Perched on the Andes along the Mapocho riverbanks, Santiago de Chile is a sight to behold. Occupying a 700km² area, the city boasts a truly unique panorama. Here, skyscrapers blend in with the rocky backdrop of the Andes. A sight that’s owed to the perfect mix of artistic and natural beauty and a rich indigenous and colonial heritage.
The result is a modern city that has achieved uniformity of style when it comes to its museums, squares, streets and villas. And it’s no surprise that the poet Pablo Neruda chose to live in this charming city. Museums rich in history, art and nature, parks, archways and colonial buildings: this is a real honey pot for culture enthusiasts.
The Chilean capital is home to numerous government buildings and is the country’s financial and cultural hub. It's also known as one of the places in South America’s with the best quality of life. There are several reasons to visit Santiago. Let’s take a look at the amazing treasures and attractions it has to offer.
- Plaza de Armas
- San Cristóbal Hill
- The Bellavista District
- Los Dominicos Craft Market
- Isla Negra Village
- Pablo Neruda's House-Museum
- Santiago Metropolitan Park
- The Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art
- Parque Forestal
- Around Santiago: Casablanca Valley
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas sits at the heart of Santiago's old town. This square is always buzzing with street artists and shops, and is a real hub for people to meet and gather. It was created along with the capital back in 1541 and sports a chequerboard pattern, which allows it to integrate with surrounding monuments, palaces and buildings. In colonial times, it was a trading centre that people would visit to buy and sell local wares.
The surrounding district features a number of intriguing buildings and attractions. One of the main points of interest is Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, famous for its combination of neoclassical and baroque architecture. An excellent example of this mix is the cathedral’s bell tower and columns. In fact, the building has suffered a very turbulent historydue to several fires and an earthquake that severely damaged its foundations. Today's structure is a restoration of Gioacchino Toesca’s original design from 1748.
The cathedral’s interiors feature a collection of religious frescoes and ornate arches. Inside, you’ll also find a crypt housing Diego Portales, a Chilean businessman and politician who was assassinated. The Palacio de la Moneda is a real icon when it comes to the city of Santiago. It was once home to President of the Republic and was designed by the architect Toesca.
History buffs might also consider visiting the National Historical Museum and Santiago Town Hall, in addition to the Central Post Office, which once housed the conquistador Pedro Valdivia and is now the seat of the Governors of Chile.
It’s here that you’ll find some of the city centre’s primary tunnels and passages, as well as its main pedestrian boulevards. Just around the corner you can explore the Central Market, which is still an important place to trade fresh fish, but has also become a very popular tourist destination. Here, you can admire the numerous species of fish and seafood caught in the Pacific while weaving between fishmonger stalls.
San Cristóbal Hill
Get ready to enjoy an amazing view. San Cristóbal Hill is located within Santiago’s huge Metropolitan Park, which is the largest in the city and known to the locals as Cerro San Cristobal. After reaching the top of the 800-metre hill via a trip on a characteristic Santiago funicular dating back to 1925, you can enjoy an amazing panoramic view of the city. If you’re lucky, on clear days you might even manage to spot the Andes. One of the best places in the park to visit is the Sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception. Here, you’ll find an impressive 22-metre statue of the Virgin Mary, with an amphitheatre lying at its feet.
A must-visit if you’re travelling with children is the City Zoo, which is home to a number of local species, such as the Andean fox, condor and even a penguin or two. What’s more, fans of elegance and design should consider visiting the Japanese garden, where you can relax and cool off by the two nearby pools. The park also boasts a number of other facilities for a guaranteed great day out.
The Bellavista District
Local people visit this neighbourhood to wind down and enjoy themselves. It’s very popular thanks to its somewhat quirky atmosphere, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as Santiago’s bohemian or French neighbourhood. Here, you’ll find people chatting, laughing and enjoying a glass of wine or a cocktail. There’s also a large number of things to do, given the never-ending stream of restaurants, pubs, local bars and nightclubs that stay open all night long.
