Santiago de Chile Travel Guide
If you’re looking for one of South America’s most alluring capital cities, Santiago is the not-so-obvious but oh-so-right choice. Tucked between the majestic Andes Mountains and the Chilean Coastal Range, Santiago promises a little bit of everything—from world-class museums to thought-provoking street art to leafy neighbourhoods dotted with sidewalk cafes. Santiago’s comfortable Mediterranean climate provides the perfect atmosphere for an amble through one of its many stately hillside parks (where, on a smog-free day, the dramatic white-capped Andes dominate the backdrop.) And of course, wine lovers won’t want to miss a stop at any of the dozen or so nearby vineyards, where you can sip on top-rated Carmenere and Cab Sauv—yet still make it back to the city centre for dinner. In stark contrast to the oppressive Pinochet years (when homosexuality was suppressed entirely), Santiago now has a large, open and diverse LGBTQ community, with LGBTQ organizations and activists continuing to fight repression to achieve equal rights. The best gay clubs and bars tend to be clustered around the hip and vibrantly bohemian Bellavista neighbourhood. As always, we’ve highlighted the best for you below. Move over Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro—Santiago is rapidly becoming one of South America’s hottest metropoles. Discover the best the city has to offer discerning gay travelers with these must-visit Santiago points of interest.
The best hotels in Santiago
In the heart of Lastarria, one of Santiago’s top gastronomic neighborhoods, is Luciano K. A stay here will instantly transport you back to the luxe and glamour of the 1920s. The historic Art Deco building (once the tallest in Santiago) now houses 38 elegant rooms, seamlessly merging original design details with the most modern of amenities. The rooftop terrace is particularly delightful with its stylish bar, heated swimming pool and sweeping views of Parque Forestal and Alameda Avenue. Also in the heart of Lastarria is The Singular Santiago Hotel. The architectural style here is neo-classic, with nods to the history and culture of Santiago. The family-owned hotel is warm and welcoming without forgoing any luxury; expect a cozy lounge, on-site restaurant, and an elegant rooftop terrace (named one of the best terraces in all of Santiago.)
For a hotel putting the environment first, try Eco Boutique Bidasoa. This hotel boasts 100% sustainable practices while still offering its guests a state-of-the-art gym, quiet swimming pool and pleasant terrace—ideal for sipping on a strong cup of coffee before exploring the surrounding neighbourhood of Vitacura. Or, tucked away in the undiscovered neighbourhood of Barria Italia, there’s the lovely CasaSur Charming Hotel. This small well located family-owned hotel makes you feel at home away from home with a personalized service together with their delicious homemade breakfasts served every morning with free-range eggs made-to-order.
Barrio Bellavista is home to Santiago’s best gay bars and nightclubs, and also where you’ll find The Aubrey. The 1920s building turned boutique hotel has only 15 rooms, each uniquely decorated and most with private outdoor patios or balconies. Don’t leave without trying the hotel’s signature Pisco Sour.
Santiago’s unique positioning between the Andes and the Pacific means you can enjoy day trips to both the coast and the mountains
Things to do in Santiago
Once the house of Pablo Neruda, famed Chilean poet and Nobel Prize of Literature, today La Chascona is a must-visit museum offering a glimpse into the writer’s life. The house was built in honor of Matilde Urrutia, Pablo’s secret red-headed lover. (Chascona means messy hair.) As a bonus, there are fantastic views of Santiago from the museum’s top floor. Another top Santiago tourist attraction gives tribute to famed Chilean writer Gabriela Mistral—the first Latin American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Gabriela Mistral Center (GAM) is a cultural and performing arts centre featuring rotating exhibitions from notable Chilean artists and photographers, along with thought-provoking workshops, talks, and performances. The architecture and history of the unique building (once the symbolic seat of Salvador Allende’s government) is worth a visit in and of itself.
Santiago’s unique positioning between the Andes and the Pacific means you can enjoy day trips to both the coast and the mountains. When the beach is calling, head to Valparaiso, a port city less than two hours from Santiago. Valparaiso is famed for its quaint colourful homes that dot the hillsides, along with iconic funiculars that provide both scenic tours and practical public transportation. Sunbathe on the beach, discover European architecture around Plaza Sotomayor, or soak in the exquisite Pacific views from another of Pablo Neruda’s homes, La Sebastiana. For mountains, there’s the Aconcagua Natural Reserve. Though technically located in Mendoza Province, Argentina, Andes Wind offers unparalleled day trips from Santiago to view the south face of Aconcagua—the highest mountain in the Americas and one of the famed Seven Summits.
There are endless places to visit in Santiago but don’t miss Santa Carolina, one of Chile’s oldest wineries. Named the 2015 New World Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast, Santa Carolina is an oasis of wine right in the heart of Santiago. Indulge in a flight tasting before exploring the sweeping mansion, gardens, and cellar.
The 37 murals focus on Chilean history and culture, tackling topics from children’s rights to Chilean mythology to Indigenous culture
Things to see in Santiago
Once a concrete working-class neighborhood, today the San Miguel District is a colorful open-air art museum celebrating mural and graffiti techniques. You’ll find works of art from both local and international artists, including famed Belgian street artist ROA. The 37 murals focus on Chilean history and culture, tackling topics from children’s rights to Chilean mythology to Indigenous culture.
Head for the hills and visit Cerro San Cristobal and Cerro Santa Lucia for a spectacular view of the city. Take the funicular to the summit of Cerro San Cristobal at night for glittering city views, or spend an afternoon at the Santiago Metropolitan Park (the city’s largest public park.) Santa Lucia Hill is smaller but also boasts a popular viewpoint of the city. The many trails through the manicured park make for a perfect afternoon outdoors. On both of Santiago’s iconic hills, you’ll find vendors serving up Chile’s favourite beverage: mote con huesillos, or traditional sweet tea with mote. Finally, don’t forgo a trip to the top of Sky Costanera. At 300-meters, it’s Latin America’s tallest building and offers spectacular 360-degree views of Santiago.
