Destination of the Week: Santiago and Skiing in Chile

by on June 8, 2012 · 18 comments

in American, Carlson, Destination of the Week, Hyatt, IHG Rewards, Lan, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Starwood

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Head to Chile this summer (their winter) to catch their ski season at Valle Nevado near Santiago.

Just because summer is about to blossom in the US doesn’t mean it’s warm everywhere. If you missed out on your winter ski trip this year because of crazy conditions across much of North America, you could get a second chance to experience the snow on some Andean ski runs in South America later this summer winter. That’s why for this Destination of the Week, we’re heading to Chile to visit Santiago and the slopes of the nearby Valle Nevado ski resort.

Bordered by the snow-fringed Andes, and meandering along the trickily Mapocho River, Santiago isn’t quite the popular tourist destination that Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro are, but it has the advantage of being close to Chile’s major ski resorts as well as its world-class wine regions.

Plus, with a population of over 6 million people and a history that dates back to 1541, Santiago is a bustling international destination with a burgeoning restaurant scene, and trendy nightlife, and it’s quite affordable for American travelers.

The Cathedral along one side of the Plaza de Armas in the city's historic center.

Even with just a day or two before heading to other points of interest, you can cover a lot of ground in the city. Start at the central Plaza de Armas, where Santiago was originally founded by Pedro de Valdivia, and where you’ll find some of Santiago’s most important historical buildings. The imposing Cathedral was built in the late 1700’s, but the real attraction here is the gigantic, ornate altar made of bronze, marble and lapis lazuli that was constructed in Munich in 1912. Along the western side of the Plaza is the National Historical Museum, which provides a detailed look at the history of Chile from the colonial period to the present.

Radiating out from the Plaza are Paseo Ahumada and Paseo Huérfanos, two pedestrianized streets with tons of arcade shops and restaurants, including some of Santiago’s notorious “Coffee With Legs” cafes where your waitress will be prancing about in a revealing mini-dress.

Also in the centro are the Plaza de la Constitución and the Palacio de la Moneda, the old Mint, where you can catch the changing of the guard every other day at 10am. Across the busy Alameda boulevard is the resting place of Chile’s liberator and first president, Bernardo O’Higgins.

Santiago's famous Mercado Central where you can enjoy a lunch of fresh seafood at Donde Augusto.

Take a stroll through the nearby Barrio Paris-Londres, which is an architectural oddity of streets designed in a 19th-century European style. Just west of it on the Alameda is the San Francisco Church and Convent Museum, which was built in the early 17th century and is the oldest standing building in Santiago, having survived several earthquakes and fires throughout the centuries. Farther west along the Alameda, you come to Cerro Santa Lucia park where the views of the city and the Andes are incomparable.

At the monolithic Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center (GAM for short)  you can check out contemporary art exhibitions and live performances housed in what used to be the military junta’s headquarters in the artsy Lastarria neighborhood, and then head to Vitacura’s Fashion Museum where you can check out sartorial treasures like Margot Fonteyn’s tutu, and Madonna’s conical bra.

The Mercado Central, though touristy, is definitely worth a stop to ogle the oceanic bounty of Chile’s 3000-mile coastline. You can also grab a delicious if overpriced seafood lunch at the famous Donde Augusto in this wrought-iron architectural oddity that was built in 1872.

After lunch, head to the Parque Metropolitano and the Cerro San Cristobal Funicular north of Bellavista. For less than $2, you can make the steep climb up to the city’s highest point, where you will find a huge statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception reminiscent of Rio’s Sugarloaf Mountain.

A sushi platter at Etniko.

Just around the corner from the park entrance is La Chascona, the ship-shaped house that Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda built for his third and final wife, Matilda Urratia.

Bellavista is kind of like the Montmartre of Santiago, tucked into the wooded slopes of Cerro San Cristobal, its quaint streets lined with vendors and cafes where the young people of the city gather in the evenings to share drinks, cigarettes, and friendly conversation. It is also home to Santiago’s new culinary scene, and restaurants like the perennially popular Etniko, one of the hottest spots in town, is always filled with a well-heeled crowd enjoying the Chilean-skewed sushi menu.

