If there’s one piece of advice a traveler will hear upon arrival in Santiago, Chile, it’s to head up, up, up. Several of the most popular tourist (and local) attractions involve a climb, or at least a big old elevator ride: there’s the Gran Torre Santiago, Latin America’s tallest building; the charming stops around San Cristóbal Hill; and the cable cars floating above it all.
What will you see from these vantage points? The glory of Santiago, a capital city comprised of stunning Spanish colonial architecture buddied up to glass and steel skyscrapers. The metropolis sits in a valley of the Andes, so snow-capped crags hug the city and are visible from any high view. The population of Santiago is 5.6 million, meaning nearly a third of the entire country’s citizens resides in the city, which is situated directly in the middle of the long, skinny nation.
Figure out why the Chilenos love their capital so much. Here are a few ideas of what to do and eat, and where to stay, in Santiago.
WHEN TO GO
Due to its location in the southern hemisphere, Chile has opposite season from the United States. Highs reach the mid 80ºs in summer (November to March) and hover in the 60ºs during the winter (May to August), making shoulder seasons as always a lovely time to visit. For climate perspective, the city sits around 33º S, making its equivalent city in the north Dallas, TX.
WHAT TO DO
Visit the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino.
While the city boasts several fantastics art or history museums, priority should be given to this special place, which houses a mind-blowing collection of artifacts from the many peoples of Central and South America. The range of objects (including pottery, jewelry, and statues of beloved pets) as well as placards in English make the museum easily accessible to many. The darkened room of precious textiles and the modern, thought-provoking temporary exhibits are particular standouts.
Walk through the historic center.
You don’t need a guide book or even a map for this one. Start at Plaza de Armas, the central square, which was laid out in the 16th century. You can’t miss the Metropolitan Cathedral with its two towers mirroring the skinny palm trees; the Municipal Building and Central Post Office are also set on the plaza. Nearby is the austere Plaza de la Constitución, the museum mentioned above, and La Moneda Palace, the imposing home of Chile’s president.
Climb San Cristóbal hill.
This spot has a little something for everyone in this park. For those who want to get their blood pumping after a long flight, there’s the 45-minute moderate hike to the top of the hill (a funicular ride is also available). For families, there is the Chilean National Zoo. For nature lovers or those seeking calm, there are nearly 1,800 acres of park, including a Japanese garden. And for those who just want a great view of the city, perhaps while sipping a coffee or smoothie, there is the summit itself, which is studded by a white Virgin Mary statue.
It’s a little tired to describe a neighborhood as “the Brooklyn of XYZ city,” but that designation is hard to avoid with Bellavista, Santiago’s bohemian quarter near the river. Plentiful bars and restaurants are painted in bold primary colors, often with murals on the side, and are packed with young people enjoying beers and empanadas. Poke into shops and look for beautiful little objects made of lapis lazuli, the deep blue semi-precious stone that resembles a twilight sky.
Go to La Chascona.
Poet and politician Pablo Neruda is one of the most internationally famous Chilenos of all time, and all three of his homes have been turned into museums for fans and tourists. La Chascona was his Santiago home, built with multiple levels into the base of San Cristobal hill in Bellavista. Neruda constructed the house to sequester his mistress and later wife, Matilde Urrutia, and its name describes her flowing red hair. A superb audio guide shares their story, as well as how the home was vandalized and nearly destroyed in 1973 days after the military coup that overthrew Chile’s president.
WHERE TO EAT
Named one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, chef Rodolfo Guzmán’s fine-dining establishment is credited with reinventing the Santiago food scene since it opened in 2006. His thing is milking the Chilean landscape for all it has to offer, foraging for odd ingredients from the mountains to the seas of the country; the result is an unforgettable dining experience.
The W Santiago features multiple snazzy restaurants and bars around its higher floors, including the Chilean cuisine at Terraza and the thumping Red2One cocktail bar, but a favorite is Karai. The sleek restaurant, clad in blonde wood with spikes of orange, serves up excellent Japanese-Peruvian fusion food, namely impeccable sushi, ceviche, and softshell crab sliders.
Inside a converted 1928 home with adobe walls and wood beams is this restaurant, an elegy for the ancestral food of the region which includes culinary references from the Rapa Nui, Mapuche, and Aimará people. While there are a la carte options, consider one of the four “Origins” tasting menus (sea, land, mixed, or vegetarian) to learn the most about these cultures.
Santiago is not far from wine country, and those travelers seeking a crash course in the nation’s great Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons will find an education in this wine bar, which showcases over 30 vinos by the glass and offers multiple flights so you can try as many as possible. The food menu is built around the liquids so you can find easy pairings
WHERE TO STAY
Santiago Marriott Hotel
Located in the financial district of Las Condes, this upscale hotel is adjacent to the gorgeous, sprawling Parque Araucano. Inside, there are 25 floors of nearly 300 rooms, along with amenities like a full-service spa, fitness center, outdoor pool, chic lobby, and on-site dining including the award-winning Latin Grill. A major bonus? The panoramic sights of the Andes viewed right from the beds.
Hotel Boutique Castillo Rojo
This 1920s home turned boutique hotel is unmissable in the hip Bellavista for its kitschy candy apple red exterior, which resembles an old German mansion. It was converted in 2013 and features just 19 guest rooms, but restored fireplaces and woodworking, along with plush velvet furnishings and gold light fixtures, maintain the throwback look.
Matildas Hotel Boutique
Another converted mansion, this charming spot can be found in the Brasil neighborhood, near the contemporary art museum and the theater. The modern designers maintained the classical French feel of the former home, from its lovely molding to the spectacular grand staircase and terrace overlooking the garden; rooms are spare and painted in florals.
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