Santiago de Chile
Chile’s capital and largest city – Santiago de Chile – was our final stop, after our Patagonia-focused vacation. We had 1,5 day to spend in the city surrounded by mountains, before returning a long flight back home. We were looking forward to a milder climate, as the days in both Argentinean and Chilean Patagonia were mostly cold, topped with an icy wind – like nearly all the time.
We won’t say this is a city you MUST include in your itinerary. But when you do, here are some recommendations based upon our experiences.
Parque Metropolitano San Cristobal
This is a pretty sweet park with quite some green, which is a welcomed contrast compared to the otherwise very hectic, concrete and dusty city streets.
The idea is to get to the “top of the mountain”, where you get a panoramic view of Santiago. Getting there can be done in different ways: by bus, by teleferic, by bike or just by foot. We were first thinking of renting a bike to not only explore the city itself but also to get up and down this mountain, but after seeing how busy the streets are, we reconsidered. If you’re looking for a relaxed and scenic bike ride, this is not the place to do it. So, by foot it was. It’s a few kilometers to get all the way to the top, but you have shops and cafeterias on your way up, to get rehydrated, before starting the last ascent. In the heat of Santiago’s summer, it again isn’t the easiest walk, but we’ve had far worse, so nothing undoable. If you can delay this activity to the later afternoon, I would advise to do that – we started at around 5.30pm, so we avoided the hottest part of the day and when we were at the top temperature was just right to enjoy the 360° views.
There’s also a zoological park inside the Parque Metropolitano , which we didn’t visit. When passing along the fences we got a peak in and saw that the pool for the hippo looked pretty cramped. Hope this is a sad exception.
To get to this park, go through the city centre. In this way, you immediately cover the Plaza de Armas and the typical historic buildings.
Half a day is certainly enough to get these highlights covered.
Valparaiso is actually one of Santiago’s neighboring cities. We got the idea to go there, thanks to some fellow hikers’ advice during the Torre del Paine hike. It’s located by the sea and is actually UNESCO world heritage, so worth a detour. And as we had seen all we wanted to see in Santiago already the afternoon before, it was the ideal location for our last vacation day.
How to get there
Two nights before we booked a trip with one of the tourist buses (Pellman this time), leaving from Pajaritos station in Santiago city to Valparaiso. It’s a 1,5h drive, very comfortable, easy and practical. There’s many of these buses leaving (like every 10min) – not only from Pullman but also other lines.
Given where we were staying (see hotel details below), we needed to take the metro to get from our hotel to where these buses depart. Another adventure. Not that difficult, as it turns out. The only thing you need to take into account: bring cash. Based upon what we found online we would just have enough to get the tickets, considering our departure and arrival stations. But what we didn’t know is that you need to buy a card (so-called “bip card”) that you need to charge with credit for your travels as well. So, up to the ATM first (there’re ATM’s at the station). You can buy and charge the card by one of the self service machines, but I would suggest just to double check with one of the counters that you got the right balance on there, just to avoid surprises – you never know. As soon as you have that, it speaks for itself. Except online, we didn’t find a map of the different stops on the different lines anywhere in the station. They are in the vehicles as such, so easy to follow, but so better to check online first. It’s cheap, too. We paid 5.000 CLP (including the card) for both of us, return included.
I’ve included below the route that we took, based upon a map we got at the bus station, when we arrived at Valparaiso. As always, you can of course book a tour with a guide, but I think that’s a bit overkill in this place. The “miradors” (scenic viewpoints) are clearly indicated and although we’ve seen more accurate and easier-to-read maps, this one was just fine to get us where we wanted to go.
Just be aware that if you start the tour as we did – in the Polanco district, it takes a while before you get into the typical “tourist” places. The Alegre area has the expected cozy restaurants and cafeterias that you would expect. A recommendation is “Casa Kultour B&B”, which we stumbled upon in one of the idyllic streets on our way back down. They have a “Nomm” ice cream stand which has some pretty particular ice cream. You get to pick 2 fruits and a topping. The fruit is actually chopped into the ice cream and after the ice cream being flattened out, it’s rolled into something that very much resembles spring rolls. The cereal is then slightly sprinkled on top of the rolls. Delicious.
As in Santiago de Chile, we were surprised not to find too many (as in none) souvenir shops. When up at the Miraflores district, there were a few stands where local people were selling typical curiosities, but that’s it…
This tour took us about 3 hours, including some sight viewing and snack stops. It includes the charming streets with colorful houses as well as the lookout over the city and the sea from the Miraflores area.
Vina del mar
Afterwards, we decided to tackle yet another city: Vina del mar – which actually has beaches and therefore – we figured – the typical seaside ambiance. We again took the metro (another line as the previous one), starting at Bellavista station to Recreo (which is 4 stops). As this is another line, we needed another card, this time amounting to 3.900 CLP for both of us. From Recreo stop, we walked further down the sea side until we arrived at a first small beach area (Reloj de flores) and then a second one (Muelle Vergara). From there we went back again via San Martin avenue, again filled with restaurants but no gift shops… We took the metro back from Miramar station to Baron and from there to the bus station again, where we got our Pullman bus back at 5.10pm.
Where to stay: Matildas Boutique Hotel
We highly recommend taking this hotel when overnighting at Santiago de Chile. It not only looks amazing, the staff is super friendly, breakfast has all you need and dinner is delicious too. Normally we try to eat out of the hotel, but decided to change that ritual on our last night. Matildas has a cosy garden with some tables on the balcony, which is just perfect to enjoy your last meal of the day in comfortable warm temperature, by candle light. The 3 course menu goes for 30USD per person, including a drink (from soda to a glass of wine).
Bedroom and bathroom have all you need (the only place where we got complimentary water and a safe) and looks great. There’s no A/C, but they have a fan, though to get some cool before going to bed. We just opened the windows in both the bedroom and the bathroom and that was enough.
The only thing to take into account is that it takes you about 15min between the bus station and the hotel. If you don’t have to carry any bags, that’s just fine, but of course coming in and getting back out, that’s a little trickier with all of your luggage. Nevertheless, we didn’t have huge struggles with it. You could take an Uber, but then you need to be aware of the heavy traffic in these smaller streets in the morning.
Where to eat: Los Vikingos
As we only had two nights in Santiago and the last one we took in the hotel, we only have one other recommendation and that’s “Los Vikingos”. Yep, it’s exactly what you think it is: a restaurant in true Viking-style. How in hell did we end up there? Ask my husband… As always he checked upfront on TripAdvisor what the top restaurants are in the area, considering budget and distance from downtown/ our hotel. That’s where Los Vikingos listed on place 225 from the 4.739 restaurants in Santiago. As he was intrigued by the name, he looked a little further and liked what he saw, so there we were… I’ve added some photos below so you get a flavor of what awaits you if you would dare to try this one as well. If you do, the shared starter with traditional mashed potatoes and the Nordic Pisco Sour are excellent choices.