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Santiago, Chile

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Santiago was the first permanent Spanish settlement in Chile (1541).
  • There are three wineries within the Santiago city limits.
  • Telefonica CTC built its headquarters in the shape of a 35-story cell phone, a 1996 model.
  • The leader of Chile’s 19th century liberation fight was a fellow named O’Higgins (first name, Bernardo).
  • The 1973 coup that toppled the elected Allende government occurred on Sept. 11.


The bow on the ribbon

Chile is the country that looks like a ribbon trimming the left side of a South American map, and Santiago, at its center, is the bow. The city’s location — in the aptly named Central Valley — is a good one because the climate, which goes to extremes in Chile’s north and south, is mild at its midpoint, and most of the country’s arable land (including wine country) is located here.

No wonder Santiago is Chile’s capital, and no wonder roughly one in three Chileans live here. The city is generally safe and things work with reasonable efficiency. The subway system is clean, fast and modern, and it goes where tourists go.

These factors help Santiago’s prospects as a tourist destination, but the heart of the matter lies elsewhere.

Santiago’s visitors like the access to beautiful, steep mountains and an ocean. The snow-capped Andes lie to the east, with the lower-altitude Chilean coastal range and the Pacific to the west. This setup produces choices — climbing, hiking, kayaking, skiing, surfing, whitewater rafting and more. Such surroundings also please the less-athletic visitor who may ride into the mountains on a photographic expedition or head to the beaches and the amenities of a resort.

In the city itself, some parks are small mountains (really, hills), and on a clear day, the Andes are a fixture on the eastern horizon. Then, there are the neighborhoods and the entertainment possibilities.

As the name suggests, Santiago Centro is the city’s core for civic and business matters. It contains much of Santiago’s colonial-era architecture, including the presidential palace and several churches. The bohemian area, Bellavista, with galleries, cafes and theaters, is the center of Santiago’s artistic and intellectual life. The once-rundown Barrio Brasil, with its renewal, is attracting restaurants and its share of artists. Lastarria creates its own aura with antiques shops, restaurants and theaters. It is home to a weekend antiques and crafts market and the archaeological museum.

A final note: On some days, smog makes it unhealthy to be overly active. Traffic and development produce pollutants, which are then trapped by the Andes.


Things to do for Venturers

  • Head to nearby Cajon del Maipo for hiking or climbing. Horseback riding and kayaking on the Maipo River are other options here.
  • Go dancing. If the mood strikes, use the occasion to hone your skills at the salsa.
  • Go biking along the banks of the Mapocho River or in the Cerro San Cristobal park. There are some bike lanes along city streets, too. If you want mountain biking, check these Spanish-language sites: or
  • Find the clubs and listen to jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and other live music. Also, sample a local favorite, a grape brandy cocktail known as the pisco sour, and take a bottle of pisco home (in your checked luggage).
  • If surfing is your passion, try the beach at Pichelemu.
  • Join a game of soccer in one of the public parks. Or attend a game; there are three local clubs, but one — Colo Colo — is one of Latin America’s better teams.


Things to do for Centrics

  • Follow local wine trails out of the city. A top choice is Vina Concha y Toro, Chile’s largest and most beautiful vineyard. You can ask to see the colonial mansion on the grounds.
  • It is sobering, but visit the picturesque Cementerio General. President Salvador Allende (who killed himself during the 1973 military coup) is buried here. Also, the cemetery includes a huge wall with the names of 3,000 victims who went missing during the military dictatorship that ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990.
  • Have lunch in one of the casual restaurants at the city’s huge Mercado Central. Then, do some shopping in the market.
  • Sample popular foods, such as empanadas (pastries filled with meat, seafood or cheese), cazuela de ave (a hearty chicken soup) or pastel de choclo (a baked corn casserole). Also, travel the 40 miles to Pomaire to buy the locally made reddish-brown clay bowls used in traditional Chilean cooking.
  • Strap on a pair of skis at any of a half dozen ski centers near Santiago. You can be almost certain of good snow for the entire ski season, which extends from mid-June to early October.
  • Make the Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda the theme for some sightseeing — or an excuse for excursions. He had houses in Santiago, Valparaiso and Isla Negra (which is not an island but does have a peaceful rocky shore).


Things to do for Authentics

  • Shop in the city’s bohemian Bellavista neighborhood for jewelry made with lapis lazuli.
  • See a game of cricket at the Club Principe de Gales.
  • Take in the city’s panoramic views from the urban park Cerro San Cristobal, at 2,800 feet above sea level. Walk to the top or take the funicular.
  • Visit one of the Santiago in-town wineries; they are accessible via metro.
  • Set aside time for a self-guided walking tour of Santiago Centro (the downtown) to see its numerous Spanish colonial buildings and historic churches. These include La Moneda, the presidential palace completed in 1805. It was bombed during the 1973 military coup. Also, you’ll see the hilltop Cerro Santa Lucia, the fort where Santiago was founded.
  • Play tennis, or devote some time to your golf game.


Additional Resources

For more information, consult Chile’s National Tourism Service (Sernatur) at and choose your language if necessary.