Why Santiago Should Be On Your South American Bucket List
The Chilean capital is on the brink of becoming a massive travel destination.
The Chilean capital of Santiago is on the brink of becoming a massive travel destination. The laneways and neighbourhoods feel half-familiar, half-fairytale. The city is well-groomed and extremely clean, sitting in a valley overlooked by the mighty Andes.
It’s super comfortable and safe to travel to, and the sophisticated and cosmopolitan vibe doesn’t dampen the effervescence and friendliness of the locals. It’s the kind of place where people chirp “hello” to complete strangers as they enter an elevator. (Have they not been inculcated with the strict laws of elevator silence?).
Here’s five can’t-miss experiences for your next trip to Santiago.
#1 Explore An Authentic, Arty Suburb
You really can’t skip Barrio Italia. Walking down the main street, you’ll see woodworkers and artisans in their shops with piles of wreckage-cum-furniture. Vinyls, books, and castaway car parts spill from every corner of the laneways as independent artists and designers display their work.
#2 Hike Cerro Cristóbal
Yes, it’s a famous destination, but not like that one obtuse building that you go and stand in front of awkwardly with your visiting relatives, waiting for a helpless tourist to pounce upon to orchestrate a photoshoot.
Cerro Cristóbal is famous because of the experience, and locals go there all the time. It feels like the city’s living room and you’ll spot everyone from hipster biker kids and 70-year-old couples alike.
But don’t take the funicular – walk instead. Take the Zorro Vidal trail from the Pio Nono side and it’s a brisk 30-minute uphill hike. Even if you don’t make it to the top, the view of the snowcapped Andes is worth your step-count for the day.
#3 Pull Up A Chair At A Colourful Bar
Check out one of Santiago’s unexpected institutions, Sarita Colonia. Based on the tomb of Sarita Colonia – a young Peruvian woman who was said to have performed miracles – this place is quite lively for all its funerary graces. There are three storeys of wall-to-wall embellishment and equally as interesting patronage.
Perch on the rooftop and observe the massive chandeliers dangling over paper mâché dolls, animal masks, and saints with lipstick. A suburb away is Chipe Libre, a restaurant-bar famous for its pisco cocktails. Pisco is a type of brandy miners used to drink, originating in Chile and Peru, and it’s very strong. Proceed with caution.
#4 To Market, To Market
How could you visit a city and miss its markets? Head to Barrio Lastarria for arts and craft stalls flanking the leafy streets. It’s a trendy ex-red light district, and there’s a high probability you’ll witness some street art in the making.
Then there’s the central market, called Mercado Centro, where it’s easy to lose yourself for hours; check the periphery for fish, or slide into one of the restaurants for some unique flavours. Ever tried eating lung? Hey, it’s an experience.
#5 A Day Trip To Valparaíso
Stepping into Valparaíso feels like you’re Dorothy in Oz. Since when are cities technicolour? Every little cobblestone or lamp post seems have been touched by some rouge paint-bucket wizard, and it’s amazing.
“Valpo”, as it’s known to locals, is an hour-and-a-half drive west from Santiago (there’s a shuttle bus that leaves from the Santiago Alameda train station), where Chile meets the Pacific. The streets are narrow and very hilly, opening on to many multicoloured tiled staircases. Climb to the top, overlook the port, and prepare to flood your Instagram feed. It’s epic.
(Images: Vincent Rommelaere and Veronica Wood)