Despite being the capital and the biggest and most populated city in Chile, Santiago has a chill and relaxed vibe; however, the language is quite the opposite. Be prepared to hear a very fast and unique version of Spanish, including lots of slang words known only by Chileans. But don't worry—locals are friendly and very helpful, especially with foreigners.
When to Go
There is always something to do in a big city like Santiago and any time of the year can be a good time to visit. Nature lovers will enjoy the warmer months (December to March) when the weather is most ideal. During the colder months, Santiago is still a great option for cultural activities, foodie experiences, and visits to wineries, nearby cities, and towns. The city turns into paradise for ski and snowboard lovers as the ski centers are just one hour from the city center.
The biggest music festival in Santiago is Lollapalooza, usually happening in April. Dance and theater enthusiasts will enjoy the Santiago a Mil International Festival event in January, with performances all around the city in theaters, parks, and sometimes in the major squares. The biggest celebration in the whole country, however, happens every September 18 and 19, when Chileans celebrate the national holidays. In Santiago and in almost every other city people celebrate at the fondas, around barbeques, with dances and drinks. It's the best time to live the Chilean culture at its best.
What to Eat
The wide variety of fish and seafood found in Chile is quite impressive and can be enjoyed a number of ways. The Chilean version of hotdogs, the completo, is the pride of the country. There are several filling options, yet the most popular is the Italiano, which includes mashed avocados, tomatoes, and mayonnaise—because Chileans love mayonnaise. If you love spicy food, don't forget to try the most delicious spice made in Chile, the merkén. Smoked and dried red chilies are crushed together with coriander seeds to make the perfect blend to add to any meal.
Souvenir to Take Home
Chile is a land of creativity and Santiago is a good place to find handcrafted items ranging from wool sweaters, ponchos, and scarves to recycled wood or pottery utensils. If your love is for food and spices, a jar of manjar or a package of merkén will leave a smile on your face when you try them at home. For oenophiles, there are also several sustainable wineries producing Carmenére.
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Sustainable Travel Tip
Located deep in a valley between the mountains, Santiago can be very polluted, especially in winter months. Try to use public transportation; the metro works great and is fast and clean.
For Instagram shots, the city center is full of older buildings and visually interesting shopping galleries. If your dream shot includes having the whole city as a background, the best options are Cerro Santa Lucía or Cerro San Cristobal—both will offer you a beautiful city view with the Andes as a backdrop. The perfect time to go there is early in the morning or near sunset, and if it’s right after rain you will see the most clean and clear sky.