I am sitting in a cafe with a rustic menu typed on an old-fashioned typewriter and a plastic floral tablecloth. It’s not fancy. The sandwich in front of me is pork, basil, mayonnaise, beets and pickled ginger.
I actually don’t like pickles, beets or mayonnaise, so I wasn’t especially looking forward to it, but I take a bite anyway and to my surprise, it is delicious. This is classic Chile street food at a Santiago restaurant institution. Sometimes being out of your culinary comfort zone pays off!
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THE INSPIRATION: Best Food Tour Santiago, Chile
It can be hard know what to eat in Santiago, Chile. I was only in Santiago for a couple of days and really I wanted to try Chilean street food, but didn’t know what was Chile’s famous food, what was the best food in Chile or where to eat in Santiago, Chile.
I’m a fan of foodie travel and culinary tours (read about my Marrakech food tour here), and like learning about the food of the places I travel to (like a cheese and wine tasting workshop I did in Paris).
Like many places, there are several food tours in Santiago to choose from. How did I choose which one to take? I have created a Guide to Choosing the best Food Tour.
Based on this criteria, I researched food tours and found one that met when I was available, had a small groups size, included a variety of places and foods and had a knowledgeable local guide.
You can check pricing and availability here.
The start of the Santiago, Chile food tour
The tour met in front of the Salvador Allende statue in the Plaza de la Constitucion, near Palacio La Moneda, the presidential palace, at 10:00am. The statue is at the corner of Moneda Street and Morande Street.
I got there at 9:30am just in time to see the changing of the guard, which was an unexpected treat, since it usually happens at 10:00am.
Our guide met us promptly at 10:00am. He was extremely friendly and knowledgeable and shared lots of information about Chile other than just the food, which added to the experience.
Sampling some of the best food in Santiago, Chile
The first stop was the Salvador Cafe, which specializes in simple traditional Chilean food. It gets very crowded at lunchtime, but the tour was timed so that we were there early and could get a table. We had Paila Salvador, a pork sandwich with beets and mayonnaise, which I usually don’t like, but it was surprisingly delicious.
The flavors all went well together and curbed the pickled flavor. I usually resent beets because they taint everything they touch, but again, they were mild and complemented the other favors.
The sandwich was accompanied by a chillimoya (custard apple) smoothie, which was thick, silky smooth and really good.
A unique sight when you visit Santiago
We passed Cafe do Brasil, one of Santiago’s popular Cafe Pon Piernas (“coffee with legs”) cafes, where counters are set up around narrow raised walkways for waitresses in very short skirts (or lingerie) and high heels to walk around on.
It sounds sleazy – and some are – but they supposedly have good coffee and even have (a few) women customers.
I didn’t bother, since I (a) am not that interested in seeing women’s legs, and (b) don’t drink coffee.
Some of the top things to see in Santiago, Chile
We walked to the main square, the Plaza de Armas, which is always crowded. I loved the indigenous statue, which was created by the sculptor Enrique Villalobos to honor Chile’s Mapuche people.
Even though this was primarily a food tour, we also had time to pop in to the Metropolitan Cathedral. The ornate neoclassical vaulted ceiling is definitely worth a quick visit.
Trying some street food in Chile (and drinks)
Our guide was very flexible and adapted some of the tour to our specific requests. We passed a cart selling mote con huesillo, and when I asked if I could stop and buy a cup, he happily let me.
This is a super sweet drink with wheat in the bottom of the cup and a canned peach in it. The wheat helps cut the sweetness and, although a small sized cup was definitely enough, I enjoyed it. If you see this for sale, stop and try it yourself.
We also stopped at La Piojera for a terremoto. This is not on the tour, but one of my fellow travelers had asked if we could pop in for a quick drink.
Terremoto is Spanish for earthquake and the drink is named because it leaves you so shaky on your legs that you feel like you are experiencing an earthquake. It’s made of pipeño, a type of (very strong) sweet fermented wine, and pineapple ice-cream.
It was too early in the day for me, but I did have a sip to try and it was S-W-E-E-T. I have a sweet tooth and it was too much for me.
Visiting the markets in Santiago, Chile
We visited two markets next.
The main fish market, Santiago, Chile
We headed to the Mercado Central/ Central Market, which is the main Santiago fish market, and all kinds of fresh seafood were on sale. This is definitely a must see in Santiago, Chile.
The other side of the market has tiny casual restaurants where you can buy dishes cooked from fresh seafood. These are some of the best places to eat in Santiago, Chile.
We stopped at El Galeon for empanadas and a pisco sour.
Since we were in the seafood market, I chose a shellfish empanada, but there were non-seafood options available. Empanadas are practically a national dish in Chile. They’re like a Cornish pasty, but the fillings are different. I ate more than my fair share during my visit to Chile, I must confess.
Pisco sours are either Chile’s national drink or Peru’s national drink, depending on which country you are in. Both claim to have invented pisco. Whoever is responsible, I love it, though it’s not to everyone’s taste.
