Remarkable, international, buzzing, cultured, offering a view that worth a million, this is Santiago – the Chilean capital that has something to offer to anyone’s taste and preferences.
For those of you, fellow readers, who have never been there, we’ve prepared a detailed guide including everything you need to know about this dynamic megapolis, from best time to visit Santiago to all the must-see and try.
So read on.
Table of Contents
Total area: 641 sq.km (or 247.6 sq.mi)
Elevation: 560 m
Population: 7 million
Time zone: Chile Time (GMT/UTC – 3 hours)
Official language: Spanish (Castellano)
Official currency: Chilean peso (CLP or CH$)
1 USD = 684.596 CLP
1 EUR = 766.195 CLP
Where is Santiago de Chile located?
Source: Google maps
Santiago (meaning “Saint James” in English) is located in the heart of Chile’s Longitudinal Valley – the dent between the Chilean coastal range and the snowy covered Andes.
With a population of almost 7 million, Santiago is the core of the largest and most populated megapolis in Chile, called Santiago Metropolitan region.
A slice of history
Initially, back in 1541, the world-known Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia established ‘Santiago del Nuevo Extremo’ on top of today’s Cerro Santa Lucía.
By the end of the 16th century, the city was just a settlement of fewer than 200 houses.
Santiago later started to obtain the infrastructure of a proper city at the end of the 18th century. This is the time when La Moneda was built.
Until the 19th century, the now-capital was nearly undeveloped with around 30 000 inhabitants. By the mid-19th century, thanks in part to rising exports caused by the Californian gold rush, Santiago grew to more than 100 000 citizens.
Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna became mayor in 1872 and developed much of Santiago’s contemporary infrastructure. Using forced labor, he converted Santa Lucía into the gorgeously landscaped public park that still exists today. Benjamín also commanded the canalization of the Mapocho and the achievement of the impressive Teatro Municipal.
Besides, Santiago de Chile was at the center of the revolution in 1973 that dethroned Salvador Allende, the world’s first democratically chosen Marxist leader. He committed suicide in La Moneda, which experienced heavy damage during the September 11 putsch.
These were, by the way, the darkest days for Santiago which is growing unstoppably since then.
Which air companies fly to Santiago?
If you’re planning a trip to the beautiful Chilean capital, have in mind that the biggest international air companies that operate regularly to Santiago, are British Airways, LATAM Airlines, and KLM.
As a side note, all of them are flying to Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport.
Please note that visitors coming from the US, Canada, Australia, and the EU do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days in Chile.
However, Australian tourists are required to pay the so-called “reciprocity fee” worth of US$ 117 when flying to Chile.
Additional note: As it’s quite touristy, the policemen in Santiago often require identification so make sure your passport is in your bag all the time time.
How to get from the airport to the city center?
Luckily, there are several means of transportation from Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport, also known as Santiago Airport, to the city center of the Chilean capital (which usually takes between 25 and 45 minutes).
To start, there is the well-known Uber and Cabify – an online app that’s similar to Uber, however, it is slightly more costly.
Besides, you can use the regular shuttles that connect the airport with the city center. The most popular companies, Centropuerto and TurBus, are operating in the same price range ( 1700-1800 CLP for a one-way ticket and 2500-2800 CLP for a return ticket).
You can also catch a regular taxi, however, you should be ready to pay something between 13 000 and 35 000 CLP, unless you find people to split the taxi.
In the end, you can rent a car, however, be prepared to spend at least 13 000 CLP per day.
Unfortunately, so far, the metro is not connected to Santiago Airport.
Is Santiago safe to visit?
Generally speaking, YES, Chile is considered as the safest country in Latin America.
However, bear in mind that Santiago is an over-crowded megapolis and there is some low percentage of pickpocketing registered, especially on all bus stations around the city as well as Plaza de Armas, Mercado Central, and Cerro San Cristóbal.
Keep an eye on your personal belongings and try to avoid the small dodgy streets of Barrio Brasil when it gets dark.
Besides, up to date, the chance of terrorist attacks are considered minimal.
When is the best time to go there?
When you are planning a trip to another continent, it is quite normal to consider the price of the flight tickets, however, another essential factor should be your personal interests and hobbies.
