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What to Do in Santiago de Chile  -  A Nearly Comprehensive Guide

What you're missing - Santiago, Chile: The Ultimate Guide

 

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Santiago de Chile has recently been called a "South American surprise" and the most “underrated city in South America” by Forbes Magazine, and has been steadily increasing in prominence worldwide due to a reputation as a great place for business and quality of life. Efforts from CORFO and its various programs (of which Start Up Chile is one of the most prominent) have served to create an environment that is increasingly more welcoming to international businesses and expats. 

A cultural hub as well, Santiago has much to offer in the way of food, events, and the arts, and YOU (yes, YOU!) have a distinct advantage because you know what’s up! Or, at least you will after you finish this article. 

park santiago chile

1) GET MOVING!

Santiago has many, many parks and open spaces. Also, it is quite casually surrounded by HUGE MOUNTAINS which offer not only a great view, when the smog isn’t blocking them, but afford a veritable playground for the outdoors enthusiast.

Two great options are Cerro San Cristobal and Cerro Santa Lucia. San Cristobal can be reached at the end of the Bellavista neighborhood (more on that later), about 4 blocks from Plaza Italia/ Metro Baquedano. There is often a little market there for tourist tchotchkes, as well as a Zoo, and you can pass by Pablo Neruda’s house, La Chascona, which he created for a mistress. You can either hike up, drive up around the back from the Pedro de Valdivia entrance, or take the “funicular,” which is basically a little train that goes almost straight up to the top.

Cerro Santa Lucia can be reached via Santa Lucia Metro (shocking, I know). There is a castle on top — Castillo Hidalgo — and Santa Lucia affords some great photo opportunities, though it is not as tall as Cerro San Cristobal. If you like crazy stone stairs, Santa Lucia is for you. Rumor has it there are occasional parties in the castle… and a yearly food festival.

santiago trekking night

Want to see the entire city at once? For the more physically adventurous, Cerro Manquehue is available for your hiking pleasure. There is really no set trail and this is a bit more demanding of a hike, so going alone is not necessarily recommended, but hey, you do you. On this author’s trip to the summit, he saw some great burrowing spider dens and got completely lost coming down from the top after sunset, even though the view of Santiago at night from the top is stellar. An easier hike with nearly equally stunning views is next to Cerro Manquehue (just look for the one with the cross on the top). Cerro Manquehue is reachable by going north of Metro Manquehue — isn’t it fascinating how these metro names seem to line up — to the “rotunda” and climbing up Camino del Condor or Via Roja past the houses of Santiago’s rich and famous.

For a less strenuous walk, consider walking along the river on the paths that go through multiple parks, stretching from Plaza Italia all the way up into Vitacura (to the northeast). You will see many sculptures and couples making out in public! You can also choose to visit some of these parks throughout the city. If you have a bike, or rent one, here is a map of bike lanes in Santiago.

Or, you can be lazy and just climb a metro entrance like this kid.

IMG 2569

2) LEARN SOMETHING!

Santiago is a great place to learn Spanish; if you can understand the Chilean accent, you can understand any accent. There are any number of language exchange groups and parties — check out the weekly Spanglish Parties, or check out events in Santiago’s particularly large and active Couchsurfing or InterNations communities. For something more structured, check out Spanish lessons and immersion programs at ECELA.

Also, though Chile is more known for cueca or cumbia, there is also a plethora of salsa, bachata, and kizomba classes available. Many of them are free or extremely affordable, between 3 and 10 thousand CLP ($5-15 US). Wait — what is kizomba, you ask? Hailing from Angola, kizomba is the lovechild of something like tango and reggaeton. It’s classy and sensual all at once, and makes a great addition to anyone’s life experience résumé.  

La Combo Tortuga - Te Vuelvo a Ver (Video Clip Oficial HD)

What are cueca and cumbia? Cueca is the native traditional dance of Chile, hearkening back to the days when a young lad from the campo would show off his skills and try to win himself a fair maiden at the community fondas. Cumbia hails from many places, but Chileans have invented their own version. For an example, check out La Combo TortugaChorizo Salvaje, or Santa Feria.

campeones nacionales de cueca juvenil 2013

Dance studios/ clubs include Rumba Chilena in Las Condes , Arte en MovimientoSalsa Brava on Santa Isabel (beware: their website plays music. I'm guessing this is a Myspace tribute), Club Orixas downtown, or the very hip Maestra Vida in Bellavista. Rumba Chilena is slightly more expensive, but the classes are smaller and personal and last up to 2 hours. The others have the added bonus of including club entry with the lesson, and turn into a dance club with open floor for the rest of the night, with some drinks — be sure to take advantage of the happy hour! 

