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Why Go To Santiago
You might associate Santiago with towering skyscrapers, rolling vineyards and soaring mountains – and you wouldn't be wrong. Set in the Maipo Valley (framed by the snowy Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west), Santiago captivates visitors with its jaw-dropping views, neoclassical architecture and imaginative cuisine. Santiago hasn't always been so alluring: In its nearly 500-year history, the city has withstood invasions, dictatorships and earthquakes. But over the past few decades, an economic boom has helped Santiago reinvent its image and earn it a place on the tourism map alongside other popular South American destinations like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. Today, Santiago continues to evolve with Latin American character and European flair shaping its art-centric barrios (neighborhoods). Along Santiago's streets, you'll find centuries-old mansions and grand cathedrals situated next to cutting-edge shops and trendy galleries, markers of Santiago's textured past and present.
To discover the city's flourishing enclaves, shop alongside fashion-savvy Santiaguinos in Bellavista, soak in the scenery from Santa Lucía Hill or sit down for a meal in the Barrio Italia. After, wander through the Plaza de Armas to see the Metropolitan Cathedral or admire Pre-Columbian artifacts on display at the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. And as the sun goes down, sip pisco sours at a cocktail bar or stay up late to join in the revelry at one of the many nightclubs strewn across the city. You may not see all of Santiago's creativity and culture in one trip, but it won't take much effort to experience what's important: artsy boutiques, regionally inspired cuisine and delectable wine – local passions that are bringing a new luster to Chile's capital.
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Best of Santiago
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Santiago Travel Tips
Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit Santiago is from September to November or from March to May; these months mark the spring and fall shoulder seasons in Chile. Although the city experiences a moderate climate with mild temperatures year-round, spring and fall are especially alluring with plenty of sunshine, thinner crowds and affordable flight options from popular U.S. destinations. Fall (March through May) is a particularly pleasant time to visit if you enjoy vino: Vineyards showcase beautiful fall foliage, and grape harvest festivals abound. Spring (September through November) is another excellent time to visit thanks to blooming flowers, comfortable temps and nationwide independence day festivities. From December to February (summertime in the Southern Hemisphere), temperatures, crowds and hotel prices swell. Meanwhile, June, July and August (Chile's winter months) bring showers, cooler temps and increased smog levels, but the powder blanketing the nearby Andes beckons to skiers.
Weather in Santiago
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
What You Need to Know
Prepare for smog From June through early September, heavy smog and pollution permeate the city.
Go easy on the tap water Although Santiago's mineral-rich water is safe to drink, it can take some getting used to. Avoid an upset stomach by sticking to bottled water.
How to Save Money in Santiago
Explore on foot Santiago's streets are laid out on a grid, making the city's barrios easy to explore on your own two feet.
Shop the local markets For bargain-friendly souvenirs, head to one of the city's local craft markets, such as Centro Artesanal Pueblito Los Dominicos. At these markets, you'll find everything from jewelry to clothing to ceramics.
Culture & Customs
In 1541, Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago, selecting its central valley location for its moderate climate and advantageous position for fending off intruders. He outlined the city streets on a grid, fanning out from the Plaza de Armas, a main square filled with political institutions and religious sights. Inside the Plaza de Armas, you'll stumble upon city highlights, including the Governor's Palace (now the Central Post Office), the Royal Court of Justice (now the National Museum of Natural History) and the Metropolitan Cathedral. It wasn't until the 19th century that Santiago began to grow, with World War II creating a high demand for industrialization and urban jobs. However, the city was rocked in 1973 when Chilean general Augusto Pinochet launched a coup and assumed power. Pinochet's 17-year dictatorship included the loss and exile of thousands of Chilean civilians. As the epicenter of Chilean politics, Santiago was especially prone to the repercussions of Pinochet's actions. Chile restored democracy in 1990, electing a leader who paved the way to economic growth and increased globalization.
Today, Chile's capital is undergoing a renaissance, with flourishing neighborhoods showcasing a mix of old and new, and a blend of the city's Spanish and European influences. Although the majority of Santiaguinos (native Chileans born in Santiago) are Catholic as a result of the city's Spanish heritage, a variety of other religions, including Evangelicalism and Judaism, are widely practiced in Chile.
Spanish is the official language here; however, a booming international travel market has ushered in English-speakers at many major hotels. But outside the hotels, English speakers can be hard to come by. With that in mind, it would be a good idea to master some key Spanish words and phrases, such as "hola" (hello), "buenos días" (good morning), "adios" (goodbye), "por favor" (please) and "gracias" (thank you). You should also consider writing down the name and address of your destination if you are planning to travel by taxi; this will help you avoid any miscommunication.
The official currency of Chile is the Chilean peso. One Chilean peso equals approximately $0.001, or less than one American penny, but you'll want to check the latest exchange rate before your visit. As far as payment is concerned, the dollars are sometimes accepted at tour agencies and credit cards are widely accepted at most places, but there is typically a 6% transaction fee and exchange rates may not be as favorable. Make sure to carry Chilean pesos in small denominations to ensure you pay the lowest rate and do not have trouble breaking large bills. When dining, keep in mind that it is considered polite to add a 10% tip. Taxi drivers do not expect gratuity; however, giving your driver any remaining change from your fare is commonly practiced.
