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My 23 Favorite Things to do Santiago – Understand
Chile has the most developed economy in South America; Santiago will make you feel like you landed in Frankfurt in Germany or even Singapore. Yes, many of the original Latin American influences are intact in Centro and Recoleta but if you go further east, the city morphs into a beautifully developed and modern, green metropolis.
Chileans are friendly, though reserved, and will make sure you follow their rules. If you think Germany seems to be a stickler for rules (it is in my opinion!) then just wait for Santiago. The good news is that things work just as you would expect; there is very little bureaucracy or red tape to deal with.
Santiago is surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains, but the valley gets very little wind and the city smogs up quickly. After a rainy winter’s day, though, the mountains come out in all their glory.
While Santiago is a fantastic city to live in and build a career and work, it isn’t as much of an exciting city for a traveler and it is VERY expensive. Expect to pay as much as in Frankfurt for many services and often considerably more.
Keep in mind that MANY places here shut down Friday to Monday, including most coffee shops and restaurants and many bakeries.
My 23 Favorite Things to do Santiago – Get Around
Uber is in town but rides are expensive! The average rates are expensive to begin with but it’s also constantly surging. Plus taxis are even more expensive. The metro is a good alternative or just walking within a neighborhood gets the job done. Sidewalks, pedestrian passes and traffic lights all work like you would expect in Germany.
Airport buses operate to and from the airport to the metro station of Los Héroes for just $3 – use them if your hotel is anywhere close.
The city is fairly stretched out and the morning and evening commutes are pretty rough.
My 23 Favorite Things to do Santiago – Safety
Santiago seemed extremely safe to me. I never worried day or night. The better neighborhoods seem impossible to get robbed in. The downtown neighborhoods look a bit more sketchy but the sheer police presence and presence of locals seems to make sure nothing will ever happen. Safety isn’t something to worry about in Santiago.
My 23 Favorite Things to do Santiago – Sights
Cerro San Cristóbal (San Cristóbal Hill)
San Cristóbal is one of the best spots in Santiago.
Ideally, come here on a clear day to enjoy the perfect views towards the valley floor and the surrounding snowy mountains.
I chose to walk up and take the funicular down. The small road going up is perfectly maintained and locals use it for a run or bike ride. It seemed very popular.
The views from the Virgin Mary statue and the hills are spectacular at sunset; you get a 270-degree view right from the statue.
Each continent only has one Baha’i temple and I have been to the ones in Kampala, Israel’s Haifa and New Delhi. All of them are quite spectacular. The one in Santiago just opened in October 2016 and has a pretty spot along the valley slopes.
Alas, whenever I wanted to go, the weather turned hazy. Try to get a clear day for your drive out to the temple (which is about 7 miles from the city center).
Sky Costanera (Sky Coast)
Sky Costanera is the observation platform across the 61st and 62nd floors of the Gran Torre Santiago (Santiago Grand Tower). The building just opened for visitors as it’s brand new.
The fee for the observatory is $15 and the crowds here were minimal when I visited. The two observation floors offer sweeping 360-degree views, though one of the floors is more ‘outdoor’ than the other.
Come here just after the rain has cleared or the Santiago smog will only give you a view with very little contrast.
Parque Bicentenario (Bicentennial Park)
This lovely, new park is not far from Sky Costanera. It features Japanese and Spanish influences and is a pretty place for a stroll, where you can admire modern landscape architecture.
Parque Forestal (Forest Park)
This park goes along some major traffic arteries from Centro to Providencia. If you walk around the area you can’t miss it. Despite all the traffic, it is still a great spot to spend a few minutes.
Parque Araucano (Araucano Park)
This large park features pretty gardens and an aviary and is a relaxing place to visit after walking the streets of Santiago.
Plaza de Armas (Parade Square)
Plaza de Armas is the center of historic Santiago and seemingly only frequented by locals.