Though much of the centro is quiet at night, Opera & Catedral are always frequented by a chic crowd. For something more refined and gourmet, Astrid Y Gastón in Providencia has some of the best food in Santiago courtesy of Peruvian super-chef Gaston Acurio.

Cosmopolitan and vibrant, Santiago is one of South America’s hidden gems.

Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.

The main airport in Santiago is Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport. Delta flies here from Atlanta, American flies non-stop to Dallas/Forth Worth and Miami, and LAN offers direct service to New York-JFK, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami.

Using British Airways Avios may be a good option since both American and LAN fly here. They require 25,000 Avios each way from either New York-JFK or Miami, or 30,000 Avios from Los Angeles for coach, since British Airways awards are distance-based. When booking American awards using Avios, any MileSAAver awards can be booked using British Airways Avios – you just have to call BA if the trip has multiple stops.

Oneworld partner, LAN Airlines.

Also, while you are in Santiago, it’s about a 5-hour flight to Easter Island and it’s only 12,500 Avios miles each way which is a great deal since tickets on these flights can be extremely expensive (sometimes as much as the flight down to South America from the US).


The Radisson Plaza Santiago Hotel.

Radisson Plaza Santiago Hotel: Located in Las Condes, this hotel has 159 guest rooms, which offer free wireless internet access. Guests have full access to the full service health club with indoor pool, sauna, and fitness center as well as a complimentary breakfast buffet. The hotel’s main restaurant is The Brick which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Rates in June start at $219 per night or 44,000 Goldpoints per night. Remember to sign up for the 50,000 point Radission promo.

There is also the brand new avant-garde Radisson Petra la Dehesa Hotel with 105 guestrooms and a free breakfast buffet. This hotel also requires 44,000 Goldpoints per night.

Exterior View of the Ritz-Carlton Santiago.

Ritz-Carlton Santiago: Located in El Golf, this hotel has 205 guest rooms including 49 Club Level rooms and 16 suites. Most of the guestrooms offer mountain views and all have 37-inch plasma televisions, plush bedding, and high-speed internet access. There is a health and fitness center overlooking the Andes as well as an indoor pool and Jacuzzi. The property  has four restaurants and lounges on-site including Estro for upscale Chilean cuisine. Rates in June start at $279 per night, and this is a Ritz-Carlton Tier 2 property requiring 40,000 points for a free night. This hotel is also part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts exclusive for American Express Platinum Card members, where cardholders are eligible for a room upgrade, inclusive continental breakfast, 4pm late check out and a $100 spa credit per stay.

Deluxe King Room at the Santiago Marriott Hotel.

Santiago Marriott Hotel: This hotel is located in the Las Condes business district. Rates in June begin at $219 a night. This is a Marriott Category 5 property, and requires 25,000 Marriott Rewards Points (20,000 with PointSavers) for a free-night redemption. Note: The hotel lobby, reception and banquet areas will be under renovation from May 1, 2012, through July 31, 2012, and guests can expect noise from 8am to 6pm weekdays during this time.

Outdoor Pool Area with waterfall at the Grand Hyatt Santiago.

Grand Hyatt Santiago: This hotel is located in the business district of Las Condes. The hotel has 310 guest rooms and suites as well as the Grand Club which serves complimentary breakfast, all-day tea and coffee service, and evening cocktails to Club level guest as well as Hyatt Diamond members. The hotel has a lagoon-style swimming pool with waterfall, tennis courts, as well as the AKO Wellness and Spa. There are several golf courses close to this property as well. The hotel has several dining options including Anakena, which serves Thai cuisine and Matsuri, which specializes in Japanese. The lowest rate we could find in June was $235 for a Grand Deluxe King. This is only a Category 2 hotel, so free night redemptions require 8,000 Gold Passport points for standard rooms and 12,000 for suites, which is a great deal. This hotel is also part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts exclusive for American Express Platinum Card members, where cardholders are eligible for a room upgrade, inclusive continental breakfast, 4pm late check out and two 50-minute massages in the spa.

Club Tower Guest Room at the InterContinental Santiago.

Priority Club
InterContinental Santiago Hotel & Convention Center: This 377-room hotel is located in the El Golf district, which is said to be the heart of the financial, commercial and gastronomic areas of the city. The hotel also has an executive floor where guest have access to the Club Tower Guest Lounge. The hotel has an on-site health and fitness center as well as spa and indoor swimming pool. There are four restaurants on site including 2920 Grill specializing in seafood and steak and the Pasta e Basta restaruant which serves contemporary Italian cuisine. Rates in June start at $159 per night or 30,000 Priority Club points.

