The epic bus ride from Mendoza to Santiago brought me to one of South America's most modern and beloved capitals.
Santiago is often praised for its idyllic location, surrounded by snow-capped mountains easily visible from the city. In terms of natural beauty, I was curious to see how it stacked up to Medellin.
I took a taxi from the bus station to the Bellavista Hostel, which featured some of the most comfortable bunk beds, complete with down comforters, I've ever experienced.
As I continued to make my way back to Lima for a scheduled trip into the Peruvian Amazon, I was forced to give Santiago four short days. Despite the rush, I managed to see quite a lot.
Without further adieu, here are my top ten things to do in Santiago.
After catching a good night's sleep, my top priority was to check out the bohemian neighborhood of Bellavista.
Upon leaving the hostel, I immediately began to notice lots of excellent graffiti.
In Patio Bellavista, an outdoor mall featuring a variety of bars and restaurants, I jumped on the opportunity to eat fresh sushi for lunch.
There was an (imported) salmon shortage in Buenos Aires during my stay, but since Chile is one of their leading suppliers, it was a non-issue in Santiago.
The salmon nigiri at Fukai was the best I'd had since leaving Lima a few months earlier.
After lunch, I continued to walk around the neighborhood, taking in the vast number of discotecas that lined the streets.
This was my kind of neighborhood, and I could picture myself spending a lot of time in Bellavista if I ever chose to live in Santiago.
2. Cerro San Cristobal
In addition to a busy restaurant and nightlife scene, Bellavista is also the point of access for a funicular leading up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal.
At an elevation of 880 meters, it's the second-highest point in the city.
Open Mondays from 2 PM to 7 PM, and the rest of the week from 10 AM to 7 PM, a roundtrip ride to the top costs 1,800 Chilean Pesos ($3.75).
Halfway up the hill, you can get off the funicular and visit the National Zoo of Chile for an additional 3,000 Chilean pesos ($6.30).
The zoo is built into a hillside reminded me of the zoo in Banos, Ecuador, and the Darjeeling Zoo in India.
Highlights include a white Siberian tiger, African lions, and jaguars, but if its scenic city views you're after, it's best to head straight for the top of the hill.
Once you reach the top, you'll be treated to sweeping views of Santiago, although if you're in the city any time but in Summer or after a heavy rain, don't be surprised if a blanket of smog disrupts that view.
The summit also features a theater, sanctuary to the Immaculate Conception (a little church), and a giant white statue of the Virgin Mary.
3. La Chascona (Pablo Neruda's House)
Pablo Neruda is Chile's Nobel Prize-winning poet. One of his homes, La Chascona, is also located in the Bellavista neighborhood, a few blocks from the funicular.
I wasn't familiar with Neruda before arriving in Santiago but found the guided tour of his home to be both interesting and well worth the 4,000 Chilean peso cost ($8.40).
In particular, he purposefully designed his homes to resemble boats. Later, I would visit La Sebastiana, another of his houses-turned-museums, in Valparaiso.
Pablo Neruda has been in the news recently, as his body was exhumed to determine whether he was poisoned, as some believe, or died from natural causes (prostate cancer).
4. Museum of Memory and Human Rights (Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos)
If you can tear yourself away from Bellavista, I highly recommend the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, which opened on January 11, 2010.
For starters, the architectural design of the museum is unlike anything I've ever seen.
A large green rectangular box sits on two concrete pedestals to form a bridge of sorts.
The museum commemorates “the victims of Human Rights violations during the Military Regime led by Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990″ (Wikipedia).
As an outsider unfamiliar with Chilean history, I found the museum to be eye-opening.
In addition to tourists, there were numerous schoolchildren there to learn about these tragic events.
5. Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas forms the historic city center of Santiago.
The large plaza features the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, the Central Post Office, and the National History Museum.
I consider any central plaza of a capital city a “must-see,” but I didn't find this one to be especially attractive or interesting.
6. Cerro Santa Lucia
For a different perspective on the city, climb up Cerro Santa Lucia.
At 629 meters, it's a few hundred shorter than Cerro San Cristobal, and its location closer to the city center allows for better views of Santiago's modern skyscrapers.
I climbed the hill's many stony stairs at sunset, only to find a yellow smog obscuring the views.
7. Chilean National Fine Arts Museum (Museo Nacional de Bella Artes)
Inaugurated in 1910, the National Fine Arts Museum features a fantastic architectural design, both outside and within.
The 600 pesos ($1.25) entrance fee makes it accessible to visitors of all budgets, and it's worth taking a peek inside the grand hall, which is lined with sculptures.
The grand hall is the only room where photography is allowed.
8. Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo)
Located in Parque Forestal, behind the Fine Arts Museum, is the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The entrance is marked by a giant horse sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, and the entrance fee is the same, 600 pesos ($1.25).
9. Mercado Central
Foodies should make it a point to stop by Mercado Central for lunch or dinner.
Santiago's chaotic seafood market is a mix of fishmongers selling the fresh catches and the restaurants that cook them.
It was recommended that I grab lunch at Tio Willy's restaurant, which was not located in the main hall (pictured above).
I ordered swordfish, with a side salad, for 6,980 pesos ($14.60), but I wasn't impressed and wished I'd eaten in one of the more renowned restaurants like Augusto, which offered more in the way of atmosphere.
Check out Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations: Chile (Season 5, Ep.10) for more info.
10. Parque Las Esculturas
The Parque Las Esculturas was one of the last sites I managed to squeeze in before boarding a bus to Valparaiso on the coast.
It was also one of my favorites, and you can't beat the cost (free).
I lucked out with beautiful blue skies, which made walking through the park all the more enjoyable.
The park doesn't seem to make the other top 10 lists out there, but I'd highly recommend a visit.
On a clear day, you'll also have excellent views of Cerro San Cristobal.
Dave is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Go Backpacking and Feastio. He's been to 66 countries and lived in Colombia and Peru. Read the full story of how he became a travel blogger.
Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:
- G Adventures for small group tours.
- World Nomads for travel insurance.
- Hostelworld for booking hostels.
- Rail Europe for train passes.
Monday 4th of July 2016
Thank you for your tip..going there at the end of the month and I am using your tip as a Guide!! Cheers. Joweli
Tuesday 4th of November 2014
My son said it is very beautiful in Santiago great people,too good food and lodging God Country one of them that is ! Great place!!
Thursday 3rd of April 2014
I leave this page its a little program about the attractions in Santiago a magic place! (What To Do In Santiago?)
Your guide to learn, live and experience the hidden gems of Santiago .... An amazing new place in the capital, every Thursday through Youtube
Thursday 9th of May 2013
Seems Santiago is well known on its most extensive subway system. I think I will enjoy Cerro San Cristobal place, thanks for sharing these list so I can add it up on my itinerary.
Sunday 5th of May 2013
Santiago looks like a super cool city! Shame we won't be visiting it this time on our South America trip - next time, eh?!