Yeah, this is a question asked a lot in forums but first of all I have to clarify one thing: Travel To Santiago is a blog written by a local with knowledge on the things tourists look for when they visit a new place because I travel too. So don’t expect “objective advice”, instead what I offer is my point of view, not a tour operator perspective. You are entitled to disagree with me.
Having said that I perceive some locals that don’t travel much tend to be overly protective and suggest only fancy areas “and if you go to this place you’re gonna get mugged”. My perspective is different and the selection of the place where you wanna stay at has a lot to do with other variables like budget, reliance on tours, etc.
Santiago is a city divided into communes or municipalities (comunas) and most of them lack of touristic interest as most of them are residencial areas. Some articles on the web call communes “neighborhoods” which can be misleading or confusing.
Santiago has two kinds of attractions: Urban and rural/outdoor ones (remember Santiago is close to the Andes mountains). Admittedly, most urban attractions in Santiago are close to Santiago downtown. In my opinion you should find a place to stay in Santiago downtown or close to it.
Santiago downtown (Santiago centro)
As I said before a lot of people will try to tell you “Santiago is horrible, stay in Las Condes”. You can follow their advice but unless you’re looking for a really fancy hotel and eat only in top restaurants, getting out of the hotel using tourism vans only, I wouldn’t recommend doing that.
Santiago centro has lots of attractions, most of the museums, the government palace, Lastarria, Plaza de Armas, it’s the most eclectic and cosmopolitan part of town AND where most of the budget accommodation and airBnBs are located.
In this commune what you want is to stay near a touristy neighborhood and near a metro station but maybe not right in front of it. Lastarria is a fancy tourist spot but it can be expensive to stay right there. Also if you’re right in Alameda (Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins avenue on Google Maps) and you have bad luck you might find yourself in front of a demonstration.
I explained it before but Santiago centro has two metro lines and now a third one that cross it: Line 1 (the main line across the Alameda ave.) Line 5 (reaching Quinta Normal, the Memorial and Human Rights Museum, it has a station in Plaza de Armas and Bellas Artes neighborhood) and Line 3 (which crosses it from the northern part down and towards the east side). Check my post on the metro stations.
I’d recommend staying near the financial/civic center (in between Line 1 and 5) if you wanna have almost every classic tourist spot at a rather walkable or short distance.
What’s the downside of downtown?
- It’s where thousands of people work everyday (hence why some locals don’t associate it with tourism)
- It’s noisier than other areas
- There are pickpockets in some areas (not the only place though)
- There could be demonstrations (especially in Alameda)
There’s something else we could say about Santiago downtown: It’s more touristy from Alameda to the northern part so if you find an airbnb or a budget hotel in the southern part there probably won’t be much to do there, for instance in Matta street (unless you come for Lollapalooza or a festival of some sort near O’Higgins Park).
If you want a more quiet and a bit less touristy I’d suggest you to stay in Brazil neighborhood, right on the west side of the picture above.
Barrio alto (the eastern side)
The eastern you walk, the higher is the land. That’s why the eastern communes are known as “Barrio alto” (literally “High Neighborhood” or “uptown”) but this apparently geographic distinction hides another meaning which is that this is where the wealthier people live. I’m not saying that all people living in Barrio Alto (which is composed of several communes) are rich but if you live there it’s very likely that you’re well off.
What’s Barrio Alto composed of?
- Providencia (right next to Santiago, interesting area to stay)
- Las Condes (there are high end hotels here)
- La Reina
- Vitacura (commune known because almost no poor people live there)
- Lo Barnechea (farther away from downtown but known as a wealthy area)
- Ñuñoa (some people don’t consider it to be part of the group but it’s south of Providencia and locals tend to have a good quality of life)
Providencia and Ñuñoa
I’ll set these two aside. Both communes are next to Santiago but are less noisy and they have great nightlife, cafés and restaurants. Alameda continues its route towards the east renamed as Av. Providencia and this part of town is extremely commercial. I personally found it really fun to walk. Many people work there and Line 1 is right in that avenue. Most of what’s left of Providencia is upper class residential neighborhoods and companies that use old houses as offices. Ñuñoa is basically the same thing but around Irarrazabal avenue. What’s there to like?
- Nice old casonas (walk from Av. Providencia inside and look at the architecture)
- Nightlife and food (Bellavista neighborhood is at the western end of Providencia and Plaza Ñuñoa is another place to drink and have fun in the other commune but there are many more).
- Boutique malls (Drugstore, Vivo Panorámico)
- Barrio Italia (boutique stores and restaurants of all sorts)
- Parks in Providencia (Inés de Suárez, Parque de las Esculturas, Parque Bustamante, Juan XXIII, San Cristobal Park entrance in Pedro de Valdivia)
- Estadio Nacional de Chile is in Ñuñoa (in case you wanna see a football match OR if you wanna visit the torture memorial inside)
- At the eastern end of Irarrázabal you have Plaza Egaña mall (the square itself is nothing to write home about but it’s an important metro station).
I’d highly recommend staying in Providencia if you’re honestly not so interested in classic tourist spots but you wanna go eat outside, drink outside and feel safe with a nice architecture around stay here. You still have Santiago downtown close at a metro ticket or at an Uber/Cabify driver call.
By the way, the eastern you go, the wealthier and less touristy it gets. Unless you stay near Providencia avenue and even then after Pedro de Valdivia station there are less cheap hotels and hostels almost dissapear from Manuel Montt east. I have to add that Ñuñoa (at least until now, this might change) is less touristy and there are less hotels so if you wanna try Ñuñoa, use AirBNB.
What’s wrong with Las Condes?
Honestly, nothing against it, but it depends a lot on your goals. If you like your 4/5 star chain hotel and you’d rather take guided tours it’s a great option. Also, there’s a great reason to stay in Las Condes: Snow! If you come to Santiago and you happen to be in winter season you’ll probably wanna stay close to the ski resorts and most of the ski rentals, pickups to Valle Nevado/Colorado are located here.
Granted, what’s available in Las Condes is geared towards wealthier people and business travellers. If your multinational company brought you for a one week conference, chances are they will find you an hotel here. That doesn’t mean there aren’t fancy hotels elsewhere, there are great hotels in Santiago downtown and Providencia too.
What to see in Las Condes?
- Parque Bicentenario (edit: after checking it that’s technically Vitacura but it’s close enough)
- Parque Padre Hurtado
- Trekking trails (there are quite a few trails to walk up from Aguas de Ramón park and other entrances)
- Higher end restaurants
- Handicrafts at Pueblito Los Dominicos
- There are guided visits to “Escuela Militar” if you’re into that
- Malls (Parque Arauco, Alto Las Condes, Costanera Center?)
Las Condes and Vitacura are pretty much safe and similar across their extension. Only Apoquindo avenue is somewhat crowded but less so than Providencia and Alameda.
I don’t wanna be a tourist. I wanna be a traveller
There are big areas of the cities of which I haven’t talked about at all. Why? Not because they could be dangerous but because they aren’t touristy enough but right, you don’t wanna be a tourist, you’re the traveller guy/gal.
It’s true, Santiago is way safer than other Latin American cities/countries and even American cities. However, that doesn’t mean that you wanna get bored and most communes are either really poor or they just have residential areas of little interest. If you wanna try something different I’d suggest using AirBnB or Couchsurfing. And please if you don’t stay in any of these places because you don’t wanna be a tourist, learn Spanish or practice it with the locals! I encourage every tourist to meet locals and have a conversation, especially if you speak some Spanish.
The most important thing is to take your time when choosing an area. You can even ask me. I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide. Any questions or suggestions for future articles write them down below.