Whether you're skiing at Valle Nevado or Portillo this summer, you're going to be traveling through Chile's bustling, colorful capital: Santiago. An interesting city that dates back to 1541, Santiago is a mixing pot of indigenous, Old World Spanish and contemporary cultures. Both seasoned globetrotters and first-time international travelers will find that Santiago and the nearby coastal cities provide an endless—yet easy to access—list of unique cultural attractions and experiences. Set aside at least two days to explore the capital city, wineries and coastal areas.
Top things to do
Matching the city's cultural eclecticism, Santiago's world-class exhibits span from tribal artifacts to memorials of Chile's turbulent 20th century history. Here are a few don't-miss Santiago museums:
- A collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts provides a glimpse into the past at the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. Exhibits range from tribal pottery and Andean textiles to Mayan stone slabs.
- Contemporary history buffs will enjoy the opportunity to learn about what really happened in Chile's Pinochet era, from 1973 to 1990, at the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos.
- Dating back to 1572, the Museo del Arte Colonial de San Francisco doubles as a museum and monastery, and houses an impressive collection of religious art.
Photo: Museo Chilena de Arte Precolumbino
A visit to Santiago's Mercado Central or La Vega Central will thrill foodies and photographers alike with gleaming piles of fresh fish and crustaceans atop mounds of sparkling ice. The whole experience will stimulate the senses as fishmongers, customers and chefs compete nosily for the best price. To sample the local seafood in a more relaxed environment, head to one of the city’s many eateries.
Photo: Sol Robayo/Flickr
Much like their Spanish forebears, Chileans enjoy late nights. Most don't even head to the dance clubs until 1 a.m. You can expect a mix of Euro-inspired clubs, lounges and pubs with unique Latin flavor. Here are some of Santiago's nightlife hot spots:
Liguria Restaurant Bar, on Av. Providencia 1373, serves up authentic Chilean food and attracts an interesting mix of people.
- Club La Feria, on Constitucion 275, is Santiago's hottest microclub. Accommodating 250 people, Club La Feria features the best local and international DJs.
- Etniko Restaurant Club, on Constitucion 172, features Asian-style food and drinks and an excellent house/techno DJ.
- Bar Constitucion, on Constitucion 61, is a popular spot for R&B, dance and electronic artists of the moment.
- Located in the Vitacura neighborhood, Lamu Lounge is a standout in a complex of great restaurants and clubs.
Top sites in Santiago
Cerro San Cristobal
Rising nearly 1,000 feet above Santiago, Cerro San Cristobal hill is a great place to get some exercise and understand the layout of the city. From the top of the hill, visitors can enjoy two pools, Tupahue and Antilén, and access the National Zoo of Chile.
Photo: VT Polywoda/Flickr
Boasting more than 4,000 trees, this peaceful urban oasis was named for Chile's bicentennial and is located alongside the Río Mapocho. Many bike paths converge at the Parque Bicentario. Park visitors can enjoy inviting chaise lounges, sun umbrellas and state-of-the-art playground equipment for kids.
Santiago's Cementerio General will exceed your expectations of a graveyard. Rather, it's a beautiful city of headstones, mausoleums, catacombs, tombs and crypts—beautifully appointed by famous local sculptors. The names above the crypts read like a who's who of Chilean history.
Photo: L.A. B./Flickr
Plaza de Armas
Since its founding in 1541, Santiago's beating heart has been in the Plaza de Armas. A fountain sculpture of liberator Simón Bolívar is the plaza’s centerpiece. Parallel pedestrian areas, Paseo Ahumada and Paseo Estado, provide ideal access to the historic square, and Plaza Armas is typically crawling with locals, tourists, street performers and merchants.
Photo: Chile Tourist
Located adjacent to Plaza Armas, the exquisite, neoclassical Metropolitan Cathedral was constructed in 1748 and features an impressive collection of art.
Photo: Chile Tourist
Top places to stay in Santiago
Grand Hyatt Santiago
Guests of the Grand Hyatt Santiago can enjoy convenience to top sights and transportation, and world-class amenities. Relax in a lagoon-style swimming pool with a waterfall, and rejuvenate at the Grand Hyatt's three-story AKO Wellness & Spa—one of Chile's best spas. The Grand Hyatt Santiago's 310 rooms and suites are elegantly designed with modern décor, and feature the latest entertainment technology.
Photo: Grand Hyatt Santiago
The Ritz-Carlton Santiago
This sophisticated retreat in the heart of El Golf, one of Santiago's most prestigious neighborhoods, the Ritz-Carlton delivers unforgettable amenities and services, including spa services at the hotel's rooftop 4,740-square-foot Health and Fitness Center.
