Surrounded by mountains, cut across by a river, and filled with the modern world’s greatest luxuries, Santiago de Chile is the capital of the longest nation in the world, and the perfect destination for travel enthusiasts looking to navigate a city wrapped in the past & present. In fact, the only unenthusiastic part about a Santiago trip is sifting through the conflicting and confusing information, especially when the city shares its name with a certain city in Spain.
With limited tourism information, navigating the city's hidden gems and cultural treasures can feel like you’re running in reverse. Which is why we’re here. We’re cutting through the thick of misleading titles to bring you Santiago’s complex yet worthwhile blueprint. From dos and don'ts and transportation tips to weather patterns and when to hire a Santiago tour guide, it’s all here. Now, as they say in Chile, vamos nomás!
Santiago de Chile: A Smart City By The Numbers
Home to 6.9 million people, and the center of Chile’s culture, history and legacy, Santiago is a city steeped in ancient history and destined for success. The perfect blend of modern convenience and uniquely Chilean flair makes Santiago one of the most sought after places to live, with 40% of the nation’s population settling down in the capital.
It also makes Santiago one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Latin America, with the travel and tourism sector directly contributing 5 billion USD (3.5%) to the city’s GDP in 2019. In fact, tourists spent over 1.7 billion USD that same year.
Though the pandemic slowed things down, by 2022, this sector was back, contributing 2.6 billion USD (1.7%) in 2022, with visitors predicted to spend over 4 billion USD. With 4% of the city’s jobs in 2019 coming directly from tourism, it’s safe to say that hospitality has been built into the fabric of Santiago’s colorful tapestry. So this begs the question, who visits Santiago the most? Keep reading.
Beloved By The World: Santiago's Top Visitors
From the historic San Cristóbal Hill to trendy Bellavista, Santiago’s irresistible energy drew in these top 5 nations.
- United States - Coming in at number one, Chile’ close ally and biggest fan, the United States drew in 39% of the city’s international visitors in 2019. That number more than doubled in 2022 with a whopping 85% coming from the US of A in 2022.
- Brazil - Chile’s Latin American kin comes in second, with 14% of international visitors flocking in from Brazil in 2019. By 2022, Brazil was pushed down to 5th place by none other than Canada, which brought in the 2nd most visitors.
- Argentina - Close neighbors and even closer rivals, Argentinians made Santiago their travel destination in 2019 with 11% of international travelers coming from across the Andes. By 2022, much like Brazil, Argentina was kicked out of its spot by Spain.
- Spain - Contributing to 2% of the international visitor pool in 2019 was Spain, former rulers of Chile, and a large influence on Santiago’s Eurocentric design.
- Mexico - Last but never least is yet another entry from North America. Mexico made up 2% of Santiago’s international travelers.
So why is Santiago so popular? The modern comforts, life changing history, breathtaking scenery and vibrant culture sums it all up. Let’s take a closer look at Chile’s heart.
Chilecon Valley: The Savvy City With Deep Roots
Kick off your Santiago travels with the perfect blend of tradition & timelines of the future from the city that’s constantly evolving.
- Paseo Bandera: Shuffling down the Paseo Bandera feels like you’re in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, (minus the oompa loompas and disappearing kids, of course). Paseo Bandera is perfect for anybody looking to spend an afternoon marveling at the power of artistic innovation, technological efforts and of course, a city whose citizens have the power to transform a rundown street into a hub for creativity.
- The Sky Costanera: Welcome to the tallest building in South America, the Sky Costanera. Kick things off with a stellar viewpoint where you can overlook Santiago in all of its Andes filled glory. In a matter of seconds, you’re suddenly experiencing the city from a bird’s eye view.
- Persa Víctor Manuel Flea Market: Want to know where to get the best food, music and mestizo artistry? Head to Santiago’s premier flea market, Persa Victor, where urban art, music festivals, vintage vinyl and of course, Chilean cuisine can be experienced. If you’re looking for a piece you can take home with you, head to La Curtiembre Gallery and support upcoming artistry.
- Santiago’s Hills: Ready to plug into Santiago’s indigenous roots? Head to El Blanco Hill, home of Santiago’s original inhabitants, the Picocho people. Maybe you're in the mood for a historic day hike? Take a tour of Cerro San Cristobal & Cerro Santa Lucia, where a mote con huesillos awaits you at the end of your journey. Looking to indulge in some furry animal cuteness? Head to the Santiago Metropolitan Park, where the Chilean National zoo awaits.