So, if you are a fan of the winter sports, such as skiing and snowboarding, plan a visit to Santiago during the winter (between June and August) as these months usually bring snow to the neighboring ski areas.
Additionally, the period between early September and late November is quite warm and sunny so it’s great for sightseeing and chilling in the parks.
Last but not least, the hot summer season (December-February) is famous for multiple street festivals and night celebrations in the Chilean capital. Oops and, yeah – don’t forget about the magnificent beaches around Santiago!
What’s the average daily budget I’ll need? (daily costs)
The daily costs surely depend on each one’s way of traveling, preferences, and financial situation, of course.
However, to help you get a clearer idea about the current standard, we’ve tried to prepare a guide of the daily costs’ division in Santiago:
TRAVELING ON BUDGET (up to CLP 25 000 per day)
A bed in a 6-bed hostel room: 8000–15 000 CLP
Fast food lunch/Empanadas: 2000 CLP
Bike rental: 5000 CLP
DAILY BUDGET ( between 25 000 – 75 000 CLP)
Double room at a guesthouse or hostel: 23 000 – 55 000 CLP
Lunch with fresh fruit juice at a cafe: up to 6 500 CLP
Entrance fee for a museum: free – 4 500 CLP
Taxi (short distance): 3000 – 5000 CLP
DAILY BUDGET MORE THAN 75 000 CLP
Double room in a 4-star hotel: 75 000 – 200 000 CLP
High-end dinner with a glass of wine: 15 000 – 25 000 CLP
Car rental: from 30 000 CLP/per person
Things to do in Santiago
Apart from resting in some of the endless green spaces in Santiago, most popular of which is Cerro San Cristóbal, Parque de las Esculturas, and Parque Bicentenario, or enjoying priceless panoramic views, there are tons of other cool things to do in the Chilean capital.
We will share 10 of them with you.
Eager to learn more? Then the next paragraphs are just for you!
1. Dive in the rich Chilean history
Fan of the history? Keen on learning more about the old centuries, kings and rulers?
Follow our list of significant museums in Santiago so you won’t risk missing anything:
Museo Histórico Nacional
The rich exposition of Museo Histórico Nacional is a true celebration of Chile’s rich colonial and republican history.
Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino
Want to know what was the life in Chile before Christopher Columbus? This museum will help you get a clearer understanding of the country’s native heritage.
Parque por la Paz
This spot tells a painful story about the torture camps during the dictatorship of the now-disbanded DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (meaning ‘National Intelligence Directorate’ in English).
Palacio de la Moneda
Moneda is actually the presidential palace – an ornate neo-classical building with a notable history.
2. Enjoy a cup of top-class Chilean coffee
Even though the local people in Santiago usually opt for tea, the coffee is a timeless classic, without a doubt.
In this sense, there is nothing more rewarding than a cup of fresh Chilean coffee after a long day spent in sightseeing.
The capital city, Santiago, brags with loads of cool, hipster-like coffee houses. Here are some of them:
Colmado (address: Merced 346 patio interior. Barrio Lastarria)
Opening times: Monday – Friday: 9 am – 9 pm / during the weekend: 10 am – 9 pm
Cofi (address: Pedro De Valdivia 0180, Providencia)
Opening times: Monday – Friday: 8 am – 8 pm
Café Cultura (address: Suecia 0130, Providencia)
Opening times: Monday – Friday: 8:30 am – 7:30 pm
Original Green Roasters (address: Avenida Rancagua 040, Providencia)
Opening times: Monday -Friday: 9 am – 9 pm / during the weekend:10 am – 5 pm
3. Go to a theatrical performance
Santiago is an ideal choice of destination for those of you who love going to the theater. In fact, this buzzing megapolis brags with several of them, including:
- Centro Gabriela Mistral (the main venue for contemporary dance and theater)
- NAVE Artists (a strongly experimental art space)
- Municipal de Santiago Chile’s top opera (the name speaks for itself)
- Centro Cultural Matucana (a stage for provocative theater and dance performances, as well as and circus acts from both Chilean and foreign artists) and many more.