Photo: Ritz Carlton Santiago
Le Rêve Hotel Boutique
Located in the heart of the Providencia neighborhood, Le Rêve Hotel Boutique features 31 well-appointment, French-inspired rooms and three suites spread out on four floors. Offering a stacked list of in-room and property-wide amenities, Le Rêve Hotel Boutique provides guests with world-class personal attention.
Le Rêve Hotel Boutique
Atton El Bosque
Nestled on the outskirts of the Las Condes suburb, Atton El Bosque is conveniently located within walking distance of the Tobalaba subway station. Boasting more than 240 rooms ranging from king or queen rooms to junior suites, Atton El Bosque offers guests the full gamut of amenities and that make them feel at home.
Photo: Atton El Bosque Santiago
Top places to eat in Santiago
Showcasing an impressive collection of Chilean wines, Bocanáriz is Santiago's dining star for wine aficionados. Visitors looking to explore Chilean tapas will be pleased with the Bocanariz' rich menu.
Combining Peruvian and Japanese flavors and cooking techniques, Osaka, located in Las Condes, is a Santiago dining experience not to be missed.
Peumayen Ancestral Food
Located on Constitución, Peumayen is a top-of-mind choice for those who want to learn about—and taste—traditional Chilean cuisine with a gourmet twist
Peruvian-style seafood is the gastronomic highlight at Vitacura's La Mar, particularly the modern ceviches.
VALPARAISO AND VIÑA DEL MAR + WINE COUNTRY
Photo: Chile Tourist
Santiago is just a two-hour drive from two beautiful coastal cities: Valparaíso and Viña del Mar.
Vaparaiso is a main port for Chile and located directly across from the famous Easter Island. Though the two coastal cities are only 20 minutes apart, they are very different experiences. Valparaíso is known for its colorful cottages that cover the hillsides, unique street art and charming pedestrian plazas for outdoor shopping. While there, visit the home of world-famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which has been converted into a museum. Viña del Mar features modern skyscrapers, but the city is renowned for its beautiful gardens and parks.
Photo: Chile Tourist
If you've been dying to sample some Chilean wine right from the source, here's your chance. A trip to Valparaiso and/or Viña del Mar will put you within perfect striking distance to the Maipo Valley, the country's oldest wine-growing region, and two of Chile's most renowned wineries: Concha y Toro and Santa Rita. Reserve some time to explore the vineyards and taste the vintages unique to Chile's climate.
Photo: Tierra Atacama Hotel and Spa
Red and rust-colored rock formations contrast with white salt flats while volcano peaks rise in the distance, making the Atacama Desert in northern Chile seem otherworldly. As one of the driest places on the plant, the Atacama has little human development, save for the small, rustic town of San Pedro de Atacama. For those who crave off-the-beat-path adventure and beautiful, eerie landscapes, an Atacama adventure is the perfect travel experience.
Photo: Ana Raquel S. Hernandes
Two top Chilean ski resorts—Portillo and Valle Nevado—are affiliated with world-class accommodations in San Pedro de Atacama, making an Atacama adventure an easy and affordable tack-on trip. In addition to providing accommodation recommendations and how to get there tips, we've outline some of the best Atacama excursions and must-see sights—which can be easily arranged via the hotel’s activities coordinators.
What to do
Sandboard the alle de la Muerte (Death Valley)
In Chile, shredding isn't just reserved for the snowy slopes. You can sandboard the giant, 300-plus-foot sand dunes in the arid Valle de la Muerte. A 10-minute drive from San Pedro, the sand dunes provide an opportunity for a unique activity and great vantages of the surrounding valley and desert. Guided, English-speaking excursions are available and come in handy—since sandboarding isn't exactly easy.
Stargaze with an astronomer
Thanks to its lack of development and prevalence of clear nights, the Atacama Desert is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. The Atacama is home to a gamut of cutting-edge observatories, too. There are plenty of stargazing tours, most notably is the San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations. French astronomer Alain Maury leads groups far into the desert away from even the slightest of light pollution and invites them to take in the star show through a series of telescopes.
But truly, no equipment is required to make out thousands of stars and the very defined Milky Way veil. That's how incredible stargazing is in the Atacama.
