When compared to Santiago’s nearby counterparts (the likes of Rio De Janerio, Buenos Aries, Cusco etc.), Santiago doesn’t get half the attention that it deserves.
When researching my three month trip backpacking through South America, nobody appeared to gush about Santiago. On the other hand, nobody seemed to slate it either, so I came to the assumption that it would be an average city leaving me wondering “is Santiago worth visiting?!”
It turns out that I couldn’t be more wrong. Arriving in Santiago was the perfect way to begin my trip! So here’s a list of reasons why I LOVED the city and why you should visit Santiago ASAP!
If you are taking an extended trip through South America, Santiago is a great place to start as it is far more “Western-ised” than other destinations on the continent – and therefore it’s a great place to ease yourself into the South American lifestyle!
Alternatively, I know travellers that have reached Santiago mid-way through their South American adventures who have enjoyed the city as it provides a break from the hustle and bustle of other Latin American destinations. In Summary, it doesn’t matter when you visit during an extended trip in South America, the European influences will win you over.
While I highly recommend learning some basic Spanish before visiting South America, you will find far more people that speak English in a city like Santiago than elsewhere in South America. For that reason, Santiago is often referred to as “South America Lite” on the backpacker trail!
Related: Read my full 3 month South America backpacking itinerary here!
Lots of cities are abundant with stray dogs but none are quite like Santiago, where you’ll notice that all of the dogs are friendly, well-fed and clean. There’s one simple reason for it – the communities looks after the pooches! A tour guide even told me that you might be lucky enough to see a stray dog wearing a raincoat in Winter… please excuse me while I book a trip to Santiago in Winter!
Wooden kennels are commonplace in Santiago’s parks and the dogs love to find groups of humans to mingle with for a while. On every walking tour that I took in Santiago, the group had a dog tag-along for a while! Surely this is a good enough reason to visit Santiago alone!
What’s more fascinating is they appear to know how to use zebra crossings and the metro!? Although maybe that’s just good timing/a coincidence on their part…
Santiago is a city of two parts – of course there are plenty of urban jungle areas to explore but there are also acres of parkland too.
I spent a significant amount of time in Santiago compared to other cities in South America. While this was partly due to the fact that I was waiting for my flight to Easter Island, in the end it was because I loved the city so much!
With lots of spare time, I often found myself laying in one of the many parks reading a book with a ice cream – absolute bliss! This reminded me of the many parks of London – but with much much better weather of course!
Large cities aren’t everyone’s cup of tea (an opinion I began to adopt towards the end of my 3 month trip!), so the proximity to some incredible other destinations is what makes Santiago so special.
Santiago is one of two destinations (the other being Tahiti) where you can catch a flight to Easter Island – one of the world’s most remote and mysterious islands. If you have the time and spare cash, that trip is definitely worth taking!
Related: read my complete Easter Island itinerary here!
Two less rural choices would be the popular seaside towns of Valparaíso (where you can get lost in the winding streets to find some incredible street art) and Viña Del Mar (where you can relax on the beach or explore affluent neighbourhoods). Both destinations are less than 1.5 hour away by bus and can be done in day-trips from the Santiago if you are short on time.
Related: read about how to take a day trip to Valparaíso and all of the things to see and do here!
On the way to Vina Del Mar, you’ll find Reñaca & Concón which are much smaller beach towns if you are looking for the ultimate place to relax.
If you are looking for scenery, then Cajón del Maipo is the place for you! Around an hour away from Santiago, this enormous gorge perfect for picnics, hiking and hot springs.
For more adventure, in less than 3 hours (by public transport) you can head to El Colorado or Valle Nevado ski centers between June and October to hit the ski slopes.
After hiking and skiing, you may as well treat yourself to some wine – head out to the Chilean wine region for a taster session. Or if you have more time to spare, take an 8 hour bus ride across the Argentinian border to Mendoza for even more wine!
If you’re looking to head further afield, there’s plenty to choose from! Head North and you will find San Pedro De Atacama (home of the worlds driest desert – The Atacama Desert) which can be reached by a 2 hour flight to Calma and then 1 hour shuttle bus. Alternatively, head South and enjoy the glory of Patagonia (something I wish I had the time to see)!
Related: Read my ultimate guide to San Pedro De Atacama here!
Not only did I stay in one of my favourite hostels in Santiago (Hostal Forestal) where I met tonnes of great people, the social scene in Santiago is one of the best!
The Bellavista region of the city is filled with great bars and restaurants but remember that the Chileans don’t eat dinner until around 10pm and the bars don’t fill up until much later – something my insane jetlag struggled to cope with!
Yes, Santiago has lovely dogs and a great social scene, but my interest in the city is much deeper than this. I highly recommend Tips4Tours’ free walking tour to learn about the history and culture of the city. From the 1973 military coup to the crazy traditions and burial plots of the Chilean people – there’s something for everyone!
Chile and Peru will both claim that they make the best Pisco Sour and that the drink originated from their country. While I don’t have the inclination to research the roots of the drink and come to a conclusion on it’s true origin, it would be rude not to test the delicious cocktails in both countries! It’s “research” after all!
And if you don’t fancy a Pisco Sour, Chile is famous for it’s “terremoto” (a.k.a. earthquake) cocktail which I highly recommend. Made with a sweet white wine and pineapple ice cream – what’s not to love! A terremoto is normally served in a 1 litre jug and is followed up by a half litre glass known as the “aftershock”!
Quite frankly, there’s so much that you can see and do in Santiago that you would be here for days if I listed them all here; but don’t fear – you can read all about it here!
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