I love Brazilians, they are so much fun.
Watch the Sunset from San Cristobal Hill
San Cristóbal Hill is the second biggest hill in Santiago and a perfect spot for sunset. I took the funicular up to the base of the church with the plastic statue of the Virgin Mary. It was an eerie time with the park about to be closed, light getting softer and Mary happily receiving me with open arms.
I sat there for a while and then headed down to the platform to see the entire city covered in a summery smoke which was getting clearer with softening light. It was a beautiful sunset and a perfect view of how this city with its many problems and worries sleeps amongst some beautiful giants. It is moments like these when everything seems irrelevant, every problem becomes small and happiness and sadness mingle to create a very different set of emotions. I will be thankful for this gift from Santiago.
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Visit the Colourful La Vega Market
Like I said in the food section, the old municipal market has become a sanitised tourist trap because everyone just heads there, I went it for 5 minutes and then headed to the actual new food market across the street called La Vega.
On the ground floor there is a huge market, you can walk around the whole day in this place and explore such fun things but beware of pickpockets.
I bought some fruit and had an amazing lunch. It was the cheapest lunch with the biggest portions throughout my Chile trip. It was freshly made Cazuela soup with some chicken in a Venezuelan sauce. The server was very friendly and the atmosphere was very friendly and local.
Tip: bring some cash for this market, you might not be able to use your cards here.
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Be Artsy in Bellas Artes
Barrio Bellas Artes is the artistic hub of Santiago. There are many museums and art galleries to suit all tastes. I, frankly, get extremely bored from the sanitised environment of museums so I chose to see the sculptures and beauty outside.
Right outside the Bellas Artes museum, I found Parque Forestal which runs all the way to the Plaza Italia (ground zero for protests remember). The park has beautiful statues as well as being a fun area to see locals hanging out in the evenings and weekend. There are a few people selling stuff as well, this is where I tried my first Mote con Huesillo drink. Most of the statues were doused in paint especially red paint for eyes to remember the people who lost their eyes during the protests, such a gruelling reminder!
Fun Fact: After the recent protests, the locals have named the Plaza Italia, dignity square.
Watch the sunset from Sky Costanera
Santiago is host to the tallest building in Latin America; the Costanera tower which is shaped like a corn and has a huge mall attached to it. Sky Costanera is the top floor of this building and one of the great spots to watch a sunset over this beautiful city. The entrance fee is CLP 15,000 which is quite steep but well worth the views. There are two levels with the upper-level open air.
I enjoyed the view from the lower floor because open-air meant everyone was taking photos upstairs and there was no place to sit with view of sunset in peace. The sunset was magical with San Cristobal hill in front and the city changing colours with the changing light. It was my last sunset in the city and I couldn’t appreciate the view more.
Tip: head down to level 4 of the mall where you will be dropped on the way down, there are some good places to eat there. I had my first taste of Chaufa rice here.
Nearest Metro Station: Tobaloba
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