Santiago, Chile is a really incredible city, and we were excited to spend a few days exploring there during our Easter break! Full of culture, eclectic people, green spaces, delicious food, and overlooked by towering mountains, this unique city is definitely worth a visit. If you get a chance to spend a few days there yourself, here are my top 5 travel tips for Santiago!
1 – Get a your Bearings
This city is huge, so your first day there you should definitely spend some time wandering around the city center and testing out the public transportation. The Metro system in Santiago is really cheap and easy to use, and if you buy a bip! card you can also use the city buses. I definitely suggest this form of transportation to taxis, which, although metered, are pretty pricey. While Andrew and I usually don’t opt for group tours when we visit a new place, since we only had a couple days we decided to try out the Tours 4 Tips organization after hearing good things from friends and online reviews. I highly recommend the Santiago Highlights tour. It was an easy way to not only see some of the cities main sites, like the Plaza de Armas and Presidential Palace, it was also a great introduction to the Metro system, different neighborhoods in the city, and the cultural, social, and political background of Santiago. The three hour tour was also totally FREE, and you get to tip your guide according to your liking (…although I bet you’ll be willing to leave a great tip after your tour!) and it helped us with our own wanderings of later days.
2 – Visit the Maipo Valley
If you like a good glass of red wine or just want to get out of the city and enjoy some fresh air, head to the Maipo Valley for some winery tours! Central Chile has many valleys filled with vineyards, but the Maipo is closest to the city and easily accessible using public transportation. To get there, take the Metro all the way to the Plaza de Puente Alto station at the end of the purple line. From there, you can take a taxi to any vineyard of your choosing or catch a bus to Pirque or the other small towns in the area.
For a smaller, more personal tour of a boutique winery, I highly suggest checking out Viña El Principal. This fairly young vineyard produces only 200,000 bottles per year, and the tour was incredible! You do need a reservation for this, but if you email ahead of time it should be no problem and Alejandra will give you a spectacular tour including a visit to the vines where you can try the grapes, explanation of the barrel aging and bottling process, and of course, a tasting!
The largest wine producer of Latin America, Concha y Toro, is also located in the Maipo Valley, so you can see a bigger production operation if you wish. Concha y Toro also has a fantastic restaurant so you can grab lunch or dinner.
The Maipo in particular is known for red wine varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, so definitely try those. Also, Chile has a special type of wine called Carménère, which was thought to be extinct due to a plague in Europe, but was rediscovered in Chile some years later, so if you want a unique tasting experience try it!
On your way back into the city, if you’re still up for more vineyard venturing, you can stop at the Quilin metro station and visit Cousiño-Macul, a 150 year old vineyard located right smack in the middle of Santiago! It is a unique, peaceful oasis among the busy city streets.
3 – Eat your Way Through the Lastarria Neighborhood
I think that at least once a day while we were in Santiago, we ate something somewhere in Lastarria. Located near Cerro Santa Lucía, this neighborhood is filled with fantastic restaurants. I wish I had time to visit them all! Grab a jamón serrano sandwich at Hibrido by Colmado, or try ceviche and pisco at Chipe Libre, or anything at Mulato. Sample some craft brews and the gigantic empanadas at José Ramón 277 or some more Chilean wines at Bocanariz. Dine on the roof of Casa Lastarria or the porch of Quitral (and definitely get the seafood risotto). Above all else, make sure you save room for ice cream at Emporio La Rosa, apparently one of the top 25 ice cream shops in the whole world! Seriously… the food in Santiago was quite possibly my favorite part of the entire trip, and this neighborhood in particular was a treasure trove. Bon appétit!
4 – See a View from the Cerros
The Cerros, or hills, of Santiago are many, but two that are worth a visit are Cerro San Cristóbal and Cerro Santa Lucía. While Santiago’s location among the mountains makes it susceptible to hazy smog, the views from these hills are still worth a hike, and you might just get lucky with a clear day!
Cerro San Cristóbal is a large park that includes, among other things, a zoo. Take the funicular to the top to enjoy the view of the sprawling city of Santiago below. You can even catch a glimpse of the Gran Torre Santiago, the tallest building in South America.
Cerro Santa Lucía is another park where the city of Santiago was founded by a conquistador by the name of Pedro de Valdivia. It is now home to lovely fountains and gardens, as well as a look-out over the city at the top of the hill.
5 – Appreciate the City’s Culture and History
Ok, here comes the social studies teacher in me. Santiago, and the country of Chile in general, has a rich cultural heritage. Take some time to learn about it through the cities museums and tour guides (again, Tours 4 Tips offers a great one!). From colonization, to being the first country to democratically elect a socialist president, to the military coup d’etat and subsequent rule, up to today. The history is fascinating! There are many museums in the city to check out. The GAM cultural center, while not exactly a museum, is still a great place to explore, and you might get lucky enough to stumble upon great street performers or a culinary event in one of its many open spaces. The Bellas Artes museum not only has beautiful architecture but a fascinating contemporary art exhibit, and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights explores the political and social fall-out of the dictatorship in Chile from 1973-1990.
If you plan on visiting Chile, don’t neglect the nation’s capital city. Wander, eat, and learn something new in Santiago!