Discover Chile's metropolis on the cusp of finding its cool. Words by Alice Boyd

By Alice Boyd, 8/5/2015

Santiago is a city bursting with potential, where visitors will bear witness to a South American metropolis on the cusp of finding its cool. Long ignored in favour of glamorous Rio de Janeiro or stylish Buenos Aires, recent years have seen Santiago consistently proving it is a worthy international destination in its own right.

Skipping Chile’s capital and largest city would be a grave mistake, as you would miss one of the continent’s most vibrant and dynamic urban centres discovering its very own style and identity. Wander the bohemian streets of Lastarria, sip a Chilean beer with locals on Pio Nono street or indulge in up-and-coming designer wares in Barrio Italia – wherever you go you will find a certain Santiaguino energy unique to this South American capital.

Nestled between the Andes on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, this is a city with one foot in the sea and the other in the snow, making it a delightful place in both winter and summer. Take a day trip to a world-renowned ski resort in the Andes or spend the day by the sea, and be back in one of Santiago’s bustling restaurants in time for dinner.

Exploring Santiago means contrasts – from the greasy fuentes de soda selling cheap fast food to the emerging bar scene where the city’s chic rub shoulders. And it’s these contrasts that make this changing city so interesting. As hard as Santiago may try to copy Europe or the United States, there is something uniquely Latin American about this city of six million, and it’s this clash of worlds and identities that makes the place so enigmatically appealing.

#1 Where To Stay
#2 How To Get Around
#3 What To Pack
#4 The City
#5 The Suburbs
#6 Take A Day Trip Here
#7 Go Here For A Breathtaking View
#8 Take A Hike
#9 Parks And Rec
#10 Where To Eat/Drink At 2am
#11 Where To Shop For Bargains
#12 Eat And Drink Like A Local
#13 Where To Have An Indulgent Night Out
#14 Worth The Hype
#15 Avoid It
#16 Don’t Leave Here Without

Image: alobos Life / Flickr

Where To Stay

If you want to be close to the action, make sure to find digs in edgy Bella Vista or whimsical Lastarria. Both are close to the centre and full of up and coming restaurants and bars. There are always new venues opening, vying for attention in the emerging social centre of the city.

Larger hotel chains tend to be located in the wealthier neighbourhoods of Las Condes and Providencia, closer to the financial district known as Sanhatten. But if you’re looking for something unique you will find it near the heart of the city.

Santiago Centro is busy, dusty, full of fast food joints and can be a little overwhelming, but tucked away just beyond the chaos you will find real gems.

Cheap As Chips

Hostal Forestal, Crnel Santiago Bueras 122, Santiago

The newly renovated Hostal Forestal in Lastarria is located in one of Santiago’s hippest districts, within walking distance from bars, clubs, restaurants and a range of interesting must-see tourist destinations. Rooms are affordable, breakfast is included and the friendly team will make you feel right at home.

Prices from: $38/night

Hostal Rio Amazonas, Vicuña Mackenna 47, Providencia

Located near Plaza Italia, right near Baquedano station, this beautiful converted Tudor mansion turned B&B offers comfortable rooms at reasonable rates. All rooms have a private bathroom and the best bit is that you will be in walking distance from the must see parts of town.

Prices from: $60/night


Won’t Break T he Bank

Lastarria Boutique Hotel, Crnel Santiago Bueras 188, Santiago

Lastarria is home to some of Santiago’s most unique architecture and design, and this converted 1920s mansion is the perfect location from which to enjoy it. The Lastarria Boutique Hotel offers chic accommodation just steps away from one of the city’s most popular parks and up the road from some of the best restaurants Santiago has to offer.

Prices from: $220/night

The Aubrey, Constitución 317, Providencia

Eclectically decorated and attentively run, The Aubrey (pictured bel0w) was Santiago’s first real boutique hotel, housed in a refurbished mission style home right in the cultural centre of the city. From the individually styled rooms to the glamorous outdoor pool to the perfect location, this Australian/ English owned gem might just be the best thing about your trip.

