Santiago is the capital of Chile and has over a third of the country’s population. There is not much denying it, Santiago is big and busy. It is not the prettiest city in Chile and if you don’t keep your wits about you it has the potential for petty crime.
For backpackers the city will mainly act as the beginning or end of the South American adventure or, like us, it is the first taste of city life after spending months trekking through Patagonia. So, if you are starting or ending your trip or if you are in need of some life again, this is our guide for a couple of days in Santiago.
We usually try to read about every country we visit to learn more about it however, an excellent way to discover the history and the culture of a town is to go on a local walking tour.
Santiago has a very recent history of dictatorship and humanitarian crimes and strolling though the city can help you understand the struggles the locals had to endure. The tour wasn’t the best we have done in South America however we did it on a Sunday when the city was almost entirely empty and most shops shut. The guide was ok, despite him obviously reciting his prepared script and lacking any enthusiasm and entertainment. The tour gives an opportunity to get your bearings around the city. If you like taking pictures, free walking tours are a great way to walk around camera in hand, taking street photography, without feeling unsafe and constantly looking over your shoulder.
To learn more check out – Free Tours Santiago
Museum of Human Rights
A little outside of the city centre, the Museum of Human Rights is a must for anyone visiting Chile. The very recent history of state terrorism under the dictatorship of General Pinochet saw ordinary citizens become victims of torture. The dictatorship was responsible for many human rights abuses, persecution of opponents and political repression. The violence affected a recorded 30,000 people: 27,255 tortured and 2,279 executed while 200,000 people suffered exile and an unknown number of citizens simply disappeared. To understand Chile’s history and its people this is a must.
For information about the museum and how to get there, visit the website
Visit the Parks
While Santiago has many parks to chill out and relax in, the two must visits are: Cerro San Cristóbal and Cerro Santa Lucía.
Cerro San Cristóbal is home to Santiago’s funicular, but if you don’t want to wait in line and pay to reach the top, the park contains many walking and cycling trails. Hike up the short but relatively steep path to reach the viewpoint of the Virgen del Cerro San Cristóbal where a small church and statue of the Virgin Mary lie. Grab a mote con huesillo (more on this below) and enjoy the view. Try to ignore that you will notice the thick layer of smog you just hiked up through.
Located right in the centre of town, Cerro Santa Lucía was transformed in 1872 to showcase how beautiful Santiago was to delegates from Europe. Hike to the top to visit the chapel and relax in this oasis in the city, maybe grab another mote con huesillo and relax on the beautiful ceramic tile benches.
For Food and Drinks
Anyone who knows us or has read this blog knows how important food is to us. Experiencing the flavours and ingredients that go into the local cuisine is a must. While being on a backpackers budget means we can’t always visit restaurants, there are a lot of very wallet friendly options in Santiago that are also worthwhile experiences.
Look through any guidebook and they will recommend a visit to the Mercado Central where you can get your fill of fish. For us the market was a let down. It is small and unspectacular with a couple of expensive restaurants at the side. A bit of a tourist trap.
For a more local experience cross the river and step inside the La Vega Market and rub shoulders with the locals picking up everything they need. The market is huge. Try and find the cats who make the avocado stalls home.
The Local Drinks
Home to beverages unique to the city. Every stroll needs refreshment, so why not try:
- Mote con huesillos
A peach juice containing wheat and a dehydrated peach. If you are hungry you can eat it and if you are thirsty you can drink it! Expect sweetness. Steven loved it, Jenny did not.
Terremoto which means earthquake in Spanish, is a drink that will quite literally shake you up. Quite easy to drink due to its sweetness, the beverage is known to hit you hard as you stand up to go home and make you feel like the earth is moving… The drink is very popular with students as it consists of cheap white wine, pineapple flavoured ice cream, and fernet, bitter liqueur or grenadine.
The origins supposedly come from farmers and peasants who could not afford good wine and therefore decided to mask the taste with pineapple juice and to make it colder during summer, added ice-cream! The cheapest place to buy terremoto by the litre is the Bellavista neighbourhood, popular with students. For the most authentic terremoto visit La Piojera right in the centre of the city.
