Holidays in Santiago
Tours & Trips to Chile's Capital
The RealWorld Guide to Santiago
Most holidays to Chile begin in Santiago: one of South America's largest cities, and also one of its most modern. Not much remains of the original colonial city and Santiago isn't historic in quite the same way as Lima or Quito but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to keep you occupied.
Santiago is arguably South America's most cultured and quirky capital city, with one of the continent's best arts scenes, superb museums and galleries, and fantastic food. It also benefits from being surrounded by beautiful countryside, in the foothills of the mighty Andes, meaning there is superb hiking, riding, rafting and even skiing within just a few hours of the city centre.
Holidays and Tours in Santiago
All our holidays and tours of Chile can be 100% tailor-made, so just get in touch to plan your trip to Santiago.
Where to Stay in Santiago
As with most of the cities the Spanish founded in South America, the historic centre of Santiago was clustered around the main square, the Plaza de Armas. Today this is still at the heart of the city and the district known simply as Centro is the starting point for most tours of Santiago.
The city's major museums are here, but although there are a handful of decent hotels the choice is fairly limited and most tourists tend to see Centro as an area to visit rather than stay in during their holidays in Santiago. Most of the historical sights in the city are right in the centre, known as Centro. This is where you'll find all the main official buildings, the grand squares like the Plaza de Mayo, and the main shopping streets. Centro has the largest number of hotels and it's well-connected to the rest of the city by Buenos Aires' excellent subté tube network, so this is where most people choose to stay in Buenos Aires.
To the east of the centre is leafy Providencia and this is where you'll find the majority of Santiago's good 3 and 4-star hotels, as well as a huge selection of restaurants, shops and all the other amenities you're likely to be looking for. If you were going to quibble, you might say that Providencia was a little lacking in character - in many ways it doesn't feel especially South American - but it's a very pleasant, safe and useful place to base yourself in Santiago - and with 3 Metro stations it's very easy to get further afield as well.
To the north-east of Centro, and west of Providencia is the bohemian district of Lastarria. In many ways this is classic Santiago: by turns opulent and scruffy, in this idiosyncratic area you'll find Belle Epoque mansions and classy pavement cafes cheek by jowl with dive bars and sex shops. There are a handful of interesting boutique hotels here but like Centro, most people prefer to dip in and out of Lastarria rather than using it as a base.
North of Lastarria, across the Parque Forestal and the 8 lanes of the Costanera Norte highway is the riotous Bellavista district. This is the undisputed centre of Santiago's nightlife and once the sun goes down it's thronged with people enjoying the dozens of bars and restaurants on offer. By day, it's much more sedate, however, and there are some excellent hotels here, particularly away from the main streets and towards the base of the hill of San Cristobal. If you don't mind the nightlife in the evenings, this can be a great base for your holiday in Santiago.
What to See and Do in Santiago
For us, visiting Santiago is much more about spending time and enjoying the different atmosphere the different areas of the city have to offer than taking particular tours. That said, there are a few sites we'd definitely suggest you check out, so have a look at the following:
Bellavista & Cerro San Cristobal
On the northern edge of the Bellavista area, the green slopes of Cerro San Cristobal rise above Santiago, and by taking the funicular railway to the top you can enjoy fabulous views across the city and even (on a clear day) across to the snow-capped Andes. If you only do one thing in Santiago, it should probably be this.
The funicular goes from the small Plaza Caupolican, and if you head down Constitucion from the Plaza you'll come to a little slice of Santiago history. Here you'll find the pretty house known as La Chascona which for many years was Pablo Neruda's house in Santiago. Managed today by the Pablo Neruda Foundation, it's a lovely place to visit, containing the art and furniture the poet himself chose to furnish the house.
The grand Plaza de Armas is right at the heart of Santiago, and in the area immediately around you'll find most of Santiago's historic buildings. The western side of the Plaza is dominated by the huge Metropolitan Cathedral, while to the north you'll find the grand Central Post Office and the National History Museum. The latter is nicely curated but perhaps of more interest to Chileans than foreigners - it's very heavy on the independence struggle.
