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Santiago has been called the most underrated city in South America, largely because Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires are such popular tourist destinations. However, Santiago has a rich and fascinating culture and is an excellent place to visit for a wide variety of travelers. Whether you like to eat, learn, explore, ski, or just enjoy a good sunset, Santiago has a place on every traveler’s bucket list. Here are our favorite things to add to your Santiago itinerary.
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One of the top things to do in Santiago is to spend some time in the artsy and bohemian Bellavista neighborhood. Here you can learn about the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, and find lots of bars and restaurants to keep you entertained and immersed in the local culture. The buildings are decorated with colorful art and graffiti, and it’s easy to spend a whole day stopping into the boutique shops, galleries, and restaurants. Both locals and tourists love this area because there’s always something new to see and explore.
The Plaza de Arms is located in the center of the city of Santiago and is a central plaza worth checking out. This is where you’ll find iconic buildings, like La Catedral Metropolitana and the Central Post Office. The Metropolitan Cathedral has a history that dates back to 1541 and is a must-see sight in the city. This popular attraction is free to visit and draws big crowds, so be prepared to have some company when you check out this lovely cathedral.
This museum tells the story of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet and a time in Chile’s history when thousands of people were murdered, tortured, and mysteriously disappeared. This time period was shockingly recent, from 1973 to 1990, and you can learn about the people’s stories by viewing the artifacts and photographs inside. Admission to the museum is free.
Foodies who travel to Santiago love the Central Market because of the top-notch seafood and local favorite dishes here. This is a great place to try local squid, sea urchin, empanadas, and ceviche while listening to live music. You’ll also find spices, vegetables and fruits here in this lively and colorful market. You can stop by the market on Sundays through Thursdays from 6am to 5pm, on Fridays from 6am to 8pm, and on Saturdays from 6am to 6pm.
Chilean wines are among the most beloved wines in all of the world, and you can visit some amazing wineries when you spend time in Santiago. The winemaking region around Santiago produces many different varietals, and you can actually reach some vineyards by subway or taxi from the city center. Pirque is a big winemaking area that’s only about 15 miles from Santiago and known for cabernet sauvignon. This is great to know, especially if you aren’t planning to rent a car for your South American adventure. Wine lovers may also want to head towards Valparaíso and stop at the Casablanca Valley for a winery day trip as well.
First-time visitors to Chile may not be aware that the Santiago area is a prime skiing destination and that you can experience the snow of the Andes mountain range on a trip to the region. One recommended skiing spot is Portillo, which is about 100 miles northeast of Santiago and has very impressive scenery. The peak season to ski in the region is July and August, so it’s fun for travelers from the northern hemisphere to get in some skiing during this time of year. The small and elite La Parva ski resort is very close to Santiago, El Colorado and the Farellones ski areas are recommended for beginners, and the Valle Nevado is a huge resort with excellent facilities. There are also heli-skiing options in this region for truly adventurous travelers.
Locally known as Cerro Santa Lucía, this is a scenic viewpoint with a historic twist. This is where the city was founded, and it’s in the Lastarria neighborhood today. You can park near the entrance and follow the path to climb the stairs to the top. Even if the weather is hot, the climb is worth it to see the views and spend a couple hours wandering around the fountain and terrace. There’s also an elevator you can take if you’re not up for a climb. There is no fee to visit this site, and you can hop off the metro at the Santa Lucía stop to avoid driving and parking. The park is typically open every day of the year and stays open longer during the summer months of October though February.
This is a great museum to visit while you’re in Santiago and a very interesting one to browse even if you’re not a die-hard art lover. There are lots of pieces here from the time before the Spanish arrived, so it’s a fascinating way to learn about what life was like for the native inhabitants. You’ll find everything from textiles to sculptures, weavings, pottery, and rock art from the Incas, Aztecs, Caribbean, Amazon, and beyond. The admission fee for non-local visitors is $6, and the museum is open every day except Monday.
If you’re looking for something locally authentic and less touristy to do, why not catch a performance at the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral? This is a performance space that’s devoted to the arts and music, and you can often see contemporary dance and drama shows here. It’s locally referred to as the GAM and is located in the center of Santiago. Inside you’ll find six performance halls, two conference halls, a library, exhibition rooms, a recording studio, open squares, a café, restaurants, and bookshop. Guided tours are available to learn ore about history, artwork, and architecture. Check the venue’s website before your trip to see what’s playing!