4. Appreciate the city view in Plaza de Armas
Right in the heart of Santiago sits the colossal Plaza de Armas. Established back in the first half of the 16th century mainly for gathering religious events, it is now essentially used as a meeting point and a spot for city watching.
Note: That could be the starting point for your sightseeing tour around the Chilean capital.
5. Discover the stunning views from the Costanera Center Tower
Perhaps, this is the first thing you might see once you land in Santiago. Proudly bulging in the city center, with its altitude of 200 m (980 ft), Costanera Tower (or Torre Costanera) is the tallest building in entire South America.
Imagine how stunning is the view from the top?
6. Try some Chilean empanada
This is a must-try!
Usually accompanied by a glass of red Chilean wine, these tasty pastries can be cooked and eaten at any time of year. Moreover, there are sold with various fillings so the vegetarians can also grab a bite.
If you plan to visit Santiago in September, do not skip the Fiestas Patrias – an annual celebration which leads to happy tummy and a couple of extra kilos. 🙂
7. Discover the city’s street art
This is a totally budget-friendly and, yet, cool thing to do while you are in Santiago de Chile.
One of the most famous areas to see loads of sky-high urban murals is at the Museo Cielo Abierto.
Keep in mind that it’s a bit far from the center of the capital, however, it can be easily reached on public transport (get off at Line Two’s departmental stop), or by a rental bike.
8. Go for a paid tour in an authentic winery
Learn about the process of wine-making and the legend of the devil’s cave at the Concha y Toro, the largest producer of wines in entire South America.
Settled just outside of the capital city, Santiago, this authentic winery offers an hour tour, accompanied by a wine tasting session, for about US$ 40 per person.
9. Dive into La Vega Central
La Vega Central is not just an old grocery market. It’s a lively spot with authentic Chilean ingredients, friendly locals, and a whole bunch of napping cats and dogs.
It’s a great place to see the traditional face of Santiago.
10. Climb the steep hills around Santiago
Santiago’s hills that surround the megapolis are part of this place’s charm.
Traveling on a budget? So just pick up a clear day, get your camera and climb either Cerro San Cristobal or/and Cerro Santa Lucia to enjoy the magnificent views of the city.
Note: We do not recommend climbing the hills if the weather is too hot as you might get sunburnt or feel dizzy due to the extreme heat.
Where to stay in Santiago?
We bet the accommodation would be one of your main concerns while planning the trip to Santiago do let us help you with a bunch of great choices compliant with anyone’s budget and preferences.
To start, for those of you traveling on a tight budget, we would recommend Clh Suites Santiago – a nice, modern hostel with a shared kitchen and a simple design, situated pretty much in the city center (address: San Antonio 60, Región Metropolitana, Santiago). It’s quite cheap (the prices vary between US$ 10 – 20/ per night in a shared room.
Following, CasaSur Charming Hotel, dwelled in a tranquil Barrio Italia side street (address: Eduardo Hyatt 527, Santiago), is a great option for families with kids. Moreover, it is just about a 20-minute drive from Santiago International Airport. The price per night varies between US$ 140 – US$ 190 for a double room, including a breakfast.
If you want your privacy, you can also have a look at Altura Suites – a central rental flat (address: Huérfanos 549, Santiago City Centre, 8320148 Santiago) which fits up to three guests. Further, the flat has a fully-equipped kitchenette so you will be able to save money by buying food and drinks from a supermarket. The price per night in the high season ranges between US$ 50 – US$ 60 for the whole apartment.
Lastly, here is something for those of you who don’t have a roof on their budget – Hyatt Centric Las Condes Santiago (address: Enrique Foster 30, Las Condes, 7550163, Santiago) is a 5-star hotel with all kinds of extras, such as terrace garden, a fully-equipped gym, an outdoor swimming pool, and a large lobby, several conferences rooms, and a top-class restaurant.
As you can imagine, the prices here are quite different from the ones we just discussed.
As a reference, the price per night for a double room can go up to US$ 300.
Which are the best places to eat?
One thing you will notice straight away is the Chilean people, in general, are extremely passionate about food. So basically every high-end restaurant, a small bistro, and cafeteria has something to charm you with.
To help you pick up the right places to eat for your personal taste, we have prepared a list of the best spots in Santiago, according to us.
