I didn’t do a whole lot of research of what to do in Santiago before I got on a plane to go there because I didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend—just 2-and-a-half days and 2 nights. I showed up with a multitude of devices loaded with apps that I rely heavily upon when I travel (e.g. TripAdvisor); as well as a section of the Lonely Planet Chile guidebook cut away to only the areas I would need to navigate in Chile, including Easter Island, the focus of my trip.
There really isn’t a whole heck of a lot that can be accomplished in less than three days in any major city, or by contrasted thinking, you can see a whole lot. I did my best. Here’s how my short stay shook out and honestly, I left feeling completely satisfied with what I saw in Santiago.
Views From The Rooftops
Funicular ride and views of the city: Cerro San Cristóbal
This is arguably the most popular tourist stop in the city and it is pretty cool—a ride in a funicular (also known as an inclined plane or cliff railway) to the summit station at Cerro San Cristóbal where you can take in a wonderful view of the city. It’s popular so you’ll wait in line but two cars take 40-some people in each direction every 8-15 minutes so it goes pretty fast and the ride only costs a couple of dollars.
The view at the top reveals the impressive scale of the city and the mountains peeking up from behind it reminds you that you are in the proximity of some of the world’s most impressive mountain ranges—the Andes. There was cloud cover and a thick haze the day that I was there which left a bit to be desired in terms of photography ops. It was fun nonetheless to ride to the top and sit cliffside with locals and other travelers peering over the city.
High points: Major view point; ride in a funicular, good place to orientate yourself in the city
Low points: Crowded viewpoint
Total time spent: 2 hours
Park and panoramic views: Cerro Santa Lucía
I wasn’t quite sold on the views at Cerro San Cristóbal so I inquired with some locals of where to find a different pinnacle view. Directed to Cerro Santa Lucía, we found more than just a viewpoint but a beautiful park crawling upwards, historic sculptured fountains, a Japanese garden, and an old castle winding to the sky—it’s a lovely place.
There were a couple of tough points about this park in terms of photography: the park closes just about the time that the sun sets, just minutes before the golden hour. Understandable for safety reasons, though torturous for photographers looking for that one great shot of the city bathed in golden light.
High points: Major panoramic view point, green space in the heart of the city, people watching
Low points: Steep descent on lsippery rocks; park closes right when the light gets really good
Total time spent: 2-4 hours
Poet Pablo Neruda’s Santiago house
After getting a lay of the land on top of the city at Cerro San Cristobal, I wandered just a few blocks from there to one of three houses that once belonged to the legendary Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, and his love, Matilde. The house (now a museum) is a mansion of sorts, South American style—meaning it is spread out among several different small wings that served different purposes of life. There is a personally-inspired decorated bar area where Pablo hosted his friends and poured drinks from behind a counter. His study bursts with natural daylight and was where he read for inspiration. The living room was where he entertained large groups, housed awards such as his Nobel Prize for Literature, and displayed quirky art pieces including a portrait of Matilde painted by Pablo’s great friend, Diego Rivera (who was also in love with her.) In his work area, a large desk with famous works scribbled in black ink—you know, all of the typical things one might find in house of an eccentric artist working in the earlier part of the 20th century. I loved being there… so many displays of style from places around the world that I love intensely—China, Paris, Russia.
High points: Artful, historic, unusual, self-guided tour
Low points: None, Pablo’s house ruled!
Total time spent: 1 hour
Read more: Pablo Neruda’s House in Santiago, Chile
Amazing Dinner #1: Barrica 94 (Barrel 94)
Inside Barrio Bellavista you will find a wealth of restaurants and patios, and one of the best (according to TripAdvisor in September, 2015) is Barrica 94, a two-story wine bar tucked away in a corner of the plaza.
Barrica 94 is comfortable, modern but not overly so, and has an amazing food and wine menu, and a fully stocked selection of cocktails, beers, and spirits. We ordered steaks and a 60$ bottle of local wine –expensive for Chile, and among the cheapest option on any restaurant menu anywhere in the Washington, DC area. The decanted wine was delicious, the filet and chimichurri divine, and the service was near perfect. A truly excellent experience for just over 100$ USD.
High points: Great service, wine selection, smart and well-executed menu, inexpensive; amazing chimichurri!
