It takes time to savour Santiago. Our insider’s guide to this city under the Andes in South America will tell you how to make the most of 24 hours there
For many travellers Santiago serves as a trampoline to the mysteries of Easter Island, the stillness of the northern Atacama Desert or La Arauncia’s lush lake district. However, Chile’s capital has a rich cultural base, vibrant citizenry and is safe and clean. Over the last decade, Santiago has shed its grey veneer to become among the most cosmopolitan and wired cities in South America. Many multinational companies in South America have switched corporate headquarters to Santiago, making it a platform for business, a fusion of new ideas and old cultures.
As a result, thousands of expats and retirees from around the world are now settled here. Whether it be a broadband internet connection, an ATM machine that functions or wireless networks at the corner coffee shop, Chileans are diving into the internet age with gusto. A nationwide strike in July 2006 was organised by students using cellphones. For travellers this means old-world charm, wired to the hilt. With one of the lowest rates of violent crime on the continent, Santiago is a modern city of five million people where you can let your guard down and enjoy the flavours of South America.
The only tricky part is to escape the somewhat sterile comforts of upper-class neighbourhoods like Vitacura, Las Condes and Lo Barnechea, to explore the old Centro Histórico, which has rescued what little remains of the city’s architectural heritage. For the traveller with a sense of adventure and willingness to exchange a few words in Spanish, here is the insider’s perfect day in Santiago. It can be walked without exertion.
9AM BREAKFAST AT EMPORIO LA ROSA
Ground zero for artists and students. Whether you are reading the paper or editing one, this Italian cafe allows a glimpse into modern-day Santiago. Gay couples and nuns sitting side by side. Students ingesting their coffee after too late a night. As buses roar by, businessmen are absorbed in the most basic of Chilean gossip – politics. You are likely to see hosts from the nightly TV newscasts and soap opera actors. And the empanadas, croissants, fresh coffee and homemade bread make this a tasty first act.
10:30AM MUSEUM OF VISUAL ARTS
Less than 200 metres from Emporio La Rosa, tucked into Plaza Mulato Gil, this museum is a great base of operations for the rest of the day. Need to meet someone? Just say “Plaza Mulato Gil” – it is on the centre of every map, near the metro stop and a relaxing place to wait with a book, beer or coffee. The museum is a snapshot of current Chilean sculptors and painters. While not world-class, the museum offers a cool gift shop, beautiful exposition hall and a potpourri of Chilean talent.
12:30PM CULTURE IN BELLAVISTA
Walk over the Rio Mapocho into bohemian Bellavista, home to many musicians and artists. There is too much on offer for one afternoon, so take your pick. La Chascona was the secret home of Pablo Neruda, Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poet. Paintings by Picasso and Diego Rivera adorn the walls. If the weather is clear, walk another five minutes to the base of Cerro San Cristobal. Here an ancient cable car slides up the mountain. Halfway up you pass the zoo; all the way and you can scout out the snowtopped Andes mountains. Take a taxi down and you spiral around the city, which makes it look much bigger than a five million-person metropolis.
2PM ART AND LUNCH IN PATIO BELLAVISTA
This brand-new plaza is filled with top artists and a row of restaurants. Recommendations? Lunch at Barandiarán, for a taste of Peruvian cuisine. Try the pisco sour – so good that Peru and Chile both claim they invented it first. Wine lovers should explore the Trio chardonnay, the latest blend from Chile’s leading winemaker Concha y Toro. Peruvian food is healthy and light, leaving you fresh to wander the shops where Chilean artists show off their latest collections of crafts and jewellery. For one-ofa-kind glass works try Mar Azul, where glass and silver necklaces are snapped up for resale by Madrid and San Francisco boutiques.
4PM TOUR PALACIA DE LA MONEDA
The Chilean government is focused on tourism. Letting their guard down is in, and tourists can now walk through the old presidential palace (enter on the north entrance, from Monday to Sunday 10am – 6pm) then duck into former dictator General Pinochet’s old bunker. His old fortress is now a cultural centre, with art exhibits, restaurants and clean bathrooms.
