View from the tower

Mini guide to Santiago

This is my mini guide to Santiago Chile including things to do and where to eat.

I’ve split this mini guide in the following sections:

  • Overview of key neighbourhoods and getting your bearings
  • Getting around
  • Places to eat
  • Things to do

Overview of key neighbourhoods and getting your bearings

Santiago is big but can be quite manageable if sticking to a few areas. If visiting for work in the Los Condes area, you probably won’t venture much further than the places below.

Los Condes

I’ve had this area described to me as ‘a bubble’. As in, the kind of place where the ‘well to do’ people live and play. So if you’re looking to experience ‘real Santiago’ this isn’t going to give you an authentic experience. If you’re visiting for work, this is probably where you will spend most of your time. 

A few key points areas to know:

  • Cerro El Plomo (business district): office buildings, cafes and restaurants
  • Alonso de Córdova (restaurants): This restaurant and shop filled street stretches from the large intersection next to the Mandarin Oriental to Bicentenario Park to the West. 
  • Parque Arauco shopping mall: Large shopping mall with outdoor restaurant area. The Marriott Hotel is next door, not to be confused with the Courtyard by Marriott. Not that I’ve done that or anything …
  • Parque Araucano (big public park not to be confused with the shopping mall)

Barrio El Golf

Like Los Condes, Barrio El Golf is another area where a lot of ex-pats call home. Here you’ll find another street with restaurants, though not as long and full of excellent eateries as Alonso de Cordova

The Costanera Centre (another large shopping centre) and the Costanera Tower (tallest building in the southern hemisphere) are located just west of Barrio El Golf. 

Bellas Artes

A bit further afield from Los Condes, Bellas Artes is an area with a few tourist sites worth visiting. 

  • Plaza de Armas (main public square, Santiago cathedral and Museum of National History of Chile Museo Histórico Nacional)
  • Cerro Santa Lucía (Santa Lucía Hill)
  • La Starria neighbourhood (cafes and restaurants)

Bellavista

Sitting below Cerro San Cristóbal, Bellavista is where you’ll find the entrance to the Funiculara. It also has a restaurant area including Patio Bellavista restaurants and bars. 

Getting around 

I’ll start by disclaiming that I have no trouble walking long distances and I prefer to use public transport when I can. Hot tip – pack good walking shoes if you’re going to take my advice!

A short note on public transport in Santiago. By all accounts it seems safe to use if you keep your wits about you (just like in any city). I have no first hand experience since my attempt to use the Metro was thwarted by my lack of Chilean Pesos.

The Metro station closest to my hotel (a 15 min walk to the Escuela Militare station) sells the OPI card that is required for using the metro. When attempting to buy a card, I was told they only accepted cash and pointed vaguely in the direction of the exit. I found an ATM and with a service fee of 8,000 CLP (when the card and funds needed for my day was going to be about half that). I decided not to support the rip-off ATM and called for an Uber instead (fee to Bellas Artes of 7,000 CLP). 

If you’re going to use the card over multiple days, it could be worth it. For a couple of short trips, it will likely be cheaper (or at least less infuriating) to use Ubers.

More information on Santiago’s public transportation – (link)

Speaking of Ubers, they are not technically legal in Chile but they are plentiful. I found wait times to be less than 5 minutes and all the drivers friendly. So friendly they continue to speak in Spanish after I say “Lo sciento, non hablos Espanol” (I’m sorry I don’t speak Spanish). 

Things to do 

I’ll start by stepping through a group of activities that can easily be combined in a long morning or day. I’ve also included other options that could be added on or saved for another day. 

This itinerary includes visiting the Bellas Artes area, the funicular and cable car at Cerro San Cristóbal, and finishes with 360 degree views at the Sky Costerana tower. 

Cerro Santa Lucía

First start by jumping in an Uber and get dropped off Cerro Santa Lucía. I found the experience of walking around the hill rather confusing so I don’t have great directions. But I can say there are two key sites worth wandering around to find. First is (relatively) easy and that’s to keep weaving your way up to the very top. Basically keep following the road / steps up until you can’t go up any further. The second is the Fuente Neptuno fountain which is at the southern end of the hill, almost at ground level. If you happen to stumble upon it, Terraza Caupolicán is also a nice spot to sit and relax. 

Plaza de Armas

Once finished with the hill, head a few streets west and north to come to Plaza de Armas. This is the major square flanked by historic buildings including the fairly impressive Santiago cathedral (dress appropriately) and the Museum of National History of Chile. The park is known to be rather dodgy in the evening and has quite a fair number of people ‘hanging about’. I wondered how many were scoping out potential mugging victims but I saw nothing dodgy. It has some interesting artworks, nice view of the outside of the cathedral and some pigeons. 

I can’t say much about the Museum since i didn’t make it past the bag check. Though entrance is free, my small bag needed to be put into a locker than only locked if you paid a small fee in pesos (which of course I didn’t have). So if you want to visit I recommend no bag, or bring some coins. 

A short note on this area before I move on. On the Sunday morning I visited, the streets were pretty dead with not a lot open. If you want to shop, I’d recommend not visiting on a Sunday morning. I also must mention (and I hate to say it) but the area smelled of urine. Whether this was from the many dogs being walked and/or homeless people without a less public place to relieve themselves, I don’t want to spend much more time thinking about. But be warned the smell is … something, if not memorable.

La Starria 

Short disclaimer. I visited this area on a Sunday morning so it was pretty dead besides a handful of cafes: Cafe Wonderland had a queue down the street so I assume is good, if at least popular. There are three cafes next to each other on Padre Luis de Valdivia and a French bakery / cafe chain called Fournil. I ate at the latter since it was the last place I saw when I was starting to need a coffee. Service was rather slow and the food was ok. I’d call it passible. 

