Visiting Chile: Five things to see in Santiago

| April 18, 2011 | 5 Comments
This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Southern Discovery

Before visiting Chile, opinion (both solicited and otherwise) was split on whether or not we’d enjoy our stay in Santiago. It had been described variously as “quirky and safe” and “a dull shit hole with poor service and nothing to see beyond two hills”. Our Lonely Planet guidebook informed us that people in Chile’s provinces are fond of saying, ‘God is everywhere, but his office is in Santiago’. With such polarized opinions, Kathryn and I knew that we would either love Santiago or hate it.

So, we loved it — or what little we saw of it over a couple of days which was, in truth, little more than two hills! We felt that Santiago was a bit of an anachronism — very modern and inviting with citizens that exude an old-world charm and humility. The city’s survived the challenges of earthquakes, financial crises, dictatorships and floods to emerge safe, energetic and inviting.

Santiago has so many sights and activities worth seeing and doing that it’s hard to limit the recommendations to just five. We don’t feel that this list is complete by any means, but these are the things that we were able to see over a couple of days.

1. Plaza de Armas

plazadesarmas Visiting Chile: Five things to see in Santiago

A local chalk artist putting the finishing touches on the Virgin Mary.

As with any metropolitan centre in South America, the Plaza de Armas serves as the focal point of the city. The plaza was the midpoint of the Spanish settlement of 1541—and the square once served as a military training ground—hence its name. With time, however, it became the focus of Santiago’s social and commercial life. Santiago’s Plaza is a lively place, with outdoor cafes, local artists, street vendors, buskers, a statue of the local hero and, of course, grand buildings around the square. It’s a great place to people watch while sipping a beer or a coffee on a patio.

2. Santa Lucia Hill

santaluciastaircase Visiting Chile: Five things to see in Santiago

Santa Lucia’s curving staircases are beautiful.

Located in the heart of Santiago Centro, Santa Lucía Hill (Spanish: Cerro Santa Lucía) takes ~15–20 minutes to climb and provides a very sweet view of the city unsurpassed inside Santiago—except by Cerro San Cristóbal (see below). It’s frequented by tourists—and lovers! Scattered throughout the park are various murals, statues, lookouts and ponds. With multiple ways to get to the peak, just keep heading upwards and you can’t go wrong! The hill borders Avenue Bernardo O’Higgins in the south, Santa Lucía Street in the west and Victoria Subercaseaux.

3. Bellavista

bellavista Visiting Chile: Five things to see in Santiago

Alrededores de Bellavista, Santiago.

Described by Frommer’s as one of the city’s most enigmatic neighborhoods, Bellavista “is to Santiago what Montmartre is to Paris”—that is, a popular bohemian quarter. The influence doesn’t end there, however, as Barrio Bellavista is known for French touches in its architecture and culture, too.

4. Cerro San Cristóbal

cerrosancristobal Visiting Chile: Five things to see in Santiago

Statue of the Virgin Mary on the top of Cerro San Cristóbal.

According to the locals we met, there is really no view of the entire city that compares to the panorama at the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. Take a ride up in the funicular from Bellavista and make sure you visit the statue of the Virgin Mary at the peak. Arrive half an hour before sunset on a clear day and watch night fall over the city—it’s breathtaking. Named by the Spanish conquistadors for St Christopher, in recognition of its use as a landmark, the hill boasts a 22m statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary donated by France in the 1920s. The statue is partly the work of French sculptor Bartholdi (of Statue of Liberty fame).

5. Maipo Valley

maipovalley Visiting Chile: Five things to see in Santiago

The Maipo Valley is a significant wine-producing, surrounding the national capital Santiago.

Vineyards stretch eastward from Santiago to the Andes and westward to the coast to form three distinct sectors of the Maipo Valley, considered the home of Chilean wine. It was here that the first wines were produced in the mid sixteenth century by Spanish missionaries. Some of the most established and respected names in Chilean wine are located in the Maipo Valley, for the simple reason that the original wineries were located, for obvious logistical reasons, within close proximity of Santiago city. We visited two—Concha y Toro’s Casillero del Diablo and Cavas del Maipo. We enjoyed the tours of these two estates so much, we’ll cover them in a future post!


Santiago is one of our favourite cities in South America, with a breathtaking location framed by the Andes mountains. The city offers wonderful museums, colourful colonial architecture, appealing day trips—and great food and wine. Our only complaint was that we didn’t have more time to spend in Santiago—God’s ‘office’.

Disclosure: At Two Go Round-The-World, we value the conversation that exists between us and our readers—and the trust on which that relationship is based. Here we’re committed to creating an environment informed by that trust. In the interests of full disclosure, we travelled with Gap Adventures, with whom Daniel works. That being said, his opinions should not be construed as representing those of his employer. For more information on disclosures and relationships, please check our ‘About Us‘ page.

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For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Check him out on Google+.

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  1. Andrea says:

    We read that in the Lonely Planet too, but the other day a woman in Argentina said, “God is everywhere, but his office is in Buenos Aires.” Thought that was funny! We started in Santiago and did not do it justice – really have to spend a few more days there.

  2. Cassi says:

    I loved Santiago as well. One of my favorite cities. I didn’t make it to most of the places on your list, but I did enjoy the funicular to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal.

  3. Elle says:

    Santiago is such a beautiful, vibrant city. I have yet to go, but it is definitely on my list!

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