5PM MUSEO CHILENO DE ARTE PRECOLUMBINO
Gold figurines, ancient weavings found buried in the Atacama Desert and a fun gift store make this museum an easy stop for a couple of hours. The museum is neither large nor ostentatious, but in several exhibit halls clearly lays out some of the more important artistic trends across centuries of South American civilisation.
6 – 8PM RELAX WITH A MASSAGE, TEST DRIVE CHILEAN WINE AND AVOID TRAFFIC
All of Chile goes home at this time. Staying off the streets is your best bet. The honking and gridlock might spoil your appetite, so lay low. At The Ritz-Carlton you can reserve a one-hour massage to get rid of jet lag and let the traffic sort itself out. Available for guests and visitors alike, reservations are required and after a day’s tramping around, what better than to sink into the hands of a professional masseuse? Then have a glass of wine at Wine 365 on the first floor before heading out again.
9PM DINNER AT ETNIKO
Noisy sushi, techno music, beautiful people, fresh tuna of all types. Here the crowd may dance; they may join you for a glass of wine or invite you for shots of whisky. The pisco sours are among the best in Chile.
WHERE TO STAY
THE RITZ-CARLTON SANTIAGO CALLE EL ALCALDE 15, LAS CONDES. 0056 2 470-8500.
Probably the best location of any five-star hotel in Santiago. Next to restaurants, a park and art galleries, the traditional Ritz service has a unique local touch. The wine bar features 365 different wines and the rooftop pool and deck offer a quiet respite from otherwise noisy Santiago street life. From R1 854.
GRAND HYATT SANTIAGO AVENUE KENNEDY 4601, LAS CONDES. 0056 2 950-1234.
In summer the outdoor pool is packed as visitors enjoy the waterfalls and three of the best restaurants in Santiago – Italian, Thai and sushi. Stationed near the malls and the mountains, the location is not for walking as a taxi is needed for everything. From R1 550.
HOTEL PLAZA SAN FRANCISCO HOTEL, ALAMEDA 816. 0056 2 639-3832
Cosy five-star hotel located just minutes from museums, galleries and cafes, meaning you may not need a car. The restaurant is superb while massages and an underground pool take the edge off living in downtown Santiago. Not a classic design or overly elegant, this is a great launching pad for walking tours of the old city. From R890.
HOTEL FORESTA VICTORIA SUBERCASEAUX 353, SANTIAGO CENTRE. 0056 2 639-6261.
If you like cafes, the arts district and theatre, then hotel La Foresta is an economy alternative to the five-star hotels. With designs apparently frozen somewhere between disco and deco, the rooms look like old postcards, faded but charming. A rooftop suite with a 360 degree view of the city costs less than R690 and is big enough to play tennis, great for throwing all your stuff in one room and living in the other. From R310.
LA CASA ROJA AGUSTINOS 2113, BARRIO BRASIL. 0056 2 696-4241.
Not a hotel, not even a bed and breakfast, this Australian-run, restored mansion is unique. With dozens of rooms and a huge backyard, this centre is a nexus for travellers. Stop by for travel stories and the latest intelligence on what’s cool in Santiago. Everyone is welcome for a visit, many stay much longer. From R75 for bunk bed/dormitory to R248 for private room/bath.
WHERE TO EAT
EMPORIO LA ROSA MERCED 291. 0056 2 638-9257.
Breakfast breads, coffee and a cool crowd; everything from exotic ice creams to empanadas. Cheap and cheerful – and since they open at 8am, one of the few places that can provide the caffeine for a morning trek around Santiago.
BARANDIARÁN CALLE CONSTITUCIÓN 38, LOCAL 52, BARRIO BELLAVISTA, PROVIDENCIA. 0056 2 737-0725.
Peruvian and Chifa (Peruvian/Chinese fusion) at very reasonable prices, brought to you by chef Marco Barandiarán – a local legend who is known to share a bottle of wine with his clients and regale them with tales.
ETNIKO SANTIAGO CONSTITUCIÓN 172, 0056 2 732-0119.
Arguably the best sushi in town, lively, beautiful people place, not quiet as the techno music often makes couples rise from their seats and dance a few songs before going back to savouring their Easter Island tuna or Thai noodles. Great for couples and small groups. Reservations are recommended.
