Santiago, the largest city and capital of Chile, is the perfect stop if you love a mix of big city and mountains. Spending a few days in Santiago before flying home from Patagonia was an excellent decision on my part, if I do say so myself! The city provided lots of culture and history while nearby destinations like Valparaíso and Maipo Valley provided even more art and adventure. The fact that Santiago had perfect weather of 80’s (Fahrenheit) and sunshine just made it all that much more enjoyable (meanwhile it was snowing back home!).
Santiago is a large city made up of various neighborhoods all with their own “vibe” (you can check out my breakdown of each neighborhood further down). When choosing where to stay, you should consider these factors:
There a few ways to get around in Santiago but my personal favorite was utilizing the public transportation and an occasional Uber/Lyft ride. I loved meeting the local drivers and the metro was so easy to navigate not to mention much cheaper than renting a car.
Our first day in Santiago actually included a full day tour to Valparaîso with Stamps Tour. We booked a couple days before through Viator and had a seamless experience. The tour included pickup and drop off from our hotel, a stop for coffee at a local shop outside of the city, a stop at Viña Del Mar, walking tour of Valparaíso, and a wine tasting at Indomita (Casablanca) on the way home. I will say I don’t usually like tours because I get bored easily and I like the freedom to stop and go as I please. This tour, however, was enjoyable and informative – well worth the price especially if you’d like to avoid renting a car.
Valparaíso is a coastal town with a geopolitical background that influenced much of the architecture. It also boasts colorful buildings on steep inclines that helped deem it the nickname “Little San Francisco.”
Aside from the history, Valparaíso was on my radar because of the street art that covers almost every inch of the town. Ranging from abstract to political commentary, the art mixes with the colorful buildings and brings the whole town to life. It’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage site for this reason.
On the way back to Santiago, we stopped at Indomita Winery located in Casablanca, a region known for its white wines. The tasting was delicious in my opinion, though I don’t consider myself a wine connoisseur. The winery itself was beautiful. Chile has a booming wine scene with so many wineries just outside of Santiago – combining a wine tasting with Valparaíso is a great option if you don’t want to spend a whole day doing tastings.
If you google “what to do in Santiago” some of the main attractions that will pop up are the historical sites like Plaza de Armas and the metropolitan park which are all worth a visit; however, I like to see the parts of a city that are known for food and/or atmosphere. I’ve outlined the main areas we visited while in Santiago along with notes on some of the more touristy areas.
Santiago’s Manhattan (aka “Sanhattan”) – It definitely has that hustle & bustle feel familiar with any city business districts. You can check out the massive nearby mall or see the sky scraper buildings like the Gran Torre, the tallest building in South America.
I would consider this neighborhood slightly out of the way. Most all of the places we wanted to see were further east and we were a 10 minute walk to the nearest subway station. I can’t recommend this area because we really didn’t find much to do or see here but it had the nicest hotels for the lowest price when I was booking.
Our hotel concierge helped us map out a plan which included a stop at Barrio Bellavista. It’s a cute area with lots of restaurants, bars and some shops. It’s a younger crowd, being close to the university, but I enjoyed the energy. Imagine a nice outdoor “mall” with trendy restaurants. We went for lunch and got some tasty Mexican food but easily could’ve spent the evening hopping around to each place.
Probably my favorite area to visit mostly because of the “ambiance.” Our concierge described it as the most European influenced neighborhood which I would agree with. Cobblestone streets, string lights, flowers, street vendors, I was all about it. We stopped here for dinner and browsed through some of the shops.
If you are a history buff you should add Plaza de Armas to your list of places to visit. There were lots of walking tours passing through this area along with street performers. If you’re like me and less likely to appreciate historical landmarks when you’re tired and hungry, you could afford to miss this area. I went, I saw (googled some history facts to better understand the significance), I left and got ice cream.
A historical market built in the 1870’s mostly selling seafood. It was interesting to walk around but we got there later in the day when most of the stands were getting hosed down. Needless to say, we didn’t get anything to eat. I would recommend getting there earlier in the day, before noon, if you wanted the full experience including a seafood brunch!
This park is a serene, green refuge from the city and also has a cable car to one of the best 360 views of Santiago, San Cristobal. The government workers were on strike when we were in Chile which meant the cable car was shut down. After our week in Patagonia, we were not prepared for a hike to see San Cristobal so we skipped it. I’d recommend going to the top if you can, though; the views make for great pictures.
While I love visiting new cities, my true passion is seeing more of the natural world. I can’t get enough of mountains, lakes, oceans, deserts, etc. With the Andes Mountains being so close to Santiago, we had to take the opportunity and explore.
Being “young and spontaneous”, we rented a large sport bike to comfortably seat both of us and some belongings for a 2-3 hour trip to Cajón del Maipo. The bike had a phone holder for GPS and was easy to handle. The rental shop dressed us in hard padded jackets, gloves, and helmets; we had a few practice rides around the block and we were on our way.
The ride was surprisingly smooth and of course beautiful. The city was no sweat (actually there was so much sweat, so sweaty, sun + car fumes + engine heat, and sitting in traffic, oof). Once we got to Maipo Valley, the views were incredible. We stopped at Cajón Del Maipo and Embalse El Yeso.
Embalse El Yeso is a reservoir in the Andes that attracts a good amount of tourists. Part of the road gets very narrow and steep going along the reservoir. At one point we were told to turn around and go back – there was a crew working to pull a car out that had fallen off the road onto the rocks below about a week before. That was enough for me and I was ready to leave. We grabbed some pizza at a small shop in San José de Maipo and headed back to the hotel.
The landscape was so beautiful in Maipo Valley, I’d highly recommend taking a day trip outside of Santiago and exploring the surrounding mountains. There are lots of guided trips to different areas including everything from rock climbing to rafting to wine tasting. Definitely worth it to get out around the Andes.
As always, I’d love to hear about your travel plans, if you’ve been to Santiago or plan to go, what exciting adventure are you planning next?
Happy Travels 🙂