Top 5 Things We Did in Santiago, Chile

1. Fresh Food Market

All this for under $14

Markets are an intrinsic part of life in South America and Santiago was no different. Located about a 15 minute walk from the main plaza, La Vega was one of the best markets we visited in South America in terms of fresh fruit and vegetables. While the market contains much more than just that, we fell in love with the dozens of produce vendors at the north end of the market. They were more than happen to sell us pounds and pounds of cherries, blueberries, raspberries, bell peppers, eggplants, potatoes – you name it (from South America), they probably sold it there.

We visited multiple times in our 3 weeks in Santiago. We rented an apartment to rest and relax after 4 months of travel all over the continent. We were less than a third of the way into our RTW trip and we needed a break. Having fresh fruit for breakfast and healthy vegetables and lean meats to cook meals with in our kitchen helped us recharge our batteries. La Vega played an important role in that.

2. Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos – Museum of Memory and Human Rights

The Pinochet dictatorship hangs over Chile's recent history and was something that neither of us knew much about before visiting this museum. The exhibits are very well displayed, providing in-depth, comprehensible explanations about what life was like during Pinochet's rule. Organized chronologically, the museum doesn't focus on the negative aspects of what happened – although you do learn about the torture and the mass murders, often from first-hand accounts. Instead, the exhibitions focus on the people who lived, survived, and fought against the controlling military regime. It gives you a sense of how strong the Chilean people are, how they persevered through decades of oppressive rule and succeeded in ridding themselves of the dictatorship. It's a heartbreaking story to learn, but you would be remiss in visiting Santiago if you did not come here to learn about this period.

3. Valparaíso

Above and below, some of the interesting artwork adorning the streets of Valparaíso

I know, I know, Valparaíso is not part of Santiago. But, cut me some slack here, because it's so close and so easy to get to, it almost feels like a distant suburb of the capital. With buses leaving every 10-15 minutes for the 90 minute ride, you can make a day trip to visit the port city, which is what we did. Despite gloomy weather on arrival, we had a fantastic time exploring the hills and all they had to offer.

Pablo Neruda's house in Valparaíso, La Sebastiana

La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda's Valparaiso residence, was our first stop. We had already visited La Chascona in Santiago and started to learn about the famous poet, so we were eager to visit a second house and gain even more insight to the man himself. In contrast to the separate buildings and short stories of his Santiago home, La Sebastiana reaches into the sky, easily the tallest building in the neighborhood it resides in. Definitely worth visiting if you're interested in either Neruda or architecture.

We spent a fair amount of our day wandering the streets of the city, using funiculars (see pictures above) to transit the different hills in search of interesting graffiti or viewpoints. We had a delicious set lunch at Emporio Delicatessen, following which we visited Palacio Baburizza, an art museum focusing on Chilean artists (with a smattering of European artists who worked in Chile, as well). After more exploring and picture taking, we ended our day by having cold beer at Fauna Bar, which overlooks the green Lutheran church, before we went back to the bus station to catch our ride to Santiago.

View from the terrace at Fauna Bar

4. Go Shopping

After the unfortunate disappearance of my bag, I was in serious need of a replacement wardrobe and some shiny new travel essentials. And luck would have it, Santiago is big on shopping and made it very easy to find what I needed. As good budget-minded travelers, we first headed to the outlet malls located north of the city center. It was easy getting there, following the directions from this post, if not very quick – a metro ride followed by a meandering bus ride. I was able to score some great deals on jeans, shorts, and shirts that finally rid me of the grungy outfit I'd had on for far too long.

The shopping didn't stop there, though. The Costanera Center in Providencia sits at the base of the tallest building in South America and was a great resource. Whether it was repeat visits to the Jumbo supermarket on the ground level trying to find my preferred shaver, wandering through the Paris department store looking for good deals, or searching for hidden treasures in the many branded stores throughout, we made quite a few visits here during our stint in Santiago (too many, some would say. Some people named Anais).

5. Barrio Italia

A wonderful artistic neighborhood located southeast of the Baquedano interchange and near the Santa Isabel and Parque Bustamente metro stations, this is the place to go if you're looking for amusing boutiques, interesting antiques, or a relaxing afternoon coffee. The neighborhood reminded me a lot of Los Feliz in Los Angeles and Palermo SoHo in Buenos Aires. It's a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle along the main avenue of Santiago. We only spent an afternoon there and we wish would have spent more time exploring it.

6. Bonus - Hang out with friends!

Chloe! And Anaïs, of course. 

We all know that befriending a local and having them show you their city is one of the best ways to get to know a city and find its secrets. It's not always an easy thing to do. But sometimes, you have a childhood friend who's moved to a city you're visiting and she can show you around everywhere, taking you to the best restaurants, showing you the best places for a picnic, and introducing you to others who live in the same place.

MFest, a musical festival showcasing Chilean artists, that Chloe took us to

We were incredibly fortunate to have this happen for us in Santiago in the form of Chloe, one of Anais's close friends from childhood. She was an incredible host, ushering us around the city and exposing us to a number of gems that, unless you live in a place, you probably won't find yourself, such as Barrio Italia. Many times in South America people told us about how they disliked Santiago, how it wasn't worth more than two or three days. Thanks to you, Chloe, we wholeheartedly disagree with them. Thank you so much!

Honorable Mentions

Walking Tour – We enjoyed another free walking tour in Santiago. We didn't enjoy it as much as we had others like in Rio or La Paz, but I don't think it was the tour's fault. We had already spent a week in Santiago before we went on the tour, so we had already explored half of the places it took us through. The tour also started with a lot of history about Santiago and focused a fair bit on the Pinochet government, which we had already learned about at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. I think if you did this at the beginning of your time in the city, it would be a lot more enjoyable.

Cerro San Cristóbal – A funicular or walking track will take you to the top of this hill that overlooks much of Santiago. Despite being under a fair bit of construction when we visited, it was pretty quiet at the top with only a smattering of visitors. While we often love visiting viewpoints like this, we were underwhelmed here because, well, Santiago isn't very pretty. There's a lot of smog and pollution that congests the skies and there's a lack of a defining skyline that gives viewpoints their appeal. There are multiple sides of this hill, though, including one with a great park that was perfect for the picnic we enjoyed there. Also, if you visit when the kids are in school, you could check out some of the public pools that are located near the summit.

Menu at a traditional Chilean restaurant in Santiago

Food – This usually plays a leading role in our Top 5 posts. I don't know if you can call me a foodie, but Anais is, and I love stuffing my face, so we spend a lot of time researching foods to try and the best places to find them. The truth about Santiago is that there is plenty of good food. With the help of Chloe, TripAdvisor, and plenty of Googling, we ate very well. But, we didn't spend a lot of time eating traditional Chilean dishes. After being in South America as long as we had been, we were tired of meat, potatoes, rice, and vegetables, so we sought variety. It came in the form of Indian food, a sushi dinner, roast chicken cooked at home, tapas, and so on. As such, we didn't feel like we were in a position to talk about the local foods in Santiago, which is what we usually focus on when we visit a place.