When visiting a city for the first time, it's all about finding all the popular attractions to see and eating the best local food. In Santiago Chile, I recommend you do the same before going off the beaten track. If not, you are missing out. In this sprawling city, squeezed between two mountain ranges - the Cordillera de la Costa and Andes, there are at least 11 things every traveler should do.
1. Visit Plaza de Armas
At the center of the plaza is the statue of Pedro de Valdivia, the founder of Santiago and a Spanish soldier. "Nobody knew how Pedro de Valdivia looked like. The statue is just the artist's impression of the founder!" said the tour guide from Santiago Free Walking Tour. At the opposite end of Pedro de Valdivia is a statue to honor the Mapuche people. The Mapuche are the indigenous people of south-central Chile.
2. Eat in Mercado Central
Visit the Mercado Central to experience the flavors and tradition of Santiago. Opened since 1872, the Mercado is the best place to eat seafood stew (paila marina), buy fish and chat with the locals. Inside the Mercado Central, in the middle of the building are over 10 eateries and bars. Choose carefully and bear in mind that there are plenty more places to eat at the peripheral. Locals tend to eat at the periphery, away from the fish mongers and tourists-friendly eateries in the middle.
One to check out is El Rey del la Paila Marina for fish stew. The one shown below was 6,500 pesos (about $14).
Purchase fresh fish or shellfish from the market if you are staying in an apartment with a fully equipped kitchen. Shown below was a fish we purchased - cleaned and filleted for a homemade dinner in our AirBnB apartment.
3. Watch the Changing of Guard at the Palacio de la Moneda (The Government House)
The Palacio is the Presidential Palace. The changing of the guard happens each weekday at 10 am. Tours are available at the Palacio de la Moneda. Application forms for tours are available online.
4. Take the Funicular to Cerro San Cristobal
On top of Cerro San Cristobal is the white statue of the Virgin Mary, the Virgen de la Inmaculada Conception. The statue is illuminated at night and can be seen from various points in the city. At the base of the statue is a small sanctuary. There is an open-air sanctuary with benches arranged in a semi-circle. It is the venue for live concerts. Cerro San Cristobal is one of the best places to capture panoramic views of the city.
It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to walk up from the foot of the hill to the top. You have to be pretty fit to hike or bike to the top. For convenience, Cerro San Cristobal is accessible by taxis and by the funicular. Get tickets at the Pio Nono entrance and take a short ride to the top.
At the base of the mountain is the Zoologico Nacional and plenty of vendors selling stuffed animals and souvenirs.
5. Walk to Bellavista
A short walk from Cerro San Cristobal is the Bohemian neighborhood of Bellavista. There are plenty of bars, cafes, and restaurants in this neighborhood. For a centralized location, head over to Plaza Bellavista, a center filled with live music, entertainment, shops, and restaurants. Try Tabla Chilombiana at La Casa en el Aire in Plaza Bellavista with a glass of local wine.
6. Check out Basilica de la Merced
Basilica de la Merced is located on Merced and MacIver Streets. The original church was built in 1566 and was destroyed by two earthquakes in 1647 and 1730. The current structure was built in 1736. This is the place to check out unique church art pieces left behind by the Spaniards.
7. Eat Chilean Empanadas
Chilean empanadas are different from their neighbors. Take a look at one we had near Cerro Santa Lucia. It's the Chilean empanada de pino with half a hard-boiled egg, olives, beef, and onions. Cost: 900 pesos (about $2). You can find empanadas sold throughout Santiago.
8. Window Shop at Parque Arauco
You'll find American franchises like TGI Fridays, Starbucks and PF Chang's in Santiago. To get a taste of the upscale neighborhood of Santiago visit Las Condes and El Golf's Parque Arauco Mall. Merrell and North Face are some of the outdoor gear companies represented in the mall as well.
For a view of the Andes Mountains and Santiago drop by at W Hotel Santiago - at Red2One rooftop bar.
Swarmed by tourists and locals on a daily basis, Galindo Restaurant in Bellavista is the place to go for chorrillana. Chorrillana is a dish filled with French fries along with a big chunk of beef sirloin, two fried eggs and plenty of onions to take your fresh breath away. For over 40 years Galindo Restaurant has been serving huge portions of food to the locals.
Another dish to try is the arrollada huaso - a traditional Chilean pork roll.
10. Shop in a local supermarket
Santa Isabel and Unimarc were two of the supermarkets we frequented while staying in Santiago. Even if you are not staying at an apartment with fully equipped kitchen, you may want to stop by and see what the locals shop for. Surprisingly, there was a limited selection of fruits and vegetables in Santiago's supermarkets compared to in the United States.
Fresh produce and grocery prices in Santiago were on par with US prices. Take a look at our finds for 15,618 Chilean pesos ($34):
1/2 kg bananas, 0.8 kg chicken breast, 2 5-liter bottled water. 0.3 kg Chorrillana, 500g bottled honey, small butter, 4 rolls of toilet paper, 500 g instant oatmeal, 2 bags of frozen green beans about one pound each, 500 g fresh bread and 2 bartlett pears.
11. Have coffee and ice cream at Emporio la Rossa
Emporio la Rossa at Parque Forestal is a neighborhood ice cream shop that sells coffee too. Take a seat under the trees, people watch and observe the stray dogs of Santiago.
- Free walking tour with Free Tour Santiago. The guide works for tips.
- Galindo Restaurant food portions are huge. You may want to share with your traveling companion.
- Stray dogs are every present in Santiago.
- A little Spanish will go a long way when taking public buses and the metro.
- Walk around the Mercado Central before making a decision to dine. There are plenty of eateries at the Mercado.
- Santiago taxis are safe and are located just outside the Customs of the arrival hall. We paid $38 (for a party of 4) from airport to city center. There are several shuttle bus companies and some offers 24/7 services.
Planning a trip to Santiago and don't know where to stay? Inside this eBook you'll find a well located apartment with views of Cerro San Cristobal and the Andes Mountains. Get it for just $2.99 at Amazon.com.