Santiago: what to do on a budget
January 1, 1970
by Andrea Coll
Here I’ve put together some dos and don’ts for Santiago de Chile from my perspective as a young backpacker. Where to go and what to do, also some tips and tricks for Chile in general, especially if you are on a budget.
So, you just landed, took your luggage, went through customs and are ready to get to your hotel/ hostel. What do you do now?
There are several options to get from point A to point B in Santiago depending on how much you’re planning on spending. As I was backpacking and my budget wasn’t very large I chose the cheapest option: public transport. To get from the airport to my hostel I had to take a bus and 2 subway lines, as I come from a small city (that doesn’t have subways) I was kind of scared at this idea, but it was so easy to work out that I was very comfortable even using it later on.
Another way to get out of the airport and into the city is taxis, although it is something to take into consideration since it is a fast and easier means of transport, taxis from the airport are way more expensive than regular ones.
If you are planning on visiting many parts of Chile, and you can afford it, it may be a good idea to rent a car. This is mainly because most of Chile’s main attractions (apart from Santiago) are either very up north or in the south, very far from the capital. By doing this you have the freedom to choose where to go and when (although most buses all over the country have multiple departure times, this is not always true).
Top Places to Visit in Santiago
I know you’ve probably been through hundreds of these articles already and they will probably all say the same thing. So what I will do is tell you about the things that blew my mind and made it a better trip in some way, so here we go:
The hills in Santiago are a must. (I know you read this already…) but bear with me. The most important hill is “El Cerro San Cristóbal” (The San Cristobal Hill). Before going directly there, prepare yourself, it’s not a very long walk but in a sunny day it can take its toll, so pack water (there are drinking fountains all the way up but you’ll want to have your own), dress comfortably and pack lightly. But not so much because in the middle of the hills there are oasis-like swimming pools, so don’t do like I did and pack a swimsuit and towel beforehand!
Cultural Centre Gabriela Mistral
The GAM (Cultural Centre Gabriela Mistral), although this place is no secret, when I found it, it was magical. Why? I stumbled upon it late at night, looking to get to know something new and different in some way, and to my surprise, it was full of people just enjoying life. So, although you may not find all the galleries open you will find people dancing, singing, playing the guitar or just reading, alone or with a big group, and the magical part is the energy you feel in there, it’s just so positive and inspiring that it is really worth it.
BONUS: Visiting Cajón del Maipo:
Cajón del Maipo (literally translated as Maipo’s drawer, for some reason) is a place not quite in Santiago, but a bit South to it. And although it is a place outside the city, it is well worth the trip.
If you have rented a car this trip is a great option! But if you are on a budget, don’t fret! There are buses from Santiago to Cajón del Maipo almost every day at several times.
The landscape in this place is so beautiful, and there are a lot of activities to do in the area. But my main recommendation for Cajón del Maipo is not to stay in the area, just go for the day. Don’t get scared, it’s nothing to worry about, it’s just that it’s relatively close to Santiago and the places to find accommodation there are not many and not very varied. (I wish someone would’ve told me this before going). This is what you should do: prioritize what you want to do/see, you can go rafting and trekking (there are a glacier and mountains to visit) and there’s also “El Embalse El Yeso”, which is a reservoir of the Maipo River, but there’s no bus going there because the access is not easy. All of the activities are around the Maipo river and take a while so choose two or three at most. You’ll need a reservation for most of these places so check online first. Once you have your day planned out and made the reservations you are ready to enjoy the full day and then get back to your place in Santiago.
Tips and Tricks:
These are some things to take into consideration in your trip to Chile:
• Most prices can be bargained, unless you’re buying in a formal place.
• I had no problems regarding security, but I was warned about it lots and lots of times, so don’t be scared but take care of yourself and your belongings
• If you are on a budget there are lots of options for eating out that are not expensive, and there’s always street food!
• Most people in Santiago (also the majority of Chile and the rest of Latin America) speak basic English, although I speak Spanish I found many people that were fluent in English. Maybe you won’t be able to philosophize but you’ll get around
• In spite of the point above, I truly recommend you to try to learn some basic Spanish if you don’t know any. This, apart from the obvious reasons, will help you immerse much better in their culture and people always appreciate it when you make an effort to get to know them and the place they live in better.
• Most places in Chile have free walking tours (tours4tips, for example), that just require your presence and a tip at the end if you liked it. This is a very good way to get to know the place you’re in from the local’s perspective on a budget!
• Talk to people! Get to know everyone you meet, not only you’ll make lots of friends but you’ll probably get many recommendations!
• And my last recommendation, but not less important, is to enjoy yourself! Don’t get caught up in thinking you are not seeing enough or spending too much, just let the views and noises and places cave in, and enjoy!