To the west of the Plaza, and opposite the imposing Supreme Court building, is the Museum of Pre-Colombian Art, which houses pre-colonial exhibits from all over Latin America, including Inca, Maya and Aztec pieces. It's a very well put-together collection, and definitely worth seeing on your trip to Santiago.
A few blocks south you'll find the La Moneda Presidential Palace, set in front of the grand Plaza Constitucion - tours of the palace have to be arranged in advance, but underneath there's a nice cultural centre which has good arts and cultural exhibitions, as well as a nice cafe!
North-east of the centre, and itself bounded to the north by the vast sweep of the Costanera Norte Highway, is the barrio of Lastarria. This charming neighbourhood is what Santiago is all about for us: at once upmarket and down-at-heel; staidly grand and utterly irreverent. The real pleasure here is in just wandering and exploring, but a the northern edge of Lastarria you'll find the Parque Forestal - a long wooded strip which follows the former course of the River Mapocho. At its heart is the grand Art Nouveau buidling of the Museum of Fine Arts (Museo de Bellas Artes) and the neighbouring Museun of Contemporary Art. Both are worth a visit but the former is Chile's premier museum, with five centuries' worth of top-quality art on show - although it's worth visiting for the building alone.
Flights To and From Santiago
Most holidays in Santiago, and indeed in Chile, are likely to begin at the city's major airport, Arturo Merino Benitez International, which is the main hub for South America's largest airline, LAN. Almost all domestic and international flights go through here, and visitors are well-served with international connections, including to Lima, Buenos Aires, and Rio. Within Chile, almost all regional airports are served directly from Santiago.
You can fly direct to the UK from Santiago with BA, with four weekly flights in both directions. If their departures don't quite fit in with your dates then LAN, Air France and Iberia all offer good connecting services with quick changes in Sao Paulo, Paris or Madrid so you can begin your trip to Santiago on any day from the UK with a good selection of flight times available.
Road and Rail Connections
As you'd expect, Santiago is at the centre of Chile's road network, and good highways head north to La Serena and ultimately on to Peru; south to Puerto Montt and Patagonia, as well as west to the Pacific Coast for Valparaiso and Viña del Mar and east over the Andes to the Argentinian city of Mendoza.
At one point you could take the train from Santiago all the way south to Puerto Montt but sadly this service has been much curtailed in recent times. At present the line only goes as far south as Chillan, although there are reported plans to restore the service all the way south.
Transport Within Santiago
Within Santiago itself, the excellent Metro system is one of South America's largest and most comprehensive and is fairly handy for tourists, with stops linking areas like Providencia, Bellavista and Lastarria. However, there is no Metro link to the airport, although regular buses do link the airport with the centre.
The bus network is good, but in a massive city like Santiago it's quite easy to get confused, and most people find it difficult to navigate without good Spanish. Taxis aren't as cheap as in other South American capitals but equally they're not going to break the bank and they can certainly be handy for getting to places that are slightly more out of the way.
Weather & Climate in Santiago
Santiago has a generally warm, dry climate with a pronounced difference in the winter: as well as being much cooler over 80% of the city's rainfall comes between May and August, so this is probably not the best time for tours of Santiago. Although the temperatures can get down towards freezing in these months, it's unusual to see snow in Santiago itself, although the Andes mountains to the east certainly do!
Most people feel Santiago is at its best during the spring, from roughly September to November - the city really seems to come to life at this time, and the pavement cafes of areas like Bellavista and Lastarria start filling up with people enjoying the sunshine after the cold and cloudy winter!
Tailor-made Tours in Santiago
All our holidays in Chile are 100% tailormade, so if you'd like to customise any of the tours you see above, or just plan a trip completely from scratch then get in touch and let us know - we'll be delighted to help you plan your perfect holiday in Santiago!
Did you know?
Because Santiago is so close to both the coast and the Andes, it's the only city in South America where you can go skiing in the morning and then head to the beach in the afternoon!