This district never sleeps, but you should also admire the local culture and art. Take the time to wander the colourful streets, visit small shops and admire colonial buildings. It’s also worth going for a stroll to admire the local murals and urban art, which are fairly important on the art scene. This area has been transformed into an open-air art gallery. It’s an amazing playground for local artists and intellectuals and it’s no coincidence that the poet Pablo Neruda once lived in this neighbourhood.
The district’s charm continues with exhibitions, theatres, restaurants and dance halls featuring ornate decor both inside and out. Here, you can also buy local products made from lapis-lazuli, a beautiful semi-precious blue stone found in abundance in northern Chile.
Los Dominicos Craft Market
This is a thriving hub that local Chileans hold dear to their hearts. In the centre of the Las Condes district, you’ll find the Los Dominicos Craft Market. Here, tourists flock from all over the world to admire and buy local hand-crafted goods, jewellery, Mapuche blankets and fabrics, as well as handmade ceramics and copper artworks. The market is home to more than 160 artisan workshops made from mud and straw (adobe) in a rural Chilean style.
Local craftspeople have really made this area their own and enjoy being close to San Vicente Ferrer Church, a distinctive building featuring two domes. For those of you who aren’t too keen on shopping, a number of concerts and shows also take place here. Alternatively, you can relax in the botanical gardens. Of course, there is also an area dedicated to authentic Chilean cuisine, where you can try a typical corn pie, an empanada or some fresh juice, helping you to refuel before continuing your trip around Santiago.
Isla Negra Village
Isla Negra is a village located on Chile’s central coast in the province of San Antonio. It used to be called Las Gaviotas (The Seagulls), but it was christened and made famous by the poet Pablo Neruda, who was struck by the colour of the local rocks. The Nobel Prize winner built his favourite home here, which is now a museum run by the Neruda Foundation, where you’ll find interesting information about the poet's life and work.
The residence still has an intimate feel to it and features a number of Neruda's collections, such as ancient prints and maps. The museum also houses a variety of tools used by Neruda to create his art, including pens containing the ink he used to write poetry, his desks and his bed. Among other interesting artefacts are eighteenth-century world maps, boxes containing strange insects and a series of masks of different shapes and origins.
Isla Negra is a real work of art and was built in the shape of a boat. Its floors are covered in shells and the objects you’ll find inside tell the story of Neruda’s travels, daily life, poetry and passions. Inside, you’ll also find a whole series of wooden ship figureheads, which were once attached to galleons. At the exit, you’ll also spot Neruda’s tomb in the garden. Neruda rests here next to his wife, Matilde Urrutia. It’s a simple grave covered with flowers and a black headstone.
Pablo Neruda's House-Museum
This house gets its name from the Quechuan word ‘Chascona,’ which refers to a wild mane of hair. In fact, Pablo Neruda built the house at the foot of San Cristóbal Hill for his mistress Matilde Urrutia, who later became his third wife. There are so many things to admire while visiting, such as the various objects Neruda collected during his travels. The museum also houses several works of art, including a portrait of Matilde by Diego Rivera, a great Mexican painter and husband of Frida Kahlo, as well as paintings by Picasso.
This house was once a real hub of ideas and creativity. During the 1973 coup d'état, the house was targeted and a number of books, paintings and objects were destroyed. Neruda was a member of the Communist Party. Today, the house has been turned into a museum that is open to the public.
Its interiors are quirky and have a very distinctive style. The dining room features a number of still life paintings, while the poet's study is still home to the table Neruda once wrote at. At the museum, you can take a look back at the poet’s life by examining a range of artefacts, from the carpets to the fireplace. The bedroom overlooks a waterfall. The house also features a gallery and gift shop. And for those looking to take a quick break, you can also visit the café. There's no shortage of great views here, given that the terrace looks over the whole city. Matilde lived in the house until 1985. Neruda bought a third house in Valparaiso, a city popular with sailors and poets located a hundred kilometres from Santiago. It rises from a large semi-circular bay.
