We asked 3 of Santiago’s best tour guides to tell us the city’s secrets, from must-sees to hidden gems, from the best bars, restaurants and museums to things to do for free. Here are their expert tips…
Boy looking down on Santiago from Sky Tower (Alex Huber)
Yves Thieblot: The Sky Costanera tower is the highest viewpoint in the city. It’s on the edge of Providencia district. If you can, try to go on a clear day, so you can see the Andes and the whole city.
Nicola Gude: Everyone should visit the fish market (Mercado Central). This place is nearly always busy, but it’s better in the mornings when the fishmongers are trading the most. Take a wander through the corridors to witness the huge variety of fish and seafood, from enormous tuna to cockles, clams and crabs. I would suggest keeping an eye on your belongings around this market, though.
Bastian Palma: Santiago is a really crowded city, so a ‘must-see’ for me is San Cristobal Hill. A really good tip to visit is going from Monday to Friday in the morning, when it’s almost empty. There are also companies, like easybici, who have electric bikes, which make it possible for everyone to visit. Even though San Cristobal Hill’s main entrance can be a crowded place, once you are up there, the noise disappears.
Diners at Liguria (Chile tourist board)
Yves: Right in Providencia, you will find El Huerto. It’s a vegetarian restaurant with some very interesting adaptations of classic non-veg South American dishes.
Bastian: Franklin’s neighbourhood is a real representation of how Chilean people spend their time on Sundays. It’s a local half-mall/half-market, where people can buy clothes and furniture, and also have lunch, with all the new foreign influences that we’ve received during the last 10 years. There are cheap options to eat Peruvian and Colombian food, But the Chilean heart is still alive and you can easily find a cheap, classic Cazuela (stew).
Nicola: Any of the Liguria restaurants around the city, which serve excellent Chilean food and wine in bustling interesting restaurants. They’re always friendly and always a great experience.
Bocanariz (Chile tourist board)
Bastian: We have a drink called Terremoto, which means ‘earthquake,’ made of a sweet wine, called Pipeño, and pineapple ice cream. If you want to drink Terremoto, there’s a really famous place near Mercado Central called La Piojera. It’s regularly visited by Chilean people and travellers.
Nicola: Chilean wine is of exceptional quality: you can push the boat out and get a delicious Syrah or Pinot Noir in a good restaurant in Santiago for about the same as you’d pay for the cheapest plonk on the menu in the UK.
Bocanariz restaurant, in a historic house in the Lastarria neighbourhood, is perhaps the best place in Santiago to get to know Chilean wine, with dozens of wines available by the glass for tasting, or by the bottle, and the food is very good. It can get very busy, so book a table, especially on weekend evenings.
Yves: If you come to Chile for its wine, head to Baco in Providencia. It has a huge list with many different varieties. Have you tried Carignan or Sauvignon Gris? You should.
Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombiano (Chile tourist board)
Nicola: La Chascona, which was the Santiago home of the poet Pablo Neruda. It’s in the Bellavista neighbourhood. Neruda lived here with his wife Matilde. The name means ‘tangle-haired woman’, after her.
You enter a world of the weird and wonderful when you visit La Chascona house. The mixture of kitsch decoration, old rickety architecture and artistic influence makes you really feel what it might have been like to be part of the inner circle of the enigmatic poet and politician. Despite many visitors, it is a colourful respite from the hustle and bustle of Santiago.”
Yves: Next to the Plaza de Armas sits the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombiano, which has one of the best and most extensive collections of pre-Colombian art and artefacts from all over the Latin American continent. You can easily be enthralled by the various displays for at least half a day. It has rooms showcasing artefacts from many cultures ranging from Mexico to Chile. Check out the textiles room, which is my favourite.
Bastian: Museo de la Memoria. It’s a museum and memorial to human rights violations in Chile’s past, housed in an impressive modern glass building. It’s a place designed so that people don’t forget the atrocities of Pinochet’s dictatorship and do not repeat them. The descriptions are only in Spanish but there are a lot of photos to look at. It’s not an easy journey, but it opens your eyes.
Horses in front of La Moneda (Graeme Green)
Yves: Try to visit the presidential palace, La Moneda. You need to apply one week in advance to go in. It’s worth it, especially if you end up being there during the change of the guards. You might even see the President.
Nicola: The streets of Londres and Paris are small and cobbled, and offer a respite to the bustling centre just around the corner. There are a couple of cafes there where you can sit and soak up the atmosphere, surrounded by Jacaranda trees and beautiful architecture.
Bastian: There’s a place called Museo A Cielo Abierto, which in English would mean something like ‘open sky museum,’ where you can see large wall paintings done by local artists on the outsides of buildings. I think it’s really special. It is a place full of humble buildings with this incredible art to look at.
View towards Cerro Santa Lucia (Dreamstime)
Yves: I personally like to walk in the city centre near the Plaza de Armas in search of Chinchineros or street drummers. They’re so unique to Chile and, in particular, Santiago.
Bastian: Villa Grimaldi is a good place to visit for free. They only ask for a voluntary tip. Here, you can around and learn the Chilean government under the dictatorship of General Pinochet. It’s very interesting. There is a wall with a lot of names of people who were ‘disappeared’ and never found by their relatives.
There are lots of other things to do for free in Santiago. The panoramasgratis.cl website is very useful. It’s just one of the different groups of people promoting free activities for kids or for people with no money to enjoy art.
Nicola: Explore around Cerro Santa Lucia. Take a stroll along the tranquil paths through the Japanese gardens on Santa Lucia Hill, nestled in the centre of the city, which also offers good views of the surrounding streets.
I'd also suggest sitting for a while in the Plaza de Armas and soaking it all in. You could even try your hand at chess with a local.
Cycling tour passing by Pablo Neruda-inspired graffiti (Graeme Green)
Nicola: There are several safe and reliable cycling tours you can take in the city centre that go through leafy cosmopolitan parks, as well as to the historical centre. They have specific morning tours to Santiago’s markets, which are very popular, as well as tours to local wineries.
Yves: Santiago is a very easy city to walk around. The metro is very good but the life of the city is above ground. Santiago’s streets are full of it, so I suggest exploring on foot.
Bastian: Walking and cycling, definitely. If you like walking, you can start at the government palace and go to Bellavista, which means that you will see La Moneda, Santa Lucia Hill, Plaza de Armas, Paris and Londres streets, San Francisco church, and the neighbourhoods of Lastarria and Bellavista. This route can also be done by bike.
Nicola Gude, Bastian Palma and Yves Thieblot are all guides for Journey Latin America, who specialise in tailormade holidays and group tours to all of Latin America, including Chile. For details of their Chile holidays, see www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk/destinations/chile
This article was sponsored by Journey Latin America (020 8600 1881, www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk), but it is impartial and independent, just like all Wanderlust editorial.
For travel ideas and holidays from Journey Latin America, check out Wanderlust’s Tripfinder: www.wanderlust.co.uk/journey-latin-america
Main image: Santiago and surrounding mountains in the evening (JE Jaeger)