Prices from: $250/night


TREAT YOURSELF

The W Hotel,  Isidora Goyenechea 3000, Los Condes

Known for its stylish roof top bar and being frequented by local A-listers, The W Hotel is the place to treat yourself to a sunset cocktail, served with views of the surrounding Andes mountains. Restaurants and bars can be found within walking distance, with easy access to buses, trains and taxis for when you decided to venture further afield.

Prices from: $400/night

Image: Aubrey Hotel / Facebook

How To Get Around

Take The Metro

Santiago has one of South America’s cleanest and most efficient integrated public transport systems. If you plan on spending more than a few days in the city, get yourself a Bip! card, which will allow you to catch any bus or train for 720 pesos (about AU$1.50). The fare allows you to use either a bus or train or both for a period of 90 minutes, meaning you don’t pay twice to use more than one mode of transport. The only downside of the Santiago metro is its non-existent air conditioning system. In the height of summer commuters are sprayed in the face with water to cool off.

Santiago’s metro is packed at rush hour so try avoid peak operating times. You will also be rewarded by cheaper off-peak fares. Metro maps displaying the entire metro system can be found at all stations to help you plan your trip. The bus system is slightly more complicated but you can plan your journey on the Transantiago website.


Ride A Bike

A growing sustainable mobility movement has meant a surge in popularity for bike-riding around the city, with many central neighbourhoods boasting integrated cycle pathways. Santiago is now the proud home to a bike share system, allowing registered members to use one of the 3000 bikes available in 300 stations around the city.

Promotion of bike culture in the city continues with a recent event converting the river bed of the Mapocho into a bike path. The “Yo Vivo Mapocho” (I live Mapocho) event saw thousands of Santiaguinos using bikes, buggies and unicycles to traverse the city.


Take A Taxi

Taking taxis in Santiago is safe and generally quite cheap for short distances, just be sure to request the “taxi meter”. Your driver should not negotiate a price before a ride. A taxi from Providencia to Bella Vista should cost around 3000 to 4000 pesos (about AU$6 to AU$8).

Image: alobos Life / Flickr

What To Pack

Don’t fret if you forget your raincoat, it almost never rains in Santiago. Santiago weather is defined by hot, dry summers that often drag well into April and cool, slightly more humid winters. The variety in the seasons means that visitors can enjoy season specific sports – so don’t forget your equipment.

Chile has a great surf culture and nearby beaches. Reñaca Beach in Viña del Mar (about 90 minutes from Santiago) is perfect for a day trip, while winter offers some of the best skiing in South America. Winter heating can be pretty unreliable unless the buildings are modern so you might want to pack some thermal underwear – just in case you find that it’s colder inside than out.

Ladies visiting in summer: be sure to bring some knee length skirts and cardigans if you don’t want to be hassled. Cat calling in this part of the world can get pretty out of hand and walking through busy streets in minimal attire can lead to unwanted attention.

Summer in Santiago also means non-stop sunshine so don’t forget your sunnies, hat and sunscreen. In winter you will need layers as the nights can be blisteringly cold but the sun may well come out during the day. Average temps in winter are about 13 degrees, so a coat, hat and gloves are a good idea. Keep in mind that Santiago is in the southern hemisphere, so the seasons are on the same pattern as Australia.

Image: Melissa Morano / Flickr

The City

Downtown Santiago is a busy, grimy, chaotic hub that can be overwhelming for foreigners. “El Centro” is not the prettiest part of the city, but it gives visitors important insight into Chilean culture and history, and the enthusiastic explorer will be rewarded with beautiful architecture and tucked away gems.

Historical and political buildings abound in this part of town, and it is worth taking a stroll past the Palacio de La Moneda (the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile), The Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and the Teatro Municpal de Santiago (the opera and theatre house).

The Plaza de Armas is a good place to start, but beware of pickpockets in this part of town. Flashing cameras and cell phones is not a good idea – urban myths abound of mobile phones being snatched from the ear mid conversation. Explore the pedestrian street Huerfanos and admire the mismatched architecture that sees concrete blocks squished up against beautifully maintained old buildings.

Once you’ve wandered the narrow streets of the Centre escape to the cool, manicured gardens of Cerro Santa Lucia to explore the park and castle, taking in the view of the surrounding urban spaces once you reach the top.

