As direct flights launch to the Chilean capital, we checked out the city’s leafy streets and pavement eateries to see if it’s worth lingering more than a day…
Before You Arrive
Set in the fertile Mapocho Valley at the foot of the Andes, one thing that Santiago offers in spades is fine views. No wonder conquistador Pedro de Valdivia chose this spot to found the Chilean capital in 1541, after a gruelling journey south across the Atacama Desert from Peru.
Great locations come at a price, though. Having been established in territory occupied by native Mapuche, Santiago was razed by locals just six months later, and in the following years was plagued by turf wars. The last century was no less troubled, with the 1973 coup and brutal regime of General Pinochet casting a 17-year pall over the nation — memorials to its `disappeared` citizens are still visible across the modern capital.
Today, life is very different. Chile is economically stable and its storied capital one of the safest in South America. This translates to its streets, where the metro is clean and efficient, sleek malls jostle colonial buildings and it has an exciting dining and nightlife scene. And then there’s that epic setting!
At The Airport
Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport is located about 5 km north-west of the city centre. British Airways launched its first direct flight there in January 2017, taking 14 hours and 40 minutes from London Heathrow. Make sure you are awake about an hour before landing to enjoy the views as you fly over the Andes.
British citizens do not require visas for stays of up to 90 days. But be sure to keep the paper you are given on arrival; you will be required to hand it in as you leave. In Arrivals, there is an information booth, various currency exchanges and ATMs.
Most tourists arrive in Santiago by plane, but there is the option of a dramatic bus journey across the Andes from Mendoza, Argentina.
The eight-hour trip costs and is remarkably scenic, eventually arriving at Terminal de Buses Santiago (terminaldebusessantiago.cl; Spanish only) on Avenida Bernado O’Higgins 3850.
Getting to The City
As ever, steer well clear of the drivers touting for business in Arrivals and instead head to one of the official taxi stands to ensure you pay a fair price. The Baggage and Arrivals halls play host to a choice of companies— Transvip, Delfos and Taxi Aeropuerto— that charge a reassuringly fixed rate upfront.
Population: 6.54 million
Languages: Spanish; Ma pudungun (indigenous Ma puche)
Timezone: GMT-3 (May—August GMT-4)
International dialling code: +56
Visas: Not required by UK nationals for stays of up to 90 days.
Currency: Chilean peso (CLP), currently CLP839 to the £UK.
Highest viewpoint: The best views of Santiago are to be had from the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepcion statue, which lies atop San Cristobal hill in the lush Metropolitan Park. Or you can head to the 300m-high SkyCostanera — the tallest building in Latin America —on Avenida Andres Bello to enjoy 360° views of the city.
HeaIth issues: Make sure you’re up to date on all routine jabs, with Hepatitis A and typhoid prevalent in parts of Chile. But, thanks to its dry climate, at least you shouldn’t have any problems with mosquitoes. Tap water is drinkable, though its high mineral content means you may prefer to stick to bottled water.
Climate: The city enjoys a dry, mild climate. In summer (Nov—Feb), temperatures can climb to 30°C, while winters (May—Aug) see it fall to as low as 15°C. Spring and autumn can both be quite balmy (20-23°C), but be aware that the temperature can drop significantly in the evenings.
First Day’s Tour
Start with breakfast a mid the mismatched furnishings and teacup lampshades of Cafe Bistro de la Barra in Lastarria. Then stroll to the 18th-century presidential palace La Moneda, where President Salvador Allende died during Chile’s1973 coup after refusing to leave. His statue is outside, engraved with words from the final speech he gave over the radio as the soldiers closed in.
From here, head north along Bandera to the palm-filled Plaza de Armas, the original centre of the city and its spiritual heart. Step further back intime with a visit to the Chileno de Arte Precolombino Museum to explore amazing pottery and art from across the Americas. Then refuel a few blocks north at Mercado Central fish market, sampling any of the great seafood restaurants that surround it.
In the afternoon, head to Santa Lucia hill, a pretty park with views a cross the city, then stop for coffee a tone of the pavement cafés in Bellas Ades before crossing the Mapocho river into colourful barrio Bellavista, once home to late Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Visit the house he built for his mistress, `La Chascona` (the messy-haired one).
It was inspired by the sea, from its boat-style dining room to lighthouse-esque lounge.
Stick around this popular restaurant and bar neighborhood for dinner at Restaurant 040. Enjoy a tasting menu pairing local Chilean wines and some unique dishes.
Where to Stay
Top end: The Aubrey in Bellavista became Santiago’s first boutique hotel when it opened in 2010. Set in a mock-Tudor house formerly owned by a prominent politician, it mixes quirky designs with a beautiful pool and garden area, making for a serene escape. Doubles from £157.
Midrange: Hotel Cumbres Lastarria blends colonial and modern styles to fine effect. Its Mediterranean restaurant on the eighth floor has some fine city views and the hotel’s location is also ideal for trips to the museums and galleries of the Lastarria district. Doubles from £136.
Budget: La Casa Roja is a hostel located in the student district of Barrio Brasil. But step inside its colonial building and you’ll find a nest of patios, a swimming pool, an al fresco bar and a well-equipped kitchen. Choose between dorms and private rooms, with doubles from £32.
Stay or Go?
Both. The beauty of Santiago is its handy location. Within a two-hour drive are treks into the Andes mountains, multi pie wine regions to explore, plenty of beaches and a wealth of artsy port cities. Some of these can be taken as daytrips, while others are a great way to move on from the capital without having to travel too far.
Hikers should head to Cajon del Maipo, 25km south-east of Santiago, for dramatic mountain scenery and hiking, climbing and camping. The closest vineyards are Casablanca, to the west, and Maipo Valley, to the south. Both can be explored on a day trip, but if you want to indulge, stay at a vineyard hotel. Alternatively, Colchagua Valley is also celebrated for its wine and only two hours south of Santiago.
Lastly, the colourful seaside town of Valparaiso lies just over an hour west of the capital. Explore its tangle of cobbled streets, climb its hills and ride its creaking 100-year-oldfuniculars, with great views out over the coast.