When I was working in travel, a lot of clients planning a visit to South America would ask if Santiago in Chile was worth spending a few days. As I discovered, the city is surprisingly cosmopolitan, friendly and artistic.
If you like food and wine, architecture, great views and a bit of quirkiness, you’re going to love a Santiago stopover.
As soon as I landed in Chile’s capital, I was impressed by the panoramic vista. The city sits in a basin, surrounded by the Andes and Chilean mountain range, which makes for some captivating views and sunsets. Coming from a reasonably flat country like Australia, it is always awe-inspiring to be in a place, which has a vastly different landscape.
Being my first time in South America and travelling solo, Santiago was to be my first touchpoint to the continent and I was a little apprehensive as to how I was going to go. How different was it going to be? So many people had conjured up images and statements about South America being dangerous, especially as a woman alone. Truth be told, I was really, really nervous.
The people of Santiago immediately put me at ease. On my first day sightseeing, I met a Chilean family and ended up playing piano with their daughter. Pianos are dotted around the city for people to play them for free. It brought a smile to my face walking past someone who was bringing music to the street.
Afterwards, whilst taking photos outside the former Parliament and National Congress Building, I met a journalist who had been working inside. We had a lengthy discussion about the meticulous and stunning grounds of this incredible building, the history of Santiago, and also his work. Shopkeepers were friendly and helped with directions. I felt welcomed.
Never before had I visited a place where artists start performing when the traffic lights go red. Giggles surged up in me when such an interlude took me by surprise on my first night, as I crossed a busy street. Fire dancers, acrobats and jugglers gift roads and intersections with their craft. It is easy to quickly become endeared to the place.
Like any big city you have to be mindful of your belongings and watch out for scams. For example, one night while out, I made the mistake of not discussing the anticipated rate with the taxi driver to take me back to my hotel before we departed.
I had asked at my hotel how much the fare should be so I had a reasonable idea of the cost. However, on the return trip one block before the hotel, the driver stopped and asked for twice that amount. When I began to dispute it, he centrally locked the car doors. I pretty quickly pulled out my wallet and paid. I was angry, but at the same time, I just wanted out of the cab. Being ripped off is nothing new in the travel world, so I didn’t let the experience tarnish what was otherwise a feel good time with the people of Santiago.
The Chilean capital is an easy city to walk around and I saw most sights on foot.
If you’re not into a lot of walking, the metro here works quite well and it’s simple to understand.
Key on the agenda during a few days in Santiago should be a visit to Plaza de Armas, where many of the historic buildings are situated. Aside from taking in the mix of modern and colonial architecture, you can walk along the promenade in either direction, for shopping or visiting cafes.
If you make your way east, you can reach Cerro Lucia Hill. This park was a real highlight featuring appealing old buildings and offering a natural respite from the bustling city. After a twenty-minute walk up the hill you are rewarded with a 360-degree view of Santiago. On the way up, don’t miss Neptune’s Fountain, another of Santiago’s architectural delights.
Walking northeast from here, crossing over the Mapocho River, it’s about a thirty minute walk to Patio Bellavista. As you go over the bridge, you’ll probably see squats and tents on the riverbed, another quirk that seemed quite unique to this city. Temporary lodgings line the water’s edge, with inhabitants, many of whom are making political statements.
Soon enough you’ve arrived and transitioned into trendy Bellavista. This dining and drinking precinct has lots of little alcoves and walkways to discover with a diverse number of restaurants. Not only do shops offer exquisite local artisans’ work, the walls of the area, even planter boxes, exhibit the local art work.
A visit to Santiago would not be complete without trying some of the red wines.
My hometown being close to the Barossa and Coonawarra in South Australia, I am a little spoilt with the quality of some reds I have tasted. I have to say some of the Chilean reds were on par! It was the first time I had tried a Carménère and I can tell you it won’t be the last time!
Sally Watson is an Australian Journalist and media exec who loves to travel, discover new places and share stories on her blog Wing Woman Adventures.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.