Before exploring Chile’s boundless natural wonders, get lost in the history, culture, and delectable cuisine of its cosmopolitan hub.
By Maya Vandenberg
Founded in 1541 by Spaniard Pedro de Valdivia, Chile’s treelined capital sits in a valley surrounded by the imposing Andes Mountains. A 1973 coup heralded an era of dark military-controlled days, which began to clear with the election of a democratic leader in 1990. The urban center has emerged as a lively and modern city where past and present collide.
The end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship launched Santiago’s slow process of rebuilding, and within a few years its neighborhoods began to enjoy a renaissance that continues today. Meander through the cobblestoned streets of Barria Lastarria long a home to architects, artists, and actors. This creative epicenter plays host to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Visual Arts, and the Gabriela Mistral Center. Thursday through Sunday, stroll the pedestrian-only area between the streets of Merced and Rosal to experience the antique and used book market.
Three museums are dedicated to Chile’s literary pride and joy, Literature Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, and all three are housed in his former residences. In the bohemian Barrio Bellavista, don’t miss La Chascona, which was built for Neruda’s clandestine lover (who eventually became his third wife), Matilde Urrutia. The moniker La Chascona was a reference to her wild mane of curly red hair, and a portrait by Diego Riviera depicting Urrutia with two heads and a profile of Neruda hidden in her hair still graces the house today.
Chile’s extensive coastline means an abundance of seafood. Cast iron-roofed Mercado Central, which was declared a national monument in 1984, is a hive of activity where the locals shop and gather alike, Mercado Central offers the largest and most diverse stock of products—from seafood to local fruit to meat. Explore the perimeters for local, low-key food stalls. Look out for caldillo de congrio, a rich fish stew made with red conger for which Pablo Neruda wrote an ode.
Chilean cuisine melds old traditions and indigenous ingredients with European influence and preparation.
The innovative Boragó, helmed by native Chilean Rodolfo Guzman features an ever-changing menu based on the success of any given day’s foraging and availability of regional products from the Andes to Patagonia. Taking a similar seasonal, sustainable and market-led approach with a menu that changes on the daily, Chef Carolina Bazán Bañados is the driving force behind Ambrosía in the Vitacura district. Celebrate Chile’s indigenous dishes and ancestral pre-Hispanic culture with a meal at Peumayén, where the techniques and ingredients showcase the gastronomic evolution of native food. Oenophiles should put Bocanáriz on their list. Highlighting the best the New World hot spot has to offer, Bocanáriz boasts an impressive collection of over 400 bottles of Chilean wine along with a menu designed to enhance the flavor profiles of the wines. Here, eating is really just an excuse to keep drinking.
A trip to the neighboring wine regions is a must as wine making is endemic to Chile and its economy. Try the Maipo, Chile’s oldest wine-producing region, or Casablanca, Chile’s first cool-climate coastal region that churns out fantastic sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.
From trendy to traditional, Santiago’s hotel scene offers an array of choices for every traveler. Located in the artsy Lastarria area and blending neoclassical French architecture with 20th-century modernity, the boutique Singular Santiago offers crisply designed interiors, a restaurant that serves up seasonally inspired French fare with local touches, and the rooftop pool and bar that flaunts stunning views of the city and nearby Parque Forestal.
Situated in the prestigious El Golf neighborhood, is the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Santiago. The classically styled hotel has 205 rooms and suites, four onsite dining options, and an enormous rooftop spa and fitness center. Take a dip in the heated indoor pool and Jacuzzi with views of the Andes Mountains through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Take in the city’s turgid history, and visit the Plaza de Armas, Santiago’s main square and where the stunning Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago is located, and La Moneda Presidential Palace, the presidential palace that served as the former Chilean mint. Wander the lovely green spaces that dot the city, including the Mapocho River-adjacent Parque Forestal with its shaded pedestrian walkways and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes within, and Cerro San Cristóbal, which boasts the second highest point in Santiago. Climb to the top to take in a 360-degree view of the metropolis and Andes Mountains.