Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Santiago

Written by Doug Loynes

May 15, 2023
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Before heading to Patagonia or Antarctica, do you have a layover in Santiago, Chile? Check out our Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Santiago for what you should do when you visit. 

Santiago is Chile’s dynamic capital city, but it’s often regarded as little more than a layover en route to the country’s southern Patagonia region or Antarctica. This ultimate guide to 2 days in Santiago makes a case for breaking up your South American adventure with a short stay in the City of the Island Hills, famous as much for its world-class museums, innovative arts scene, and outdoor excursions as for its stunning mountain backdrop.

Historical Sights in Santiago

You’ll want to explore historical sights in Santiago during your two days in the city. Here are some of the best places to see historical sights.

Downtown

One of the best—and greenest—ways to enjoy the city’s sights is with a bicycle tour. La Bicicleta Verde (the green bicycle) runs three tours, but the full-day option offers a complete experience. Before cruising downtown, spend the morning weaving through shady parks, cobbled streets, and bustling markets. The tour stops at the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral, which was once the headquarters for Pinochet’s ruthless dictatorship, before finishing at Chile’s Presidential Palace, La Moneda.

Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Santiago.

La Moneda Palace. Photo courtesy of La Bicicleta Verde

Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos

To better understand how Chilean society has been shaped by its tumultuous political history, consider visiting the Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights). It’s more than just a museum documenting the human rights abuses committed under Pinochet’s military regime. It’s also a space to commemorate and dignify the victims of these abuses through powerful audiovisual testimonies and artifacts. Most of the museum’s exhibitions are in Spanish, so consider getting the audio guide.

Photo courtesy of Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos.

Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos. Photo courtesy of Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos

Plaza de Armas

Despite its menacing sound, Plaza de Armas (Weapons Plaza) is a common name for the central square in Latin American cities. Historically used for military parades, Santiago’s Plaza de Armas is worth visiting for its striking neoclassical colonial architecture, with the Metropolitan Cathedral as its centerpiece. The Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (Museum of Natural History) houses an impressive collection of fossils and mollusks, but most visitors will be more excited by the Chinchorro mummies. Discovered in northern Chile, these are the oldest mummies in the world, some 2000 years older than their better-known Egyptian counterparts.

Catedral Metropolitana is a must stop in the Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Santiago.

Catedral Metropolitana. Photo courtesy of Servicio Nacional de Turismo

Cultural Sights in Santiago—Must-Dos on the Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Santiago

Art and culture abound in Santiago. Below are the best places to see cultural sights during your 2 days in Santiago.

Bella Artes

Art aficionados will delight at the diversity of gallery offerings in Santiago. Two of the best can be found in the trendy Bellas Artes neighborhood. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts) showcases works from some of the most famous names in Latin American art from the 19th and 20th centuries, including Joaquín Torres García, Frida Carlo and Roberto Matta, as well as a rotating schedule of temporary exhibitions. Next door, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Art) houses more modern artworks and installations.

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo is another must-stop in the Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Santiago.

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. Photo courtesy of Servicio Nacional de Turismo

Bellavista

Another neighborhood worth checking out is the boho-chic Bellavista district. The main attraction here is La Chascona, the former home of the maverick Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, now preserved as a museum. From here, you can take the historic funicular (cable car) to the summit of San Cristobal Hill in the Parque Metropolitano(Metropolitan Park), where you’ll find the 15-meter (49-foot) statue of Mary, the “Virgin of the Andes” looking out over the sprawling city view.

The Virgin of the Andes atop San Cristobal Hill.

The Virgin of the Andes atop San Cristobal Hill. Photo courtesy of Servicio Nacional de Turismo

Sky Costanera

For an even more spectacular view, make for Sky Costanera. At 300m high, this is South America’s tallest building and highest viewpoint. The 360-degree panorama views through huge floor-to-ceiling windows are particularly impressive during sunset when the city, dwarfed by the snow-dusted Andes, glows in golden hues. There’s a cocktail bar that serves food and drinks at typically sky-high prices; it’s definitely the view you’ll be paying for.

Sky Costanera is a must-stop in the Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Santiago.

Sky Costanera. Photo courtesy of Servicio Nacional de Turismo

The Best Day Trips from Santiago

If you spend 2 days in Santiago, you might want to extend and take one of these day trips out of the city. It makes the perfect home base as you explore.

