Santiago, also known as Santiago de Chile, is Chile’s biggest city and capital. More than six million people make it one of the most populated cities in Latin America. In recent years, Santiago has become an extremely prosperous city with more and more tourists either directly landing here or passing through and stopping over on their way to other nearby popular destinations in the region. In addition to Santiago, Chile has amazing places to offer and with Santiago as your base, you could spend days, if not weeks, exploring amazing sites like no where else on earth.
- 1 How to Get to the Central Part of Santiago?
- 2 What to See in Santiago?
- 3 Where to Sleep in Santiago?
How to Get to the Central Part of Santiago?
After landing at the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport you can get to the city in a few different ways.
Bus and metro
This is the cheapest way to get to the central part of the city. The trip lasts about 45-50 minutes depending on traffic. The Centropuerto company conducts regular trips that cost CLP 1900 (≈ €2.54) one way or CLP 3400 (≈ €4.55) for a round trip. You can pay cash in local currency or by credit/debit card. The last bus stop is Los Héroes, from where you can get the metro to Plaza de Armas or walk the remaining distance in about 20 minutes.
Sadly there is still no direct metro to the airport, but with the fast tempo of development, I am convinced that in only a few years this will be an option. The metro has one peculiarity, you can use it only if you have a Bip card. They are sold in ticket machines or by employees at every metro station for CLP 1550 (≈ €2.05). The minimum amount to charge the card with is CHL 1000. It can be used in the metro network, as well as for the bus network where paying in cash is not accepted. The metro tickets cost CLP 800 (≈ €1) during rush hour and CLP 720 (≈ €0.92) during the rest of the time. The card can be used by more than one person, so you would just need to scan it twice.
During the end of your stay in Santiago it is recommendable to have less money on your card, because you might not be able to get a refund of your balance. The rest of the amount expires in two years.
Transfer Delfos and TransVip offer shared and private transport services. The first one offers a 10% discount, if you book online. Prices are determined by the type of the travel vehicle. Both websites are available only in Spanish, but if you cannot manage that, you can book at the airport.
Travelling by taxi from the airport to the city usually takes about 25-30 minutes according to traffic and prices vary from CLP 12 000 (≈ €16) to CLP 30 000 (≈ €40) depending on the cab company and the final destination. You have the possibility of booking a private taxi as well, which has a fixed price to different areas.
Renting a Car
Depending on your preferences and time schedule, you have the option of renting a car, of course, but it’s better if you know at least a little bit of Spanish.
What to See in Santiago?
I spent exactly two days in Santiago and this was completely enough to see the majority of the main landmarks: historical center, San Cristobal and Santa Lucía Hill, as well as South America’s tallest tower – Gran Torre Santiago.
Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is the most famous square in Santiago and center of public life, founded in the distant year of 1541. It is surrounded by a cathedral and a series of historical buildings, including one of the most beautiful ones – Correo Central de Santiago.
If you would like to feel the pulse and rhythm of the city, you just need to sit on a bench and watch how people walk, play chess, and listen to street performers or children having fun at the fountain. Be careful, because nowadays the square has transformed into a kind of transient hub, and has the typical petty crime elements found in such areas.
La Vega Mercado
La Vega Mercado is one of the most interesting and lively places in the city. Here, over 10 000 people work in local businesses every day. This market is the place where locals like to shop, not really for tourists like the central market. You can walk here without a care and have a look at all of the products. There are also small restaurants where you can try delicious authentic cuisine.
The market is vivid with so many colors, products, smells and sounds. They sell fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, olives, nuts and many other staples at affordable prices. I highly recommend visiting it, especially in the morning. Take your time to soak in the chaotic atmosphere, while mingling with the locals.
The Barrio Yungay district in Santiago is located west from the city center. It is very attractive and interesting for tourists, because of its distinguished architecture and historical past, as well as being one of the oldest living quarters in Santiago.
The fastest way of getting to this area is by metro at the Quinta Normal metro station. You can start your walk from the park of the same name. Also, this is where the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is located; it covers the long dictatorship of Chile under the rule of Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990. The entrance is free, but sadly all signs are in Spanish.
In this culturally rich area, you can visit many other museums, a library, and many cafes, restaurants and bars. One remarkable restaurant is Peluquería Francesa. The design is colorful and the food amazing. Besides having a great meal there, right next to it you can visit the oldest barber shop in Santiago, which has been carrying the same name and traditions for generations.
If you prefer to spend your time outdoors you can take a walk around the area’s small streets, which are beautifully coloured with street art and graffiti. It is definitely worth spending a few hours in this eclectic area.
San Cristobal Hill
San Cristobal Hill is a great place, if you would like to get a good overview of Santiago. In clear weather, from the top of the hill, you can see nearly all of Santiago, with the pictureesque Andes in the background. Though often the city is currently covered in smog, but the municipality is making an effort to correct this by working to reduce harmful emissions.
You can get to the top using a cabin lift and get down using a funicular (Teleférico + Funicular Santiago), as well as on foot or by bike. At the top, you will see a statue of the Virgin Mary poised above a beautiful chapel at 863 metres above sea level. At the base of the statue, there is an amphitheater for carrying out religious ceremonies.
There is also a zoo, which was unfortunately closed when I visited.
Santa Lucía Hill
This hill is located at the Barrio Lastarria area – a very short distance from the central square of Plaza de Armas. You can go to the top and enjoy the 360 degree view or to have a picnic, as many locals do. There are very shady, pleasant gardens along the way up and places to sit if you would like to rest. From one side of the hill there is a charming fountain called Fuente Neptuno.
The entrance is free, which is a great option for anyone looking to visit this historical place.
Also good to know, is that near the hill, on the other side of Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins, there is a small market where you can get souvenirs at a good price.
Gran Torre Santiago
Gran Torre Santiago towers high above the city and can be seen from almost any point. It is 300 metres tall and part of the Costanera Center complex, which includes the biggest mall in South America. Gran Torre offers a viewing platform, called Sky Costanera, which offers a 360 degree view of Santiago. The platform is open from Monday to Sunday from 10:00 to 22:00, and the admission price is CLP 15000 (€ 19.10)
Where to Sleep in Santiago?
As it is the capital, Santiago offers a variety of accommodation options – from low budget hostels to luxurious hotels. Naturally, selecting a place to sleep is completely up to you and what kind of tourist you are – if you would like to dive into the lively urban environment or you prefer a quiet relaxing place.
Solace Hotel Santiago
Solace Santiago offers a seasonally open pool with an amazing view of the city. This is one of the most contemporary boutique hotels in Santiago. It is located close to the highest building in Latin America – Gran Torre. The location is great, in a charming area, with easy access to the metro, as well as having many bars and restaurants in the vicinity.
Plaza de Armas Hostel
If on a budget, and you have some time to spare in Santiago, it is better to stay in the central part. Plaza de Armas is a low budget hostel with a lively youthful atmosphere. It is located in the heart of Santiago on the main square. The hostel is housed in an old historical building from 1869. You can meet new people and enjoy the most spectacular view in Santiago during the sunset or sunrise. This hostel offers common as well as double rooms.