#1 Palacio de La Moneda (Moneda S/N, Región Metropolitana)
#2 The Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (Avenida Libertador Bernardo O Higgins 340, Santiago)
#3 Teatro Municpal de Santiago (Agustinas 794, Región Metropolitana)


The Suburbs


Santiaguinos love going to the mall (a cultural trait that appears to have trickled down from the United States to the north, bringing with it Starbucks Coffee and TGI Fridays). That said, Santiago has some excellent malls that make a trip to the ‘burbs worth your while.

Head to Parque Arauco to catch a film and dine outside in one of the many restaurants or head to Las Condes to check out Chile’s largest mall the Costanera Center, home to Latin America’s tallest building, the Gran Torre Santiago.

#1 Parque Arauco (Av. Pdte. Kennedy Nº5413, Las Condes)
#2 Costanera Center (Avenida Andrés Bello 2425, Providencia)

If you prefer to wander in the fresh outside air, head to Barrio Italia or take a stroll through Providencia (pictured below). Barrio Italia has undergone a transformation in the last few years, with dusty antique furniture shops making way for boutique design stores, small scale art galleries and quaint curb side cafes. Head here for a late lunch and then spend the afternoon searching for that unique piece of clothing or hand crafted leather bag.

In Providencia, check out the Orrego Luco neighbourhood, popular with expats and young people for its stylish restaurants and pretty squares.

Image: alobos Life / Flickr

Take A Day Trip Here

Located smack bang in the centre of the planet’s longest, thinnest nation, Santiago is a great jumping off point for mini-breaks and day trips. If you are planning on being in Chile during the warmer months, be sure to head west for the port and the beach.

The bohemian portside town of Valparaíso makes a perfect day trip, packed with winding streets, colourful ramshackle houses and Instagram worthy street art. Wander through the steep, meandering hills and grab a seafood lunch at one of the many restaurants with a view of the ocean.

If you’d rather soak up the sun, head to the aforementioned Reñaca Beach (pictured below) in Viña del Mar, the place to see and be seen during the summer months. Major cities Viña and Valapraiso are a short drive from one another, and both are located about an hour and a half from Santiago.

If you’re more of a snow bunny, make your way up the treacherous alpine roads to Valle NevadoEl Colorado or La Parva ski resorts, all of which are located just over an hour away by bus. Spend the day indulging in world class skiing in the beautiful Andes mountains with a transfer ready to deliver you back to Santiago in the evening.

A word to the wise: if the weather looks bad from your hotel room in Santiago, consider postponing your day on the slopes. Grey skies down in the city can mean unpleasant and sometimes aggressive storms up in the mountains.

#1 Valle Nevado (Avenida Vitacura 5250 of. 304, Vitacura)
#2 El Colorado (Avda Apoquindo 4900, Santiago)
#3 La Parva (Avda el Bosque Norte 177, P 2, Santiago)

Image: El Colorado / Facebook

Go Here For A Breathtaking View

Santiago’s proximity to the mighty Andes means that the city is a great place to enjoy breathtaking views, especially in winter when the Andes are covered with snow. Cerro San Cristobal at the end of Pio Nono Street in Bella Vista is the obvious choice if you’re looking to take in the full vista. The Cerro (hill) is a national park located close to the heart of the city, full of great picnic spots and green spaces.

If you’re feeling energetic, hike all the way to the top and reward yourself with the expansive views that take in almost the entire city along the course of the Mapocho River. You can also take a funicular from the base of the mountain to the peak if a steep, rocky climb through the park doesn’t appeal. At the summit you will find a sanctuary to the Blessed Virgin Mary and an amphitheatre where you can stop and recharge your batteries.

Hot tip: if you’ve had rain the day before you will get a much clearer view, as some of the city’s infamous pollution will have been washed away.

If you’d like a cocktail with that view, head to Hotel Noi Vitacura for a drink at the rooftop pool bar while you admire the stunning cityscapes.

