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Just because it isn’t quite winter yet in the US doesn’t mean you can’t hit the slopes on some Andean ski runs in South America. For this Destination of the Week, we’re heading to Chile to visit Santiago and the nearby Valle Nevado ski resort. Original post by Eric Rosen (May 1, 2012) – updated by Matt Zuzolo (October 28, 2015).
SPENDING TIME IN SANTIAGO
Set in a valley that’s surrounded by a snow-fringed ring of the Andes and meanders beside the concrete-contained Mapocho River, Santiago isn’t quite as popular with tourists as Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro, 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 history that dates back to 1541, a population of more than than six million people and burgeoning restaurant and nightlife scenes, Santiago is still a a compelling — and affordable — draw for American travelers. Cosmopolitan and vibrant, Santiago is one of South America’s hidden gems.
Even if you spend just a day or two here 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 1700s, 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 likely 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 La Alameda (one of the city’s major boulevards) is the resting place of Chile’s liberator and first president, Bernardo O’Higgins.
Take a stroll through the nearby Barrio Paris-Londres, an anachronistic architectural oddity of two streets that were designed in 1923, but represent a 19th-century European style. Just west of this area on La 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. Farther west along the Alameda, you come to Cerro Santa Lucia park, which offers incomparable panoramic views of the city and the Andes.
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. You can then head to Vitacura’s Fashion Museum to check out sartorial treasures like Margot Fonteyn’s tutu and Madonna’s conical bra.
A wrought-iron behemoth built in 1872, Mercado Central is touristy, but definitely worth a stop to ogle the oceanic bounty of Chile’s 3,000-mile coastline. If you’re not satisfied just to look, you can also grab a delicious — if overpriced — seafood lunch here at the famous Donde Augusto.
Afterward, head to the Parque Metropolitano and the Cerro San Cristobal Funicular north of Bellavista. For around $2, you can make the steep climb up to the city’s highest point on a funicular where you’ll find a huge statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception that is reminiscent of Rio’s Sugarloaf Mountain — alternatively, you can take the hike if you’d rather skip the funicular ride.
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. If you’re headed to the Chilean coast, you can check out his other two homes in Valparaíso and Isla Negra.
Bellavista is kind of like the Montmartre of Santiago, as it’s 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’s also home to Santiago’s new culinary scene and restaurants like the perennially popular Etniko, which is always filled with a well-heeled crowd enjoying the Chilean-skewed sushi menu.
If you’re looking for a more traditional Chilean meal, check out Galindo Bar, which has been open since 1974 and is generally filled with locals just a short walk from the home of Pablo Neruda.
Though much of the centro is quiet at night, the neighboring 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. Providencia is one of the city’s biggest upcoming neighborhoods and one of the closest to tourist attractions if you’re staying in the Grand Hyatt Santiago, W Santiago or Ritz Carlton.
The main airport in Santiago is Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL). Delta flies here from Atlanta (ATL), American flies nonstop to Dallas/Forth Worth (DFW) and Miami (MIA), and LAN offers direct service to New York-JFK, Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and MIA. (As of Summer 2015, LAN began flying its 787-9 Dreamliner from JFK-SCL, so hop aboard this route if you can.) Depending on your origin, flight time to SCL will be about 10 hours — and as Santiago is only an hour ahead of the East Coast, you might even be able to avoid jet lag.
Taking advantage of LAN’s Oneworld membership is probably the best way to get to Chile on award tickets. Economy saver tickets with AA miles are just 20,000 AA miles each way, while a premium ticket will run you 50k. You can also use Avios — a normal award ticket will cost 32,500 Avios — however, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find a cheaper off-peak rate. Business will run you a bit more at 82,500 Avios.
Also, while you’re in Santiago, LAN offers a number of different flights around Chile at relatively good rates. Even last minute flights within Chile can be $150 or cheaper. Alternatively, you can use points and miles to net cheaper flights, such as LAN’s five-hour flight to Easter Island — 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).
Ritz-Carlton Santiago: Located in El Golf — said to be the heart of the financial, commercial and gastronomic areas of the city — this 205-room hotel includes 49 Club Level rooms and 16 suites. Most of the guest rooms offer mountain views and all have 37-inch plasma TVs, plush bedding and high-speed internet access. There’s a health and fitness center overlooking the Andes, as well as an indoor pool and jacuzzi. The property has four on-site restaurants/lounges, including Estro for upscale Chilean cuisine. Rates at this Ritz-Carlton Tier 2 property start at $309 or 40,000 points per night. It’s also listed with the American Express Platinum Card‘s Fine Hotels and Resorts program, where cardholders are eligible for a room upgrade, inclusive continental breakfast, 4pm late check out and a $100 spa credit per stay.
Santiago Marriott Hotel: Located in the Las Condes business district — a bit far from most center-city tourist activities — the hotel has three on-site restaurants, a full-service spa and fitness center with classes, a swimming pool, steam rooms and saunas. As at all Marriott properties, Wi-Fi is free to Marriott Rewards members, regardless of elite status. Rates at this Marriott Category 6 property begin at $160 or 30,000 points (25,000 with PointSavers) per night.
Grand Hyatt Santiago: Also located in Las Condes, this 310-room hotel offers suites and the Grand Club, which serves complimentary breakfast, all-day tea and coffee service and evening cocktails to Club-level guests and Hyatt Diamonds. The hotel has a lagoon-style swimming pool with a waterfall, tennis courts, as well as the AKO Wellness and Spa, and there are several nearby golf courses. Room rates tend to vary, but prices can go as low as $216 for a Grand King or Twin room, and this Category 2 hotel requires only 8,000 Gold Passport points for a free night in a standard room. The Grand Hyatt is also part of the American Express Platinum Card‘s Fine Hotels and Resorts program.
InterContinental Santiago Hotel & Convention Center: This 377-room hotel is located in the El Golf district and includes an executive floor with a Club Tower Guest Lounge, which is available to Club-level guests only. The hotel has an on-site health and fitness center, spa, indoor swimming pool and on-site dining that includes the 2920 Grill, which specializes in Chilean seafood and steak. Rates start around $224 per night or 25,000 IHG Rewards points.
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 a mix of traditional Chilean design and modern touches, such as 42-inch LCD 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. Rates at this SPG Category 5 hotel start around $306 per night or 12,000 Starpoints per night.
Other Starwood options include the Luxury Collection’s San Cristobal Tower, which is located near the Providencia business district. It has 139 guest rooms 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 guest rooms and a club lounge. This SPG Category 4 hotel requires 10,000 Starpoints per night. There’s also the Four Points by Sheraton Santiago, which is an SPG Category 4 that requires 10,000 Starpoints per night.
Valle Nevado Resort
Valle Nevado: This ski resort is popular with both international visitors and Chileans, since it’s conveniently located just 54 kilometers (33 miles) from Santiago and has three on-site hotels. The Hotel Valle Nevado offers ski-in/ski-out access, in-room Wi-Fi, a fitness center, spa and daycare facilities, as well as a bar for relaxing after a long day on the slopes. The Hotel Puerta del Sol 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 six people and is set only a two-minute walk from 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 and often most popular ski resort in South America, Portillo. If you’re a high-level skier, Portillo is probably the best choice.