A travellers guide to Santiago, Chile.
Been thinking about a trip to Chile?
Well here are the Top 3 things to do around Santiago year round
- Walk the city:
When arriving in any city it is always a good idea to spend a day walking to get a feel of the environment you have just entered and Santiago is no exception. The booming metropolis of seven million people, makes up more than a third of the Chile population and has a rich history of Spanish colonialism, and of course the not so distant Pinochet dictatorship that should be in the history lesson of anyone who travels to Chile.
The people of Santiago and Chile as a whole are very welcoming to foreign travellers, so don’t hesitate to ask for directions or suggestions on where to go and what to see when walking around even if it may end up in more hand gestures then real conversation.
***Chilismo: Speak a little Spanish? Think you might be able to get by with that Spanish course you took back home prior to your travels? Well think again, because Chilean Castellano (Latin American Spanish) is not Spanish at all. It is a Quebec French meets Texas drawl that could (and sometimes is) described as its own language.
Things to check out
Cerro Santa Lucia:
Photos by Jesse Delgrosse
The massive landscaped steep juts out of the city's downtown core like a lush green jungle in the middle of a buzzing concrete clad metropolis. Its no wonder Darwin felt the need to climb to the top of this manicured mountain to indulge in the 360 degree vistas of the bustling city and surrounding 4000 meter peaks. Take the stairs to the top to see take in the view for yourself, and make sure to keep your eyes peeled near the top for the rock signed by Darwin on his famous around the world voyage.
Santa Lucia Market: After a quick tour of Cerro Santa Lucia, make sure to head down across the road to the Santa Lucia market for some authentic and not so authentic Chilean Artisan products. >>> Ladies make sure to check out the Blue Lapiz jewelry. Chile is widely known for this gem.
Plaza de Armas: The Plaza de Armas is the main square of Santiago. It is the centre piece of the initial layout of Santiago, which has a square grid pattern. Surrounding the square are some historic buildings, including the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago (a missive church that you can walk into), Central Post Office Building, Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago, and the building that serves as the seat of local government for Santiago. The Plaza is a create place to people watch and use as a base to start your walks from to the local food market to the east, Cerro Santa Lucia to the south.
Side note: Utilize the metro system in Santiago!!! It’s cheap (about $1.00), clean and is a very effective way to get anywhere in the city. Also it is the nicest metro I have ever been in. If your a group of 2-4 you might want to take advantage of the recent increase in Uber drivers in the city. You can pretty much get anywhere in the city for under $20.00 which is very affordable when your 4 people...and not so sober.
2. Go to Mendoza, Argentina.
Quick Facts: The city is a frequent stopover for climbers on their way to Aconcagua (the highest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemispheres). Its also a great stopover for adventure travelers interested in mountaineering, hiking, horseback riding, rafting, and other sports. In the winter, skiers come to the city from all over the world to take advantage of the cities proximity and easy access to the Andes. Two of the main industries of the Mendoza metropolitan area are olive oil and wine production. The region around Greater Mendoza is the largest wine producing area in Latin America. As such, Mendoza is one of nine cities worldwide in the network of "The Great Capitals of Wine", and the city is an emerging enotourism (Wine tourism) destination and base for exploring the region’s hundreds of wineries located along the Argentina Wine Route.
This is a must for any wine lover on a budget headed to Santiago. Mendoza is a city directly east and over the Andes from Santiago in Argentina and is the wine capital of South America as stated above. Also it just so happens that Argentina has been experiencing a very serious recession over the last few years, making it a budget traveler's dream if you want to party, drink really good wine and eat like a king for half of what it would cost you in Chile.
Photo by Jesse Delgrosse
Take the Metro the the main bus terminal in Santiago, and ask to be directed to the TUR bus or Fletchmen bus company terminal. These are the largest bus companies in Chile and will often have the best prices and most frequent schedules to Mendoza. If not opt for a cheaper option of jumping in one of many “Collectivo" vans leaving from the same location. Usually between $10-20 CND to Mendoza. Trip takes about 6-8 hours depending on the traffic at the border crossing at Portillo in the central andes. The trip alone is an experience you will be happy to have done. The road is spectacular feat of south american engineering with the most switchbacks I have ever seen in one 1 km and mountain views of the great and highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere Aconcagua.
Wining and Dining
Grab a taxi from downtown to Mr.Hugo’s. Sound funny, it kind of is, but every taxi driver in the city knows where Mr. Hugo’s is. (Don’t pay more then $12.00 CND for this ride). Once at Mr. Hugo’s rent some bikes for $10.00/day, and head down the Ruta Del Vino for a fun filled day of not so sober wining and dining at some of Argentinas most famous wineries (Bodegas). Sit and enjoy the stunning snow capped Andes to the west while enjoying a $5, $10 or $100 bottle of wine on a terrace in or above the surrounding sea of grape vines. When it comes to good food Argentinians don’t mess around, so take advantage of the good exchange rate and treat yourself to the menu at one of the Bodegas. I promise you wont regret it! Also don’t forget to indulge (if available en-route) in one of Argentinas famous Parilladas (Bbq’s) for a buffet of carniverous delicacies.
Side note: If you can, bring U.S dollars with you to Argentina and trade them on the street! You will often get double the real time exchange rate which essentially gives you 2x more money. To sketchy for you? Then just ask your hostel or hotel clerk to change it, guaranteed they will offer you a similar rate to the street guys. The situation is bad in Argentina and their money is more or less worthless in world markets therefore they really want U.S dollars as security ($50.00 and $100.00 notes will get you even more!) Do some research on what to look for on real Argentinian notes, because of the situation there have been a lot of fakes notes being printed (i.e: There is a ribbed section on all 100 peso notes that when touched is hard to fake.
3. Valparaiso and Vina del Mar
Photo by Robin Macdonald
Quick Facts: Valparaíso is a bustling seaside city, and is the second largest metropolitan area in the country. It is located 111.8 kilometres northwest of Santiago and is one of the South Pacific's most important seaports, and was for a long time the last major port before rounding the cape (pre Panama Canal). Valparaíso is the capital of Chile's third most populated administrative region and has been the headquarters for the Chilean National Congress since 1990. (Post Pinochet).
Side note: Please do your due diligence and google who and what Pinochet was prior to going to Chile. It will give you a greater idea of how Chileans have shaped their political identity and the struggles they have been through in recent history.
Once again head to the Santiago bus terminal and take a TUR bus or Fletchman to Valparaiso. Often times there are promos available by one company or the other that can take you on the one hour bus journey for $4.00-$8.00 CND.
Once in “Valpo” (Valparaíso) walk everywhere! Take a 100 year old fernicular tram up the mountain side or opt for the 100+ stairways that connect the lower streets to the neighbourhoods of the surrounding steeps of Cerro Alegre and Concepcion.
Photo by Robin Macdonald
There are many more fun things and exciting things to do in and around Santiago, use these options as suggestions or a template to make for a better trip. The club scene in Santiago and Mendoza roars until the early morning and the ski, surf and mountain bike areas are all nearby options if your into getting your adrenaline pumping (which I would highly recommend to do!) Also remember that Santiago is your gateway to everything south! If you have more then a couple weeks, please for your own personal enlightenment head south to the lakes district and if you can Patagonia! It can be a bit costly but you wont regret it (Check out my next post titled “The Deep South, getting there and away” for more info regarding the southern reaches of Chile and Argentina.
Thanks and don't forget to drink some Pisco!!! (Chile' national alcohol!)