- Pisco Sour / Piscola
Thought of as the most popular backpacker drink, Pisco has origins in both Chile and Peru, with both countries saying they where the first to produce the grape. Try a pisco sour or try the local alternative Piscola, picso with Coca Cola.
Being coffee enthusiasts, each city is a chance for us to stock up on beans and taste coffee from some of the countries’ best roasters. We could write an entire post about this but for quick recommendation of where to grab coffee in Santiago check out – Café Altura in the La Vega Market, Caffe Triciclo in the Baranco Barrio, Nuna Coffee also in Baranco and Bloom in Barrio Lastarria which we visited during the city walking tour.
We spent most of our meals with our hosts but the best options for street food are:
Easy, ChoriPan is Chorizo in a mini baguette. Simple and delicious!
Found in cities all around Chile, Sopaipillas are fried pumpkin or squash pancakes which are usually topped with a tomato salsa. Amazingly cheap, we would go back to Chile just for these.
In Santiago Sushi shops are everywhere, no idea why. Why not?
Other Things To Do In Santiago
- Coffee with legs
Need a coffee fix in the morning? Head over to any of the cities Cafe con Piernas (literally, coffee with legs) to grab an espresso served by either female staff with minimal clothing or they may even be topless. It’s the Chilean version of Hooters, minus the uniforms and sports…
Fancy visiting a winery just outside of the city? Vina Santa Rita can easily be accessed by the city’s metro or bus system in less than one hour. A great option for those who don’t have time to visit the Colchagua Valley.
Beware Of The Tourist Scams
Before traveling to cities it is always a good idea to learn about what some of the scams used to target tourists are. While on route to the metro to leave Santiago, we became unknowing targets. We also heard of an English girl targeted on her first day in the city with the same scam.
The most common scam targeting backpackers in the streets (other than pickpocketing) is to throw a brown sauce on your backpack. Scammers will usually work in pairs and target those carrying a bag on their backs as well as a smaller bag in front. The scam works with one person throwing the sauce on your main backpack to make you think it is poo. Smell it, it’s like Chimichurry!
Then a friendly concerned local will alert you to it and say they have water and tissues to help you take it off. In order for you to clean your main backpack you take off the smaller bag, probably put in on the ground while cleaning your bag and while you look the other way, the friendly local’s friend is taking the small bag without you noticing.
We were aware of this scam, so when it happened we simply continued into the metro station and found a police officer to clean our bag in front of and deter the scammers from getting close to us. However, we heard of this scam working on several occasions.
Where We Stayed
On both sides of our trip to Easter Island we stayed in Santiago before traveling to the graffiti filled streets of Valparaiso. Accommodation in Chile can be expensive, by the time we got to Santiago 50% of our budget went towards accommodation. We became accustomed to handing over close to 20 euro a night per person in Patagonia, so to in trying to save some money and see the city how the locals do, we decided to try CouchSurfing. We ended up spending a couple of nights with locals who pointed us in the right direction and introduced us to the flavours of the city.
Unfortunately we couldn’t stay with our hosts during our entire stay so we checked into Castillo Surfista Hostel in the Providencia district. Other than no lights in the bathroom it was a good stay. The main point was that they served waffles at breakfast (when the volunteers remembered).
Cost and useful information
Currency (as of April 2017): €1 = 714.20 CLP
Bus Santa Cruz -> Santiago: 10,000 CLP (€14)
We were hosted by our awesome CouchSurfing hosts.
Castillo Surfista Hostel – 6 beds dorm : 9500 CLP (€13.30) pp/pn
Snack and drinks:
Sopapilla: 200 CLP (€0.28)
Terremoto at La Piojera: 2500 CLP (€3.50)
Mote con Huesillos: 700 CLP (€0.98)
** note that all the links we add are FYI. We are not remunerated by either the companies/organisations nor per click.
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