Some of Santiago’s coolest neighbourhoods are Barrio Bellavista and Barrio Lastarria. Bohemian Bellavista is where you’ll find countless chic restaurants, art galleries, and, as already noted, the best gay bars and clubs. On weekends, there’s a lovely evening handicrafts market. Barrio Lastarria is primarily a gastronomic neighbourhood also known for its cinemas, theatres, and museums. Don’t be surprised if you stumble upon live performances and festivals, especially on J.V. Lastarria Street and Parque Forestal.
Sarita Colonia is all about Peruvian cuisine with a twist. The eclectic restaurant has kitschy decor that somehow works to elevate the entire dining experience
Where to eat in Santiago
Named one of the World’s 50 Top Restaurants, O40 offers up creative tapas crafted by award-winning Spanish chef Sergio Barroso. Perhaps most unique is that the restaurant only offers a surprise tasting menu to its patrons. After dinner, head up to Room 9 for a nightcap; the sexy secret rooftop bar is only open to diners and members. Another Santiago restaurant to make the World’s Top 50 list is Borago. Chef Rodolfo Guzmán’s passion for lesser-known, wild ingredients endemic to Chile is obvious in the 15-course tasting menu. With inspiration from native cultures and Chilean cooking from centuries past, the Borago team forages every few weeks for a true nature-to-plate Chilean dining experience. Peumayen Ancestral Food is another restaurant taking a look at pre-hispanic food products and preparation techniques to provide a gastronomic experience that merges the roots of Chile’s past with modern-day cuisine.
Sarita Colonia is all about Peruvian cuisine with a twist. The eclectic restaurant has kitschy decor that somehow works to elevate the entire dining experience. There’s a story behind each piece of artwork; don’t be shy to ask about anything that catches your eye. Portions are large, and the third-floor terrace makes for particularly good people watching. Just across from La Chascona is Azotea Matilde, Santiago’s first rooftop restaurant. The panoramic views and excellent location make this a great spot to grab a cocktail after sightseeing in Bellavista.
Empanadas vary across countries in Latin America, each mouthwatering in their own right. In Chile, a must-try variation is pino, which includes ground beef mixed with onions, raisins, olives, and hard-boiled eggs. Empanadas Zunino is one of Santiago’s oldest empanada stands and a great place to taste it; it’s located in Mercado Central and usually boasts a long line of locals. After you grab your empanada, meander around El Mercado Central, Santiago’s historic central market showcasing everything from fish to liquor to jewelry.
For Nikkei (Japanese Peruvian cuisine), Osaka is the obvious choice. The recently opened restaurant is the work of famed Peruvian chef Ciro Watanabe. Osaka’s architecture and design give tribute to Peruvian Japanese architecture, notably incorporating organic elements, wood, stones, and adobe. Expect items like duck confit gyozas or Peruvian sushi.
Shopping in Santiago
In a tribute to Santiago’s old train stations that once served as meeting places for the exchange of goods and ideas, Estacion Italia is a modern shopping center in Barrio Italia with some two-dozen independently owned boutiques. There’s something for everyone, from Chilean arts and crafts to graphic novels. While in Barrio Italia, hop into Snog. The Argentinian online shop turned independent boutique features many Latin American designers while always promoting fair trade.
Steps from San Cristobal Hill is Patio Bellavista, a sort of modern-day market that merges cuisine, culture, clothing, and crafts for a unique shopping and dining experience. Grab a bite to eat at one of the global food stands, or keep an eye out for a one-of-a-kind locally crafted souvenir. It’s especially lively in the evenings when tourists and locals alike stroll the area. Another innovative and independent shopping center idea is Drugstore. Boasting a notable European flair, here you’ll find three stories of shops with everything from bookstores to clothing boutiques to artisanal coffee roasters. Don’t leave the Drugstore without hopping into MO-Store, the work of designer Magdalena Olazabal. One of the first brands to showcase solely menswear, there are chic and stylish staples for every wardrobe. Many pieces have a notable Latin American flair, such as modern-day ponchos.
Another staple in Santiago’s gay nightlife scene—and considered by many to be one of Santiago’s best parties—Barcelona Group always attracts a crowd
Club Divino Santiago de Chile is one of Latin America’s largest and most popular gay clubs. Located in a remodeled building that can hold up to 3000, here you’ll find state-of-the-art technology and spot-on music. The club also has nightly shows featuring professional dancers. Another staple in Santiago’s gay nightlife scene—and considered by many to be one of Santiago’s best parties—Barcelona Group always attracts a crowd. For phenomenal staging and world-class DJs, any of the gay parties under Barcelona Group’s three brands (Super Sabado Barcelona, Lobo and Singular) are guaranteed to be a good time. Then there’s Blondie, a gay-friendly club that attracts a large mix from the LGBTQ community. Expect alternative, rock and Chilean punk music in a unique, four-room building.
Both Chile and Peru assert the pisco sour as their national drink. Which country we can thank for creating the pisco is still up for debate, but there’s no doubt you’ll want to do plenty of pisco taste-testing while in Santiago. Chipe Libre has Chile’s most extensive pisco menu, knowledgeable staff, and chic decor. When you’ve had enough pisco, head over to nearby BocaNariz. The cozy wine bar features a wide array of Chilean wine, along with wine flights themed by region or style.
Photo: Luis Alfonso Orellana
Valparaiso | Photo: David Calderon
The Aubrey Hotel