Travel Treat: Santiago sounds like a perfectly sleek metropolitan gem, but it has its pockets of raw energy. Be on the lookout for Chinchineros, urban street artists who masterfully wield a bass drum-like percussion device as their sounds fill the Santiago streets, inviting locals and visitors alike to celebrate the sounds of Chile.
A Long Road: Santiago de Chile’s Art & Culture
If there’s a nation whose arts and cultures were long fought for, it’s Chile, and no city compiles that history better than Santiago. These museums and art collectives are a must-add to any Santiago itinerary.
- Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
- Museo de Arte Contemporáneo
- The National Natural History Museum
- Museum of Memory and Human Rights
Surrounded By The Outdoors: Santiago’s Scenic Spots
Need to take a break from the bustling city? Thankfully Santiago is enveloped in one of the world’s most beautiful mountain ranges, which can only mean one thing. Day trip! Check out these scenic spots near the capital.
- Cajon del Maipo (Maipo Canyon)
- Farellones Ski Slopes
- Zapallar Beach
What To Expect: Living Like A Santiaguino
Alright, so you’re falling more and more in love with the idea of dancing down the streets of Bellavista, but what will life in the Island Hill city really look like? Let’s find out.
Travel Q&A: How many days in Santiago is enough? Generally people spend 3–4 days in Santiago de Chile, but if you want to experience the Chilean Coast, and the Andes trails, 5 days would allow for a day trip to both locations, with enough time spent in the city center. To see which tours would fit your schedule, head to our Santiago private tours page.
What To Eat: Gastronomy & Street Faves
I don’t know about you, but the first thing I look for when I land in a new city is the food, and Santiago has no shortage of certified culinary hits! Whether you’re looking for Anthony Bourdain approved sandwiches or cilantro-filled ceviche, Santiago has it all. These are the flavors of the city you can’t miss.
- Chilean Ceviche - Ceviche may be Peruvian, but Chile’s flavor twist on the classic dish is worth noting. Looking to elevate your palette? Head to Borago, one of the world’s greatest restaurants, to experience ceviche unlike any other, with some versions featuring fresh palometa fish.
- Manjar- Known around the world as dulce de leche, this sticky, sweet Chilean dessert is a caramel lover’s dream. Drizzle it on your morning pastry, or choose it as an ice cream topping. Either way. It’ll definitely satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Churrasco Sandwich - Savory, thin and pan fried steak between some fresh bread and a savory chimichurri sauce. Does it get any better than that? Chile’s premier sandwich is the perfect afternoon treat.
- Sopaipilla- Looking for the crème de la crème of Santiago’s street food? This savory, fried flat bread can be topped with an assortment of spicy sauces, and enjoyed on a warm summer day.
- Mote Con Huesillo- Whenever the Santiago sun gets to be too much, be on the lookout for these colorful cocktails filled with sugar, cinnamon and the star, dried peaches. A mouthful of refreshing tang and texture all rolled into one sip.
When To Go: Santiago’s Seasons
Traveling and weather go hand in hand, and Santiago is no different. With the Andes on one side, and the Chilean coast on the other, the city has a unique yet pleasant weather pattern that accommodates Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, with each offering travelers something special.
So what is the best month to visit Santiago de Chile? September to November are considered ideal travel months due to the favorable weather & lower crowds, but let’s see what a year in the Island Hill city entails.
Summer (December to March)
Summer in Santiago falls between December and March, with the hottest month being January. During this month, average highs jump to 30°C, with daily averages of 21°C (69°F). It is the warmest and driest season, so rainfall is minimal during this period, and the city enjoys long, sunny days. If you’re a nighttime lover, Santiago’s summers are ideal, with a nightly average of 11°C, perfect for night tours around hip communes (neighborhoods). Be advised, the crowds are highest at this time.
Autumn (March to May)
Autumn begins in late March and continues through May. Temperatures gradually decrease during this season, with average highs ranging from 23°C to 29°C (73°F to 84°F). Since this is a transitional time, rainfall starts to increase as the season progresses. If you’re looking for cooler temperatures and don’t mind the rain, this is the perfect travel time for mellow crowds.
Winter (June to August)
As June rolls in, be prepared for a Chilean Winter, which for Santiago means average high temperatures ranging from 13°C to 18°C (55°F to 64°F) while June, the coldest month, brings in temperatures of 9°C (48°F). Winters in Santiago are relatively mild, with rainfall more frequent during this period, peaking in July. Though chilly, this is the ideal climate for ski lovers everywhere, so carry your gear and get ready for some snowy slopes.
