Santiago

Santiago has virtually reinvented itself during the past decade, and what was formerly a smoggy, sleepy backwater is now a thriving, entertaining metropolis that begs for at least a one-day visit. The arts, dining and nightlife scene is better than ever, and most attractions can be visited on foot as all are found in a relatively compact area. Earthquakes have destroyed most of the city’s colonial-era buildings, yet several cobblestoned, atmospheric barrios still exist and are small enough for a short exploration, including the popular Lastarria neighborhood, and the Paris-Londres and Concha y Toro neighborhoods. Santiago’s newest hip enclave is Barrio Italia, whose leafy streets are replete with century-old homes converted into stores and workshops specializing mostly in vintage and cutting-edge furniture, indie clothing, décor shops and cafes.

Santiago

What to Do

The easiest way to get around Santiago is by foot, by taxi or the Metro subway system. Avoid buses and their byzantine (and unpublished) routes; taxis are cheap and plentiful, and Uber is also available using your regular app.

Start your tour at Santiago’s Plaza de Armas in El Centro, or downtown, which is ringed by historical buildings such as the main cathedral and the Museum of National History. Nearby, make a pit stop in the Mercado Central, a raucous fish market best visited in the morning. If food is really your thing, cross the Alameda Avenue and get lost in La Vega, a chaotic, colorful market with cheap food stalls selling traditional fare. The Museo de Arte Precolombino houses thousands of artworks and artifacts from Central and South America.

For art, don’t miss the MAVI museum in Lastarria for contemporary Chilean pieces, and then walk over to the massive Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral for ever-changing exhibits and events. Nearby, the century-old Bellas Artes and Museo de Arte Contemporario (MAC) display permanent collections and international exhibits. Farther up town, in modern Vitacura, there are a handful of galleries around Alonso de Cordoba, such as the Isabel Aninat and Galeria Animal. Get into the eccentric mind of poet and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda with a wander through his fascinating old home La Chascona, and follow it up with a hike or funicular ride to the top of the Cerro San Cristobal for electrifying views of the city and the magnificent Andes Mountains that loom above at the city’s edge. Cerro Santa Lucia hilltop park on the edge of Lastarria also has 360-degree city views.

Santiago

Where To Stay

Where you stay could shape your opinion of the city. Upscale, internationally known hotels such as the newly remodeled Mandarin Oriental, the Ritz Carlton and the W Hotel are in Santiago’s posh Las Condes / El Golf neighborhood, sometimes referred to as Sanhattan for its glitzy, skyscraper-packed streets. The low-key and charming Providencia neighborhood principally offers B&B properties such as the French-inspired Le Reve and the crafty Meridiano Sur.  

Design-forward and boutique hotels abound in the Lastarria neighborhood, including the idyllic Casa Bueras hotel in a renovated 1920s townhouse; the Singular Santiago with its masculine charm and full amenities including a spa; the chic and sleek Ismael Hotel overlooking the pretty Parque Forestal. Several blocks away is the Hotel Magnolia, a seamless blend of historical Santiago with contemporary design. In Barrio Italia, two properties stand out for their cozy and attractive digs: the bright, cheery CasaSur Charming Hotel; and the elegant, brick-walled Maison-Italia 1029 with its luxe, earthy decor. For shared accommodations and budget lodging, try the lively, semi-party ambiance of Hostal Providencia, or the centrally located Merced 88 with its rooftop deck.

How To Get Around

The easiest way to get around the city is by foot, by taxi or the Metro subway system. Avoid buses and their byzantine (and unpublished) routes; taxis are cheap and plentiful, and Uber is also available using your regular app.

Travel Tips From The Pros:

Get used to staying up a bit later than normal. Dinner in South America is often served late and after dinner there is often some drinks at the bar to get warmed up before the disco opens for the night. Dancing until 3:00 am and hitting first chair takes a bit of pacing oneself.

— Sven Brunso
Santiago

Where To Eat

Few cities in Latin America have watched their dining scene transform as fundamentally and as quickly as Santiago. Young chefs now embrace the country’s endemic ingredients formerly known only to indigenous groups, and traditional dishes have been retooled for the modern era. You can’t beat Bar Liguria, with three locations that are all a kitschy paean to Chilean cuisine with a super-charged, buzzing ambiance. In Bellavista, visit the folksy Peumayen for pre-Hispanic Chilean food (indigenous specialties), or for upgraded Chilean comfort food head to Fuente Las Cabras, located in a cool, retro-style diner. Vegetarians and vegans love the long-established El Huerto in Providencia. For a cheap, filling meal, visit one of the city’s beloved sangucherías that serve enormous sandwiches that are fork-and-knife mandatory; try the classic chains Fuente Aleman and Domino, or more modern versions such La Resistencia in Providencia, Marilyn in Lastarria, or La Maestranza in Vitacura.

On the gourmet end, award-winning restaurants that are steering Chilean food toward complexity and discovery start with Boragó, where science and unfamiliar ingredients will surprise your senses during a two-hour tasting menu; Restaurant 99, a pint-sized eatery that is big on flavor and bustling with a dozen young, hip chefs who create a new tasting menu daily; the French-influenced Ambrosia, whose female chef is considered one of the best in Latin America (visit Ambrosia Bistro when in Providencia); Restaurant 040, with artistically executed “tapas” by a Spanish chef in an all-white dining room; and the newest eatery offering tasting menus of artfully plated cuisine is de Patio. Wine fanatics in Santiago love Bocanariz, with a 350-bottle-strong list paired with small and large plates. The airy, glass-walled Mestizo overlooks a lush park and serves upgraded Chilean cuisine.

Santiago

Nightlife

At night, start your evening with a pisco sour, the country’s national drink. Chipre Libre in Lastarria specializes in pisco; around the corner is the moody Bar Clinic; and closer to the Mercado Central is La Piojera, Santiago’s most famous bar known for the super-strength Terremoto cocktail and dirt floors. Bar Liguria’s endlessly lively scene and high-quality cocktails and wine make for a solid watering hole.Room 09 is one of the hottest bars in town but open to members and guests of the 040 restaurant; Sarita Colonia in Bellavista is wonderfully kitsch. Most night clubs and bars in Santiago are in Bellavista, but much of it is cheap bar halls for university students. Try La Feria for DJ music and dancing; Etniko for its low-lit bar and Asian-inspired bites. The W Hotel has a happening rooftop bar. In Providencia, Siete Negronis has craft cocktails and a chill, stylish vibe.