Low points: None that I experienced
Total time spent: 4 hours (indulgent, I know)
Four of us joined at Bocanariz to celebrate a birthday and we had so much fun. It turned into one of those great dining experiences where the food wine and service, and conversation just gelled. We were served by a young, very wise sommelier named JP who made recommendations, and explained the wines we were drinking with incredible detail (we’re wine people and were very impressed.)
Every dish after the next was exciting, tasty, unique and beautiful. The entire experience was… an experience. And memorable.
Oh, I had this blended sparkling white made of half Sauvignon Blanc and half Chardonnay… So unique! An absolute treat. 🙂
High points: Excellent food, wine, service, memorable and fun, knowledgable staff, upscale and elegant, tapas style eating; veg options and seasonal menu, design your own flights! Wine menu is exclusively Chilean — so fun!
Low points: None for me
Total time spent: 4 hours, (I love to linger!)
Day trip to Casablanca wine country and colorful coastal seaport, Valparaíso
When I told anyone I was going to Santiago that had been and/or was familiar with the area, the same words tumbled out of their mouths. “You have to visit Valparaíso.” After one day in Santiago, seeing two incredible skyline views of the city, wandering the home of my beloved Pablo, and having a remarkable feast and copious amounts of Chilean wine – I felt good about getting out of the city.
I hopped on a day tour ran by operator Enotour Chile. In late Sept, of 2015, it was $65 USD excluding tip. We were picked up at the hotel at 8ish am and dropped off around 6ish pm and there was a whole lot of driving in between. In retrospect, the large amount of driving was well worth it considering all that we saw. The tour itself was typical. Our guide spoke very good English, was funny, and being a life-long Santiago local, was very knowledgable about the area. We had a typical stop at a tourist café for a coffee to break up the first leg of driving, drank some Chilean chicha made of fermented apple (a bit different than Peruvian chicha which is made from corn.)
The real meat of this trip were stops in the town of Casablanca Wine country and Valparaiso as well as Viña del Mar (covered respectively in the next section.)
Situated on the coastal plain, about half way between Valparaiso from Santiago, is the Casablanca wine region. Casablanca started producing wine in the mid-1980s, so it is relatively new to the wine world. I’ve long been intrigued by the area as it is the first cool-climate growing region in Chile—I absolutely love cool climate wines—turning out a crisp, clean expressions of three of the world’s most popular grapes, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir. The vista view on a hillside at Indomita Winery is totally beautiful, as are the underground basement cellars.
High points: Amazing views of the vineyards; cool underground cellars, cellar tours, Indomita Pinot Noir was a standout, accordion player strumming in the restaurant with really good taste in music. 🙂
Low points: The restaurant — the food was overpriced to squeeze tourists, and while the dishes were of high quality and composed, nothing tasted amazing.
Time spent: 3 hours
Valparaíso & Viña del Mar
This artsy, bohemian UNESCO-designated historic downtown is covered with colorful colonial houses, mural art, seafood markets, boutique stores filled with goods created by local artisans, and famed funiculars (elevators) that provide transportation up and down the steep hillsides.
The 100-year-old funicular Ascensor Artilleria and/or climb Cerro Concepcion brings you to areas where you can capture incredible views of the city and ocean that is home to Chile’s largest seaport. Valparaíso is home to another house of poet Pablo Neruda.
High points: Good vibes, great photography at every turn, historic area, beautiful town
Low points: Hard to say… wished I could spent a few days there
Time spent: 3 hours
Where I Stayed
Lastarria Boutique Luxury Hotel
This was a beautiful hotel, and in a part of town that has walking streets nearby where you can wander among performers, local vendors, and stop for a coffee or a drink while people watching.
The hotel was a two-night landing spot before heading onwards to Easter Island. I was absolutely pleased with every detail.
Designed elegantly, soulfully, and artfully and is not at all fussy
Awesome room, perhaps one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in, a rain shower, wifi, chocolates on the pillow, free water… (It’s the little things. 🙂
Excellent location near the river, restaurants and walking streets
Complementary breakfast overlooking a secret garden…
I loved this place and couldn’t be more sincere recommending it.
Low points: Nope!
Time stayed: 2 days
For me, exploring major capital cities is typically a quick must-do on the way to places off the beaten path that I am drawn to. The city-stop is always an important one in my opinion, allowing time to rest and unwind after long flights, while allowing a moment to acclimate to a new language while getting a sense of what humanity looks like in the area.
So that’s about it — 2 days in Santiago. A lot can happen in two days I guess.