Santiago is definitely not the most beautiful city in South America, but its unusual charm starts to grow on you once you have a view of the Cordillera, once you set foot on the San Cristobal hill or once you start discovering its many secrets.
The first building I saw was the Central Station. There were many many people in a hurry, so it was a bit intimidating. But after getting over the first impression, I started discovering Santiago little by little and I began to feel like home. For over three months this was my home, and from all the cities I`ve visited in America it was the one that reminded me most of my home town, Bucharest.
Dont`t miss out on these thing while in Santiago!
A. STREETS AND NEIGHBOURHOODS
A lovely neighborhood where you can wonder the streets, admire the street art, relax in small intimate squares and visit several museums. Plaza Brasil is the perfect place for eating, partying or enjoying a football match.
This colorful neighborhood is known for the street art. At night things tend to get a bit crazy as this is the official party district.
Las Condes & Providencia
The business center offers some good examples of contemporary architecture. The Costanera Center (300m) is the highest building in Latin America and the second tallest building in the Southern hemisphere, which is amazing given the fact that Chile is severely affected by earthquakes.
Barrio Paris – Londres
Bohemian streets paved with cobblestone that start from the Colonial Museum.
The city center spreads along the Alameda boulevard, which is nowadays named Avenida Libertador Bernardo O`Higgins.
The central area starts from the Moneda Palace, follows the main boulevard up to the Santa Lucia Hill and goes North to the Plaza de Armas . Many old churches can be admired, as well as imposing institutions and elegant mansions.
The Moneda Palace is the presidential palace. The name remembers that coins used to be produced here between 1814 and 1929. Is is in here that the former president Allende was killed in the 1973 military coup.
The oldest building in Santiago is the San Francisco church. The original construction ended in 1613, but the church has been rebuild several times afterwards.
The Plaza de Armas is the center point of the historical city. It is also the place where you can visit the History Museum.
The streets in the city center offer interesting examples of colonial architecture. So go discover Monjitas, Agustinas, San Antonio and Bandera.
Paseo Huerfanos is the ideal street for shopping and for admiring street performers. Unfortunately, after 10 o`clock it gets kind of shady.
More info about museums, galleries and cultural centers in this older post:
C. SHOPPING & FAIRS
Chileans are crazy for shopping, whether it`s a flea market or expensive stores.
I was surprised to notice that during week-ends people go for walks in the malls and not in parks. So if you happen to pass through a shopping center on a Saturday or Sunday it will be almost impossible to move or to buy something as the places are overcrowded with people.
However, compared to other south-american cities, Santiago lacks the doze of authentic souvenirs. You can find genuine creations in the south of the country, but be prepared to pay a pretty penny.
Santa Lucia Artizans` Market
This permanent fair is located right across the street from the Santa Lucia hill. You can find some authentic products, such as hand-knitted ponchos and accessories, or hand-made instruments, but most stores sell kitchy souvenirs.
This huge flea-market is the ideal place to find practically anything you want. Their motto is “Name it and we have it”, so you can find anything you think of in here. Beware of pickpockets.
These are tricky to find if you`re new in town because these fairs just appear over night and then disappear as if nothing happened. I once spent one hour looking for a food market in a pretty small perimeter.
There is a big event in the Yungay neighborhood and in the Forestal Park, but aside from these popular events you have to ask around.
I don`t enjoy visiting shopping malls, but I believe that the Costanera Center is worth a visit. It`s not everyday you get to visit the tallest skyscraper in South America.
Having a 6435 Km long coastline, in Chile it is always easy to get seafood. For the ones who are dying to try oceanic fish, shellfish and other seafood specialties, the Central Market is the place to be. Whether you feel like eating at one of the many restaurants, browsing for fresh products or watching the skilled vendors, this market will make an impression on you.
Located across the river from the Central Market, in Tirso Molina you`ll find fruits and vegetables at the first floor and cheap restaurants with typical dishes upstairs.
La Vega Central
These markets are basically arranged in a straight line (Mercado Central – Tirso Molina – Vega Chica – Vega Central). La Vega Central is the cheapest and the largest of them. In here you can find all sorts of products, from fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, dry fruits and dairy.
D. PARKS AND NATURE
Santa Lucia (629m)
The hill located in the center of Santiago is a remnant of a volcano. It is decorated with statues, forts and fountains. From here you can admire the city and the San Cristobal hill. However, it can be dangerous, especially after dark.
The hill played a key role in the Spanish Conquista as it was being used as a lookout.
Cerro San Cristobal (863m)
To get a better view of the mountains and the city you just have to climb the San Cristobal Hill. You can go there by car, bike, walking or hiking.
Located on the top of the hill, the statue of the Immaculate Conception guards the city. It can be seen from afar due to its height (14m).
The Andes have an amazing effect over the way we perceive the city. Sometimes you find yourself walking through a dull neighborhood and all of a sudden you see the Andes at the end of a street and the colors around you just seem to change. It also helps a lot with orientation.
Unfortunately, pollution sometimes dims the colors of the mountains, so it`s best to admire the landscape right after the sunset or after the rain. You`ll be amazed!
E. STREET ART
More about street art in this earlier post:
I believe that there`s a party animal hiding even in the most peaceful Chileans. Just go to any bar and watch how decent looking people wearing business clothes transform after a few drinks.
Barrio Brasil and Barrio Bellavista offer the most options for drinking, eating, dancing and chilling, so these are definitely the places to be if you`re new in town. If you have friends in Santiago, ask them to take you to a less touristic place, there are many hidden bars and a rich underground culture.
This is one of the oldest bars in Santiago as it opened its doors in 1896. It was originally the hangout place for people with low incomes, but it`s becoming more and more popular among tourists, hence the high prices. Even if it`s located in a bad neighborhood, at least five presidents have passe
oors and it`s been the favorite place of famous artists, such as Pablo Neruda.
“Terremoto” is Spanish for earthquake, but for Chileans it`s the name of a surprising drink made of white wine, pineapple icecream, granadina and fernet. It may not seem strong at the first sips, but eventually it will make you dizzy and it will give you a hangover the next day, so don`t exaggerate!
This Mexican recipe is very popular in Chile, but they make it a bit differently. Just add lime juice to your beer and spread salt on the top of the glass like you would do with tequila and you get a completely different taste!
This is originally a Peruvian recipe, but it has become the national drink that can be found literally anywhere. To get the sour effect just add lime juice.
Chilean wines are world-wide famous and taste delicious. Chile is the fifth largest exporter of wines in the world, and the ninth largest producer, so if you have time to spare while in Santiago you can go visit the vineyards close to the city