Voya’s guide to South America’s bohemian Chilean city.
Santiago is a delightful mix of old European influences and a modern, bohemian lifestyle. While in the past it has not attracted as many tourists as other South American capitals, Santiago is quickly rising as a little-known jewel. It is a city where Belle Epoque architecture shares pavements with glass skyscrapers and parks full of palm trees. While over 40% of the population of Chile live in Santiago, the city maintains a relaxed pace, with its lingering lunches at outdoor restaurants, and long strolls through one of the city’s many parks.
Our favourite way to get around Santiago and see as much as possible is by bike. The city is full of bike lanes, quiet, leafy streets, and parks. There are numerous bike rental shops and some fantastic cycling tours that are a fun way to get your bearings. The benefit of cycling around Santiago is you get to see as much of the lively streets as possible. While there are plenty of big and independent art galleries in Santiago, the best way to learn about the culture of a city is through its street art. Many of the famous murals were painted as a rebellion against the dictatorship and offer an insight into the city’s history. Since the fall of the rebellion, the street art scene has exploded, with new creations popping up every day. While nothing beats the joy of stumbling upon pieces while exploring the city, a street art tour will take you to the best murals and tell you about the culture and history behind each piece.
If you are anything like us, food and drink is a big part of your travel experience. Well, you are in luck because Santiago has a fantastic food scene. It is not just the food that makes Santiago such a great destination for eating out, though, it is the atmosphere of each café and restaurant. Due to the hot weather, most restaurants have tables outside so you can enjoy the summer heat and people watch while you enjoy a leisurely meal. Be sure to try the refreshing local drink mote con huesillo which is made from peach juice and husked wheat. If you look for restaurants frequented by locals, Silvestre Bistro, an unpretentious restaurant with an eclectic patio is the place to go. It is tucked away in the neighbourhood of Ñuñoa and serves only locally farmed ingredients. Another favourite of ours is Silabario Cocina Local which serves hearty Chilean countryside fare.
If you have enough time to head out of Santiago on a day trip, one of the most incredible places to visit is the Rio Maipo Gorge. It is only 15 miles outside of San Diego, and a favourite among locals for outdoor experiences. In the warmer months, it is a popular destination for hiking, rafting, cycling, and camping. In winter, it is fantastic for skiing and snowboarding. The views are the real draw of the Mio Maipo Gorge, the water is a deep turquoise and surrounded by mountains and greenery.
Santiago is a great all-year-round destination. April is popular for travellers wanting to visit autumnal vineyards. The winter months of June to August are great for skiing in the mountains around Santiago. October to March are the warmest months, but note that this city gets really hot in summer.
The official language of Chile is Spanish, but the majority of people in Santiago will speak a little English. Locals will appreciate you making an effort with a few Spanish phrases if you can learn some basics though.
VOYA’S FAVOURITE PLACES TO VISIT INCLUDE
Do you know Chile has mummies that are 2,000 years older than the ones in Egypt? They are housed at the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art alongside other Inca artefacts and art. Entry is really reasonable, and it is open every day except for national holidays. Museums are not usually at the top of a traveller’s must-see list, but head straight to the basement for the mummies and Inca exhibitions to learn about the indigenous population of Chile.
Ride the funicular to the top of San Cristobal Hill for the best views over Santiago. Pick a day where there is no smog for the best views and Instagram photos. After you have admired the view, we recommend lingering in the park below, Metropolitan Park, the park dates back to 1925 and is home to botanical gardens, a religious sanctuary, and a zoo.
VOYA’S FAVOURITE PLACES TO STAY INCLUDE
Hotel Cumbres Lastarria is right in the centre of Santiago, a short distance from a wealth of bars and restaurants as well as tourist attractions. The boutique hotel embodies the quirky, bohemian atmosphere, with an overall modern feel combined with a few traditional elements. Perhaps the best feature, though is the rooftop pool, perfect for a dip before dinner.
Hotel Luciano K is another boutique option in the centre of Santiago. It is an art deco hotel which was built in the 1920s and at the time was the tallest building in Santiago and the first one to have an elevator. The hotel still features the colourful mosaic floor tiles of the original design with a few fresh touches for modern tastes. They have a huge rooftop terrace with a spa and sauna, a small heated pool, and a bar with spectacular city views.
VOYA’S FAVOURITE DISHES TO TRY
While ceviche can be found all over South America, it has to make our list as a must-try dish while you are in Chile. It is the ultimate fresh summer dish with diced fish, lemon and lime juice, onions, coriander, peppers, and spices. You will find ceviche at most restaurants and bars, but one of the best places for it is the Mercado Central, a hub for the freshest seafood dishes in Santiago.
Sopapillas is a popular street food dish that you must try while in Santiago. It is halfway between a flatbread and a scone, made with cooked pumpkin and flour. They can be served on their own, as an accompaniment to chancho en piedra or in winter, sweet versions called sopaipilla pasá.