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Image: Gonzalo Vergara / Flickr

Take A Hike

For those craving fresh air and an escape from the hustle and bustle, make your way to Cajon de Maipo, a canyon just outside the city. The river and surrounding mountains offer a popular weekend trip for city dwellers where visitors can go hiking or mountain biking, indulge in adventure sports such as rafting and zip lining, or simply have a bbq in the open air.

On the way up to the canyon you’ll pass small mountain villages, vineyards, orchards and roadside stalls all selling local produce and traditional food. If you plan on making a day trip here, bring cash, as many small vendors do not accept cards.


Parks And Rec

The city of Santiago poured millions of pesos into the construction of cultural centres and green spaces as part of its bicentennial celebrations, a move that has Santiago looking pretty darn sleek these days. Quinta Normal is a spacious park on the east end of Santiago, perfect for an afternoon picnic with abundant space for kids. The park is also home to several museums, such as the Chilean National Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights (a fabulous exhibition that details the experiences of a broad array of Chileans throughout the military dictatorship is definitely worth a look). The closest metro station is Quinta Normal station.

The Parque de las Esculturas (sculpture park) in Providencia is an open air gallery showcasing 30 works of art by Chilean artists. Located along the edge of the Mapocho River, this is a great place for a sunny afternoon stroll.

Further down the river you will find Parque Forestal, a favourite with locals and visitors alike. Grab an award-winning gelato from Emporio La Rosa gelataria just across the road in Lastarria and spend the afternoon people watching in the grass.

#1 Chilean National Museum of Natural History (Parque Quinta Normal, Santiago, Región Metropolitana)
#2 Museum of Memory and Human Rights (Avenida Matucana 501, Santiago)
#3 Parque de las Esculturas (Av. Santa María 2205, Santiago)
#4 Emporio La Rosa (Merced, Región Metropolitana)

PARQUE DE LAS ESCULTURAS 2

Where To Eat/Drink At 2am

Bella Vista – between the Mapocho River and San Cristóbal Hill – is the perfect place to spend a blurry night, with pumping discotecas, dive bars, wine bars and clubs crammed into every street. Sarita Colonia is the new venue that has locals tongues wagging, with its unique Peruvian cuisine, great roof top terrace and funky beats.

If you want to dance the night away try Club La Feria located in nearby Calle Constitucion, which hosts a range of international DJs and parties.  You can find great warehouse parties in abandoned industrial spaces and old mansions throughout the city – check out Club Fauna for hot tips on where to rave.

If people watching is more your vibe, grab “un litro” (a large bottle of beer) from one of the many outdoor bars on Pio Nono and simply watch the rabble descend into mayhem. It’s illegal to drink in the streets here, so make sure you do your imbibing in a registered establishment.

There are some great little drinking holes in Lastarria too. Bar Berri on Calle Rosal is a quirky, unique establishment that serves great late night cocktails in an eclectic space. Nearby Bar Opera Catedral offers a more up market drinking spot, which often hosts live music and has a great roof top terrace. Expect to pay more for your pisco though.

Sunday nights in Santiago can be quiet, meaning it might be hard to find a drink, so make like a local and head for La Terraza in Avenue Vicuña Mackenna in Providencia. This is where the Santiago hipsters go for some typical Chilean fast food and the locals drink of “piscola” (pisco and coca cola, heavy on the pisco).

#1 Sarita Colonia (Loreto 40-46, Recoleta)
#2 Club La Feria (Constitución, Santiago Metropolitan)
#3 Bar Berri (Rosal, Región Metropolitana)
#4 Bar Opera Catedral (José Miguel de la Barra 407, Santiago)
#5 La Terraza (Avenue Vicuña Mackenna, Providencia)

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Image: Fuji / Flickr

Where To Shop For Bargains

Bargain hunters will love some of Santiago’s new up and coming markets, such as the flea market held in Parque Forestal on Sundays. The unofficial flea market has caused conflict with the mayor’s office in the past, but that hasn’t stopped it from growing into a lively social and cultural event.

There are also smaller street fares in Lastarria where you can find antiques, records and unique gifts. Vintage hunters should head to Calle Bandera in the centre of town to find a street completely dedicated to vintage stores.

