Updated: Jan 24
Santiago is a city of surprises. We hit six well-known attractions and added the vibrant street scene as our seventh "must-do" during a one day self-guided tour. We walked 10.5 miles, but you can take taxis or hop on the metro if you’re a little less ambitious.
Aerial trams take you across the Andean valley with spectacular views of the modern city of Santiago. Our Number 1 recommendation is a funicular ride up Mount San Cristobal. An all-inclusive ticket includes the round-trip cog railway ride up and down the mountainside as well as an aerial tram (teleférico) with views across the spectacular Andean valley on the far side. The cog railway ride is worth doing even if you don't have time to explore the park. It was built in 1925 and is very evocative of an era when mountain tops were only accessible on foot. Visitors enter a castle-like structure before boarding the train. If you have ever waited in line for Disney's Thunder Mountain Railroad, you will undoubtedly flash back to that excited feeling as the line snakes around a large room of eager passengers looking at the arriving and departing cars.
The funicular is an old-fashioned ride that thrills young and old alike.
A statue of the virgin is a short walk away from the funicular stop at the top.
The national park area accessed by the funicular is the largest green space in South America devoted to recreation. You could spend weeks here enjoying bike paths, hiking trails, the national zoo and even a large swimming pool. Since we were limited to a day, we spent a couple of hours riding the funicular, walking around and then catching the teleférico for more awesome views of the Andes and the city spread out below.
Number 2 on our list was the Museum of Pre-Colombian Art in the heart of the old colonial district. Like other South American countries, Chile is in the throes of coming to grips with how the Spanish conquistadors treated the native people. The indigenous Mapuche are still in the news as the descendants of the conquered tribes fight to gain their place in modern society. The museum affords visitors a way to learn about Chile's conflict-ridden past.
Number 3: The Cathedral of Santiago dates to the late 1700s and its neoclassical structure contrasts with the modern buildings that have sprung up around it. Our photo captures a reflection of the church in the glass of a modern skyscraper. The Cathedral is set on the main square called the Plaza de Armas.
Number 4: Sky Costanera is a 2-minute elevator ride to the top of South America's tallest skyscraper, the Gran Torre Santiago (64 stories) in the modern business district of Providencia. Even on a somewhat cloudy day we enjoyed fantastic views of the city and the surrounding snow-capped Andes.
Number 5: Santa Lucia hill and park is conveniently located across the street from our hotel, the Hotel Sommelier Boutique. The hill was used by Spanish missionaries for prayers in the 1500s and later as a defensive fort. Nowadays, the park is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike who enjoy taking breaks from the hectic city.
Spaniard Pedro de Valdivia founded the city in 1540 on Dec. 13, St. Lucia's Day, giving the hill the name it still bears.
Number 6: Los Domenicos Handicraft Village was a serendipitous surprise. We were expecting an overly commercial tourist area and were delighted to find a charming collection of crafts stores and museum displays in a heritage area rediscovered by artisans in the 1970s. You can eat, shop in upscale jewelry, leather and pottery stores or just enjoy the festive atmosphere along with locals and tourists alike.
The Easter Island area of the shopping village.
Visitors have a choice of several restaurants and food stands.
A young boy plays with the kittens that have made the manger display their temporary home.
A half day can be spent exploring the shopping village.
Number 7: The murals and colorful street scenes will charm you as they did us.
Murals can be found all over Santiago.
This life-like mural decorated a building in the Lastarria neighborhood.
People watching is a treat in Santiago.