You might be forgiven for thinking that the South American country of Chile, famed for being being just 110 miles wide, might lack something in terms of geographical diversity.
How wrong you’d be; Chile is a place of scenic extremity. Stretching for over 2’500 miles north to south, it’s the longest country in the world, flanked by the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, and boasting some of the world’s longest stretches of coastline and some of the largest still-active volcanoes on the planet, accordingly.
But that’s not all; on your holiday to Chile you’ll find epic glaciers and mountains, sprawling alpine forests, isolated coastal fjords, sun-kissed beach resorts by the bucketload, and even penguins in the far south.
With such a wealth of topographical wonder, it would be understandable if your stop-off in Chile’s capital Santiago was treated merely as a transit; a brief recharge before setting off into the country’s vast and breathtaking landscapes. But to do so would be to miss out on all that this sophisticated and suave city has to offer.
Should you be planning an extended stay in Santiago, then here are some suggestions for your itinerary; our 7 of the best things to do in and around Chile’s capital city.
Sample Santiago’s Sandwich Culture
Santiago loves a sandwich, and that’s putting things somewhat mildly. Often so heavily laden that they require a knife and fork to tackle them, sánguches are an art form here, and are treated with the same respect as a sit-down, three-course meal.
So, pull up a pew and sink your teeth into a Chilean hotdog, the completo, which is topped with sauerkraut, avocado, tomato, mayo, green sauce and a whole host of other treats. It’s a fully loaded affair and deserving of a bib. Or, why not sample a churrasco marino? Here, fried fish rubs shoulders with avocado, tomato and coleslaw in a floury bap, and it is as delicious as it sounds.
If you’re in Santiago on the search for sarnies, it’s all about following your nose and eyes. Every street corner has a dedicated sangucherìa slinging the good stuff; all you have to do is look for the longest queues!
Check Out The City’s Hugely Creative Restaurant Scene
It would be remiss of us to stop at sandwiches in our round-up of the best things to do in Santiago, however good they are in the city.
Chile’s capital is also home to a cutting-edge fine dining scene, with several entries in the influential Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Flying the flag for indigenous Mapuche cuisine and its ingredients is Boragó, one of the most inventive restaurants anywhere on the planet.
Sat in the foothills of the Cerro Manquehue mountain, much of what ends up on the plate here is foraged by a team of 200, and native only to Chile. Having worked at Noma (hey, who hasn’t at this stage?), chef Rodolfo Guzmán brings plenty of delicate, inventive flare to these ingredients, which very much remain the star of the show.
Whilst it’s certainly not cheap, at $126.000 CLP (around £115) for the tasting menu alone, the restaurant represents a fascinating insight into ingredients you’ll likely not taste anywhere else in the world. If you’re to have one meal (apart from a sandwich) here, make it Boragó.
Admire The Incredible Street Art
You’ll see graffiti everywhere in downtown Santiago, but a crudely drawn cock’n’balls this ain’t. This is street art, make no mistake, with a proud tradition of protest against the military rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s. Modern iterations in the city remain resolutely anti-government, with the 2021 legalising of gay marriage celebrated vibrantly across Santiago via artistic expression.
If you’re wondering where to see some of the best street art in the city, check out the Culture Trip’s useful round-up here.
Visit The World’s Largest Swimming Pool In Algarrobo
Whilst we’re loathe to leave this fantastic city, even for a day trip, there’s good reason to take the two hour train west to the popular summer resort Algarrobo, which sits invitingly on the Pacific Coast. This is where santiaguinos and santiaguinas head for a weekend by-the-sea, sure, but there’s another attraction that draws in the crowds; Algarrobo is home to the world’s largest swimming pool!
Overlooking the ocean, the pool stretches for nearly 1’000 metres in length and covers 20 acres, following the curvature of the beach below. It’s an impressive sight, even more so when you’re actually immersed in the water. Just be warned; it reaches a depth of 35 metres… Wow!
Go Wine Tasting In The Maule Valley
Chile is revered worldwide for its wine, and some of its most famous producers are found in the surrounding countryside outside of Santiago. The Maule Valley, perhaps Chile’s most prolific (and certainly its oldest) wine region, is 150 miles south of the capital, and boasts a whopping 15 wineries. No wonder it’s been nicknamed ‘the cradle of Chilean wine’.
Take a dedicated tour from Santiago to one or several of the region’s vineyards, or enjoy ‘wiking’ your way through a portion of the valley. Either way, you won’t want to drive for this one!
Scale Cerro San Cristóbal, Santiago’s Central, Towering Park
Back in Santiago, you’ll notice the city is replete with green spaces for rest and play, the largest and most significant of which is Cerro San Cristóbal, Santiago’s central park.
We say central due to its importance to the city, but the park is actually found in Santiago’s northern quarter. We say park, but really, Cerro San Cristóbal is a hill sitting 300 metres above the city and providing incredible views below.
Either hike to the top, which takes around an hour, or take a cable car, which takes considerably less time and is a pretty thrilling experience to boot. At the summit, you’ll find a zoo, botanical gardens, open-air swimming pools and so much more.
For another Santiago hill experience, don’t miss out on Cerro Saint Lucia, which is a little more rugged and intimate, and no worse for it.
Explore Chile’s History Via The City’s Wealth Of Excellent Museums
Santiago has been one of Latin America’s most important financial and cultural centres for centuries. The city has also endured a troubled recent history, yet remains a resilient, often revolutionary place.
It’s no surprise, then, that Santiago boasts some incredible art galleries and museums, from the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, which houses artworks and artefacts from pre-Columbian Central and South America, all the way to the Museo de la Bellas Artes (the Museum of Fine Arts).
Santiago Presidential Palace, right in the centre of the city, is an impressive piece of architecture and is also free to visit, but arguably the most vital museum in Santiago is the recently opened Museo de la Memoria (Museum of Human Rights), which commemorates the victims of human rights violations during Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship.