A Solo Traveler’s Guide to Santiago, Chile
Though many travelers once saw Santiago as a pit stop on their way to Patagonia or the Atacama desert, in recent years the city has blossomed into an international tourist destination of its own. Safe, clean and developed, Santiago is a relatively peaceful and prosperous Latin American city. Breathe easy, solo travelers, as you explore its enchanting neighborhoods, wander through its lively parks and take in spectacular views atop the many Santiago hills.
Tucked away between the Bellas Artes and Bellavista neighborhoods, Barrio Lastarria is a picturesque European-style series of streets with some of the city’s best restaurants, shops, architecture and street art.
The heart of Santiago nightlife, this lively bohemian neighborhood, known for its array of bars, music venues and restaurants, is a great place to strike up a conversation considering the youthful clientele. Start out with a beer on Pio Nono street and see where the night takes you. During the day, check out the neighborhood’s graffiti art and the Santiago residence of famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
This historic residential neighborhood has managed to preserve much of its original architecture, despite the growing investment and interest in the area. On top of its chic and colorful houses, the neighborhood has a sleepy, peaceful vibe for those who aren’t afraid of their own company. Great for an afternoon stroll, window shopping or a latte, Barrio Italia offers an array of local businesses and quirky shops that draw in Santiago’s more artistic crowd.
Barrio Bellas Artes
The centrally-located Bellas Artes neighborhood attracts a number of tourists due to its proximity to many must-see attractions, including the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Lucia Hill, Parque Forestal, and Plaza de Armas. A great place to meet fellow travelers.
Though slightly rougher around the edges, Barrio Brasil has a lot to offer international visitors. A lively university neighborhood, streets are often filled with young Chileans sharing ‘litros’ (liters) of beer and chatting around outdoor patios. It can be good place for chatting up the table next to you, if you speak some Spanish. A lot of the city’s best graffiti art can also be seen in the neighborhood and the nearby Barrio Yungay.
With urban city streets lined with banks, restaurants, shops and high rise offices and apartments, Providencia is one of the country’s most frequented business centers, though some of the neighborhood’s residential areas south of Avenida Providencia offer a surprising tranquility. Much like Bellavista’s Pio Nono street, Calle Manuel Montt offers great socializing opportunities during happy hour and a night out.
What to see & do
La Vega Central
Santiago’s iconic produce market, La Vega Central is so much more than a place to buy your groceries. With diverse clientele, hundreds of low-cost products, and a number of napping cats and dogs, this place has some great photo opportunities; but since you don’t have a spotter, be vigilant for pickpockets. If you’re not a germophobe, order traditional Chilean food like cazuela at the low-key dining area towards the back left section of the market. Do be sure to arrive early in the day – after 2PM shops begin to close and in the evening the neighborhood becomes unsafe for those traveling alone.
Climb the Santiago hills
Santiago’s hills, or ‘cerros’, are part of what make the city unique. The lookouts on top of both Cerro San Cristobal and Cerro Santa Lucia offer spectacular views of the city. Try to plan your climb on a clear day and don’t forget your camera. There are sure to be plenty of others making the same hike if you’re looking for some company.
Order a ‘terremoto’ at La Piojera
If you’re up for an adventure, there’s no better place to find some trouble than La Piojera, though definitely try to go during the daytime. This gritty dive bar, with a name that literally translates as ‘the lice’, is strangely one of the most iconic tourist spots in Santiago for Chileans and foreigners alike. Be careful ordering the legendary sweet and strong terremoto, or ‘earthquake’. After just two you’ll learn why this thing gets its name. Best to stick to one so you make it back to your accommodation safely.
Go on a bicycle tour
Even on the country’s hottest summer days and coldest winter afternoons, Santiago maintains a fairly comfortable climate for outdoor activities year-round. Why not meet fellow cyclists with a bicycle tour? Bicitur offers wonderful tours featuring the best of Barrio Yungay graffiti. La Bicicleta Verde has bicycle wine tours and city tours available. On top of getting to know Santiago better, these tours are a good chance to meet fellow international travelers.
Tour a winery
Learn about wine-making and the legend of the devil’s cavern at the Concha y Toro winery. Located just outside of Santiago, this massive winery offers an hour-long tour and wine tasting for around US$40 per person.
Visit the human rights museum
Learn the dark history behind Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état and 17-year dictatorship. El Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos remembers the massacre and torture of thousands of Chileans during this tragic time in the country’s history. The beautiful complex is located across the street from the Parque Quinta Normal, where you can buy street food or rent a paddle boat to take a breather after your museum visit.
Where to eat & drink
Learn about Chile’s wine regions in the most pleasurable way possible — wine tasting. Offering flights based on region, grape, and more, Bocanáriz has a reliably bilingual wait staff that are happy to teach newcomers a thing or two about their country’s fabulous wine regions. Reserve a table ahead of time to avoid a wait.
A trip to Chile wouldn’t be complete without a good sandwich. Ciudad Vieja can offer just that. Check out this tasty spot in Bellavista for a mix of traditional Chilean sandwiches and some creative inventions. With a cozy, charming décor and friendly wait staff, Ciudad Vieja knows how to satisfy.
Learn about the longstanding rivalry between Chile and Peru through your taste buds at Chipe Libre. These feuding nations have some bad blood, especially when it comes to each country’s national liquor — pisco. Sample both Chilean and Peruvian piscos to see which you like best. No matter whose side you take – and who will argue with you? – what everyone can agree on is that pisco sours are delicious. The ceviche and empanadas aren’t bad either.
Peumayen Ancestral Food
Incorporating Chile’s indigenous food traditions Peumayen Ancestral Food offers unique gourmet cuisine rooted in ancestral flavors. Enjoy the restaurant’s cool vibes and feel free to ask questions of the bilingual wait staff.
Where to stay
For those solo travelers with a generous budget, The Singular is ideally located in Santiago’s Lastarria neighborhood. This chic 5-star luxury hotel also features one of the city’s best restaurants in addition to a rooftop bar and a spa.
Carmenere Eco Hotel
Experience the peaceful charm of Barrio Italia at the Carmenere Eco Hotel. A short walk from the social hub Bellavista, this hotel features a beautiful garden patio, friendly staff and a well-stocked wine cellar. There’s nothing like some Dutch courage to help break the ice with a stranger, right?
Rado Boutique Hostel
The only thing better than the Rado Boutique’s impeccable rooms and affordable price is their central location — walking distance from the metro in the gorgeous Barrio Italia neighborhood. The hostel also includes ample common space for mingling with fellow foreigners and making travel buddies.
Castillo Surfista Hostel
Located in the trendy and safe Barrio Italia, Castillo Surfista Hostel is in walking distance from the heart of the party: Bellavista. Presenting hostel events for making traveler friends, a helpful staff and a bohemian vibe, the Castillo Surfista Hostel offers hospitality and comfort at a great value.
Getting to and from the airport
Avoid taking a cab from the airport if possible. If it’s crucial, flag down a ‘Taxi Oficial’ and make sure to agree on a fair price before you get in the cab (15,000 Chilean pesos or around US$30). Booking your airport transfer online or in the airport will cost less through the shared transfer service Transvip, which charges 7,000 Chilean pesos and takes you directly to your accommodation. Alternatively, if you’re feeling bold and thrifty, the bus costs even less and stops at the Los Heroes metro station in Santiago Centro.
If you’re spending more than a day or two in the city, purchase a Bip! card at any of the local metro stations. You can put money on the card and use it for both the metro and bus. Taxis are another reliable option to get around the city. Just be sure to keep an eye on the meter. Request to stop immediately if you feel the charges are exceedingly high.
Traveling outside of Santiago
When you’re flying solo, there’s nothing tying you to the capital. It might be a long trip, but buses can take you almost anywhere in Chile and offer some pretty spectacular views along the way. Purchase tickets online from companies like Pullman, Tur Bus or Condor or buy your ‘pasajes’ directly at the bus terminal. Do remember to buy tickets in advance when traveling during the weekend. Most buses leave from either the Alameda or Estación Central bus stations, located next to each other. They are the city’s most important terminals, both accessible from the Universidad Santiago de Chile metro station (USACH).
Don’t be discouraged if you have a hard time understanding Chilean Spanish. Entire books have been written about how difficult it is to speak Chilean. Even some native Spanish speakers struggle with it. Simply saying ‘mas lento por favor’ will help locals understand that you may speak some Spanish, but you need them to slow down please.
Health and safety
The water in Santiago is safe to drink, although it might not taste great. Bottled water tends to be served in restaurants anyway (if you want it without carbonation ask for ‘sin gas’). In terms of personal safety for solo travelers, Santiago has a low rate of violent crime, though keep in mind it’s still a major metropolitan city and pickpocketers are known for targeting tourists. Keep personal belongings in your lap, not behind your chair when you’re eating out, and check with your host if there are any places close by to avoid at night. The vast majority of hostels and hotels are located in the safest parts of the city though, making Santiago a great destination for those going it alone.