Santiago, Chile - Stein Travel



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Welcome to Santiago

The towering Andes provide an awesome backdrop for the sprawling Chilean metropolis of Santiago. The population of this flat urban stage that spreads out from a compact city centre numbers more than five million. Despite this, a small town atmosphere prevails downtown where friends will more than likely meet and greet each other in the overcrowded streets and bustling walkways of the main commercial district.

The city is a curious mix of skyscrapers and 19th-century European architecture, with some Spanish adobe bungalows thrown in for good measure. Threaded through this architectural tapestry are numerous green areas, busy markets, and quaint old squares. Street life is vibrant, and adding to the vibe is the presence of numerous chic sidewalk cafes, outside of which traditionally dressed women hawk their wares hoping to catch the eye of the tourists. There are also some small but impressive museums, several modern hotels, excellent restaurants and some good shopping opportunities in the Ahumada and Huerfanos pedestrian malls.

Santiago exudes an aura of health and wealth in the inner city and fashionable suburbs, despite the shabby shantytowns stretching out from behind the skyscraper facade. The city is also one of the 10 most severely polluted cities in the world, thanks to its position in a bowl of mountains. It is nevertheless an excellent base in which to spend a relaxing few days taking excursions to the wineries, national parks and ski areas, which are all within easy reach of the city.


The climate of Santiago is Mediterranean, with typically hot, dry summers and mild, moist winters. Summer temperatures hit highs of around 28°C (82°F), while winters average around 11°C (52°F). Rain falls mainly during winter. Temperature inversions cause smog to be trapped in the valley for spells during the winter months bringing heavy pollution.

Getting Around

Public transport in Santiago is both efficient and practical for tourists. The Metro de Santiago is an easy and efficient way to get around in Santiago at a reasonable price and services most places of interest. MetroBuses serve the Metro stations to act as an extension to the rail system. Competing private companies run Santiago's many minibuses ( micros), drivers working on a commission basis dependant on collecting as many fares as possible. Buses tend to race each other chaotically through the city's main streets and can be a dangerous option. Quicker and more comfortable are the colectivos, which have fixed routes and can take five passengers. They look like regular taxis, but display their route on the roof. Taxis can be hailed on any street corner, or radio taxis can be called to the door. Taxis are relatively inexpensive. Driving in Santiago is not recommended due to heavy congestion and limited parking.

The official language is Spanish.

The local currency is the Chilean Peso (CLP), which is divided into 100 centavos. Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club and to a lesser extent, American Express, are accepted in most large shops and hotels. Travellers cheques, particularly in US Dollars, are welcome in major towns, where there are banks and cambiosoffering currency exchange services. ATMs are widely available.


A notoriously nocturnal city, the nightlife in Santiago stays lively until the sun comes up. Locals may only go to dinner at 11pm, getting to nightclubs after 1am and staying until dawn. While some visitors may not have that sort of stamina, most clubs don't fill until midnight.

Like most cities, much of Santiago's nightlife caters to people between 18 and 35, and spans a wide range of musical styles from electronic to rock and jazz. International acts play at the Estado Nacional and the Espacio Riesco, while Bellavista has a number of relaxed venues with local music like tango, bolero and Latin jazz. Pio Nono has the highest density of bars in Santiago, and there are a number of high-end nightclubs surrounding the Plaza San Enrique. Avenida Suecia should be avoided, as the once tourist-friendly area has declined into seediness.

There is a huge theatre community in Santiago, ranging from small independent productions to large-scale operas. Established theatres like the Teatro Bellavista, Teatro Alcalá, and Estación Mapocho stage productions on a regular basis, but performances in English are few and far between. Tourists who don't speak Spanish will enjoy symphonies or ballets at the Teatro Municipal, Teatro Oriente, and Teatro Universidad de Chile.

Local newspapers La Tercera and El Mercurio have good culture and nightlife listings, so pick up a copy to see what the latest concerts and events are in Santiago.


Shopping in Santiago is a mixture of the old and new as bustling craft markets sit in the shadow of brand-new megamall complexes. Santiago is a major shopping destination in Chile, and visitors will find everything from tacky tourist items to high-end local brand names.

