Santiago, Chile’s capital and largest city, is rich with natural beauty, history and local charm. Walk through its barrios, and you’ll find cutting-edge art galleries, fashionable boutiques, knockout restaurants and thriving international businesses. Positive energy abounds—the economy is recovering, political and financial reforms are making headway and recent investments have spurred plenty of new development.
Santiago is the industrial and financial epicenter of Chile. The city is home to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which has boosted interest from international investors. Global food processing companies have a major presence in the city, and computer technology and electronics operations are taking off. Textiles, clothing production and mining continue to drive global investment and local job opportunities.
Getting to and from the airport
Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport is 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) northwest of downtown. For safety, only use transport approved by the airport’s Via Controlada (Controlled Route) program, which ensures arriving passengers receive secure transportation. Approach one of the counters throughout the airport to arrange taxi services. Give the attendant your destination information, and you’ll receive a ticket to hand over at the taxi boarding area where you’ll be assigned a taxi.
Bus transfers are also available from the airport to several key destinations. Transfer Delfos provides 24-hour minibus service with pickup locations at the domestic and international arrival halls and on the airport’s first level. Flat-rate fares are 10,000-14,500 Chilean pesos (US$16.34 to US$23.70 using the exchange rate US$1 to CLP 612), depending on your destination. TurBus provides service from 6 a.m. to midnight to three destinations in central Santiago. A one-way trip is CLP 1,400 (US$1.60), and buses depart every 30 minutes.
Getting around Santiago
The Metro subway is a safe, cheap and efficient way to get around the city. As a bonus, Metro stations are decorated with murals by some of Chile’s most important artists. You must have a rechargeable BIP card to ride the Metro or city buses; you can purchase one at Metro stations, some banks and at other authorized establishments. You’re allowed two free transfers between the Metro and buses within 90 minutes. A one-way fare is CLP 380 (US$0.62). The Metro gets crowded during weekday morning and evening rush hours.
Licensed taxis are reasonable, plentiful and metered. Identify them by their black exterior and yellow roof. For longer rides, you can sometimes negotiate flat fares. It’s generally safe to hail one from the street, but hotels and restaurants will gladly call one for you.
Where to stay
For luxury accommodation, check out the Grand Hyatt Santiago (Avenida Kennedy North 4601, Santiago 6682132; Ph: +56-2-950-1234) or The Ritz-Carlton Santiago (Calle El Alcalde 15, Las Condes, Santiago 6772208; Ph: +56-2-470-8500). Upscale options include the Marriott Santiago (Avenida Presidente Kennedy 5741, Santiago 6772208; Ph: +56-2-426-2000), NH Ciudad De Santiago (Avenida Condell 40, Santiago 11000; Ph: +56-2-341-7575), the Radisson Plaza Santiago Hotel (Vitacura 2610, Santiago 6760197; Ph: +56-2-433-9000) and Four Points by Sheraton Santiago (Santa Magdalena 111, Santiago; Ph: +56-2-27500300).
For midscale options, try the Holiday Inn Express Santiago (Avenida Vitacura 2929, Santiago 6760235; Ph: +56-2-499-6000) or the Mercure Santiago Centro (Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins 632, Santiago 8320000; Ph: +56-2-259-56622).
Things to see and do
If you have time to venture out of the city, the area around Santiago offers something for every season. In summer, hike trails in the Andes or join city dwellers at the beach. (Valparaíso and Viña del Mar are about an hour away by car.) During the winter, head to the mountains to ski or snowboard. Resorts are less than 40 kilometers from the city.
But there’s plenty to see in town, too, including museums showcasing Santiago’s past. Visit the National History Museum for exhibits on the country’s colonial era and its push for independence. Learn about the continent’s native people at the Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art.
In the mood for art? Check out the National Museum of Fine Arts in the city’s Lastarria neighborhood. The spectacular building dates back to 1910 and features works by Chilean artists Roberto Matta, Claudio Bravo and many others. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) and the Museum of Visual Arts (MAVI) are just a few blocks away.
Guided tours cover some of Santiago’s iconic buildings, such as La Moneda Palace, with its water fountains and modern underground cultural center, as well as the cathedral, stock exchange and national library.
If you’re after crafts or souvenirs, head to the Santa Lucia market. For authentic Chilean handicrafts, including ponchos and wool blankets, visit one of the official Artesanias de Chile shops.
Take in terrific views of the city from Cerro Santa Lucía—a small hill adorned with wonderful façades, fountains and stairways. Entrance is free, but you’ll have to give your passport or other identifying information before you can enter.
Where to eat
BCD Travel administrative assistant Carmen Gloria Labra calls Santiago home. She recommends you make a stop at the Mercado Central, the city’s celebrated fresh fish market. A wide array of vendors sells everything from barnacles to giant mussels. Enjoy the catch of the day in one of the many small restaurants within the market. Chilean favorites include creamy crab bake and clams au gratin.
To drink like a local, sample the Chilean national cocktail, the terremoto (earthquake), which may leave you feeling a little shaky. Try it at a bar like La Piojera, Aillavilú 1030, Santiago; Ph: +56-2-269-81682.
Santiago’s haute cuisine often features traditional Chilean ingredients. Try award-winning Puerto Fuy, which puts a French twist on Chilean specialties. On the menu you’ll find ceviche, Chilean sea bass with artichoke barigoule and tomato coulis and superb grilled meats. It’s at Av. Nueva Costanera 3969, Vitacura, Santiago; Ph: +56-2-208-8908.
Sukalde specializes in all-Chilean ingredients. There’s lots of seafood on the menu, as well as novel creations such as guava rocks and pearls for dessert. The drink list is fun, too, and includes papaya and calafate sours. Find it at Av. Nueva Costanera 3451, Vitacura, Santiago; Ph: +56-2-228-5516.
If you’re looking for something more casual (and moderately priced), try El Jardin d’Epicuro. This cozy bar and restaurant serves a great selection of tapas, as well as grilled meat and fish. It’s at Orrego Luco 034, Providencia, Santiago; Ph: +56-2-710-5451.