Spring (September to November)
Temperatures start to rise during spring, with average highs ranging from 19°C to 25°C (66°F to 77°F). As weather becomes more pleasant, the city experiences a mix of sunny and rainy days. The blend of climatic influence from the Andes & Santiago’s coast creates the perfect storm.
What To Carry: Essential Suitcase Items For Santiago
Looking to pack the perfect Santiago bag? These hints should help you out.
- Lightweight clothing for summer (shorts, T-shirts, dresses).
- Breathable trousers
- Layered clothing for other seasons, including a light jacket, sweaters, and long pants.
- Comfortable walking shoes for exploring the city.
- Rain jacket or umbrella, especially in the spring and winter.
Time to Accessorize
Summer travel essentials include sunglasses, a hat, and some sunscreen. If you’re traveling during winter, you’ll need a scarf and warm trousers. Looking to hike? Cargo pants, sturdy hiking shoes and durable socks are a must.
Chilean plugs use type C (Two plug), and type L (three plugs) with a base voltage of 220 V (50Hz), so travelers will need to buy an adapter in their country that accommodates this, or find adapters within the airport.
How To Get Around: Smart City, Smart Transport
Santiago is one of the most connected cities in Latin America, so getting from point A to B is a breeze. Here are some transportation methods to consider when city hopping.
- Metro - Welcome to comfort, convenience and speed. Thanks to the Metro de Santiago, you can load up a BIP card and travel over 103 kilometers across 108 stations in the capital, with little to no fuss. By far the most reliable mode of transport in the city.
- Taxi - Whenever you see a black and yellow vehicle zipping towards you, know that it’s a verified Santiago taxi, one of the easiest ways to travel in the city. Be sure to check the meter and confirm it’s a taxi (looking for a yellow number plate) before you get in. Alternatively, you can use Uber, or DiDi.
- Walking/Bike Riding - You can’t do a street food tour from a bus, can you? No. Santiago is one of the most walkable cities in Latin America, with its cobblestone streets and a tightly woven downtown area. So carry comfy shoes, shades, a sunhat and an explorer’s heart.
Travel Q&A: Do you need a car in Santiago? No. Santiago de Chile is one of Latin America’s most walkable cities, so a car is only necessary for covering longer travel distances.
Dos & Don'ts: The Santiago Edition
Santiago de Chile is a laid back city with little fuss. With that said, every destination has its quirks. Here’s how to navigate the city’s homegrown culture.
Travel Q&A: Is English frequently spoken in Santiago de Chile? While Chile's English proficiency overall is quite low (10%), Santiago has a higher proficiency rating of 552 out of 800, which is still lower than cities like Tokyo and Korea, so a local guide might be a great way to understand Chilean Spanish, which is worlds apart from the Spanish were used to.
Safety In The City: Santiago Edition
While Chile is the second-safest country in Latin America, Santiago does have some safety concerns due to civil unrest and political activity in 2019 and beyond. The city’s current safety index while walking around in the daytime is at a moderate 58.38. Safety drastically decreases at night, to around 27.96 which is quite low. To avoid any mishaps, keep the following in mind.
- Pickpocketing can be a real nuisance when areas like San Cristóbal & Cerro Manquehue get crowded, especially during heavy tourist months. Stay vigilant and keep any important or expensive things (passports, reports, jewelry, high-end cameras, large amounts of cash) in your hotel. You can carry a photocopy of any necessary documents.
- If you plan on touring popular places like Bellavista or Barrio Brazil at night, you will NEED to be accompanied by a local, especially if you don’t speak the language. For transportation, a taxi (official only) is the best way to get around. If you're walking, a guide's knowledge about which streets to avoid is highly advised.
Notes On Santiago Travel For Solo Women Travelers: It’s best to walk with a companion at night, and stay in areas with a diverse population (Bellavista, Providencia).
Safety Note: Santiago’s Earthquakes: As a member of the Ring Of Fire, Chile experiences earthquakes frequently, so be prepared for tremors as the risk of earthquakes is always real. Though there are several advisory pictures and directions along Santiago’s streets & establishments, it’s best to read up on the National Disaster Prevention and Response Service’s best safety practices.
Okay, so horseback riding in the morning and wine in the afternoons sounds like a plan, right? There’s only one thing left. The planning.
Instead of losing the Santiago hype as you construct your schedule, get some much-needed help from our local Santiago tour guides who know how to customize the perfect itinerary, whether that means a day spent sampling the city’s cuisine, or mornings strolling through the hilly capital. It’s time to see Santiago your way.