I wanted to like Santiago. I really did. After hearing that it’s not exactly an easy city to fall for, I wanted to prove those people wrong, or at least have an open mind. When our plane flew over Chile, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face – it was the most gorgeous, mountainous landscape I think I’ve ever seen from a plane. I thought – these people are crazy! This must be one of the most beautiful places on earth!
Unfortunately, my wonderment stopped when our plane landed. Santiago just didn’t steal my heart. Except for one particularly vibrant neighborhood, the whole city felt pretty grey to me. Maybe it was the graffiti everywhere:
Or the sad river running through the city:
Maybe it was the crazy smells, ranging from dog poop to fish. (But hey, to be fair, that’s not unique to this city!)
And maybe that was our fault for not exploring more. Here’s what we did during our week in Santiago, Chile, and some things I wish we did.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at three different places in Santiago, in two distinct neighborhoods: Providencia and Las Condes.
The first was the Holiday Inn Express in Las Condes. Pete needed some IHG points, so we paid cash for a one-night stay here. It was a really great hotel with free breakfast, a pool, and a decent fitness center, but under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t pay this much for a hotel.
The second was an AirBnb in Providencia. This apartment was in a fabulous location – we walked everywhere, but if we had wanted to go somewhere farther away, it was also close to public transportation. Here’s a link to our AirBnb.
The third was the Renaissance Santiago Hotel, also in Las Condes. We stayed here on a Marriott certificate. It was a bit further from “downtown” than I would’ve preferred, but it was fantastic for the value. Plus, it was really easy to Uber everywhere from here for about $6. It was gorgeous, had a nice pool (although it was too cold to use it), tons of space, free breakfast & (basically) dinner for Gold and Platinum Marriott members, and a great fitness center.
What We Did
San Cristobal Hill
Given the “hype” for this top attraction, this was the most underwhelming thing we did in Santiago.
First of all, let’s talk about the funicular. I have no clue why everyone raves about it. It became our group joke with Pete’s parents for the rest of their trip about how it’s a must-see attraction. I mean, if there weren’t any lines, that would be one thing. But we waited over an hour and a half just to get on this thing.
It’s essentially a really steep cable car that takes you to the top of the hill, stopping at the zoo along the way. It only costs about $3, or $4 on weekends and holidays, for a round trip adult ticket. Given the amount of time we waited in line, we probably should’ve just hiked up the stupid hill.
After tons of build-up, the views were…pretty anti-climatic. The city was totally covered in smog, and I think that’s probably how it is most days.
The Santuario de la Inmaculada Concepcion was fine, but some genius decided to build a cell tower right behind the centerpiece. *facepalm* The whole outdoor church was in a state of disrepair and in need of some serious lovin.
We’d planned on taking the gondola ride that goes around the top of the hill, but given the smoggy views and…oh wait, what’s that? ANOTHER LINE? Yeah, we weren’t about to wait an additional hour or so for another ride. As it was, we already were going to have to wait in line to go down the funicular. Needless to say, our group unanimously decided to nix the gondola. Maybe it was worth it – maybe we totally missed out…but I kind of doubt it. (Does anyone know if it’s worth it? Please tell me in the comments!)
Terremotos at La Piojera
Let’s move on to a much more fun activity – drinking Chilean cocktails at a dive bar. This was our first experience with the terremoto – a drink you can only get in Chile made with some sort of extra-alcoholic wine topped with pineapple sherbet (PS I had no idea that’s how you spell sherbet until just now). It’s named after an earthquake because it’s pretty dang strong. Fun fact – you can order a smaller, second one called “aftershock.”
La Piojera, a famous bar next to the Central Market, is supposedly the best place to get these cocktails – and I can see why. This bar has a great feel to it – each time we went, there was a good mix of locals and tourists, they had live music, and there were plenty of terremotos flowing.
Plaza de Armas
Sigh. Another main attraction I just didn’t get.