Breathtaking views from the rooftop pool at the W Santiago.

W Santiago: Also situated in the El Golf district of Santiago, this towering hotel has 196 guest rooms and suites in addition to private residences. The rooms feature Chilean design but with modern touches such as 42-inch LCDS TVs, iPod docking stations, high-speed internet access and peekaboo bathrooms. Guests have access to the O2 Balance and Wellness Club as well as the heated rooftop swimming pool. The hotel’s restaurants and bars include Osaka, Noso, Terraza, and Whiskey Blue, one of the city’s hottest bars. Rates in June start at $259 per night or 12,000 Starpoints per night since this is a Category 5 hotel.

Grand Deluxe Room at San Cristobal Tower.

Other Starwood options include the Luxury Collection’s San Cristobal Tower which is located near the Providencia business district. It has 139 guestrooms and requires 12,000 Starpoints per night since it is a Category 5 hotel.

Another option is the Sheraton Santiago Hotel and Convention Center which has 379 guestrooms a new club lounge. This is an SPG Category 3 hotel requiring 7,000 Starpoints per night. There is also the Four Points by Sheraton Santiago which is also in SPG Category 3 requiring 7,000 Starpoints per night.

Valle Nevado Resort is located just over an hour outside of Santiago.

Valle Nevado Resort
Valle Nevado: This ski resort is popular with both international visitors and Chileans alike since it is conveniently located just 54 kilometers (33 miles) from Santiago and has three on-site hotels. There is the Hotel Valle Nevado which was recently renovated in 2010 and offers ski-in/ski-out access as well as in-room WiFi. There is a fitness center, spa, day care facilities as well as a brand-new bar to relax at after a long day on the slopes. The Hotel Puerta del Sol was renovated in 2009 and has an outdoor heated pool, and a buffet-style restaurant, Mirador del Plomo. The most economical option is the Hotel Tres Puntas which has rooms that can accommodate up to 6 people. This affordable option is only a two-minute walk to the slopes. Though you can make a day-trip here from the city, consider spending a couple nights of your trip if you really want to get some skiing in.

And just in case you want to try a couple different areas, you can also consider heading 100 miles or so northwest of Santiago near the Argentine border to the oldest ski resort in South America, Portillo, though beware, they’ve already postponed the start of the ski season by a week, so be sure to check on conditions before you reserve.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Debbie Schroeder

    Perfect timing. We’re debating between Santiago and going back to Hawaii for our summer vacation. But we’re looking at skiing in Portillo vs. Valle Nevado.

  • n/a

    I’ve been to the Crowne Plaza in Santiago on points. Quite nice, outgoing staff, gave generous perks to this PC Plat member, very good location downtown for tourism walking.

  • Gene_Frenkle

    One thing I always tell people to keep in mind about South American destinations in the Andes is the elevation and altitude sickness. Santiago is not high enough to make any difference, but the ski resorts in South America are very high above sea level even compared to some Rocky Mountain resorts.

  • William Meijer

    I priced out NYC –> SCL on British Airways and it was 90,000. In your post you said it was 25,000 using AA. Can Avios be used for AA rewards at a 1:1?

  • Maxim

    Went to Santiago/Mendoza back in February. Santiago is le boring. Don’t bother with the city and only use it as a home base for visiting wine regions (amazing!) or summer skiing.

    We stayed at W Santiago. Fun hotel, attentive staff, everything was top notch, except for poorly designed showers.

    LAN is OK airline. We flew JFK-SCL in business and 2 out 3 seats were broken, so we ended up all over the cabin. Don’t forget that US citizens need to pay $140 reciprocity entrance fee, so dust off your other passport if you have one.

  • Pointsforthepeople

    La Chascona, one of poet Pablo Neruda’s eclectic homes, is a great museum to visit in Santiago. Neruda’s creativity is sure to inspire you in some way.

  • PJ

    i think the Upgrade to a suit for the Hyatt Platinum member is you you are NOT using your award nights. I stayed there aroud the end of this past April. very comfortable. for a laugh, they did sell you a can of 3 tennis balls for $12 in case you do not bring yours.