3) DO SOMETHING TOURISTY!

It’s amazing how when your live somewhere, you often forget to see some of the best sights a city has to offer. There are several tour companies in Santiago, though one of the best (with a money-back guarantee and a sterling reputation) is La Bicicleta Verde, which offers a variety of offbeat tours.

The architecture and sights downtown are often ignored by locals as well, but it doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Visit La Moneda to see where the historical coup d’etat occurred and where famous Leftist symbol Salvador Allende spent his last day.

la moneda santiago chile

Walking a few square blocks downtown will afford the opportunity to see some of Santiago’s oldest and most beautiful architecture, notably the train station at Metro Estación Central, which was famously designed by Gustav Eiffel… yes, the Eiffel Tower guy.

Don’t miss the government buildings and churches of Santiago’s Plaza de Armas, a few blocks north of La Moneda at Metro Plaza de Armas. From here, continue walking to the famous Mercado Central, check out the architecture and treat yourself to one of the numerous seafood restaurants.

For something a little on the crazy side, and pretty unique to Santiago, consider showing guests a Café con Piernas. These are certainly not family friendly, but are definitely a memorable experience, for better or worse. What is a Café con Piernas? Basically, a midday gentleman’s club combined with mediocre coffee, where some Chilean businessmen elect to pass some time in the afternoons. These are scattered around downtown, with a high concentration in the underground mall at Metro Universidad de Chile.

4) GET SOME HISTORY AND CULTURE!

Santiago has several neighborhoods and areas that act as cultural centers, preserving the essence of the cultural tides of a nation amidst the rapid economic development and modernization.

downtown santiago chile

 

Furthest to the east lies the Historical Barrio Yungay, which has a great website featuring an interactive map with an assortment of theaters, museums, organizations, parks, and historical landmarks. Two of my favorites are the Centro Cultural Matucana 100, which features all kinds of art, events, and performances (many of which are free or very cheap), and the Museo de La Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos, which offers tours in English and Spanish and is an excellent way to understand the culture, history, and the resilient spirit of Chile through the lens of the sociopolitical turmoil surrounding the Pinochet coup d’etat that rocked a nation. Both of these lie near Metro Quinta Normal, around the central park.

Barrio Lastarria is perhaps one of the classiest places in the city, and can be found on and around the street Jose Victorino Lastarria. You can either access it via the south, from Metro Universidad Católica, or from the north via Metro Bellas Artes. The Centro Gabriela Mistral, or “GAM,” is right by here along Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins, and, like the Matucana 100, features a vast array of events and performances of all kinds (art installations, film, dance, you name it). The building itself is also quite impressive — you have to see it to believe it!

GAM santiago chile

If one ambles down Lastarria, he/she will be greeted with a vast array of restaurants and cafés. For a classy night out, try the vast array of wines at Bocanariz, or sample some Pisco next door at Chipe Libre (Pisco is the main liquor in Chile, distilled from grapes, and has a distinct floral pattern. And no hangover, I promise… maybe. It may or not have been invented in Peru, but I strongly advise against getting in this argument with any Chilean or Peruvian). 

Continuing to walk down Lastarria, past the slow-drip coffee of Cafe Wonderful and the world-class ice cream at Emporio La Rosa, will take you into Bellas Artes, a cultural hub of Santiago, replete with street art, cafes, restaurants, and bars. In the Parque Forestal, stop by the impressive Museo Nacional Bellas Artes (closed on Mondays), which gives its name to the nearby Metro stop.

bellavista santiago chile

Nearby Barrio Bellavista, across Plaza Italia from Metro Baquedano, is perhaps the most popular cultural neighborhood in Santiago. It features access to the aforementioned Pablo Neruda House and Cerro San Cristobal, as well as a wealth of street art, interesting cafés, great restaurants, and quirky places like The Coca Cola Theater and whatnot. Patio Bellavista offers a solid, if touristy, collection of bars and restaurants with an atmosphere that should please any visitor. At night, Bellavista parties hard.

