Our first visit to Chile South America – skiing The Andes was our priority. And we loved skiing at Portillo. What pairs well with a week at Ski Portillo? A week of wine tasting in one of Chile’s impressive wine regions for après ski, of course! See our review of Maipo Valley wine tours, Vik Hotel and Winery, and Colchagua Valley wineries.
Santiago was our arrival and departure city for this Latin American ski and wine trip. Flying into Santiago, we had our first amazing glimpse of the Andes Mountains, wow! The highest peak, Aconcagua at over 22,828’ is awesome. This towering snow-capped range of mountains, the longest and 2nd highest in the world, divides Chile from Argentina, and provides spectacular scenery from the huge city of Santiago.
Of Note: At Santiago airport after our 8-hour flight from Miami, I was immediately approached and told to hide my jewelry. Welcome to not-so-safe Santiago! By the way, I was only wearing costume jewelry, but I stashed it anyway, and we were on our way to Mandarin Oriental downtown.
We hired an “official” taxi – VÍA CONTROLADA from Santiago airport, as we were warned these are regulated, Ubers are not. Our driver spoke no English but efficiently swerved us through crazy five-lane traffic in this city of way too many people, 7 million, 40% of Chile’s entire population live in Santiago! I note the majority drove old banged-up cars and trucks!
Where to stay in luxury in Santiago Chile?
Our first night at Mandarin Oriental was pleasant, very modern, and chic in its décor. Our lovely suite had a luxurious bed and city views. Mandarin’s lobby courtyard were cute ski gondolas available for dining reservations, with fluffy fake snow – a good omen for our ski trip? We dined on delicious pasta with a Chilean twist in the hotel’s Senso since we didn’t dare leave our 5-star luxury to wander this busy unfamiliar part of town, and we’d be skiing Portillo the next day.
On our return to Santiago a week later, we stayed at the Ritz Carlton Santiago, coordinated by Portillo when we had to depart a day early due to another incoming storm. We preferred this nicer section of the city, and the old-world elegance and service of this classic hotel.
We splurged for Club level on the Ritz’ 10th floor which gained us magnificent views, easy access to the rooftop pool and balcony, and complimentary drinks, snacks and meals in the sophisticated 10th floor lounge 24/7, plus our own Concierge.
Our deluxe king suite had an amazing view which I enjoyed from my favorite chaise lounge by the floor-to-ceiling window. A beautifully appointed bathroom, with a huge tub I enjoyed, was stocked with amenities, and we had coffee and mini bar, plus we were just steps to the Club Lounge.
The Ritz Carlton Concierge and Front Desk were super helpful, in English, offering superb nearby restaurant recommendations, and attractions we should visit, and for our safety they were very clear on some areas not to go to. Being in the heart of Barrio Golf (neighborhood) near Isidora Goyenechea Avenue, we could walk just a few blocks to several chic Latin cafes and restaurants – like Tiramisu, La Cabrera, and Pinpilipausha. More on those later…
We were versed on how to use Santiago’s Metro, by our friendly Ritz team, they even provided us cards and directions to El Golf metro station one block away. After trying a few frustrating ATM machines, all out of Pesos, we figured it out, boarded the busy subway car, and quickly zipped all the way to Cathedral University stop, our first “Santiago attraction” where we strolled “Barrio Lastarria and Cerro Santa Lucia neighborhood”.
Barrio Lastarria is a bohemian neighborhood with designer shops, museums, restaurants and bars. On a Saturday morning, craftspeople, artists, jewelers and musicians were out “panhandling” but in a social way – not aggressive. As we strolled the pretty old streets, we noticed The Hotel Cumbres Lastarria Greg had researched – it had a nice vibe in the heart of this happening neighborhood. Delicious-smelling breads and coffees wafted from inviting cozy cafes and bakeries.
The Museum of Belles Arts was our “art and culture” for the day as my mom would say. This grand century-old stone building overlooks Parque Forestal, and a castle restaurant “Castillo Forestal.” Admission was free, and the weird contemporary art installations were “worth the price of admission” – free. The true inspiration is Belle Art’s masterpiece center hall with its glass rooftop.
