Sorry to be confusing by going out of order, but I want to make sure to document our two-week trip to Chile back in March. It was kind of a precursor to this big round-the-world trip we’re doing now. So you will be seeing a few posts about Chile over the next few weeks in addition to ones about our current travels in Europe.
We spent most of our two weeks in Chile staying with our lovely friend, Michelle, who lives in the capital, Santiago. Matthew and I loved Santiago! There’s plenty to do. It’s really easy to get around either on foot or on the metro. We always felt safe. And while English is not as widely spoken as we expected, we got by with no problems using a combo of English and Spanish to communicate.
It seems like many travelers to Chile only spend one day in Santiago on their way to Chile’s more famous destinations like Patagonia or the Atacama Desert, but I think that Santiago is definitely worth spending more time in. We spent a total of 7 days there, and while there was plenty more we could have done, we feel like we experienced most of the main highlights of Santiago. Here are some of our favorite Santiago experiences:
Walking around Santiago Centro
The central part of Santiago is flat and easily walkable, and it contains some of Santiago’s main sights, including the presidential palace (La Moneda) and Plaza de Armas. On our first day in town, we got our bearings by taking a free walking tour with Free Tour Santiago. Our guide, Philippe, was interesting and funny, and we enjoyed learning history about the buildings we passed and the city in general. The tour is free but we tipped the recommended amount of 5000 pesos each, which is $7-8 U.S. dollars. Not a bad deal for a 3 and a half hour tour!
Lunching outside at one the cafés in Barrio Lastarria
Barrio Lastarria was one of our favorite parts of the city. It’s a cute little street lined with restaurants, cafés, and ice cream shops. Most of the restaurants and cafés have outdoor seating, and it’s a great spot for people-watching on a nice day. On our first day in Santiago, we enjoyed lunch and Chilean craft beers at the Patagonian-inspired restaurant, Sur Patagonico. We shared mushroom risotto and a salad with shrimp, scallops, and squid. It was all delicious!
We also loved just walking around that area. It definitely felt like the hipster part of town, with shops and restaurants that you might see in Brooklyn or Portland, including a fancy coffee place, a stuffed waffle place, and a gourmet popsicle stand.
Climbing Cerro Santa Lucia
Cerro Santa Lucia is a small park with gardens, churches, and a castle scattered around the hilltop. It’s a pleasant but invigorating walk up a series of staircases if you want to make it all the way to the top, and you’re rewarded with lovely views of Santiago.
Getting a history and culture fix at some of Santiago’s many museums
When it comes to museums, Santiago has a lot to offer. We went to the two that seem to be widely regarded as Santiago’s best: the Pre-Columbian Art Museum and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights.
I think the Museum of Memory and Human Rights is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Chile. It details the events of Chile’s 1973 coup d’état and the 17-year military dictatorship that followed, focusing on human rights violations. The dictatorship only ended in 1990, so it’s something that still very much shapes the current political and social situation in Chile. I don’t have any pictures from that museum because photos aren’t allowed. (This makes total sense to me, and I was happy to respect it, especially when I think of my own experience in the 9/11 museum in New York. Having a bunch of tourists from other countries trying to take pictures of something that is very personal and emotional to you feels strange and disrespectful.)
The Pre-Columbian Art Museum is full of art and artifacts from the indigenous tribes that populated Chile before the Spaniards showed up. It was interesting, but Matthew and I both wished that we had more context about the various tribes and the time periods in which they lived.
Strolling through Santiago’s parks
There are a number of lovely parks throughout Santiago. Our favorite was Parque Forestal in the Bellas Artes neighborhood. Its tree-lined paths reminded us a little of Paris. We got an ice cream at the famous nearby ice cream shop, Emporio la Rosa, to enjoy while we strolled. And then we just sat on a park bench for a while and enjoyed the lovely weather and atmosphere. It was nice to see how many people were out either walking around or lounging in the grass. Santiaguinos clearly appreciate their green spaces. (And yes, that is the term for people from Santiago. I think it sounds pretty cool.) Another park we enjoyed was the Parque de las Esculturas, which is full of interesting sculpture installations.
Feasting on Chilean food at Galindo
Michelle took us out one night for a meal of traditional Chilean dishes (including Chile’s famous pisco sours). Our dinner included machas a la parmesan (parmesan razor clams), camarones al pil-pil (shrimp cooked in olive oil and hot peppers), humitas (mashed corn and spices wrapped in a corn husk), pastel de choclo (corn pie made of mashed corn, ground beef, onions, egg, chicken, and raisins) and a tomato/avocado salad. It was all delicious, but the pastel de choclo was my favorite.
Touring La Chascona
La Chascona is one of the homes of celebrated Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who died in 1973. You are not allowed to take photos there, which is unfortunate because it was such an interesting and unique place. Parts of the house were designed to be like you’re in a boat, and the whole place is full of Neruda’s strange collection of art and furniture from around the world. An English-language audio guide comes free with the cost of admission, and it was an interesting tour for sure.
Riding the funicular to the top of Cerro San Cristobal
In Bellavista, right around the corner from La Chascona is a funicular that you can ride to the top of Cerro San Cristobal, a much taller hill than Cerro Santa Lucia. If you want to get a workout in, you can hike or bike ride to the top. I think walking takes about 45 minutes. We chose to ride the funicular instead. The views from the top were almost spectacular. Unfortunately, Santiago’s ever-present smog (Santiago sits between two mountain ranges, which traps all the pollution in) obscured the view a bit, giving everything a hazy quality and making it difficult to see far into the distance. I wish we had been able to wait for a clearer day, but it was definitely still worth doing.
As you can see, Santiago is a city with a lot to offer. And since Matthew and I are city lovers at heart, we absolutely loved it there. About one-third of Chile’s population of 17 million lives in Santiago. But the other two-thirds of the population have a saying: “Santiago no es Chile.” It means “Santiago is not Chile.” Outside of Santiago is like a whole different world, and we knew we had to experience that as well.
We traveled both north and south in Chile to see what the rest of the country had to offer, and we weren’t disappointed. I can’t wait to share our experiences with Chile’s natural beauty, including volcanos, lakes, mountains, deserts, and beaches! (In the meantime, you can check out my post of favorite photos from Chile for a sneak peek at some of the stunning landscapes.)