Chile attracts 5 million tourists per year. Natural wonders like Patagonia and the Atacama desert have become Chile’s primary tourist attractions. In response, Chile is embracing sustainable travel, with numerous ecotourism initiatives that invite visitors to explore Chile responsibly. Many of these initiatives can be experienced in Chile’s capital, Santiago. Though travellers don’t always think of Santiago as one of Chile’s great attractions, they should. I quickly fell in love with this cosmopolitan city during my first visit in June 2019. There are just so many things to do in Santiago, Chile.
Santiago boasts a rich history, vibrant nightlife, friendly people, and it’s all surrounded by the Andes mountains. I first visited during winter, but the cold weather didn’t slow down the city. People dance on the streets to cumbia and reggaeton, vendors line everything, clubs go until 5am, and restaurants are constantly buzzing with people sipping pisco sours. The streets are never empty, the buildings glisten, and green parks are everywhere — filled with couples kissing.
I returned to Santiago for a second visit in November 2019, despite the civil unrest that erupted at the same time. Over 1.2 million people protested an increase in metro fares. It was heartbreaking to witness, but a testament to the strength and spirit of the Chilean people. These are the people who make Santiago what it is.
While Santiago may be one of the richest countries in Latin America, the income gap is staggering — 65% more than average. The richest 1% account for 33% of the nation’s wealth. With a dictatorship that lasted until 1990, and now a steady economic growth that ignores the general people’s needs, Chileans are forced to be their own advocates.
The Chilean people are spirited and vocal, and no strangers to leading their own revolution. Protests are almost a daily occurrence, even outside of times of unrest. As one local told me with a chuckle, “When the first protest worked, Chileans just started protesting everything.”
Women’s liberation is at the forefront of Chilean politics. Femicides, sexual assault, and a large wage gap have motivated activists. Young women have organized and created a strong movement, Ni Una Menos, that has grown throughout Latin America.
While I was in Santiago, I had the pleasure of taking a Feminist Tour and a LGTBQ Tour with a sibling run company, Tours with Meaning. From past to present, it’s clear that Santiago is the center of everything in Chile– including its biggest revolutions.
These same tour guides later took me to Santiago’s Pride Festival. Live music, dance, and a celebration of numerous cultures, made the festival one of the most memorable gatherings I’ve experienced. This is what I think of when I think of Santiago.
Sustainable Travel in Santiago, Chile
Ecotourism is just starting in Santiago. As a sustainable tourist you can find ways to grow the movement, by adopting this mindset when looking for things to do in Santiago, Chile. Spend your money where it’s needed most by supporting local restaurants and artisans.
Santiago is home to incredible fine dining, but don’t only support Santiago restaurants that are doing well. Eat at food stalls, family-run restaurants, and the mercados where your peso matters more. You’ll get to taste authentic Chilean cuisine like fresh empanadas, mote con huesillo or every meat lover's favorite, chorillana and churrasco. As a reminder, it’s standard to tip 10% on all bills.
Santiago has amazing shopping for sustainable tourists. Instead of heading to the mall, check out the local markets and plazas. You’ll encounter artisan goods, great thrifted finds, and hand made souvenirs.
There are numerous things to experience within an hour of Santiago, like hiking and wine tasting. Choosing local guides will give you a more personal and impactful experience.
There are many sustainable transportation options in Santiago. Santiago is very walkable, and has an incredible metro system. If you’re taking trips outside of the center, or to the airport, hire a local driver.
Uber is also a great choice. It’s not government approved, but it’s widely available throughout Santiago. If you’re ordering an Uber, sit in the front seat to protect the driver.
Finally, prioritize supporting the Mapuche, the indigenous community in Santiago. The Mapuche have been largely oppressed throughout history. You can find Mapuche run cooking classes, weaving classes, or visit a nearby ruka.
Where to Stay in Santiago, Chile
It’s important to stay at locally-owned accommodations while in Santiago. If you can, book a green hotel. Finding accommodations near the center of this huge city will help you navigate the sheer number of incredible things to do in Santiago, Chile. I highly recommend the Barrio Italia neighborhood. It’s off the main tourist track, but close enough to walk to the main attractions. You’ll find great thrift shops, family-run restaurants, hip bars, and fewer tourists.
If you’re looking to stay even closer to the centro, Lastarria is a great choice. This barrio gets slightly fewer visitors than the tourist hotspot that is Bellavista. Choosing Lastarria, or accommodations just outside of Bellavista, will help support local owners who don’t see as many travelers, and the experience is just as spectacular
In general, all of these barrios are wonderful areas to explore and offer so many things to do in Santiago, Chile.
Things to do in Santiago, Chile to Support the Chilean People
Below are my favorite things to do in Santiago, Chile. These are great sustainable travel activities and allow you to learn from, and best support, the locals.
- Take a Feminist or LGBTQ Tour with Tours with Meaning.
- Shop and eat your way through La Vega Central and Mercado Central.
- Day trip to family-run wineries with a local driver.
- Trek throughout the Andes Mountains with a local tour guide.
- Hike Cerro San Cristobal and support the vendors at the top. They serve the best mote con heusillo in town.
- See local shows, music, dance, or art at places like La Peña del Nano Parra, Santo Remedio and GAM.
- Support the Mapuche people- take a Mapuche-run tour to visit a local ruka.
- Learn important Chilean History at the Museum of Memory + Human rights.
- Literature is very important to Chileans. Visit one of the many library cafes, Pablo Neruda’s home, an independent bookstore and the Biblioteca Nacional.
- Shop and thrift your way through Persa Bio Bio, a massive flea market, and the Barrio Italia and Patronato neighborhoods.
- Explore any of the many parks in the city. Check out the food stands and markets that surround them.
- Experience the local culture, bustling city center, and complex Chilean history at Plaza De Armas.