Santiago is by far the largest city in Chile, with 5.4 million people, over 30% of the country's population. It is also a very modern city, with a subway, many museums, tons of shopping, and access to really anything you might need/want. Despite all of this (or perhaps because of it), much of what we read about Santiago before visiting was negative. People complaining about smog or just saying that it wasn't all that interesting. We found it to be quite the opposite.
Santiago was our first time using a service called airbnb which lets you find places to stay and pay for it through their service. The best part of this is that it is designed for individuals to list their spare spaces. This means we were able to stay in the spare room of someone's apartment for $25 a night, when staying in a dorm would have cost us more. Our first experience with airbnb was great, and we'll continue to use it for the rest of the trip.
This meant we were staying in the heart of downtown, close to just about everything. We went on a free walking tour of the city, run by Spicy Chile (keep in mind the tour is 3-4 hours). This was excellently structured and just gave us a taste of the main attractions. We then later visited several of the sites that we walked past during the tour. We visited the Fine Arts and Modern Art Museums (all in one building, you could skip the Modern Art museum IMO) and Cerro Santa Lucia, a large park/hill in the middle of the city.
We also had some excellent food in Santiago. The very touristy Central Mercado specializes in a vast array of fresh seafood. This is another place where airbnb helped us. Gabriel, our host, showed us his favorite restaurant in the market. This meant that we skipped the central restaurant in the market which is heavily geared (and priced) towards tourists. We ate at Los Juanitos three times, where I had the best fish I've ever eaten.
We also took some time to restock and find some new gear. Jordan bought a daypack so that we have something a little better for the buses and during hikes. I bought a new (smaller) camera bag which helped reduce the strain on my backpack. We got these at the massive Costanera Mall which is 5 floors with over 300 stores and seating in the food court for over 2,000 (!) people. If you're looking for some shopping, this is the place to go.
We ended up really liking Santiago and it was the first place on the trip thus far that we've thought we could actually live in. The costs we certainly higher than what we're used to on the trip, but we were able to offset that a bit by using airbnb and cooking several times.
Nuts and Bolts
- We used airbnb to find a place at a reasonable rate in downtown Santiago, the apartment was great, you can check it out here. The host, Gabriel, only speaks spanish.
- Do the free Spicy Chile walking tour. It takes 3-4 hours, but our guide was interesting and energetic. It helps you get a feel for the city and identify some of the sites you might like to take more time to visit later. (be sure to tip your guide if you enjoy the tour)
- Make sure you use the Metro which requires you to buy a BIP! card. This was very easy to navigate and made getting around the city very enjoyable.