Santiago, Chile may not be the world’s most beautiful city. It’s not the ugliest, either. It’s got its fair share of fun things to do and cool things to see, but Santiago is a city where people live, work and play. It’s not necessarily built for tourism, but there’s a lot of things to do and see there as a tourist, if you know where to look.
Many folks build a trip to Santiago, Chile on their way to Easter Island, other parts of mainland Chile like Valparaiso, or Mendoza, Argentina. It has many direct flights from U.S. and other international cities, and is one of the capitals of South America. I submit that it’s definitely worth seeing, rather than just passing through, after being there a handful of times.
Our most recent trip to Santiago had us there for three days, which is the perfect amount of time to see the sights and enjoy the city.
The Best of Santiago, Chile in 3 days
Tours 4 Tips Free Walking Tour
This time around, we opted to take a tour with Tours 4 Tips, which was awesome! We did the Santiago Offbeat Tour. Our guide was fantastic, and the group was mainly people around our age, but there was definitely a range. We hit some of the top sights of the city that we wanted to see. We also got great background on the tumultuous political past of the country, much of which is not taught in U.S. schools (or is more than a paragraph or two in our history books).
Our tour highlighted three of the main markets in the city, including the Mercado Central and La Vega Central. We also saw the Posada del Corregidor, one of the oldest buildings in the city, dating back to the 18th century.
Then we took the metro and headed up to the enormous cemetery (Recoleta or Cementerio General de Santiago) and learned all about the political history of Chile, seeing the grave sites and mausoleums of famous Chileans and learning about some folklore legends, too.
Our tour concluded in a bar where we had the infamous Terremoto drink. Which was sugary, tart, and disgusting. The idea is, you drink a terremoto and stand up, and the ground feels like it’s shaking, because it’s so strong.
La Moneda private Tour
Other than our walking tour, our awesome friend Sarah organized for us to take a private tour of La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, which was incredible. La Moneda originally was the federal mint, so that’s how it got its name (moneda = coins). The president herself (Michelle Bachelet) was there, although we didn’t see her.
They also do the changing of the guard at La Moneda – check the schedules before you go!
Exploring on Our Own
Luke, Lindsey and Sarah headed up to Cerro San Cristobal for sunset via funicular,while I had a glass or two of wine at Barrica 94 in Patio Bellavista. This was after I got pooped on by a bird, so I needed a little break. On their way down, they ended up in darkness walking through a rough neighborhood, so I don’t think they’d do that again.
We also hiked up the Cerro Santa Lucia, a free, somewhat easy hike up to a castle/fort up top, with good views of the city. Spoiler alert: There’s not much to see if you go up for views – again, not a very pretty city overall. So, one of these two is worth doing and that’s about it!
It’s definitely worth a visit to the Plaza de Armas and the Metropolitan Cathedral, too. We happened to visit the Cathedral during services, so we quietly and respectfully walked around the aisles and explored.
Someone even brought their dog to church.
Eat and Drink
Finally, Santiago has amazing places to eat and drink, and two of our favorite neighborhoods to find some food and booze are Barrio Bellavista (the Patio Bellavista is a culinary wonderland!) and Bellas Artes/Barrio Lastarria.
I’ll be writing separate reviews of the restaurants we visited, so sit tight and stay tuned for more!
Local specialties include machas a la parmesana (surf clams with parmesan cheese), caldillo de congrejo (conger eel stew), and ceviche. Quinoa was EVERYWHERE, so vegetarians should be able to find a decent option wherever you may roam.
To drink, get a pisco sour or an amazing Chilean wine!
The Metro is safe and covers a lot of the city. It’s clean, easy to use, and inexpensive. Definitely use it over taxis if and when possible, but be sure to be mindful of your stuff!
They use Uber here! Definitely use Uber if you can – more dependable than trying to hail taxis, and we had an issue trying to get to the airport in the morning from our hotel. Apparently we were supposed to tell them the night before that we needed a taxi early. Already running a bit late, we didn’t have 25 minutes that they said it would take for a taxi to come. This is when I discovered that they have Uber in Santiago, Chile. It was our savior! Also, apparently all the Ubers are white here.
We stayed one night in Hotel Altiplanico Bellas Artes, which was a great value and great location.
A modern hotel not far from the great restaurants in Barrio Lastarria, the rooms were large and the breakfast was good. The staff were just okay, but that’s fine.
The other two nights, we stayed in a fantastic 3-bedroom apartment we found on AirBnB, right in the middle of everything on San Isidro. Here’s the listing, which I’d definitely recommend for a small group traveling together. The only con was that there’s only one shower, which was a bit tricky. Otherwise, the location was great, there was in-unit laundry and plenty of space.
Cozy and newly remodeled apartment
Cosy newly remodeled apartment located in a building of the 60s, with a prime location just steps from the main line of the Santiago Metro. Located in the historic center of the city, just opposite…
My personal preference is to fly LAN (or LATAM as it’s also known) from the U.S. – American Airlines’ planes that fly to and from South America are older and are seriously sub-par. LAN flies direct to Santiago from New York, Miami, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. Please note that I get nothing from them to say this – I just like LAN and I try to fly American if I can, so earning miles on OneWorld partners is great for my miles balance!
Have you been to Santiago, Chile? Any must-sees that I’ve missed? Leave a comment and let me know!