There are more than a few shopping malls in Santiago, which are filled with Chilean brands. The air-conditioned malls are popular on hot days, and most have food courts and movies to entertain children while their parents shop. Alto Las Condes and Parque Arauco are the biggest malls in Santiago, with more than one hundred shops in each. Mall Panoramico is a good shopping centre to find mid-range items, and the 'Drugstore' on Avenida Providencia has a range of funky boutiques. Malls in Santiago are open seven days a week

For tourists looking more for handicrafts than haute couture, Santiago has a few good craft markets that are great places to visit on a nice day. Patio Bellavista has a wealth of locally-made goods, and are good places to find Santiago souvenirs, as is Pueblito de los Dominicos, which is made up of small stores located inside an attractive old convent. Another market that offers cheap Santiago souvenirs is the Feria Santa Lucía at Cerro Santa Lucía.

Popular Santiago souvenirs include jewellery with locally-mined lapis lazuli, folk art, and alpaca scarves. Chilean wine from the region around Santiago is also a good souvenir, particularly from well-regarded wineries like Casa Julia and EQ.

Value-added tax (VAT) in Chile is 19 percent, and there is currently no refund scheme for international tourists.

Mainland is GMT -4 (GMT -3 from October to March). Easter Island is GMT -6 (GMT -5 from October to March).

Cerro San Cristóbal is a 2,752-foot (860m) hill jutting out of the city and on a clear day affords magnificent views of the surrounds and across to the Andes. The easiest way to the top is by funicular, but there is also a teleférico (cable car), bus or a path leading up from the bottom through the forested slopes. There are many walkways and at the summit is the 70-foot (22m) high statue of the Virgin Mary to mark where the Pope held a mass in 1987. There is also a small zoo, picnic sites and an outdoor swimming pool. The cerro is situated within the Santiago's biggest open space, Parque Metropolitano, and is a peaceful place, an escape from the never-ending noise of traffic in the city below.

Spanning 4,500 years and about 80 pre-Colombian civilisations of South America the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art) is a fascinating place to spend a few hours. Located in the old Royal Customs House, the exhibit displays are well lit and beautifully arranged throughout four rooms set around a central courtyard. The collection provides an informative insight into the cultures of the Incas, Mayans, Aztecs and other once proud civilisations of the continent, illustrating their artistic diversity.

Santiago's colourful Mercado Central, housed in an 1872 wrought iron structure, has a fruit and vegetable market as well as a buzzing fish market where an assortment of glistening fish is packed onto the tables. Mussels, oysters and clams sit in buckets among an unidentifiable variety of crustaceans and tentacled creatures. The fishmongers demonstrate their skill at gutting and filleting amid a cacophony of frenzied buying. The best time to visit is at lunchtime when a delicious sampling of the wares can be enjoyed in the happily chaotic atmosphere of the central hall.

The Plaza de Armas is both the heart of Santiago and the historical centre, a square hemmed in by impressive Spanish colonial public buildings, including the 18th-century Cathedral and elaborate main post office that was once the Spanish governors' residence. The square became the hub of administrative, commercial and social life when the city was founded in 1541 and today it remains the centre of life in the city. Never a dull place to be by day with its constant activity and throngs of people entertained by buskers and local artists, the evenings are just as lively when passers-by can become embroiled in chess games on temporary tables set up under the trees.

Chilean wine enjoys a good reputation with sommeliers all around the world, with its popularity soaring in the last decade. Central Chile's Mediterranean climate is ideal for vineyards, and some of the best wine comes from the Central Valley, around Santiago. Wine tasting tours are a popular attraction in Santiago, and there are many wineries to choose from. Valle de Maipo, Valle de Casablanca and Valle de San Antonio are the closest to the city, and there are nearly 30 wineries alone in Valle de Maipo. Wine country in Chile stretches for many miles along the coast however, from Valle de Elqui in the north to Valle de Malleco in the south.

Wine country is an especially beautiful region in the summer, and it is possible to hire bicycles to tour the area. Some groups of wineries have banded together to offer established tours along 'wine routes', of which the Colchagua Valley is the most popular. Many tour operators in Santiago offer wine tasting packages as well.

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