Cerro Santa Lucia was nearby, so we strolled up the 230-foot hill to see panoramic views of Santiago and Castle Hildago. Sant Lucia Park is pretty with its circular international gardens, exotic flowers and trees, dotted with art installations. In the distance the snow-capped Andes framed the city skyline. We weren’t ready for lunch but ski friends from Portillo recommended Bocanariz as wonderful inexpensive Chilean wine bar with a cool vibe. On our walk back to the Metro, we happened upon a circus parade, lots of huge Chilean families, and a Santa Lucia craft fair of leather goods.
We did not walk to the Mercado Central and Plaza De Armas as our concierge had warned us away.
Los Dominicos was our next destination, riding the Metro a full 10 kilometers underground to the north of the City. We walked through a pretty park past the Church to find Santiago’s oldest neighborhood on the hilltop.
Los Dominicos Artisans Village is an authentic maze of over 100 Chilean craftspeople working in their booths and shops. I loved seeing all the jewelry made of silver, gold, copper and Chilean blue lapis lazuli stones, so unique. High-quality leather, copper pots, alpaca hats, ponchos, scarfs and sweaters were on display and being made outback by the owners themselves. I bought a beautiful pair of copper hoop earrings (Copper is Chile’s #1 export). We chose not to negotiate with the husband-wife team, she was sweet – speaking only Espanol, and he was in the back hammering out his unique jewelry designs.
Los Dominicos has several small cafés that line the dirt alleys, selling rich coffee drinks, Tres leches cakes, empanadas, and Lomos a la pombre – a decadent Chilean steak, egg and potato dish. This historic neighborhood felt safe, and authentic. A Farmers Market just outside the village was teeming with the most beautiful colorful fruits, vegetables – oh those artichokes, and flowers for sale directly from the farmers.
Santiago attractions we did NOT visit:
Sky Costanera is Santiago’s highest viewing platform at the top of Latin America’s tallest building (since 2013). This Grand Santiago Tower can be seen reflecting the sun all around the big city and well into the countryside as you drive away. Tickets are $12 Pesos for the elevator up to 300-meters, where you can take in panoramas, and enjoy a drink at the aptly named 300 Sky Bar.
San Cristobal Hill is an 860-meter hill in the center of Santiago featuring a zoo and wine museum midway, and a gondola to the top where the Virgin Mary statue overlooks the city. Our concierge advised us he didn’t love this section of town, not so safe.
Dining in Santiago:
We loved Tiramisu – a cool café for cocktails, wood-fired pizza, and the best Asada grilled chicken Heather has ever tasted. You can sit on the sidewalk and dine al fresco, or inside. If it’s busy, it often is, go to the chic bar outback and enjoy the Baristas’ cocktail creation show – making Pisco Sour, Aperol spritz, and other popular Chilean drinks.
Pinpilipausha is an authentic Chilean restaurant, since 1940. Start with their Pinpi Brumbel – a gin Chambord white wine cocktail with fresh local fruits. For dinner, try Carne risotto, Seafood empanadas, Paella, Iberian ham, Manchego cheese croquettes, so many delicious choices on the vast Chilean specialty menu.
Santiago Rooftop Bars provide a lofty view of the sprawling city and mountains.
Hotel W Santiago has an interesting art-deco 21st floor indoor outdoor lounge called Red2One
The Singular has a 9th floor lounge
Terraza K is rooftop at Hotel Luciano K
Hotel Nodo’s 12th floor is Bar Vistandes
300 Sky Bar in the Gran Torre – Santiago’s iconic Grand Tower.
Despite Santiago being a huge city, we discovered a few neat neighborhoods. And you are surrounded by dramatic views of snowcapped Andes Mountains to the east.
To us the highlight of Santiago is its access skiing The Andes, and to Chilean wine country. Chile is 10th in the world for wine production, producing some of the best, most affordable wines, and offering wonderful viticultural tours of their vineyards.
Wine Tasting and Tour day trips from Santiago – you can easily reach Maipo Valley’s Vik, Santa Rita and Concha Y Toro, and a bit further the beautiful Colchagua wine region – where we suggest you spend a few days.
For skiers, in 2.5 hours you can be skiing South America’s best ski resort – Ski Portillo. Even closer to Santiago is Valle Nevado and La Parva. You can even heli-ski from downtown Santiago with Andes Heli Boarding outfit – your helicopter picks you up from a rooftop to whisk you to the Andes to ski.
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable.
It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”