This is an amazing, central wine bar which, along with the premium Chilean wines, has also some dining options that really worth it, such as Pulmay – a traditional dish, a mixture of meat and seafood from the island of Chiloé.
Address: José Victorino Lastarria 276, Santiago, Región Metropolitana
Peumayen Ancestral Food
The menu of this Chilean restaurant is a pure celebration of the pre-colonial cuisine, using mainly rare ingredients and less-known authentic recipes.
Address: 136 Constitucion, Santiago
Tirso De Molina Market
Looking for some “Anthony Bourdain-style” food experience? Then why don’t you visit the second floor of Tirso De Molina Market?
Basically, there are no wrong choices here – everything from the menu is delicious.
Our preferences go to Pastel de Jaiba (casserole of cheesy crab) and Lomo Saltado (a beef and veggie stir fry).
Address: Bandera 301, Santiago, Región Metropolitana
Another 100% authentic Chilean food treasure! Its Plato Centenario (a large plateau of the best meats served with cooked potatoes) literally tells a story!
Address: San Vicente 375, Santiago Centro
This Peruvian-Chilean fusion restaurant is situated in the trendy, hipster neighborhood of Lastarria.
Along with the classic pisco cocktail, this place is offering a wide range of Empanada starters and tasty Plateada (braised beef served on a corn soufflé)
Address: Jose Victorino Lastarria 282, Lastarria Neighborhood, Santiago
Cool annual events in Santiago de Chile
Following the food topic, Ñam is Chile’s greatest food festival that’s taking place annually in Cerro Santa Lucía.
Festival de Jazz de Providencia
This annual, entry-free event is happening for one weekend in January in Parque de las Esculturas and it’s a pure celebration of the jazz music.
Note: If you are in Santiago by this time, pick up free passes from the Fundación Cultural de Providencia and go there early to get a nice spot with a view.
Santiago Festival Internacional de Cine
A cinema-holic? Then visit the Chilean capital between August 18 – 25 and go to Santiago Festival Internacional de Cine. This annual event presents independent films from the country.
Let’s face it – it’s a great way to get to know this Latin American nation better.
Santiago is the first city outside the US that hosts this world-famous music festival.
In 2019, it will happen between Mar 29 – Mar 31 in the usual location – O’Higgins Park in Santiago.
A bunch of extra guidance
In the end, here is a couple of additional help which will make your time in the buzzing Chilean capital smoother and nicer.
Unlike the majority of the South American countries, bargaining is commonly NOT the norm in Chile, including Santiago as well.
Also, before visiting Santiago de Chile, make sure you’ve got enough of the local currency (CH$) as, unlike most of Latin America’s countries, the US dollars are rarely taken.
In general, even it’s a colossal city, locals in Santiago are very open and friendly to strangers. So, it’s good to know that giving and receiving kisses (‘besos’) on the cheek is absolutely normal and 100% accepted.
There are NO particular vaccines you should have before visiting Chile. However, keep in mind that you are not allowed to enter Santiago International Airport with products from animal or plant origin as you might be obliged to pay a penalty fee worth of US$ 300.
Locals are not very punctual so, if you have a meeting with someone, be prepared to wait at least half an hour.
Chilean people are terrible at saying “NO” so if someone tells you “see you soon”, that means he or she won’t text you ever again (of course, these are not 100% of the cases).
The breakfast is not a common practice in the Chilean capital so if your hostel/hotel offers breakfast, we would take the opportunity.
Lunchtime in Chile starts around 2 pm (a bit later than in Europe, eh?)
It’s not a common practice to use the WC of a bar or cafeteria if you are not their customer. The staff might get angry but if it’s too urgent – ask them to pay.
The usual tipping is 10% but nowadays the restaurants are including it in the total of the bill. It’s not a bad idea to leave something extra, however, you are risking to double the tip.
Keep in mind it’s not usual to share a table with strangers if the bar/restaurant is full.
To wrap this up, the Chilean capital is a majestic, lively, multicultural metropolis that loves dazzling its foreign guests. It’s a 100% must-see!
And you? Have you ever been to Santiago? If so, what did you like there most? And the opposite, was there something that disappointed you? Let us know in the comment section below. 🙂