RESTO-BAR KY AVENIDA PERÚ 631, BARRIO BELLAVISTA. 0056 2 777-7245.
This nondescript (from the outside) yet fairly upmarket house has taken Santiago by storm since the beginning of 2006. With a mixture of Thai cuisine with Chilean seafood and steaks, this is the place for a long, relaxing evening with a group of friends. Set up more for small groups than couples. Reservations recommended.
ALMA EL COIHUE 3886, VITACURA. 0056 2 208-6095.
Classy fusion food in upscale setting, this place drips beautiful flavours. Whether it is the mango sour (a twist on the typical pisco sour) or the tuna ceviche with coconut sauce, everyone will talk about the experience for days. Fantastic desserts are an exclamation point to a classy dining experience. Reservations recommended.
WHERE TO DRINK
LIGURIA TOBALABA AVENIDA PROVIDENCIA 1373. 0056 2 253-7914.
Don’t miss this classic of Santiago for some eight years. Packed with movie stars, tennis pros, foreign couples and over-the-top Italian styling. Huge plates of perfectly cooked steak or seafood with an animated bar environment make even a tourist feel at home.
ANTROFINNO BISTRO BAR PASAJE ROSAL 346B, BARRIO LASTARRIA. 0056 2 638-6812.
This tiny hideaway is a romantic getaway with great wine. The owner Ivan Gutiérrez seems to live here and his friends guarantee a lively evening. It’s inexpensive, but a bit hard to find. Ask for Plaza Mulatto Gil and you are only 100m away.
SANTO REMEDIO ROMÁN DIAZ 152, PROVIDENCIA. 0056 2 235-0984.
One of the few lively restaurants on Sunday, it also boasts a varied crowd of the young and beautiful and their newly liberated parents. Everyone mixes up around some of the best bartenders in Santiago.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
MUSEO DE ARTES VISUALES JOSÉ VICTORINO LASTARRIA 307, PLAZA MULATO GIL DE CASTRO. METRO UNIVERSIDAD CATÓLICA Y BELLAS ARTES 0056 2 638-3502. www.mavi.cl
Open Tues – Sun 10:30am – 6:30pm.
LA CHASCONA FERNANDO MÁRQUEZ DE LA PLATA 0192, BARRIO BELLAVISTA. 0056 2 777-8741.
Open Tues – Sun 10am – 6pm.
PALACIO DE LA MONEDA CULTURAL CENTRE PLAZA DE LA CUIDADANIA 26. 0056 2 355-6500. www.ccplm.cl
Open Tues – Sun 10am – 9pm.
MUSEO CHILENO DE ARTE PRECOLOMBINO BANDERA 361, SANTIAGO CENTRO. 0056 2 688-7348.
Open Tues – Sun 10am – 6pm.
PARQUE METROPOLITANO DE SANTIAGO, PIO NONO 450, SAN CRISTOBAL. 0056 2 730-1300.
Open Tues – Sun 10am – 6pm.
WHERE TO SHOP
PATIO BELLAVISTA CALLE CONSTITUCIÓN 48, PIO NONO 55, PROVIDENCIA. 0056 2 777-4582.
Open daily 10am – 2am. Free.
While swirling through Bellavista and the artsy Bellas Artes neighbourhood, you’ll find a new artist centre. The Patio Bellavista concept includes a variety of medium-priced restaurants, top art and jewellery – and a central courtyard to rest. Best bets are listed below.
MAR AZUL CONSTITUCIÓN 50, LOCAL 31. 0056 2 762-1036.
Fine hand-crafted jewellery inside the Patio Bellavista plaza.
EL MUNDO DEL VINO CONSTITUCIÓN 50. 0056 2 584- 1172.
Small wine shop with an excellent selection of the latest Chilean delicacies including carmenere and blends.
PARQUE ARAUCO AVENIDA KENNEDY 5413, LAS CONDES. 0056 2 299-0500.
Open Mon – Sun 11am – 9pm.
Huge mall with local chains, international brands, movie theatre and restaurants. Easy to find and packed with hundreds of small boutiques as well as several department stores.