It is well worth visiting and taking in the surprisingly bustling area and nearby cathedral Parroquia El Sagrario (El Sagrario Parish).
These two old markets are as seedy as it can get in Santiago, so keep your belongings to yourself in these places. There is some fresh produce and lots of overpriced seafood on offer at Mercado Central.
Vega Central is better and has some better food stalls as well. The immediate area is unsavory but also full of interesting shops and eateries.
Chile has been trying to foster entrepreneurship on a continent that sometimes seems to vehemently oppose it. Start-Up Chile gives you $30,000 for 6-months living costs in the country, while you’re helping local entrepreneurs and building your own business – no equity or loan needed. The accelerator has two offices and you get a piece of San Francisco very far south.
My 23 Favorite Things to do Santiago – Eat & Drink
Santiago enjoys a terrible reputation for the not-so-delicious indigenous Chilean food. But no need to worry as local money has attracted entrepreneurs aplenty who run some fantastic options where you can eat healthy and delicious food.
Las Condes area
Panaderia Lo Saldes (Lo Saldes Bakery)
This bakery surprised me with a cheap avocado, olive oil and bread breakfast. There is a nice sitting area, but the coffee isn’t great at all.
Despite its rather generic name, this was one of my favorite spots in Santiago. The coffee shop is located in a nondescript office building among a number of coffee establishments including Starbucks. Once inside, you can ‘feel’ this one is different, with fantastic coffee, great pastries, warm staff and lightning-fast WiFi. What a great place to work in and enjoy a few hours of productivity.
This Indian restaurant seems to sell out all the time. I went twice and just about got a seat before the crowds hit (dinner is late in Santiago). The price tag is very reasonable – especially for Santiago – and the curries seem fresh and delicious.
Quinoa is an all-vegetarian affair, with many interesting vegetarian dishes done to perfection. The staff are super-friendly and the prices are moderate. Highly recommended.
Both of these coffee shops came highly recommended but I did not have the chance to actually scope them out.
El Huerto (The Orchard)
El Huerto has been serving vegetarian food in the same location for 36 years. It’s by the same family that runs Quinoa (see above). The food is a bit more pricey and eclectic here but equally good.
This pizza place comes highly recommended but it was closed when I tried to test it out.
KrossBar is serious about beer and offers beers on tap and in bottles from all around the world. The staff are super-friendly and the beer tasters are just $5 – fantastic value for a lot of beer! They also serve my favorite new brand Ballast Point here (it’s just as expensive as everywhere else, though).
Patio Bellavista (Beautiful View Patio)
This is a whole city block transformed into many high-end restaurants. The whole thing seemed a bit too touristy for me and on a winter’s night it was just too cold to linger outside. But in summer this place could be great.
La Sanguchera del Barrio (The Sanguchera Neighborhood)
Artisan burgers for $5? Count me in! Great value in a hipster setting in the middle of Santiago.
Here’s another coffee shop with a less than ideal name. It’s super tiny but no need to worry, as the staff will delight you with local knowledge and an eclectic taste in music. The coffee is great, too, and the pastries are yummy. Although there are barely 4 seats, there is fast, free WiFi on offer for the workaholics like me.
Central Pizza is a chain with small take-out slices of pizza. I admit that it may not always look delicious but I loved the taste of their simple pizza.
Había una vez (Once Upon a Time)
This Korean-run tea house and pastry shop gives you a taste of Asia in the middle of Santiago.
Sandwicheria El Gringo (The Gringo’s Sandwich Place)
What would you expect with that name? Certainly not superbly done, fresh shawarmas! I wasn’t expecting much but the fresh veggies and hummus and the good chicken were pure delights. The line can be long but this place is a keeper.
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About the author: Torsten is a serial entrepreneur who started almost a dozen ventures on four continents. Torsten's love for travel has brought him to 130+ countries and travel with most of the world's airlines. You can reach Torsten at [email protected]
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