Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile are two of the most popular metropolitan attractions for those visiting South America. However, not everyone has the time or the money to see both in one trip. So, how do you choose? In this post, I’ll be breaking down the reasons to visit each capital as well as the type of tourists who would most enjoy each city’s activities.
I lived in Santiago for two years from 2014-2016 and frequently visit. Nonetheless, I hope to make this comparison as objective as possible in order to answer the question: Buenos Aires or Santiago?
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
Visit for the food
I don’t mean to disparage the food in Santiago, but wow, Porteño cuisine is good. Buenos Aires is known to have some of the best parrillas in the world, where visitors can indulge in excellent grass-fed beef. Between the variety of steakhouse experiences available, and even the delicious snack foods (such as empanadas), this capital takes the cake as far as a culinary destination. Make sure to check out Don Julio in Palermo Soho or Parrilla Peña in Recoleta for some classic examples of Argentinian steak. If you’re hoping to discover more hidden food gems of Buenos Aires, check out The Parrilla food tour.
Visit for the architecture
You don’t get a nickname like “the Paris of the South” for no reason. In Santiago, it’s often difficult to appreciate different architectural periods as fewer buildings have been preserved. However, Buenos Aires doesn’t have this problem. Walking around the city, it’s easy to notice European influences and varying styles of architecture: you can find everything from art deco to French-Bourbon buildings within walking distance.
For some of the most beautiful displays of Porteño architecture, I recommend starting your tour at Avenida de Mayo. This avenue holds Plaza del Congreso on one end and Plaza de Mayo on the other, where you’ll find the famous Casa Rosada, the residence and office of Argentina’s president. Other Buenos Aires architectural sights include: Avenida 9 de Julio (the widest avenue in the world), the Obelisco, Teatro Colón, Palacio Barolo, and Palacio de Aguas Corrientes (my personal favorite).
Visit for the historical
Buenos Aires is a perfect place to start if on a mission to learn more about the history and politics of South America. From invasions by the British, dictatorships, and even bombings, this capital city has held strong through it all. On this note, one of the most famous Porteño residents would have to be Eva Perón, an actress, first lady, and social activist. If interested in learning more about this polarizing figure, drop by the Evita museum. You can also visit her mausoleum at one of the most visited spots in the city, Recoleta cemetery. To hear a little more behind the history of the architecture I mentioned previously, I recommend taking a walking tour with Buenos Aires free walks.
Visit for the tango
Although Chile has its own national dance, cueca, it’s not really fair to compare any dance to tango. When visiting Buenos Aires, one of the attractions you absolutely cannot miss is a live tango show. Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s a pretty touristy thing to do, but I promise you won’t regret it. These tango performances can range from $100 dinner shows to street tango (where you watch and leave a tip), so even the economic traveler can enjoy! While tango in Buenos Aires was first considered a scandalous underground dance, it quickly became an international sensation and is now thought of as a pillar of Argentinian culture.
Visit for the wine
Buenos Aires or Santiago? Well, Santiago is undoubtedly a hit when it comes to wine lovers. In fact, there are four famous wine regions just a short drive outside of the city. These include: Maipo Valley, Casablanca Valley, Aconcagua Valley, and Colchagua Valley. So, why exactly is Chilean wine such a big deal? First of all, the semi-arid climate surrounding the Santiago region makes it grape-growing paradise. Furthermore, the country has many ties to French wine varieties, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère. In fact, Chile dominates in global production of Carmenère. While it’s easy to do a Malbec tasting in Buenos Aires, it’s not as easy to reach the most famous Argentinian vineyards, as these are typically in the Mendoza region (along the border with Chile).
Visit for the views
If you’ve ever seen photos of Santiago, you’ll most likely have noticed that parts of the city are surrounded by the Andes mountains. I often compare this to Los Angeles; nonetheless, you won’t realize how much the Andes tower over the city until you visit. This makes for some stunning rooftop views throughout Santiago. I would argue that, although Buenos Aires has the prettier architecture, Santiago may have the better views. If you’re interested in finding some of my favorite perspectives of the Chilean capital, check out The Best Skyline Views of Santiago, Chile.
Visit for the modern
In comparison to all of the historical architecture in Buenos Aires, Santiago houses mainly modern architecture. Now, this isn’t Chile’s fault for not preserving more of the older parts of the city. In truth, it’s actually related to the fact that Chile is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. While nowadays Chile has advanced building methods in order to avoid catastrophe, these just didn’t exist in the past. Santiago’s need to stay ahead in the field of architecture has actually led to some pretty neat creations. One particular favorite of mine is the Costanera Center, which contains a mall, two hotels, and business offices, and has also been named the tallest building in Latin America.
In regards to other aspects of the city that I would consider to be more modern than in Buenos Aires, I’d highlight the newer and more advanced public transportation (Transantiago) in Santiago. If you’d like a prime example of this, check out Line 6 of the Santiago Metro.
Visit for the nature
If you’re the type of person who enjoys adventure travel, hiking, and trekking, Santiago is the place for you. Within the city limits, you’ll find Cerro San Cristóbal to be one of the busiest outdoor spots. However, if you start moving away from the touristy areas of the city, you can find trekking spots for more serious adventurers. These include: Manquehuito (low difficulty), Manquehue (high), Pochoco (average), and Parque Natural Aguas de Ramón (multiple paths).
If you happen to be visiting in the winter, head to the Andes for skiing or snowboarding. I recommend a visit to Valle Nevado or El Colorado, each located approximately 1.5 hours from Santiago Centro.
So, Buenos Aires or Santiago?
In the end, choosing between these cities is difficult and will come down to personal preference. If you’re dreaming of a modern city surrounded by mountains, you’ll love Santiago. If you prefer a European feel, you might prefer the Porteño experience. Whatever you choose, I hope that I have helped to make your decision easier!