    Also in CHile, in case you pay cash in dining or hotels stay VAT not applicable when you charge expenses to the ROOM and you pay in the mighty US dollars ( their foreign currency)

    $ is very acceptable in Chile, no need to mess around the CHilian currency ; NOT even think of getting CHilian money for the ATM.. the crush you with fees . even on bankdebit card with PLUS logo which has been thebest way to get foreign notes in many countries at interbank rates.

  • PJ

    hehe we flew into Bariroche from AEP, prior to that GIG into IGU ( IGR) . We did not enter ARGENTINA through AEP OR EEZ DID NOT enter Chile through SCL ; we dodged those two $140 fees..

  • PJ

    I went down to GIG on AA from JFK and cam back on LAN from SCL – a codeshare AA flight i think) 40K BA miles prior AVIOS age

  • Rich

    Be VERY careful in Satiago. It has a high crime rate, even in the tourist areas. I was mugged outside the Fish Market in broad daylight on our visit of 2 years ago. The police were no help, nor were the bystanders. Guess they’re used to the crime. Can’t imagine it’s changed much since then.

  • Miaminj03

    Anywhere ski resorts in Chile (or South America for that matter) where you can stay on the mountain using hotel points, as opposed to staying in Santiago and taking a rather long day trip to the mountains?

  • Aram Kudurshian

    The only non-stop flight on LAN from San Francisco is to Lima, Peru; Santiago will require at least a stop over.

    I spent a night at the W Santiago last year and was pleasantly surprised. Service was fantastic, the rooms modern, and the overall vibe much better than those in the US. Their concierge was helpful, getting us reservations at La Mar even though it was “booked full.” Taxis from the hotel can be somewhat steep, but for the most part stepping outside and getting your own is easy.

    I would echo Maxim’s comment that Santiago does seem to be somewhat of a sleepy city compared to other capitals in South America. Unlike Buenos Aires where it’s easy to walk around (especially neighborhoods like Palermo, Recoleta, etc.), distances are large in Santiago. In many ways, Santiago is like a modern US city, broken into suburbs. That said there are definitely some gems when it comes to restaurants.

    For a side trip, consider Valparaiso. Do be careful about pickpocketing; the only place where I’ve witnessed a crime in progress was in Santiago where a thief stole a DSLR camera from a tourist. Unlike Rich’s comment however, bystanders ran after the thief, caught him, and were able to return the camera to it’s owner.

  • Tim Fargus

    La Moneda isn’t just the old mint, it’s the presidential palace.

    As some have said here, Santiago isn’t terribly walkable, but it does have quite a serviceable metro. Its location makes it a good base for day trips up to the mountains, to the wine country, and out to the ocean to places like Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, etc.

  • Tim Fargus

    Also, though you say some of the hotels you list are in El Golf, they are all actually in Las Condes.

    As for driving up to Valle Nevado, it’s certainly doable, but I cannot emphasize enough that you need to be careful. The roads up there are treacherous, involve over 50 hairpin turns, and if it is drizzling in Santiago, chances are good that by turn 13, you’re going to be seeing blizzard conditions going up into the mountains.

  • Ben F

    Portillo is great. I have been there twice, both times in early to mid July. You need to watch the weather as the road up the mountain can be closed for several days. Have the hotel arrange transportation for you. The evenings up there are cozy and the skiing can be really good and never crowded. The dining is amazing.

  • TingleL

    Thanks everyone for the comments….very helpful since I will be there this Fall.

    Will be in Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Santiago in Nov. (5 nights each city). Booked the flights using Alaska Miles (40k pp RT) onto American flights (arrive into BA and depart from Santiago). Using SPG points for all hotels (Luxury Collection in BA, Sheraton in Mendoza, W in Santiago), there was a book 4 ntgs get 5th night free deal for both Luxury collection and W. My first completely points based trip!

  • Lizcaskey

    Hi Rich, I am expat living here in Santiago (12+ years now) and frequent this market every weekend for the wonderful fresh seafood to cook at home. It is very safe now, as is the downtown and city in general. The municipality now has carabineros, police, all over the place. Santiago is a very safe place these days although like any big city, you must be careful with your belongings and exert discretion (same I would in say, Times Square).

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