Many tourists pass through Santiago, maybe spending one or two days exploring the nation’s capital on their way to Patagonia or another country. You may even find yourself with a layover in Santiago and only a few hours to see everything relevant. For those who don’t know where to start when it comes to tourist attractions in the city, I’ll be laying out a basic itinerary to see as much as you can of Santiago in 24 hours. If you’re looking to make the most of your time, this post is for you.
Especially if you’re in town on a Saturday or Sunday, I would recommend heading to Cerro San Cristóbal first thing in the morning. The cerro is a hotspot for tourists in Santiago, so get there early. If you make it in time, you can beat the line for the funicular, which is currently the only mechanical way to get to the top. Operating hours for the funicular are Mondays 1-8 pm and Tuesdays-Sundays 10 am-7:45 PM during the summer. You can find more information about the prices here. Your trip begins from the Bellavista Pío Nono entrance to the park and ends at the cumbre (summit). Here, you will find the well-known statue of Mary as well as various viewpoints of Santiago. If you happen to be in Santiago on a rainy day, this is the best time for pictures. From the top of San Cristóbal, the sky is always beautiful and bright after rainfall.
After going up and down Cerro San Cristóbal, I recommend spending some time wandering the Bellavista neighborhood in Santiago. The main street of this neighborhood is the Pío Nono street that you walk up to reach the entrance to Cerro San Cristóbal. Bellavista offers excellent options for lunch, as well as the opportunity to see some street art.
Afternoon Option #1
After exploring Bellavista, hop on the metro at the Baquedano station and head in the San Pablo direction to La Moneda. No visit to Santiago would be complete without seeing this historic building. La Moneda (meaning ‘the coin’) is the seat of government for the Republic of Chile. Its name remains from when it was used for coin production (1814-1929). The square surrounding La Moneda is always guarded by the Chilean police force (Carabineros). If you would like to see the changing of the guards, this occurs from 10-10:45 am on even days of the month in January, April, May, August, November, and December and odd days in February, March, June, July, September, and October.
From La Moneda, walk up to La Alameda (also called Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins) towards Santa Lucía. If you’d rather take the metro, you can also hop on at La Moneda, go in the Los Dominicos direction, and hop off at the Santa Lucía metro stop (2 stops away).
Cerro Santa Lucía (Saint Lucia Hill) is much smaller than Cerro San Cristóbal, but it is still worth visiting for the magnificent view of Santiago. Santa Lucía is actually where the Spanish conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia, founded the city. Another fun fact: it used to be an active volcano. Santa Lucía is entirely free. However, the government does ask you to sign in when you enter the gates with your name, nationality, and ID number (can be your passport number).
Across from Santa Lucía, visit the quirky artisanal market. Here, you can buy everything from souvenirs to fresh fruit juice. Check out the selection of lapis lazuli: a typical souvenir people bring back from Chile. Don’t worry, they also sell t-shirts, coffee mugs, and shot glasses.
Afternoon Option #2
Walk from Bellavista to the Baquedano metro station. From there, take the green line on the metro to the Plaza de Armas exit. Plaza de Armas offers quite a few items of interest for the history buff tourist. The plaza itself was the historical center of Santiago when the Spaniards first founded the city. In this square, you can find important constructions such as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, the Central Post Office Building (fun fact: this is the same lot where Pedro de Valdivia, the previously mentioned conquistador, built his house), and the Chilean National History Museum.
If you’re short on time, I recommend going straight to the Chilean National History Museum (open Tuesdays-Sundays from 10 am-6 pm). Here, get ready to learn about Chilean history, starting with the Mapuches and conquistadors and ending in modern times. Audio guides are available in Spanish, English, and Portuguese.
Chilean Museum of Pre-columbian Art
From Plaza de Armas, walk up the road Compañia de Jesús and turn left onto Bandera. Here you will find the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art (Bandera 361), my favorite museum in Santiago. The museum’s collection, with pieces ranging from Central to South America, is broken into seven sections: Mesoamerica (Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and part of Nicaragua), Middle (Colombia and Ecuador), the Caribbean, the Amazon, Central Andes (Peru and Bolivia), South Andean (Argentina), and Chile. The entrance to the museum is free on the first Sunday of each month. General admission is CLP 4,500 Tuesdays through Sundays (closed on Mondays), and the museum offers free guides during the week. You can make reservations for a group at [email protected]. If you didn’t make reservations, that’s okay! The museum now offers an application for your iPhone, where you can download audio files to listen to as you walk through the exhibits.
If you’re ending the day after choosing option #1, get on the metro at Santa Lucía in the Los Dominicos direction and get off at Tobalaba.
If you chose option #2, hop on the metro at Plaza de Armas and then get off at Baquedano. You will need to change from the green line to the red line at Baquedano and continue on the red line to Tobalaba.
From Tobalaba metro station, walk towards Costanera center. This building isn’t hard to miss, as it is the tallest building in Latin America. Once inside the mall, go to the floor called “Planta Baja” (the very bottom level). From there, follow signs for Sky Costanera.
Sky Costanera is Santiago’s newest tourist attraction, offering a 360-degree view of the entire city as well as the surrounding mountain range. Tickets range from CLP 5,000 during the week to $8,000 on the weekends. After paying the entrance fee, you will ride the elevator to the top of the building. My preferred time to arrive at Sky Costanera is about an hour before sunset so that you can see Santiago during the day, as the sun sets, and the city lights at night after the sunset.
Cocktails at La Piojera
After you’ve had your fill of picture taking, make sure to end your day by sampling some of Chile’s well-known alcoholic drinks. These include pisco sour, terremoto, and michelada. If your heart is set on trying a terremoto, a drink made of white wine, pineapple ice cream, and grenadine, then do it right at La Piojera. Pisco sour, made using pisco and lemon juice, can be found at almost any restaurant or bar as well as michelada, an exciting mix of beer, lemon juice, tabasco, and merken with salt lining the glass. If you’re not feeling daring enough to try the full-on michelada, try just a chelada, which is the former without tabasco and merken.