I could wax-lyrical about Santiago. Before visiting, I had heard that the capital of Chile feels like a European city and therefore many deemed it not “interesting” enough to spend more than a few days here. I couldn’t disagree more – Santiago definitely deserves your time.
I ended up spending more time in Santiago than I anticipated – partly due to waiting for my flight to Easter Island but mostly because I loved the city. There’s plenty to do in this fantastic city, so let’s get on with my itinerary!
RELATED: Read my full three month South American itinerary here!
I found hostels throughout South America to be somewhat lacklustre – especially after beginning my trip in Hostal Forestal. Located centrally beside a gorgeous park and looked after by some of the most friendly staff I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, Hostal Forestal was one of my favourite hostels in South America.
If you are travelling alone, this is the perfect place given the great social atmosphere and the activities organised by the hostel. This is where I had my first taste of a “terremoto” (a.k.a. “earthquake”) cocktail – an incredible concoction made mainly from white wine and pineapple ice cream!
One of the first places you will stumble across in any South American city is the “Plaza Del Armas” which acts as the main city square. There are lots of shops and restaurants surrounding the area, as well as beautiful architecture; but one of my favourite things to do is people watch!
Chileans are so friendly (as are the local stray dogs) and there’s always something going on in the square!
Yes, this a standard Escaping Essex recommendation for all cities, but I really do mean it! On my first jet-lagged afternoon in Santiago, I opted for the standard “Santiago Highlights” walking tour given by Tours4Tips to learn a bit more about the city and work out where the top tourist destinations were.
Later on in my trip, I joined the “Santiago Offbeat” tour (also by Tours4Tips) which was super interesting, but more on that later.
Tours4Tips also offer free walking tours in other Chilean cities (I’ve tried them all!) so definitely check them out, even if you’re not staying in Santiago.
One of the spots on the free walking tour is La Moneda. This is a beautiful building steeped in history. One thing I wish I knew before arrival in Santiago is that you can apply to take a tour inside the palace if you email
firstname.lastname@example.org at least one week in advance.
If you aren’t able to reserve a place on a tour, simply admire the facade of this incredible building!
The Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM) is a new exhibition centre within the heart of Santiago and is where the “Santiago Higlights” free walking tour ends.
It’s definitely worth spending some time checking out the ever-changing exhibitions after your tour. Plus, the centre is named after Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, so it’s only right to support #girlpower and take a visit!
Waking up to glorious sunshine on my first full day in Santiago meant one thing – head to Cerro San Christóbal!
Cerro San Christóbal and the surrounding areas are huge – you could easily spend a whole day exploring the area (which I did)! A series of funiculars and cable cars connect this huge area – or if you’re feeling more adventurous, a long hike/walk will take you to the peak.
Once you’ve reached the top of the hill, you will be greeted to incredible views across Santiago – the view puts into perspective how large the city is!
After admiring the view, make sure you carry on the cable car rides throughout this expansive green area. From a zoo to a swimming pool and a botanical garden, there’s plenty to see and do.
Apparently I visited in the “Month of Love” (February 2018) and there was a brilliant version of the famous Love Lock bridges seen in cities such as Paris – instead, hundreds of coloured ribbons are available to visitors, each representing a different love status – from moving meanings such as “Love Without Borders” to “Friend Zone” (which was my personal favourite)! 😂
After soaking up the sun on my first day, I woke up on day 2 with the intention of doing something a bit more cultural! Luckily, Santiago is home to some great museums and Museo Chileno De Arte Precolombino (“Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art”) was my first stop.
This is a truly interesting museum with lots of artifacts to see. The well-presented displays take you through the various stages of migration to Central and South America giving insight to the ways of life, religion and culture.
Luckily with lots of English signage as it’s safe to say that my very limited Spanish language skills don’t stretch to art terminology!
Next up on my cultural experience was Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (“Museum of Memory and Human Rights”) which was truly harrowing.
The museum focuses on the Chilean dictatorship in the 1970s-1990s. While I had been made aware of the conditions under the dictatorship during my free walking tour, this museum really highlighted the struggles of the era. I really recommend visiting.
