Look at the beautiful energy spilling out of this boy. I saw a lot of this in the people of Santiago. There was an enthusiasm that I truly appreciated and enjoyed in this city that is great for solo travelers.
Plenty to do in Santiago.
Santiago is a large, modern, cosmopolitan city with a rich, and sometimes complicated history. There are distinct neighborhoods to explore and museums to visit. Here are a few of my favorites:
- San Cristobal is the largest hill in Santiago with a huge park and a wonderful church at the top. I would recommend a few moments for reflection in this beautiful yet simple stone church.
- Chile's Memory and Human Rights Museum is an important though challenging place to visit. Much of it is in Spanish but there is plenty in English. Focusing on the Pinochet dictatorship from 1973 to 1990, it preserves painful memories of this time when people went missing and were tortured. This museum can be quite overwhelming but it is important. The history we'd rather not remember is probably the most important.
- Mercado Vega is across the river from the Mercado Central (which I found touristy). This is the real thing. There's the flower market along the street on route there, the market on one side of the road with just about everything in the world, and kind of a restaurant market on the other side of the road. I wish I had pictures but, though I felt very safe personally, I didn't think it a good idea to pull out my camera. 🙂
- Centro Artesanal Los Dominicos makes a great day outing where you can have a bite to eat and discover some true Chilean handicrafts.
- Centro Cultural Palaceo La Moneda is located under La Moneda and good to know about given that you can't actually go into the Palace. It houses a couple of wonderful craft gift shops and an art museum.
- Providencia is a lively residential/commercial/business neighborhood of Santiago. Visit “the Drugstore” (a mini shopping mall) and wander down tree-lined Av Ricardo Lyon south of Av Providencia to get a feel for how people live.
Plenty within reach of Santiago.
The seaside and vineyards are two of the most popular destinations outside of Santiago.
Valparaiso and Vina del Mar are on the Pacific Ocean and about a 2 hour bus ride away (cost $8.00 each way). Valparaiso is the colorful port town and Vina is the flashy resort town. (See more on Valparaiso here.)
I went to one vineyard, Concha Y Toro, which offers a tour of the 19th century estate in addition to wine tour and tasting. All accessible by subway and one bus.
The subway in Santiago is cheap and fantastic. For about $1 you can ride the subway to just about any destination in the city. Buy a BIP card and fill it up with credit of a few thousand pesos and then travel. You'll spend most of your time on Line 1 as it goes right across the city.
Intercity bus travel is offered by a number of private companies from four terminals in Santiago. The main bus companies. Pullman and Tur-Bus, have offices in the city where you can buy tickets in advance. Check to make sure which terminal you have to go to. It's not necessary to buy in advance for Valparaiso or Vina as buses go very frequently.
Santiaguinos kind and helpful.
Despite being warned about pickpockets and not to wear any jewelery at all, I found the people of Santiago to be very honest. In fact, the city was far less intimidating than most large cities around the world. And I found them to be very helpful with everything from directions to money.
Yes, money. Going to Europe is easy now with the Euro. But in South America, travelers still need to learn a new currency in every country. In Chile, 1000 pesos is worth about $2. 10,000 is $20. Simple. But, the challenge is to count the zeros on the bill. On one occasion I tried to buy a bottle of water, worth 1,000 pesos for 10,000. I was quickly corrected. On another, I tried to pay a taxi driver 40,000 pesos for a 4,000 peso ride. On both occasions my money was rejected. After that, I watched the zeros a little more carefully!
My time in Santiago was wonderful. Great weather – hot and dry during the day, cool in the evening. No rain!
It is highly recommended.