Maybe it’s because you have to be a history buff to appreciate this square that apparently has great historical significance. Maybe it’s because our Uber driver scared the crap out of us by giving us the third degree about why we wanted to go there. Pete’s dad asked if it was only dangerous at night, and the driver responded with something like:
During the day, you need to watch your pockets. During the night… *makes motion and sound effects like he’s getting stabbed in the throat*
He then proceeded to show Pete’s dad videos about recent scams that happened “2 days ago!!”. Pete’s poor parents were thoroughly disturbed. So yeah, that could be a big reason why we weren’t too impressed by this place. But hey – the church was cool (Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago), especially because we went on Good Friday and got to see the super interesting open-air confessionals happening.
Santa Lucia Hill
My favorite “attraction” that we did (besides La Piojera, if you count that). This hill was much less crowded than San Cristobal and much easier to access. All it takes is a 15 minute walk up some stairs and you can get to the top for some great views of the city. Bonus: it’s free to enter.
This is a long park you can stroll through to avoid walking along the busy roads.
My favorite neighborhood that we explored. I really liked the street art and the lively bars.
Protip: Don’t go for a stroll down the main street (Pio Nono) on a weekend – your chances of smelling beer and vomit will greatly increase.
Somehow, despite our mutual hate for shopping malls, Pete and I seem to find ourselves walking around them a lot throughout our travels. This time, our trip spurred from the necessity of finding a jacket – Chile and Argentina were a lot colder than I expected, and I was totally unprepared (I gave my mom a lot of my cold-weather clothes when she came to Africa since I didn’t think I’d need them anymore – oops).
This mall was absolutely massive and, despite being a 1pm on a Wednesday, totally crowded. People came armed with rolling suitcases to fill them up with stuff they bought.
The Black Rock Pub
exhausting shopping experience, we went to this outdoor pub for some Chilean craft beers. Pete also got some empanadas. Everything was really delicious!
If you’re in the area and enjoy craft beer, check this place out.
We posted up on some lawn chairs under an umbrella – free of charge! This park was really nice and well maintained – a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.
Where We Ate
One of the reasons we didn’t see as much of Santiago as we could have is because the Renaissance hotel gave us free breakfast every morning and free canapes (which we treated as dinner) every night. So during our 5 nights in that hotel, we didn’t eat at any restaurants for breakfast or dinner.
Known for its reasonable prices, local food, and a generally long line during normal eating hours. The food didn’t wow us, but it wasn’t bad, either…very mediocre.
This Peruvian place was right by our AirBnb so we decided to check it out. We happened to go on a Sunday when it’s only open from 1 until 3:45pm, so that small window intrigued us even more. The food was delicious, the service was great, and the pisco sours were top notch. It was pretty expensive, but you get what you pay for. If you’re in the area, I’d suggest it!
Menu del Dia
This doesn’t apply to a particular restaurant, but many (most?) restaurants in the city have a “menu del dia” (menu of the day) for lunchtime, which is often a really great deal. For example, we got a drink, salad, main, and dessert for 5,000 CLP (about $7)! Try the pastel del choclo – literally meaning a corn cake, it’s pretty tasty.
What We Missed
Here are some of the things we didn’t get to do during our time in Santiago, that may have helped me warm a bit to the city.
One of the largest cemeteries in Latin America. I’d love to spend an afternoon strolling around, taking pictures, admiring the structures.
La Vega Central (largest market in Chile), Mercado Central (fish market). I’ll be honest – I almost walked into Mercado Central on more than one occasion, but after one whiff of the incredibly pungent fish smell, I lost all desire.
Parque De Las Esculturas (Sculpture Park)
We drove past it so I did get a quick peek, but I wish I got to see more of it and take some pictures of the wide range of sculptures. Again, this would be a great way to spend a morning or afternoon.
There were lots of restaurants I wanted to try: for example, Bocanariz and somewhere in Patio Bellavista (a large group of restaurants in Bellavista).
How do you feel about Santiago? Should I give it another chance?