The classic Chilean version is served with pisco, sugar syrup, sour mix, egg whites and dash of bitters, and this is how it was served here. I’ve seen this version listed as the Peruvian version, so who knows…
There are four kinds of pisco:
- Pisco los nichos
- Horcon quemado
- Alto del Carmen
La Vega Market, Santiago
Slightly wobbly on our legs after the pisco sour, we walked into the nearby working class Recoleta neighborhood to the main market where locals shop, La Vega Market.
La Vega is not for tourists – there are no handicrafts or tourist trinkets for sale. Instead, there was a lot of local food of Santiago on sale – and more. This is where locals buy fruit, vegetables, kitchenware… you name it. I love local markets and never get tired of wandering through the aisles in whatever country I am in.
At the back of market, at the euphemistically named Cafe Altura (little more than a counter in reality), we stood up for supposedly the best coffee in Santiago (I passed, since I don’t drink coffee) and a delicious crepe with manjar (Chilean dulce de leche).
Cerro San Cristobal
We then took the metro from Patronata to Boquedano, the nearest stop to the funicular railway. There was a 15-minute walk across the Mapocho River and along Calle Pio Nono. Pio Nono is the party street of Santiago, and it is lined with bars and cheap restaurants. At night, it is pumping. Early afternoon, it was quieter.
At the end of the street is the funicular up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. The lines were not that long, so we went ahead with this, but if the lines had been long, we were given the option of having a beer in a restaurant in the surrounding Bellavista neighborhood instead.
The funicular was included in the tour, but if you go by yourself, it costs $2,000 return weekdays and $2,600 return on the weekends.
I was lucky to get in the end car, so had unobstructed views of the city as we rose up the hull on the cable car.
There is a stop halfway at the Zoológico Nacional, Chile’s National Zoo. At the top of Cerro San Cristobal (San Cristobal Hill), there are spectacular views over all of Santiago.
Santiago is nestled at the bottom of the Andes, which rise up thousands of feet directly from the city. You are often completely unaware of this, because the mountains are frequently shrouded in clouds or smog, but on a clear day, the sight of the enormous maintain range and the city stretched out below is spectacular. This is one of the top things to do in Santiago, Chile.
There is also 14-meter (22 meters including the base) statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of Cerro San Cristobal. There’s a small chapel inside the pedestal.
There is another small chapel nearby at Plaza Vasca. I left the tour here because I decided to take the cable car as well.
To get to the cable car, take a path to the right around the back of Cerro San Cristobal. It goes across a ravine to a neighboring hill, then down the hill to the Oasis Station. The cable car (teleferico)/ funicular combo costs $3,550 one-way or $4,700 return during the week and $4,420 one-way or $5,850 return on the weekends.
The end of the food tour, Santiago, Chile
I took the cable car back up the hill, then the funicular back down. At the bottom of the hill, you can walk back along Calle Pio Nono, or take the parallel street, Calle Constitucion, which is also lined with restaurants, but these are more upmarket than the frat hangouts on Pio Nono.
The Verdict: Food, market and city tour, Chile
I think this was one of the best day tours in Santiago, Chile and I especially liked that this was one of the tours by locals in Santiago, Chile. Ther
e could have been more food, to be honest, but it included more than just eating Santiago food. It was a was a nice mix of food, markets and sightseeing. Our guide was super friendly and knowledgeable and happy to share his knowledge with us.
Tours aren’t often such a mix of food and sights, but this included a visit to Cerro San Cristobal, which was a nice way to end the tour (though you could do it by yourself, too).
The actual food stops and the market visits were interesting and the guide was flexible but respectful that the whole thing didn’t go off the rails catering to one person.
PRACTICAL TIPS: Best Food Tour Santiago, Chile
The Experience: Food walking tour Santiago, Chile
I booked the food tour through Get Your Guide. Payment was easy and they emailed a voucher straight away, with clear instructions on exactly where to meet the tour. Our guide was really great and this really was one of the best tours in Santiago, Chile.
Before making a final choice, check out my Guide to Choosing the Best Food Tour.
Other things to do in Santiago
Santiago has a lot to offer, and there are plenty of other great experiences to have. It is the center of one of Chile’s main red wine growing regions, and if you like wine, you should definitely take a tour of the Concha y Toro winery.
Where is Santiago and what is the currency?
Santiago is the capital city of Chile, South America. The currency in Chile is the Chilean peso. They use the $ sign for pesos, which can be confusing at first if you come from a country with dollars.
Check the current conversion rate for Chilean pesos here.
Best time to visit Santiago, Chile
You can visit Santiago any time of year; the weather is quite mild year round.
Santiago de Chile weather
January: average of 68°F / 20°C, but the temperature often exceeds 86°F / 30°C
June and July: average of 46°F / 8°C. Winter (May-August) are much rainier than the other months.
Winter is also the smoggiest time of year.
Getting to Santiago, Chile
Santiago has Chile’s major international airport. Search for flights to Santiago with Skyscanner.
Getting to/ from Santiago Airport
To get between the Santiago airport and the city center, the two best options are a taxi or a shuttle. Book a shared transfer from your hotel to the Santiago airport here.
Taxis are easy to take, though the traffic is often pretty bad. To get a taxi at the airport, go to one of the taxi counters that are located after customs but before the exit into the lobby of the airport. You pre-pay at the counter. It’s best to stick to official taxis.