Apparently this area comes into its own in the evening, so unless you want a coffee on this day trip, it might be worth saving for an evening outing. At the end of José Victorino Lastarria, there was a small set of stalls (say ~20) selling a variety of crafts and food, so a bit of activity.

Bella Vista

Next stop is a crossing over the river and through Bella Vista to Pio Nino and to the Funicular. This area will either be pretty dead (Sunday morning) or full of life (in the evening). Bella Vista deck looks like a place worth checking out later in the day. On this Sunday morning, like most places in the area, it was pretty quiet. 

Funicular and the Teleférico (cable car)

This attraction is run by Turistik which also runs the red tourist bus. Apparently you can get a discount across all three if you plan ahead. The ticketing is rather confusing with a few options including: funicular only, funicular + teleferico round trip and funicular + teleferico one way (Combinato ticket). Prices are different for locals and there’s a discount for older people. For this itinerary, ask for a Combinato ticket then stand in the queue and wait. Weekends are likely to be much more busy. On the day I visited, the wait time including standing in line for a ticket was about 20 minutes. 

After the ride on the funicular, at the top of the hill there are views of the city and stalls selling junk foods and souvenirs. Continuing further up the hill you can get up close and personal with the gigantic Mary statue. There is a small church and a few relgious statues if you’re into that kind of thing. 

To get to the funicular, I didn’t see any signs, but from what I could figure out, return close to where the funicular ended and then hang right instead of up the hill to Mary and walk northward. About five minutes later you’ll see the cable car building. They fill the cars to keep the line moving, so you could be sitting with randoms. Sitting on the right hand side gives best views of the city. 

The park is huge and I’m sure there’s plenty to explore, but there’s also not a lot of shade. Depending on how keen you are, you could continue exploring or exit the park. If you exit after the cable car, it’s about a 15 minute walk through a residential neighbourhood and then across the bridge and to Costernara Centre. On the way there was a very popular bakery if you’re in need of a coffee or pastry (Caffé Letelier).

Costanera shopping centre and tower for 360 degree views

As the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, it’s worth a trip up the tower. To access it, head into the shopping centre and down to the bottom level and look for “Sky Costanera”. There you buy a ticket and head up to lift to the top of the building. There’s a cafe and bar and a souvenirs shop.

As part of this itinerary, you’ll end up here during the afternoon. For best views, this is a great option for early evening and the sunset when the smog has cleared.

Places to eat

First off, Chilean cuisine has a lot of Spanish flavours and includes influences from nearby Peru and Argentina. Typical wine varieties include Savingnon Blanc and Chardonnays (whites) and Carménère and Malbec (reds). And you can’t visit Chile and not try a Pisco sour!

My recommendations are mostly pescatarian friendly (look elsewhere for steakhouse ideas) though I have included one in the list. All restaurants are in Los Condes or Barrio El Golf. 

Despite the number of options, Chileans seem to like eating out so I recommend booking in advance when possible, even when eating during ‘gringo’ hour (around 7pm). Some restaurants close after midnight on weekends. So if you’re worried about eating alone, head out to dinner from 8pm with the locals!

Alonso de Cordova

  • Bariana (High-end Italian, Alonso de Córdova 3788): The fancier of the options, the service here was impeccable (friendly but not obtrusive) and the food matched the service vibe. Located off the Main Street in the back of a large building, it has a large outdoor seating area.
  • CapoGrossi (mid to end Italian, Alonso de Córdova 4225): Located just down the road from Bariana, CapoGrossi provides a different but equally good experience. I’d put the food as more ‘up-scale’ approachable Italian. Their take on tiramisu is two-thumbs up worthy.
  • La Picantería (Chilien, Alonso de Córdova 4355, below street level): Also known as the place where I had my first, and then second, Pisco sour and almost missed my flight back to Australia! Their menu has a bit of everything but ceviche was a big winner here along with other local specialities.
  • Mestizo (Cuisine, Av. Bicentenario 4050): Located at the north end of Parque Cennternial, this is a place for lunch or dinner with a view. If weather permits, ask for a table outside. On a recent visit, the food was ok and the service was very slow. But the views are nice and a good place to eat off your jet lag. 
  • Carnal (steakhouse, Alonso de Córdova 3053): High end steakhouse at the far end of Alonso de Cordova. As the only non-meat eater in my group, I was the only one without a steak in front of me during mains. Everyone seemed to enjoy theirs. My fish was cooked well. Very inviting outdoor area facing the street, and cosy inside. 
  • Tiramisu (Pizza, Isidora Goyenechea 3141): With a name like that, I had to give it a try! This place specialises in pizza and provides plenty of options. It’s busy so make sure to book ahead. 
  • Le Due Torri Isidora (Italian, Isidora Goyenechea 2908): Definitely on the lower end of the Italian quality scale but should have something for everyone. It’s one of those places that does pasta 10 different ways and then has similar sauces for each, resulting in 40+ options. On the Sunday afternoon I visited it was busy. Service was friendly and very helpful with my limited Spanish. 

Hotel Options

  • Marriott: Latin Grill (also where breakfast is served) was unexpectedly good. (Maybe I should start giving hotel restaurants more of a chance). Serving sizes were on the small size but quality was good. Ambience is a bit lacking though.
  • Mandarin Oriental: They have two restaurants on-site. Senso, an Italian restaurant with lovely pasta options that won be over with a burrata with a side of melanzane (eggplant) crisps. Matuki is a Japanese Peruvian fusion restaurant. The waiter explained it as using Japanese techniques with Peruvian flavours. Both restaurants have outdoor eating with views of the pool area (much nicer than the Marriott). And you can’t beat the convienance if you’re staying at the hotel. 

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