 bellavista santiago chile

Barrio Italia, to the south of Metro Salvador on Avenida Italia, is a rising star with a SoHo-like vibe. Full of restaurants, brew houses, design shops, cafés, and furniture stores, as well as frequent cultural festivals and block party events, Barrio Italia is a great place for a date or an afternoon stroll.

 barrio italia santiago chile

Barrio Patronato is another honorable mention, to the west of Bellavista and north across the Rio Mapocho from Bellas Artes, and features a huge number of affordable ethnic restaurants, offbeat cafes, and shopping. Paris-Londres, behind Metro Universidad de Chile near the streets of the same name, has a distinctly European vibe.

Other [free] cultural centers include the beautiful Centro Cultural La Moneda underground in front of Palacio La Moneda, and the corporately funded Espacio Fundación Telefónica near Plaza Italia/ Metro Baquedano (ground floor of the enormous Telefonica building, constructed to resemble a mobile phone) and Corpbanca’s CorpArtes gallery in Las Condes near Metro Manquehue. Also, be sure to check out Centro Cultural Las Condes near Metro El Golf. 

If you've noticed, every comuna and barrio has a cultural center.

5) EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY!

A common thread of complaint among “extranjeros” in Chile is the food.Yes, Chile is the third largest consumer of mayonnaise in the world, and I don’t think it’s even per capita. However, once you fight through the sea of hot dogs, white bread, and cheap meats, Chile is full of good food, both in traditional cuisine and new, internationally-inspired offerings. The traditional cuisine, while perhaps difficult to find, is actually quite good.

Uncle Fletch santiago chile

The Bellavista neighborhood features many great spots sure to please any palate. French-owned spot Uncle Fletch has a variety of gourmet burgers, beers, and inventive cocktails. Nearby, The White Rabbit offers a killer brunch, Galindo offers authentic, traditional Chilean cuisine in big quantities, and Taqueria Los Miserables offers some of the best late night food in the city in the form of delicious tacos. For a swanky experience with a great view, you cannot miss Azotea Matilde. 

Chile, of course, is famous for wine as well. Be sure to check out a wine tour through La Bicicleta Verde or do your own at the vineyard Concha y Toro, near metro Puente Alto. 

For some great coffee and a completely offbeat experience, try one of the locations of Cafe Rendebu. Personal favorites for coffee also include Fix Cafe, Cafe Cultura (which also has a barista school and events), Bloom, and Cafe Colmado (also featuring brunch until 5pm!).

Persa Bío Bío, near Metro Franklin, is a haven for ethnic cuisine. Try authentic Colombian, Thai, and Mexican food, as well as Chilean favorites. More info on the Persa later, under the Shopping section.

Pad Thai santiago chile

For a unique Chilean experience, try Salvador Cocina, a critically-acclaimed restaurant at Bombero Ossa 1059 downtown. Chef Rolando Ortega purchases locally-sourced ingredients, mostly from La Vega nearby, and creates inspired, creative, unique plates, served at a reasonable price. This restaurant has been featured by El Mostrador and Sky Airline’s in-flight magazine Revista Sky (page 44 of the PDF).

For something really exclusive, Salvador Cocina has recently introduced the Comedor Clandestino…

salvador cocina santiago chile

This will be open once a week, on a night chosen by the owner, and inquiries must be made in advance to find out when.

For a full night out, Sarita Colonia in Patronato has an inventive menu and crazy decor. In Barrio Italia, El Camino BBQ has a great beer garden area, and Ruca Bar offers excellent tapas and Gin & Tonics for 1,000 CLP ($1.50 US) on Thursdays. Ky Thai is hidden away - literally - near Cerro San Cristobal, and features an excellent atmosphere, Thai-inspired dishes, and extensive drink selection. For authentic Thai, head to Maprao Thai near metro Manuel Montt. It's run by a couple who went to Thailand and mastered Thai street cuisine and now serve it out of this carry-out-only restaurant. Of course, you can "carry-out" to tables just in front of the restaurant and be attended by a server, so they bend the rules a bit. 