Cajon del Maipo

If Puerto Montt is the gateway to Chilean Patagonia and its Lake District, then Santiago is your portal to the Andes. Located in a valley surrounded by the Andes, you’ll be amazed at just how accessible an adventure in South America’s most famous mountain range can be. Even if you only have 2 days in Santiago, activities such as glacier hikes, volcano treks, and horseback riding can all be arranged as a day trip. I booked mine with Ando Andes, opting for their Cajón del Maipo (Maipo Canyon) volcano hike, a 5-mile excursion through the heart of the Andes in a spectacular glacier-carved valley. Our guides—two local gentlemen—were charming, knowledgeable, and blessed with a breezy wit, making our experience all the more memorable. The Chilean wine they surprised us with at the end of our hike certainly didn’t hurt either.

Volcano hike in Cajón del Maipon.

Volcano hike in Cajón del Maipon. Photo courtesy of Ando Andes

Valle Nevado

In Chile’s winter months (June to August), the mountain ranges surrounding Santiago are blanketed with snow, but that doesn’t stop the fun: my guide ran the same volcano hike, albeit with hikers enjoying the added novelty of wearing snow shoes. Skiers might prefer a trip to Valle Nevado, South America’s largest ski resort, less than 30 miles east of Santiago. Set off early to make the most of your time on the slopes, or book a room at the ski-in/ski-out Hotel Valle Nevado if you have an extra day to spare.

Hotel Valle Nevado.

Hotel Valle Nevado. Photo courtesy of Servicio Nacional de Turismo

Valparaíso

Not all-day tours from Santiago involve a trip into the mountains. Located 75 miles west of Santiago, on Chile’s Pacific coast, lies the charming city of Valparaíso. Colonial architecture, pastel building facades, and vibrant street art have brought UNESCO World Heritage status to this seaport city, where you’ll also find delicious seafood to enjoy with a glass of famously good Chilean wine. Tour companies can provide round-trip transport from Santiago, but you’ll save upwards of $50 if you go it alone and take the bus.

The coastal city of Valparaíso a great side trip in the Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Santiago.

The coastal city of Valparaíso. Photo courtesy of Servicio Nacional de Turismo

Where to Stay in Santiago When Using Your Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Santiago

The Hotel Magnolia—a renovated mansion that once hosted movers and shakers in Santiago’s 1920s bohemian era—is a sleek boutique close to the Bella Artes district that drips with historic charm. It’s a design-led hotel, but for all the Gothic stained windows and checkerboard floors in marble, there are contemporary elements that play up to Magnolia’s old-meets-new concept too. Rooms are modern and minimalist, with neutral colors and wood-paneled walls.

The Hotel Magnolia's wonderful library.

The Hotel Magnolia’s wonderful library. Photo courtesy of the Hotel Magnolia

The Magnolia Restaurant serves traditional Chilean fare, and the staff will delight in recommending a wine to pair with your chosen course. The rooftop terrace is a stylish place to enjoy a cocktail with a view, but my favorite space was the library on the ground floor. Hours could be wiled away here, where the hushed lighting and exposed brick conjure up the sense of a secret hideaway, worlds away from the bustling metropolis outside.

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When You Go to Santiago

Whether you’re interested in exploring Santiago’s rich cultural heritage via its museums and galleries or simply soaking up the atmosphere in its lively plazas and vibrant neighborhoods, the City of the Island Hills has something for every type of traveler. Two days might be enough to take in the city’s urban attractions, but it’s recommended to tag on an extra couple of days to take advantage of the outdoor offerings on the city’s doorstep. After all, this is the only capital city in the world where you can set off in the morning to ski the Andes or ride horseback through a glacial valley and still make it back for dinner and a large glass of Chilean red.

Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your trip to South America or looking for another Ultimate Guide to 2 Days of travel.

Before heading to Patagonia or Antarctica, do you have a layover in Santiago, Chile? Read on for our Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Santiago.

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Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Santiago

Written by Doug Loynes

Doug Loynes is a travel writer living in São Paulo, Brazil. Since winning a travel writing competition for National Geographic UK Traveller in 2020, his work has been featured in a range of publications, including Nat Geo, Time Out, Wanderlust, and a range of specialist magazines from BBC Wildlife to ADV Moto.

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