Santiago – The highly underrated capital of Chile

Santiago, Chile, is generally not at the top of any list of best cities, but I loved it. The city doesn’t really have any amazing sites nor is it very pretty, but it has some intangible spirit that makes it fantastic. The atmosphere of the city is addictive and draws you in. I regret only spending three days in the city, as it doesn’t do it justice.

Santiago from Cerro San Cristobal

I made it to Santiago after the short bus ride back from Valparaiso. I stayed in a hostel only a few metro stops from the bus station so it was really easy to get to. After I checked in and dropped off my stuff, I rushed to the centre for the 3 PM Tours4Tips walking tour, where I met up with another friend who I met in Bolivia that lives in Santiago. This tour went to all the traditional locations in central Santiago, such as La Moneda, the Ministry of Justice, the Plaza de Armas, and various central neighborhoods. When we reached La Moneda, the guide gave us a history of Chile and its coup d’état which occurred in the 1973. The country is still recovering from the decades of military rule under Pinochet, whose regime killed and tortured thousands. The tour ended soon after this talk, and my friend and I headed to her apartment to play Dutch Blitz and eat. Along the way we stopped at a sopaipilla stand, which is a disk of dough that’s deep fried and covered in sauces (spicy salsa and garlic sauce are the best). After playing cards we went to a sushi bar to have dinner which was a fantastic surprise after not having sushi in months.

La Moneda
New York Street
Sopaipilla with spicy salsa and garlic sauce
Salmon tempura and shrimp sushi

The following morning I went to the 10 AM Tours4Tips walking tour, which went to the non-touristy parts of the city. This included visiting the various markets of the city, such as the Mercado Central seafood market, La Vega, and Little La Vega. After the markets we headed to the cemetery to hear the history of the city, see the grave of a local “animita,” and visit the grave of Salvador Allende, the president who was overthrown in the coup d’état in 73. Here again we had a history lesson about the past few decades. The tour ended here and I went with another person from the tour to have lunch at Mercado Central. The food here was spectacular – fresh seafood for reasonable prices. I had Machas a la Parmigiana, which was razor clams covered in parmesan cheese and baked. When we finished lunch we returned to the centre and parted ways, as I needed to return to my hostel. I attempted to go to Cerro San Cristobal a few hours later, but missed the last tram by 5 minutes. I had my second Chilean food staple on the way back though, the completo. This is a hot dog covered in generally obscene amounts of mayonnaise, avocado, and tomatoes. Thankfully the place I ate had a reasonable amount of all of the toppings so it was actually not too bad. Later I met up with my two friends again for cards that night and had more sopaipillas, before having to take the metro back to my hostel.

Seafood for sale in Mercado Central
Fruit vendor posing for a photo in La Vega Market
Ornate masoleums in the cemetery
Machas a la Parmiagana
My first “completo”

My last day in Santiago was the busiest. In the morning I walked from my hostel to the Plaza de Armas to visit the history museum, which described the early history of the country until 1970. After visiting the museum I walked across the river to Little La Vega to buy a fresh cherimoya-mango juice in the market and then walked to Cerro San Cristobal. This hill is the largest in Santiago and has the best viewpoint of the city. Since it was the weekend, the tram to the top was double the price and extremely crowded, so I chose to walk to the top. It took about an hour but the view along the way wasn’t too bad. The views of the city and the mountains from the top, however, were spectacular. The city was weirdly smogless that day, so the whole skyline was visible under the clear sunny skies. After climbing back down I walked to another hill, Cerro Saint Lucia. This hill is much shorter but has a great viewpoint from the castle-like building located on the top. From here I walked back to my hostel, stopping in the parks and interesting places along the way. I went to the bus station a little early to meet up with my friend one last time and have a churrasco, which is the third popular Chilean food. This is a beef sandwich with tomato, avocado, and mayo (very popular on everything here). We parted ways just before my bus left and I got on my overnight bus to Puerto Varas, located in the south of Chile in the Lakes District.

Plaza de Armas
Cherimoya-Mango smoothie from Little La Vega
Cerro San Cristobal
Cerro Santa Lucia

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David Hansen

Bioarchaeologist in training with an incurable travel bug. I write about my travel experiences and archaeological sites/research from around the globe.

2 thoughts on “Santiago – The highly underrated capital of Chile”

  1. Hey! I am a chilean and i have to thank you for your post… This post filled me with joy because I noticed (like a blind who has the chance to see) how much we underrate our own country. Santiago is not one of the most beautiful places in the world, but is a magic place! You made me smile so much with your pictures of your first completo, sopaipilla and churrasco! I hope you liked it! and that you had the chance to try the famous Mote con Huesillo or the Terremoto too! There are some places you must see if you come back here! We have so so so so so much to offer to you here (Not only Santiago, but Chile in general)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for reading my post! Chile was by far one of my favorite countries I’ve visited and I hope to get a chance to visit for a much longer period of time, there’s so much to see (and eat!) all over the country that I only scratched the surface of.


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