Santiago Metropolitan Partk
Santiago has a very ‘green’ soul, as is evidenced by its Metropolitan Park, one of the most popular spots in the whole city. You can really relax here, thanks to 722 hectares of green space. Here, families like to spend the day enjoying picnics or playing sports, but you can also take a yoga or meditation class. Needless to say, you can also enjoy a simple stroll through the grounds or a leisurely bike ride. The park’s history is closely linked to the city’s mayor, Albert Subercase, who launched a project to repopulate the park with local vegetation. In 1921, a wonderful forest was created.
The Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art
This is a small world where you’ll find information on just about everything: traditions, facts, history and progress. Back in 1981, the collector and architect Sergio Larraìn Garcìa-Moreno decided to promote the Chilean culture dating back to before the arrival of the Spaniards. The first part of the museum is dedicated to Chile’s indigenous cultures, including the Aymaras and Incas. Other characteristic elements include a series of chemamüll, or funeral statues. These statues were placed on the tombs of the deceased to facilitate their passing into the afterlife.
There is also an area of the museum dedicated to pre-Columbian art relics. This particular section details the journey of local populations from Central America to the Andes. An additional space is also dedicated to local artefacts dating back to before the arrival of the Spaniards. Here, you can admire a wide range of objects, such as feathers, bones and stones.
In a magical, almost movie-like setting you’ll find Parque Forestal. A green expanse stretching across 17 hectares and home to a whole series of different tree species, Parque Forestal is definitely Santiago’s most picturesque park. It is a rejuvenating space that stretches along the Mapocho River. The park is located in the city centre and many Chileans like to take a detour through its grounds to escape the traffic and noise. It's a lovely area for some exercise, a stroll or a bike ride while also discovering the beauty Santiago has to offer.
The park also features a playground and several sculptures, including a monument to the Nicaraguan poet and journalist Rubén Daro, a monument to the writers for independence, a bust of Christopher Columbus, and a German fountain. The Parque Forestal is a green area of historical and natural importance and one of the city’s main recreational spaces. Its design is also somewhat European in style. The project was commissioned in 1900 by the landscape architect George Dubois.
Around Santiago: Casablanca Valley
A place where you’re absolutely guaranteed to learn more about Chilean traditions and lifestyle is Casablanca Valley in Chile’s central region. This is where you’ll find Chile's finest red and white wines. It’s a rural area that has held hold onto its traditional roots while also keeping up with the times. Here, locals make the most of the mild climate, fertile soil and full-bodied wines, all amazing factors that give this area the international recognition it deserves.
The Valley is located eighty kilometres from Santiago and is named after Queen Barbara of Casablanca, wife of Ferdinand VII, King of Spain. Its become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to its ability to intercept and promote the local region. Starting, for example, from practical issues, such as the construction of a plumbing system to allow the region to be properly irrigated and the construction of special blockades. You’ll find numerous vineyards here, where you can take a guided tour and enjoy local wines and products.
Visiting Chile with Costa Cruises
Santiago is a lively, colourful and welcoming city. Rich in history since its founding in 1541, the local culture is an incredible mix of delicious dishes and diverse city neighbourhoods, or Barrios, eager to invite you in for a refreshment in one of the capital’s many restaurants and local craft markets (don't miss Los Dominicos Market). With Costa, you can explore the old town, visit the Neruda museum-house and even take a trip to the poet’s very own home in Isla Negra.
Culture, tradition and art meld together here to create an interesting, dynamic hotchpotch that is in constant evolution. Santiago is located in the heart of Maipo Valley, which is home to some of Chile’s most esteemed wines. The vineyards you’ll find in Santiago and the surrounding area are some of the city’s best attractions, especially for those who appreciate good wine and want to learn more about Chile’s history. And the local dishes they serve will make your trip even more worthwhile.
One of the country’s best dishes is Pebre, a garlic and tomato salsa served with tortillas and soup. It’s also worth trying Choripan, a grilled pork sausage. And that’s not forgetting Chile’s filled pastry turnovers (or empanadas) and Lomo de Cordero (roast lamb.) Santiago offers all this and so much more. All that’s left to do is start planning your trip!