In terms of finding authentic Latin American wares, Chile will never compare to her northern counterparts such as Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, but if you can’t leave without a hand woven rug or llama poncho, make your way to the artisan market at the foot of Cerro Santa Lucia in the centre. You will find all the llama-wool treasures and lapis lazuli you can possibly fit in your suitcase.


Eat And Drink Like A Local

Recent waves of Peruvian migration to Chile has seen Peruvian restaurants pop up all over central Santiago, competing to sell their aromatic, saucy concoctions. Chilean food tends to be much simpler, which may explain why Peruvian cuisine has been so popular here. Try El Aji Seco on Calle San Antonio for an authentic Peruvian meal; lomo saltado or ceviche mixto would make for a great lunch on a busy day of exploring El Centro.

Chile is famous for its seafood and the Mercado Central, located right by Cal y Canto station, is the place to try it. Stalls overflow with fresh seafood while pop up restaurants sell Chilean fare such as curanto. If you don’t want to pay through the roof, make your way to the back to some of the smaller, humbler looking venues.

Santiago’s famous fruit and vegetable market, La Vega, has recently added a cafeteria section that sells food from all over South America. Located a block in front of the original La Vega, La Vega Chica has plentiful stalls selling food from Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Chile. The place is alive with atmosphere; just try to resist the stallholders demanding you try their “delicioso” dishes.

When exploring Santiago there is no way to miss the abundant fast food joints selling typical Chilean snack food – we can recommend the churassco Italiano (thinly sliced beef sandwich topped with avocado, fresh tomato and mayo) or a completo (basically a hot dog slathered with avocado, mayo and tomato sauce).

Strangely enough, another way to eat like a local is to try out one of the abundant sushi restaurants that dot the city. Santiaguinos love sushi and a California roll these days is almost as Chilean as a completo. Make sure to enjoy your sushi with plenty of cream cheese, like a real Chileno.

#1 El Aji Seco (Calle San Antonio 530, Santiago)
#2 Mercado Central (San Pablo 967, Santiago)
#3 La Vega market (Antonia López de Bello, Región Metropolitana)
#4 La Vega Chica (Calle Manutara 10226, Región Metropolitana)

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Image:  James / Flickr

Where To Have An Indulgent Night Out

On your last night in town grab a cocktail at the W’s famous rooftop bar (see above), taking in those epic Santiago views one last time.  Once the sun has set, hop in a taxi back towards Providencia, to Avenida Pedro de Valdivia for dinner and drinks at Liguria, a stately Chilean bistro with old world glam. Spanish tiles and tables adorned with checked tablecloths compliment the wood-panelled interior to create a French bistro atmosphere in a uniquely Chilean setting. The menu offers traditional Chilean fare with a modern twist.

#1 The W Hotel (Isidora Goyenechea 3000, Los Condes)
#2 Liguria (Avenida Luis Thayer Ojeda 19, Santiago)

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The W Hotel

Worth The Hype

When visiting Santiago centro, don’t miss the Museo de Arte Precolombino, located just off Plaza de Armas. The incredible collection of artworks housed here showcases pre-Colombian art from across the continent, with unique temporary exhibitions focusing on specific societies, as a complement to the permanent collection. You can easily lose an afternoon here admiring the strange, mystical pieces and the ancient societies that made them.


Avoid It

The Cerro San Cristobal in central Santiago is also home to the Chilean National Zoo, but the city has so many other (better) sites to enjoy. The zoo has a reputation for housing its animals in cramped and uncomfortable conditions, leaving visiting animal lovers feeling miserable. Skip the zoo and make your way to the top of the hill instead, to enjoy the sunshine and the spectacular views.


Don’t Leave Here Without

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Image: Mario Quiroga / Flickr

Don’t leave without trying a terremoto (a monstrosity of a drink made with pineapple ice cream, un-distilled white wine and fernet) at La Piojera. It’s a rite of passage for any visitors wanting to immerse themselves in the real Santiago. The bar itself is filthy, pulsating with atmosphere and will likely be rammed with rowdy locals. Don’t be put off. Just make your way to the bar and order your drink – the first one will either knock you off your feet or have you singing the Chilean national anthem along with the rest of the patrons.