- Santiago is Chile’s capital and largest city, with a population of 6 million.
- Founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia in 1541.
- Divided into comunas – political divisions similar to the boroughs of New York City.
- Located about 1 hour from the ski slopes and 1.5 hours from the beach.
- Nicknames: known to outsiders as “la capital.”
- Currency: Chilean peso (CLP).
- Spoken languages: predominantly Spanish.
- Best time to visit: from September to May (Santiago has a pleasant, mediterranean climate). Ski season is June through early October.
- Arriving via airport: Centropuerto bus to Los Héroes subway station: $2.78 one way, $5.35 round trip. You can also take a shuttle (hired at the desk outside international arrivals) for about $15.
- Local landline numbers were recently changed from 7 digits to 8 digits. If you see a 7 digit number (e.g. 333-3333), you must dial “2” first (e.g. 2333-3333).
WHERE TO STAY
If you want to be in walking distance of the old city, Santiago’s downtown (Santiago Centro) has a wide range of accommodations and prices. Providencia is a little farther east, but you have quick access to many parts of the city via the subway (called Metro). The most exclusive hotels are located in Las Condes and Vitacura.
- The systems for getting around town include the Metro (subway) and Transantiago city buses. The Metro will take you to most centrally located sites of interest. Transantiago buses may be crowded or require a long wait. You can purchase a prepaid BIP card that will work on both the subway and city buses.
- Taxis are yellow and black and can be hailed on the street. Though more expensive than the subway or buses, short trips are priced reasonably.
- Drinking age is 18, no official last call (bars are open until early morning).
- Hip/local scene: bars in Bellavista (Baquedano Metro Station) and in Suecia (Los Leones Metro Station).
- Upscale scene: bars and restaurants on El Bosque Norte Street (Tobalaba Metro Station) and in Barrio el Golf (El Golf Metro Station)
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Cerro San Cristóbal is a hill with the statue of the Virgin Mary at the top. Take a ride in a gondola, visit the zoo, and take in the view of the city below.
- Plaza de Armas (at Plaza de Armas Metro) is Santiago’s main square. Take a chance to visit the city’s cathedral.
- El Pueblito de los Dominicos (Los Dominicos Metro Station). Old Dominican monastery and church. There’s also a crafts market, where you will find all sorts of souvenirs. Look for goods made with lapis lazuli, a blue stone found only in Chile and Afghanistan.
- Palacio Cousiño, a mansion from the 19th century that is open for tours.
- Walk in Santiago Centro, on the north side of the Alameda. Take Paseo Ahumada all the way to Plaza de Armas. Palacio La Moneda (the presidential palace) is another noteworthy stop.
- Admire the French-style architecture and meandering streets on both Concha y Toro and Londres streets.
- Take a stroll through two recently inaugurated parks: Parque Bicentenario and Parque Juan Pablo II.
- Walk through the manicured gardens of Parque Forestal and stop at Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes to admire the art.
- Don’t forget to pack a sweater and/or a light jacket (mornings and evenings are cool, with the exception of the hottest summer days).
- Santiago is full of fuentes de soda (soda fountains) that serve as informal cafés. Be adventurous and try the Chilean version of a hot dog – the completo. It is topped with tomato, mayonnaise, sauerkraut and avocado paste.
- The core of Santiago is laid out in a grid, with streets running in straight lines. The Andes Mountains help you get your bearings. If you go to more residential neighborhoods, you will see that the streets have distinct names such as: Arkansas, Mar Negro and Hamburgo. Hardly any streets are named with numbers.
- Santiago remains conservative, though it has opened up from the world. If you stray from the norm, you will stand out.
- Do not carry any valuables on you. Take only the cash you need with you. Never take your wallet out in public to count money.
- Dangerous areas: The main danger in the city’s tourist area is theft. Try not to walk in Santiago Centro at night and avoid the comunas to the south, north and west of Santiago Centro.
The Best Santiago Guide Books:
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days