For cheap or on-the-go eats in Santiago, check out Indian food at New Horizon and waffle sandwiches at Buffalo Waffles. Donde Guido and Sangucheria La Gloria have multiple locations and offer hearty sandwiches with a Peruvian twist. Hogs has a variety of "artisan sausages." For affordable Middle Eastern food and shawarma, check out Rincón Arabesco

Toldo azul helado santiago chile

Sweet tooth? Head to one of the most inventive ice cream shops of all time, El Toldo Azul, which is located near the W hotel and features flavors inspired by Latin cuisine and indigenous fruits.

In general, it’s good to know that in Chile, many restaurants offer set lunch menus with multiple courses at a reduced price. These are almost always decent, and sometimes great; so, those on a budget would do well to eat out for lunch and cook for dinner.

As for going out and drinking, Chileans drink more than anyone else in Latin America. To some, this more than makes up for the food.

Bellavista and Barrio Italia are absolutely full of bars and pubs. For a classy drink in an artsy setting, try Lira Bar Galería, or get political at Bar The Clinic, known for its large drinks, especially the Chilean Terremoto, a drink made with Pipeño wine and pineapple ice cream. The Clinic also runs an alternative newspaper and news website that is highly critical of the political happenings in Chile, and features an alternative nightclub called Radicales.

And, of course, a trip to Santiago is, arguably, not complete without a visit to La Piojera, where one can drink the famous Terremotos and watch people get absolutely wasted in the diviest and dingiest of bars. Be careful with the Terremotos, or else you may find yourself dancing on a table despite the lack of music. Arrive early and leave relatively early, as the surrounding area can get a little sketchy after 11pm or so.

piojera santiago chile

 

6) GO SHOPPING!

Santiago offers many different shopping experiences, ranging from open-air markets to modern, glistening malls. To pick up some souvenirs, check out the “Artesanos” markets at Metro Santa Lucia, Metro Baquedano along Pio Nono when first entering Bellavista from Plaza Italia, Metro La Moneda, Metro Los Dominicos, and various parks throughout the city.

La vega market santiago chile

Barrio Patronato offers numerous shopping options as well, from Asian markets along Antonio López de Bello to rows of endless kiosks selling cheap clothing. Nearby, you can’t miss La Vega Central, an enormous market selling everything from fresh produce to kitchen/household products to any sort of random item one can think of. To get to the Vega, go to Metro Cal y Canto and cross the river, or walk north from the Plaza de Armas. In front, you will find the building of the Mercado Tirso de Molina. Walk through it, and you will find yourself in La Vega Chica, where you can buy any manner of things, as well as eat an extremely cheap meal. Continue onward to La Vega Central, a WalMart-sized structure that affords all sorts of stimuli for the senses. In the back of La Vega, reward yourself with some delicious coffee from Cafe Altura’s coffee cart or the craft popsicles next to it.
The Vega can be a bit intense, so check out this shopping guide from Santiago Tourist.

Need something random? Persa Bío Bío near metro Franklin is the largest market in Santiago and, arguably, a can’t- miss part of the city. Locals will urge you to be careful, however, as the area can get a bit sketchy, especially later in the afternoon. Stay in the crowded areas and watch your wallet. Check pictures here from Nomad Chica’s blog on what to expect! 

persa biobio santiago chile

For a modern shopping experience, or to buy something specific, try the malls at Costanera Center, near Metro Tobalaba — South America’s tallest building — or Parque Arauco in Las Condes. Costanera Center also has an observation deck on top. Wait for a clear day to go up (after rain is preferable). It's open until 10pm, so don't forget that the nocturnal view of the city can be a great date!

costanera center santiago chile

If it’s the local markets that interest you the most, be sure to use this interactive map of all the “ferias” in Santiago, which sorts them by location, content, and day of the week.

Additional Resources 

Revista Revolver is pretty solid at keeping up to date with the beat of the city and frequently comes out with “What to do” weekend guides.

Inside Santiago and Estoy.cl are helpful with finding events in the city as well, and for parties it doesn’t get much better than Carretes.cl ("carrete" is Chilean slang for "party").

For free events in Santiago, be sure to check out Panoramas Gratis.

Hosting people in Santiago? Try HostTonight to take away the headache. HostTonight manages your Airbnb property for you, so you can enjoy all the things on this list :)