Getting around Santiago, Chile
There are two easy options. Within Santiago, the Metro is easy to use. However, if you want to get outside Santiago, renting a car is an option. Rent a car in Santiago here.
How to use the Metro in Santiago, Chile
The metro in Santiago is clean and easy to use. Even though this is primarily a walking food tour, you will take the metro on the tour. On the tour, the guide will buy your tickets for you. However, when you are travelling by yourself, before or after the food tour, taking the metro is easy enough if you know how.
How to use the Santiago Metro?
To use it, you need to buy a Bip! Card. The first time you use the Metro, you need to buy a Bip! Card. Go to the ticket office and buy the ticket plus put some money on the card. The card costs $1,350 (that’s pesos) and the minimum amount to add to it the first time is $1,000. After that you can use the machines to top it up (up to $20,000), but I find the ticket office easier. The ticket offices are open:
- Monday to Friday: 6:00am – 11:00pm
- Saturdays: 6:30am – 11:00pm
- Sundays and holidays: 8:00am – 10:30pm
The credit expires after two years.
How much is the Santiago metro?
The fares vary at different times of the day.
- Horario Punta (rush hour; 7:00am-8:59am and 6:00pm-7:59pm) = $700
- Horario Valle (off-peak hours; 6:30am-6:59am, 9:00am-5:59pm, 8:00pm-10:44pm, and all day on weekends and holidays) = $640
- Horario Bajo (low-use hours; 6:00am-6:29am and 10:45pm-close) = $590
When is the Santiago Metro open?
- Weekdays: 5:35 am – 12.08 am
- Saturdays: 6:30 am -12.08 am
- Sundays and public holidays: 8:00 am (Line 1 from 9:00 am) – 11.48 pm.
Note that some stations may close earlier – check if you are planning to take the last one.
Map of Metro Santiago, Chile
Where to stay in Santiago, Chile
I like to stay in boutique hotels or apartments, so I have a sense that I am somewhere different, rather than in the same chain I could be staying in back home. Read my guide on how to choose the best hotel for you if you are insure of what to look for.
The Hotel Magnolia is a couple of minutes’ walk from the Plaza de Armas, so the location couldn’t be better and is especially close to the start of the food tour. It’s in an historic building that is tastefully decorated keeping its character, but also has modern amenities. There is a rooftop terrace with great views. It has a rating of 9.3 on Booking.com.
Hotel Boutique Castillo Rojo is a boutique hotel that is right near the funicular station at the bottom of Cerro San Cristobal and at the start of Calle Constitucion, so it is where the food tour ends and is also perfectly located for good restaurants. It has a rating of 9.2 on Booking.com.
If you would prefer an apartment, then a good choice is this apartment in the Historic City Center of Santiago. It is just a couple of minutes’ walk from the start of the tour, and has a rating of 9.4 on Booking.com. Check availability and book Apartment Historic City Center Santiago here.
Planning and packing for Santiago, Chile
You will most likely visit Santiago as part of a greater Chile or South America trip. To help plan for your trip, in addition to my blog, the Lonely Planet is a good resource, that I always use when planning my trips. Buy the Chile Lonely Planet here.
For step-by-step help planning your trip, use my Travel Planner. If this is your first time in South America, also check out my Guide to Central and South America. It has lots of practical information to help with your planning.
When you are ready for your trip, check out my Essential Packing List.
Safety in Santiago
How safe is Santiago? Most capital cities in South America are the most dangerous places in the whole country. Santiago is safer than most, and the tourist areas are generally safe. I had absolutely no problems and felt safe the entire time.
However, you should exercise caution. Be especially aware of pickpockets and people snatching your phones. A friend of mine had her i-phone snatched out of her hand while she was sitting in the central square. There is no need to be paranoid – just be aware of your surroundings.
I have compiled a list of the most common travel scams and how to avoid them. I strongly recommend reading this before you go so you can see scam happening and get out of the situation straight away. I also recommend reading my post about travel mistakes I have made, so you can avoid making them yourself!
Additional consideration: Travel Insurance
It goes without saying that you should always buy travel insurance, just in case. It’s one of those things that you hope you never need to use, but if you do, you’re glad you have it.
A great insurance option is Travelex. It has coverage for all you’ll need. You can choose the best travel insurance plan for your trip here or get a quote right now:
Enjoy the tour!
Do you have any stories of Santiago or other food tours you have taken? I’d love to hear them. Comment below.
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Read more South American experiences:
- seeing glaciers in Argentina
- experiencing the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina
- white water rafting in Peru
- cycling down the Andes in Ecuador
- experiencing tango in Buenos Aires
- hiking the French Valley in Chile
- hiking to Laguna Torre, Argentina
Read about more food travel here.
James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He is passionate about experiential travel, i.e. meaningful travel that actively engages with the environment and culture. He helps people have similar experiences that involve active participation in activities and festivals; engaging with the local food and handicrafts through lessons and food tours; and interacting positively with environment by hiking, riding, rowing, diving and low/no impact animal encounters.
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