Santiago is often a transit city for travellers to Chile. We understand the desire to quickly reach destinations like Patagonia, San Pedro de Atacama, Chiloe, or Puerto Varas, however, before you take off for Chile’s further afield spots, consider spending a few days in its capital city. You’ll not only have the opportunity to take advantage of Santiago’s ideal position near the Andean Mountains, coast, and wine regions, but you’ll also gain a better understanding of Chilean history along the way.
Curious as to what you’ll find in Santiago? Here are a few of our top experiences.
1. Climb (or ride) to the top of Cerro San Cristobal (San Cristobal Hill)
For an excellent orientation of the city and appreciation of its position geographically, get your heart pumping by hiking to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. At 500m (1,640 ft) above the city, you’ll have a great view of life below with the Andean Mountains as a backdrop. You’ll find locals taking a break and enjoying the view after a long bike ride or walk up. If you’re short on time or wish to conserve your energy, you can also ride the funicular to the top.
Alternative View: Hike to the top of Cerro Santa Lucia for another excellent vista.
2. Get lost in the piles of fruit and vegetables at La Vega Market
One of the first things we always do when we arrive in a new city is head to its fresh market. This not only allows us to gain better understanding of the local cuisine, but it provides an opportunity to engage with local vendors and pick up a few local food recommendations.
La Vega Market is Santiago’s biggest market, so it’s easy to get lost in all of its aisles and alleyways. Don’t be deterred. Instead, get amongst the piles of artichokes, vats of pickled vegetables, heaps of avocados, and more. This is our definition of colourful, local fun.
3. Take a quiet walk through the Cementerio General (General Cemetery)
It may sound odd to visit a cemetery, but when a friend in Santiago took us there we understood why she suggested it. Given its vastness and atmosphere, the Cementario General feels almost like its own city, filled with statues, gardens, elaborate mausoleums, and hidden corners. And as you walk amongst it all, you begin to gain a better feel for Chile’s artistic and socio-economic classes over the centuries. Not to mention, the setting provides a remarkably peaceful and green place to be… and reflect.
4. Eat a completo
During our travels throughout South America, we continually heard locals and past visitors rave about the Chilean “completo.” First, you must momentarily place any prejudice against hot dogs aside. A completo is really, truly so much more than just a hot dog. As its name suggests, the completo has everything to do with all of the toppings and variations available.
So while this completo Italiano (with avocado, mayonnaise and tomato to represent the colours of the Italian flag) may not qualify as fine dining, it delivered an oh-so-satisfying street eating experience. In our book, Chile wins the prize for best hot dogs in South America, a contest with scores of contenders.
5. Visit Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights)
Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights is a relatively new museum that seeks to provide historical transparency and visibility to the human rights violations and murders committed between 1973 and 1990 under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Understanding a country’s past — in this case, so surprisingly recent — is essential to understanding its present. Moreover, how a country chooses to present its troubled past and invite discussion about it is even more telling.
6. Go wine tasting… in the city, or in nearby Maipo Valley
If you have an interest in learning about and tasting Chilean wine, Santiago is an excellent place to begin for an overview. The Maipo and Casablanca Valleys, some of the country’s best wine regions, are located just outside the city. During our visit we zip-lined through the forest, tasted wine at Vina La Montana, and then took in an eye-opening lesson in bio-dynamic winemaking at Antiyal Winery.
However, if you don’t have a car you might want to consider booking a wine tour to visit a few wineries in the region like this or this. Or, if you don’t want to travel that far, there are even some wineries — like Cousiño Macul or Santa Carolina — located inside the city limits that are accessible by metro.
7. Take a day trip to Valparaiso and enjoy its street art scene
There is certainly enough in Valparaiso (a coastal port city a couple hours from Santiago) to take up more than a few days. However, if you only have limited time as we did, even a day trip is worth the effort. Valparaiso has a certain creative energy to it — one part gritty from its past as a port city, another part effervescent artistry evident in its urban revival.
One of the best ways we found to enjoy and understand Valparaiso was through its street art. This form of welcome public creative expression is taken seriously and is supported by both local businesses and government. And as anywhere in the world, graffiti in Valparaiso comes bearing political, environmental, and societal messages that can help you grasp the outlook of the city and its people at a pivotal time in their development.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Chile encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.