I spent a month in Santiago in April 2017. This was something of a work break to try and recuperate some funds after the expensive trip around Patagonia.
I lived in Vitacura during my time in Santiago in a little independent outhouse in the lush garden of a lady called Bea who was a yoga teacher and masseuse. Vitacura is probably the most upscale area of the city and reminds me a bit of a Southern Californian suburb, complete with manacured lawns and sprinklers, Desperate Housewives style. It’s quite the contrast to the hustle and bustle of central Santiago, and whilst there isn’t so much to do for a tourist, the views of the surrounding mountains are very impressive, and it’s safe and quiet – basically a good stop for work, but not so great if you have only a couple of days to explore the city.
Santiago probably isn’t on the top of most people’s must see lists in South America, but as well as experiencing my first earthquakes, there were still plenty of things to keep me entertained.
This is the iconic hill viewable from many places as you stroll around the city, upon which sits a statue of the Virgin Mary. There is a funicular at the base, but when I went there (Easter) the queue was large, and besides the walk up is an easy 30 minutes anyway. On a good day, there are very pleasant views over the city and surrounding mountains, but good days are few and far between it would seem. For the best views, the locals suggested after a smog-clearing rain. You can also get a refreshing Mote Con Huesillo (traditional chilean beverage made from sundried peach with wheat in a sugary nectar) near the summit.
Near the base of San Cristobal there is a very touristic street called Pio Nono, with bars and restaurants (probably overpriced), but also Pablo Neruda’s house, La Chascona (so named for his crazy-haired wife); it’s a little pricey to get in, but the house is full of charm and quirky nautical features. I loved the way the parts of the house interspersed themselves with the garden so well and I would definitely recommend a visit here along with La Sebastiana, his house in Valparaiso.
The other hill in the city not be missed is Cerro Santa Lucia. I was surprised to see a plaque with a quote from Darwin here, describing his visit. The views again are pleasant and the surrounding gardens are also nice to wander for a while.
Right next to Cerro Santa Lucia you have Barrio Lastarria, which is probably one of biggest tourist hubs of the city, with lovely cobbled streets and historical buildings, bookshops, cafes, restaurants and supposedly one of the best icecream shops in town, Emporio La Rosa. There are all kinds of flavours from traditional to exotic, which you can freely sample by asking “puedo probar X”.
Near Lastarria is Parque Forestal, which is a big green space in the middle of the city, which is pleasant to stroll around or perhaps to chill in with a book on a bench.
Providencia and Bella Vista are probably the best neighbourhoods if you are looking for bars and nightlife. You can sample Pisco Sours or Piscolas until you can no longer feel your face. But if you want to sample a Terremoto (“earthquake” - Pipeño (a sweet fermented wine), pineapple ice cream and Fernet (a strong herbal liquor)) then La Piojera is the place to go. This is not far from the Mercado Central and kind of tucked away. It’s frequented by a mix of tourists and locals and quite lively at the weekend. However, you might want to first line your stomach with a chorrillana (mountain of chips topped with egg, onions and meat) as the drink is called an Earthquake for a reason.
If you want to try seafood, the market area is the place to go, but it can be rather pricey and I contented myself with a wander around, so I can’t comment on the quality of the seafood.
Not far from the Mercado Central is Plaza de Armas. Here you will find the cathedral, central post office and many historical buildings.
You can visit the Moneda Palace where President Allende took his life during the coup d'etat that led to the Pinochet regime in the 1970s. As well as the Bellas Artes gallery there is also the musuem of humans rights (Museo de Derechos Humanos), which whilst being somewhat sombre, was very informative about Pinochet regime and the topple of President Allende.
One of the most unique things in Santiago are the so-called Cafes Con Piernas (cafes with legs). These are kind of like what would happen if Hooter’s did coffee. Basically women in shorts skirts and long legs trot around brining business men their coffee. No matter if you view them as terribley misogynistic or not, they are worth a visit just to see the phenomenon (look out for Café Haiti and Café Caribe in any of the paseos around the center of the city)
For cheap resale clothes, try Bandera Street. I managed to pick up a pretty good leather jacket for less than 15usd here.
Santiago has a great metro and bus system. You buy a card called a “Bip” card and use it to swipe on both the buses and the metro for relativily cheap prices. The metro stations also contains art exhibits and can be sight in themselves.