Make sure that you have a few hours to spare and take time to listen to all of the audio guide sections. Parts of the museum were very hard hitting – including a video of a police office shooting a young female student in cold blood.
Despite the sombre mood, I managed to meet a group of other solo travellers within the Human Rights Museum who became firm friends for my time in Chile!
After the museum, we headed to Mercado Central to eat our way around the stalls, sampling incredible empanadas and fresh fruit! The perfect way to spend an afternoon with new friends.
After I developed the worst blister on my foot, everyone ended up visiting me in my hostel that night to drink/chat/dance the night away!
Another day, another beautiful hilled green area. Closer to the city centre and much smaller than Cerro San Christobal, Cerro Santa Lucia is a good choice if you have less time to explore.
A short uphill walk will give you great views and a beautiful fortress-like building to explore. This is a lovely area to explore, especially with an ice-cream in hand!
After a full-on few days in the city, I decided to spend the afternoon relaxing in a park near to by hostel reading a book – holiday bliss! One thing that can always be guaranteed in a February trip to Santiago is sunshine!
Bellavista is the most popular area in Santiago for nightlife and rightly so! Be sure to stroll down and enjoy the restaurants/bars – just remember that the Chileans tend to eat/drink/party much later than their European counterparts – a typical meal won’t start until very late in the evening!
With time to kill before my departure from Santiago, I decided to do some more learning, so joined the “Santiago Offbeat” tour (also by Tours4Tips).
This tour offers a more in-depth look into local lifestyles. From the Mercado Central (“Central Market”) where locals buy their delicious fresh fruits and vegetable to Cementerio General (“General Cemetary”) where you learn about the Chilean burial beliefs and traditions.
Despite the fact I had been to the food markets earlier in the week, taking a tour highlighted how the market really fits into the local Chilean culture. The market stall owners all act as one big family, trading and helping each other. When an earthquake devastated surrounding areas (did you know that Chile suffers 3 earthquakes a day – albeit they’re normally very small), the market traders all got together to create food boxes for families in need. The family spirit in this market is unlike any other.
Well, I know it sounds a bit morbid, but I promise it’s very interesting! The free walking tour will explain local life and Chilean views and traditions when it comes to death.
One thing that is heavily highlighted during the tour is the disparity between the rich and poor following the relatively recent dictatorship in Chile. While Chile is one of the most prosperous nations in Latin America, it also allegedly has one of the world’s highest rates of wealth disparity – something that wouldn’t be entirely evident from a trip to Santiago.
I don’t consider myself to be a huge museum-lover, yet here I am, recommending my third museum to you. In all honesty, I didn’t have much interest in visiting Bellas Artes but given the close proximity to my hostel (Hostal Forestal) and the fact that I had time to kill, I thought why not!
While there is a great selection of artwork on display (including some particularly disturbing exhibitions at the time of my visit), what’s more impressive is the building that houses the collections – especially the gorgeous glass-ceiling!
There were tonnes of places/areas that I ended up walking through/visiting time and time again. Santiago is made up of many different neighborhoods with Bellavista, Lastarria and Barrio Italia being my favourites.
Make sure you spend plenty of time pottering through your favourite neighborhoods stopping to enjoy all of the cute shops, cafes and bars along the way!
Santiago benefits from being surrounded by some equally incredible destinations. In a day trip, you could visit nearby Valpariso or Vina Del Mar (although arguably both destinations are worthy of more time than just a day). Santiago is encompassed by the Andes, so there are plenty of beautiful mountainous areas to explore too!
For destinations somewhat further afield, hop across the Argentinean border to Mendoza to sample incredible wines. Within Chile, head North to explore the Atacama Desert or South for the beautiful region of Patagonia.
Arguably the creme de la creme of “nearby” destinations is Easter Island. Santiago is one of two places (the other being Tahiti) that flies to Easter Island, so if you’re in the neighborhood already, it’s definitely worth extending your trip!
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