From the vibrant markets of the Recoleta commune to the lively nightlife and curious street art of Bellavista, Santiago promises colorful and rich cultural experiences in each of its distinctive neighborhoods. Glaciers, hot springs, wildlife and stunning views of the Andes Mountains, which border the Santiago to the east, are accessible through short day hikes from the city. If you need more information about visiting Santiago, you can find some good tips here.
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Over 7 million people live in Chile’s capital city, Santiago, located centrally with the Andes Mountains to the west and 100 kilometers east of the Pacific coastline. The country’s economic growth in recent decades has led to the development of the affluent neighborhoods of Providencia and Las Condes, which encompasses a region nicknamed “Sanhattan” due to its many high-rises. However, Chile also maintains a high level of income inequality, and its downtown and southern neighborhoods reflect Santiago’s tumultuous history and its rich modern culture.
Several indigenous groups practiced agriculture in the Santiago region prior to the Inca Empire’s conquest of the territory in the 15th century. Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago in 1541 at the base of Cerro Santa Lucia. He named the city “Santiago del Nuevo Extremo” after the military protector of Spain and Saint James, the the Patron Saint of Spain. The blend of European and indigenous lifeways, coupled with natural phenomena and political and economic developments, has shaped the landscape of the city and molded its unique Latin American culture.
The recent military dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990 has also left its mark on the city and its residents, most of whom had lived through the devastating and divided era. A military coup on September 11, 1973 overthrew the democratically-elected Socialist president, Salvador Allende, who governed in a time of economic decline. The military regime of Pinochet instituted severe social restrictions, suppressed political adversaries and committed egregious human rights abuses, including the torture and murder of thousands of left-leaning Chileans, often referred to as the “disappeared.” However, the country also experienced economic growth in this period that led to greater exchange with the rest of the world. Santiago’s streets bear memoirs of this time, especially reflected in the politically charged and artistically crafted murals of Bellavista, and its residents express varied opinions and experiences.
Today, Santiago is considered the safest capital city in Latin America, and an emerging population of creative youth and influx of immigrants from neighborhood countries and abroad have diversified and beautified the growing region. Santiago locals enjoy tea time and large, three-course lunches. They stay up late and start their mornings leisurely, enjoying a slower pace of life. Locals pack into efficient metro and bus systems to commute around the city, and they shop at major food stores and sprawling city markets with fresh products from throughout South America. Chileans use many slang terms derived from regional indigenous languages, like Quechua and Mapudungun. The Chilean word “huevon” means “friend,” “dude,” or “idiot,” depending on the context of its use. The fusion of diverse heritages and philosophies has led to the constantly evolving, consistently enriching culture of the metropolitan city, Santiago.
The colorful Bohemian neighborhood, Bellavista, exhibits spectacular murals and graffiti on each block, and it is close to many popular destinations, such as the Santiago home of Pablo Neruda and Cerro San Cristobal, which provides an excellent view of the Andes and cityscape below. Hotel Loreto provides close access to these attractions, and it is situated just steps from Patio Bellavista, which includes many restaurants, dessert stands, boutiques and unique gift shops.The Aubrey Hotel was originally built as a family mansion and now offers guests elegant rooms with balconies or open air patios, and it is located next to the lush greenery of the Parque Metropolitano.
For a luxurious experience and impressive views of the Andes, stay in one of the many high-rises in the Las Condes neighborhood, situated in the upper east side of the city.Hotel Atton Las Condes is located short walk from the Manquehue metro and Park Arauco, and it provides a comfortable experience for couples and business visitors.
The hotels in the nearby Providencia neighborhood provide close access to lively nightlife. Hotel Don Santiago Providencia affords guests comfortable and quiet rooms in a location walkable to transportation and the bustle of the city. Hotel Bonaparte is situated on a quiet street close to several nice restaurants and boutiques.
Lodge in the Lastarria area to enjoy a hip scene with many upscale Chilean restaurants and wine bars featuring selections from local vineyards. Lastarria Boutique Hotel is offers guests a posh experience in a stone rowing house built in the 1927, and it is walking distance from the Bellas Artes metro station and several sightseeing attractions.
Stay in the downtown area to walk to other attractions, like La Moneda Palace, Plaza de Armas and various museums. However, cheap and efficient transportation systems in the city make these sites easily accessible from any region.
Santiago is situated in the southern hemisphere, so it experiences cooler temperatures from May to September and warmer temperatures from October to April. Although its winters are not particularly harsh — only rarely dropping below 40 F — the best time to visit is in the spring (mid-September to November) and fall (March through May) to enjoy pleasant temperatures, smaller crowds and lower flight prices. Temperatures usually remain around 70 F during these months. In January and February, Santiago locals flood from the city to the beaches. These are also the hottest months in the region, with temperatures reaching 90 F of dry heat. To engage in winter sports in the snow-capped Andes, visit between June and August. Heavy pollution usually clouds the skies during these months, but impressive views of the mountains and city return after rainfall, common during this time as well.
Visit the Mercado Central to sample a variety of fresh seafood imported daily from the coast, supplying hearty dishes with sweet crab, shellfish, mussels, and practically any other creature of the sea one can imagine. (Note that the Mercado Central is one of the only areas of the city where, as a traveler, you will be heavily solicited; it’s OK to ignore the solicitors and pick a place to eat based on your own criteria). La Vega, a market extending several blocks, offers organic produce at ridiculously affordable prices. Enjoy a meal from one of the many restaurants in the cafeteria and feast on portions only a mother would typically serve.
As mentioned earlier, Chileans usually eat smaller breakfasts and dinners with tea. Lunches, usually taken around 2 p.m., typically consist of a soup or salad, an entree and a desert. Make sure to sample empanadas, a cheap snack of baked, flaky bread stuffed with cheese and meat or vegetables. Sopaipilla, deep fried pumpkin bread slathered in mustard, serves as a great snack or dinner. Chilean Chorrillana consists of french fries, meat and eggs, and it is usually served in large portions to be shared with friends.
To most thoroughly tour the city of Santiago and the nearby Andes, plan to spend about a week in the area.
As mentioned above, main attractions in Santiago include:
Information sources we used in addition to our own experience: Welcome Chile, Chile Precolombino and Contact Chile.