Bird-watch on the Salar (salt lakes) de Atacama
A host of salt lagoons and lakes, fed by the San Pedro River and other Andean snow-melt streams, dot the Atacama Desert floor. There is no outlet for the water, which is why such a high salt content has developed. The entire salt flat encompasses about 1,200 square miles, making it the third largest in the world. These lagoons provide a habitat for many aquatic birds, particularly Flamingos, Taguas and Guallatas. For the best bird-watching, head to Los Flamencos National Reserve.
Guided trips are available, but require a very early wake-up for an optimal experience.
Explore the ancient village of Tulor
After just a short drive from San Pedro, you can experience Atacameñan culture dating back 2,800 years. Established sometime around 300 AD, the Tulor settlement consists of 22 clay adobe structures. An array of archaeological items from human and animal bones to ceramics and seashells were found buried among the ruins. Tulor was built upon an ancient oasis fed by the San Pedro river, but was abandoned when water supplies dried up and the desert infringed upon the community.
Guided tours are available. The site has been managed as an eco-tourism destination, but erosion and sand encroachment threaten to destroy this piece of Mesolithic history, making it all the more important to experience it sooner than later.
Float in Cejar Lagoon
Rid yourself of desert dust by enjoying a float in the popular Cejar Lagoon, just south of San Pedro. Situated in the Salar de Atacama, this small, natural pool contains such large quantities of salt that floating is the only option—if you can brave the 64°F water.
There are onsite showers, which is recommended after your refreshing saline bath. Tours are available.
Experience El Tatio Geyser Field at dawn
We can assure you that the 4:30 a.m. start amidst cold temperatures is well worth it. A tour bus will take you north of San Pedro into the Andes all the way to 14,107 feet, where you'll find the highest geyser field in the world: El Tatio. As the morning rays pierce the white columns of steam, you'll understand why you woke up so early.
In addition to the geysers, you'll likely be treated to a variety of wildlife, including, vicunas, viscachas, ñandúes and a variety of birds that live among the llaretas (a Chilean plant), giant cacti and paja brava grass. At El Tatio, you’re also within perfect striking distance to soak in one of the many surrounding hot springs.
Relax in the Puritama hot springs
Maintained by the Explora Atacama resort, the Puritama Hot Springs are comprised of a variety of 91°F thermal pools. So while they're not scorching hot, their blue-green waters are plenty relaxing. Surrounded by desert vegetation and rugged, red ridges and ravines, the Puritama Hot Springs provide a complete delight of the senses. Locals have used the hot springs as treatment for purification, spiritual cleansing, rheumatism and muscular pains.
An onsite bathhouse/dressing room and wood bridges simplifies the logistics of enjoying these natural wonders. The pools are open to the public, but are rarely crowded.
Watch the sunset from the Valle de Luna (Valley of the Moon)
Located about nine miles west of San Pedro, the Valle de Luna provides a stunning spectacle as the sun sets. The lunar-like landscape, which gives the valley its name, comes alive at the sun dwindles. The changing light sets the rocky formations and mountainsides aflame in a pinkish glow. But it's the Andes that demand the lion's share of attention. Top off the experience with a popular local libation: pisco sour.
Photo: Tierra Patagonia Hotel and Spa
Patagonia is well known as a dramatic destination for explorers of all kinds. Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa sits at the edge of the South American pampa (lowlands) and Lake Sarmiento with incredible views of the Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Tierra Patagonia guests embark on daily guided excursions, exploring the national park's cultural points of interest and ecological wonders.
Photo: Tierra Patagonia Hotel and Spa
The hotel itself is nearly as dramatic as the landscape, with the exterior designed to resemble "an old fossil, a prehistoric animal beached on the lakeshore, like those drawn by Charles Darwin," according to the hotel’s architect Cazu Zeger. Inside, it's a cozy hideaway that offers a warm atmosphere for guests returning from a day discovering Patagonia's natural and cultural wonders.
Photo: Tierra Chiloé Hotel and Spa
The largest island of the Chiloé Archipelago off the southern coast of Chile, this destination offers travelers a step back in time to a place where nature and local culture has been preserved through the centuries. Chiloé enchants visitors with its unique architecture, warm hospitality and stunning landscapes. To the east, green hills are met by tranquil waters, and to the west, the powerful Pacific Ocean scours and shapes the coastline. The archipelago's biodiversity captivated Charles Darwin in the 19th century and continues to fascinate visitors exploring the area by land and by sea.
The design of Tierra Chiloé Hotel & Spa takes cues from its sister hotels in Atacama and Patagonia. The structure is meant to be one more element in the surrounding landscape, adding to the area's interest without detracting to its beauty. Inside, spaces are designed to centerpiece the dramatic views and warm guests returning from excursions.