You'll find most people here dressed casually, but be sure to pack appropriate attire depending on when you plan to visit. While Santiago maintains a moderate climate, bringing plenty of layers during the winter months and comfortable shoes for walking around is a must. If you're traveling solo, stay alert at all times, especially after dark in popular areas like Bellavista and the Plaza de Armas, where pickpockets linger to prey on unsuspecting visitors.
What to Eat
Santiago's burgeoning culinary scene is a big selling point for foodies. The city's cuisine is as eclectic as its neighborhoods, with restaurants serving dishes packed with Peruvian flavors in bohemian Bellavista and empanadas (meat-, seafood- or cheese-filled pastries) and traditional fish-focused entrees at the Central Market.
Like its South American peers, Santiago's popular restaurants source fresh, local ingredients. Here, you can savor Chilean specialties like machas a la parmesana (razor clams layered with cheese, white wine and lemon juice) and seafood stews prepared with freshly caught fish from the Pacific. Or, you can indulge in meat-centric meals, such as a pastel de choclo (a pie with ground chicken or beef, plus boiled eggs, olives and corn). To eat like a local, venture to the Bellavista and Vitacura areas, where restaurants serve authentic dishes with a little extra zest like caldillo de congrio (a fish stew filled with tomatoes and potatoes) and ceviche made with fresh sea bass or scallops.
Traveler-approved eateries here include steakhouses like La Cabrera and Lorenza Bistró and seafood-focused Latin Grill. You'll also find a variety of international options, including Irish-inspired Flannery's Beer House, Italian-influenced Vapiano Parque Arauco, Moroccan-focused Zanzibar and Indian-themed Rishtedar. Regardless of where your culinary adventure takes you, pair your meals with a staple Chilean cocktail like a pisco sour or glass of local wine.
Keep in mind, Chileans eat later than Americans. Plan to sit down for lunch between 1 and 3 p.m. and head out for dinner between 8 p.m. and midnight. If you need a snack between 3 and 8 p.m. (when most restaurants are closed), visit a salón de té for onces (small bites like those you'd enjoy during an afternoon tea service). Although formal attire is not typically required, dressing up for dinner – particularly in cosmopolitan areas – is a good way to blend in.
Santiago is a relatively safe city with very few instances of violent crime. However, petty crimes like muggings and carjackings are becoming more common. You should be especially wary of pickpockets, who often target public transportation and well-trafficked tourist spots like the Central Market, Santa Lucía Hill, the Plaza de Armas and San Cristóbal Hill. Also be sure to stay alert if you plan on exploring Bellavista or Lastarria after dark, since petty thieves tend to frequent these neighborhoods.
Political protests are becoming increasingly more common in large Chilean cities like Santiago. These demonstrations typically occur with little advance notice and may become unsafe at times. They also tend to cause metro service disruptions, road blocks and even early closures at shops, restaurants and banks. To minimize the impact this may have on your vacation, sign up for the U.S. Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, monitor local media before and during your trip, avoid demonstrations and contact your airline for updates about potential flight delays, especially if you're also traveling to remote Chilean destinations like Easter Island and Chilean Patagonia. Learn more about how to stay safe in Chile by visiting the State Department's website.
Getting Around Santiago
The best ways to get around Santiago are on foot and by metro. Since the city's streets are laid out on a grid, exploring on foot is an easy way to take in the sights. The metro also serves as an efficient, inexpensive and reliable way to travel between barrios, plus its lines service the city's top attractions. That said, taking the metro means combating heavy crowds, which can lead to an uncomfortable commute and, if you're not careful, a stolen wallet. Taxis are another convenient and affordable way to get around the city; however, you'll want to only flag those with yellow tops to avoid getting scammed. Buses are another compelling option thanks to reasonable rates, as well as extensive, easily navigable routes.
Santiago's international airport, Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL), sits about 10 miles northwest of the city center. The airport serves many international carriers that offer direct flights daily between major American cities, such as Miami, Dallas and New York City. You can opt to hop on a minivan transfer to downtown Santiago outside your arrival area or wait for a TurBus or Centropuerto bus, which travel between the airport and the city center. However, taxis are the most hassle-free means of transportation into the city. You can also easily pick up your own set of wheels outside the airport, but with plentiful public transportation options to choose from, there's no need to rent a car unless you're planning to venture outside of the city.
Entry & Exit Requirements
A valid passport is required for entry to Chile. U.S. citizens can stay in the country for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Travelers who fly into Santiago's international airport will be issued a Tourist Card, which they must return when they leave the country. Families with children 17 and younger must show proof of each minor's relationship to their parents when leaving Chile by presenting an original birth certificate. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. Department of State's website.
At the top of Santa Lucía Hill, you'll be rewarded with picturesque views and lovely fountains.
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