Situated between the towering peaks of the Andes Mountains and the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean lies Santiago, Chile’s vibrant capital city. This is a city of diversity with a unique appeal where Latin and European cultures intertwine. Whether you’re exploring historic and architectural landmarks, savoring its sophisticated food scene or venturing into the great outdoors, Santiago offers an entertaining array of urban and natural experiences for travelers seeking to discover the essence of Chile.
I was delighted to have an opportunity to hop on over to Chile from Argentina while we were touring South America. We stayed for three spectacular days—the perfect amount of time to uncover the city’s bountiful treasures, from its historic neighborhoods to its picturesque coastline.
Santiago boasts a history as rich and diverse as its landscapes. The city witnessed centuries of colonial rule, marked by architectural marvels such as the Metropolitan Cathedral and La Moneda Palace. It also played a crucial role in Chile’s fight for independence in the early 19th century. Today, the capital thrives as a cosmopolitan city that honors its history while embracing a dynamic future of continuous reinvention.
My favorite thing to do when I arrive at any new travel destination is to board a hop-on hop-off bus since it provides the best introductory rundown of the city. We enjoyed watching the world go by and taking in all the top sights in Santiago’s historic center and neighborhoods, including Parque Arauco, Parque Bicentenario, Patio Bellavista, Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Constitucion, Cerro Santa Lucia, Plaza de la Aviacion, and Costanera Center.
For elevated perspectives of the city and amazing panoramic views, the Santiago Cable Car tour goes to the top of San Cristobal Hill. Another possibility is visiting Santiago’s tallest building, the Gran Torre Santiago. This must-see 64-story skyscraper is the tallest building in Latin America, making it an excellent stop for photo ops.
On our first evening in town, we had dinner at an amazing Basque restaurant within walking distance from our hotel called Pinpilinpausha. Dating back to the 1940s, it has a colorful interior and cozy ambience with an outdoor dining area. If you’re feeling adventurous, the octopus and Chilean sea snail are delicious. For less daring palates, their paella is also incredible. Pinpilinpausha is one of my favorite foodie picks in Santiago and is a must-visit in downtown Santiago.
The next day we went sightseeing on the Full-Day Tour of Valparaiso Port and Vina del Mar from Santiago that I booked through Viator. This tour was worth every penny since we got to explore two vibrant coastal towns. Our knowledgeable guide, Helen, was a native of Chile, and her enthusiasm for the area made the day even more entertaining. Some of the top sites we got to see in these two seaside cities included the Moai in Easter Island, the Avenida Peru Seaboard, Wulff Castle, El Arco Britanico, the Plaza Sotomayor civic center, Paseo Gervasoni, Cerro Alegre and the beautiful piano staircase.
Sitting on central Chile’s Pacific coast, the seaside town of Valparaiso was so brightly colored that I felt as if I had been whisked away to an endless citywide outdoor art gallery filled with new textures, hues and designs to behold. It was magical getting to admire the bohemian street art on all the buildings in this picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We stopped for lunch at a neighborhood in Valparaiso called Cerro Alegre before heading to the idyllic Vina del Mar, a former fishing village situated northwest of Santiago. The highlights were visiting the famous flower clock and the Caleta Portales Fish Market with its sandy white beach where birds were perched on the shoreline. The final stop on our Viator day tour was at a vineyard in Casablanca Valley for a wine-tasting.
Santiago was a fantastic introduction to Chile, thanks to its truly sensational food, extraordinary culture and gorgeous vistas. Everyone can find something to enjoy in this vibrant South American city.
When You Go