The Chilean capital, Santiago, is one of the most flourishing in South America. The tallest skyscraper in the continent and extremely busy business center filled with futuristic buildings are located here. The city also boasts beautifully renovated older parts which resemble grand European cities. However, surprisingly, from a visitor's point of view the city, despite its charm, Santiago does not have too much to offer. The reason for that is that it's quite similar to other big capitals and lacks those bits of uniqueness you can find in some more off the beaten path places. Nevertheless, if you're visiting Chile, although I wouldn't recommend that you spend too much time in Santiago (Chile has way more exciting places), it's nice enough as a stopover for a day or two. Take a look at what we saw during our short stay.
Santiago, Chile - First impressions
We spent only 1.5 days in Santiago bit we managed to see quite around the historical center: from the older districts full of magnificent buildings to the highest tower in South America. For us - it was a city good for a few maximum two day visit. It wasn't bad - it was beautiful indeed but it didn't leave any memorable imprint in our minds. Maybe because I do prefer more the unknown and surprising destinations - that's the reason that often the capital cities disappoint me. For example, Punta Arenas and the whole region of Patagonia that we visited later were way more impressive. Probably because they were so different from anything we'd seen before.
Santiago is one of the best kept cities in South America - although you do see some contrast, it pales in comparison to other Latin American metropolises. The streets are wide and clean and the central areas are beautifully maintained with some mixture of colonial and modern architecture as well as lots of greenery and parks.
What to See in Santiago, Chile
If you only have one or two days in Santiago - stay in the central area. Most of the worth seeing places are located there with the exception of the famous Gran Torre skyscraper which is a bit further away - but still easily accessible. Here's the map of the most interesting spots we noticed while walking around the city.
The first unusual construction we encountered was the Torre Entel (number 1 on the map) - a high TV tower built in the 1970s. Of course, the tower preserves the style of its times - it's quite heavy and full of concrete. On top of the structure, you can find an observation deck open for the public. The Torre Entel used to be a symbol of Santiago, as it was Chiles's highest man made tower for decades. We always try to see at least one good viewpoint of the city we're in - in order to take some nice photos. However, we decided not to enter the tower as the area around didn't seem too spectacular and we found better spots for admiring the city views - see below - point 6 and 9.
The Presidential Palace (La Moneda) - number 2 on the map, is located in the heart of the historical part of Santiago. The white, neoclassical construction dates back to the 18th century. I will be honest here, and this presidential did not strike us as too impressive. I understand that this place is important in history, however, if we didn't know what it was, we would confuse it for some ordinary building. We did prefer the grand buildings in the La Bolsa district - see point number 3.
La Bolsa District
La Bolsa district (number 3 on the map) is defined by three streets forming a triangle: New York, La Bolsa and Club de la Union. Santiago does not have an "old city" area as such. However, this historical financial district can successfully imitate one. The grand buildings here remind those found in Paris and Vienna. Beautifully maintained and carefully decorated - they contrast with modern, glass skyscrapers and older, run down concrete blocks. Although I'm not a big fan of such grand, perfectly polished streets - I do prefer the smaller, cozy, medieval old towns, I must say that it was very pleasant to roam the streets of La Bolsa.
San Francisco Church
The San Francisco church (number 4 on the map), consecrated in 1622, is one of the oldest buildings not only in Santiago but in Chile. Its facade is somewhat different to the typical churches you can find in South America. It reminds more of a small village chapel found in southern Europe. It just doesn't seem to match the surroundings - extremely busy avenue and multiple concrete blocks.
Chilean National Library
The Chilean National Library (number 5 on the map) is an impressive buildings with three domes. It was completed quite recently - in the 19th century. It's worth noting as it stands out among the other, quite simple blocks around the Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins.
Santa Lucia Hill
Right beside the Library, you will see the Santa Lucia Hill in the Park Cerro Santa Lucia (number 6 on the map). The hill is a remnant of a prehistoric volcano. Beautiful gates, fountains and staircase lead to the top of the hill. Thanks to the location - in the middle of the central area, you can admire great city views in all the directions from here for free. On a clear day, you can also spot the mountains surrounding Santiago. Don't miss this little hike when you're staying in Santiago.
Basilica de la Merced
Basilica de la Merced stands out with its intense red color - a good spot to take a photo. The church dates back to the 18th century. Nearby you can find a small museum that boasts some artifacts from Easter Island.
Metropolitan Cathedral and Plaza de Armas
The Metropolitan Cathedral is located just at the main square in the historical part of Santiago - Plaza de Armas. The church also dates back to the 18th century. Plaza de Armas is vibrant and full of life - whole families come here to spend time, there are numerous activities and performances. It was a really nice last stop in the old Santiago before visiting the very modern, full of skyscrapers, business district.
Gran Torre Skyscraper and San Cristobal Hill
Here are the most famous viewpoints of Santiago. The Gran Torre offers a 360 degrees view from its viewing platform which is open from 10 am until 10 pm (last lift going up at 9 pm). There were lines when we got there so be prepared to wait a bit before going up or down. The view indeed is beautiful - all over the city. The only downside is that the windows are fully covered with glass so it's difficult to take great photos and avoid reflections. And, of course, from the observation deck you won't see the tower itself which has become one of the landmarks of Chile now. The price can be discouraging - 15000 CLP - around 20 USD for a standard adult ticket. You have to decide for yourself if you wish to spend that much. For us, we really wanted to take nice photos for the blog but I doubt I would go there again.
San Cristobal Hill is more worth it - you can hike it yourself - it takes around 1 hour from the base which is located not far from the tower. You can also take Uber at a reasonable price - if you don't drive or have not much time. Also, there's a cable car available at a price of less that 5 USD per person. The hill offers amazing view of Santiago - however it's not the 360 degrees view you can get from the tower.
Author: Tom @ Adventurous Travels
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