Central Chile

Top day trips from Santiago

Literary landmarks, religious shrines, wine tours, and mountain landscapes are just some of the activities on offer within a couple hours of the Chilean capital.

Monday, May 23, 2011  
Close to Santiago, the Cajón – or ‘canyon’ – is largely agricultural, featuring small populations li Close to Santiago, the Cajón – or ‘canyon’ – is largely agricultural, featuring small populations living in traditional towns.

With its museums, shops, restaurants, galleries, markets and picturesque cityscapes, Santiago offers more than enough to occupy any visitor, but one of the city’s most tantalizing features – whether for tourists or those planning to settle down here – is its proximity to a whole cross-section of Chilean life, all easily accessible by bus.


Chile’s slender waist hardly hints at the glut of experiences on offer here, from mountain adventure to pilgrimage sites. Here is This is Chile’s selection of your best bets for day trips, both classic and otherwise, outside Santiago.
Like a quirky twin sister who can never quite get her act together, but makes up for it with sparkling wit and infinite bohemian charm, Valparaíso stumbles down Pacific hillsides less than two hours away from Santiago. Stunning sea views appear around every ramshackle corner; inimitable Technicolor architecture flows loose as a peasant skirt around the flanks of the hills; the calls of fisherman fill the squares by the day, and music by night. This is where Chile – ever the self-possessed sibling in the Latin American family – lets down her hair.
Hostels and boutique hotels litter the hills, particularly in Cerros Alegre and Concepción. Booking ahead is typically the safest bet, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a room upon arrival. There are enough beds for everyone. Arriving in Valparaíso is a cinch. Comfortable buses depart regularly until 11:30pm for the 105-minute journey from Estación Alameda (Metro Line 1 Universidad de Santiago).
Cajón del Maipo: Few cities have such stunning landscapes at their doorstep. A public bus (known as a micro) from Santiago takes you along the base of a stunning Andean valley. Close to Santiago, the Cajón – or ‘canyon’ – is largely agricultural, featuring small populations living in traditional towns and tasty eateries with pleasant gardens dropped by the side of the road. The mountains here shelter pristine, quiet valleys with mountain springs and waterfalls flowing cold and clear down to the Maipo.


Higher in the valley, closer to the Argentine border, are the beautiful mountain landscapes of El Morado National Monument and the El Yeso Dam, and the hot springs at Baños Morales and Termas Colinas. This is the place for white water rafting, scenic mountain hikes and even zip-lining with the adventure sports outfitters in the area. If you want to extend your day trip to an overnight, camp sites both official and otherwise line the valley – just ask around.
From central Santiago, take Metro Line 4 to its second-to-last stop, Las Mercedes. From there, the bus M72 runs into the Cajón as far as San José de Maipo. At San José, shared taxis and more micros can take you farther into the valley. 
Wine Tours: Though there are vineyards with grounds inside Santiago’s city limits, several of Chile’s most important wine valleys can be easily accessed on tours from the city. Among the best of these is the Ruta Maipo Alto, which can take visitors east to the vineyards on the mountainous end of the Maipo Valley. To the west, tours are available through the cool coastal climate of the Casablanca Valley, home to some of Chile’s best white wines.
For independent travelers, renting a car and driving between vineyards is a good option, but the most convenient way to reach these vineyards is on an organized wine route. Wines of Chile is a great resource for any wine related questions. You can also visit www.casablancavalley.cl, or www.maipoalto.com for more information.
Pomaire: Famous for its earthenware pottery, this small town southwest of Santiago is the best place in the region for traditional handicrafts. Nearly every shop in town is devoted the humble, dark brown pottery that has made the town famous. Oven-safe casserole dishes, plates and bowls, even piggy banks overflow from store fronts into the quaint network of streets. For lunch, try one of the village’s famous oversized empanadas.
The best way to Pomaire is by bus. You can go direct in about 90 minutes on the daily 9:30am bus from the San Borja Terminal (Metro Line 1 Estación Central). Alternatively, take the faster route on the regularly departing buses to Melipilla, also at San Borja, and tell the driver you’ll get out at the road to Pomaire where taxis will be waiting to take visitors to town. The direct bus returns in the evening around 6 pm.
Los Andes: One of Chile’s most popular saints lived and died in this small mountain town on the road to the Argentine city of Mendoza. Not much happens here in Los Andes, but for those interested in the religious life of the country, and particularly its capital, Los Andes is an essential stop. The town also sits along the road just before the exclusive ski resort of Portillo, one of Chile’s largest and most popular destinations for winter sports. During the summer, the resort’s stunning lake is a wonderful spot for an afternoon picnic.
Buses leave Santiago for Los Andes (en route to Mendoza) on major bus lines like Pullman from the San Borja station (Metro Line 1 Estación Central) every hour. The journey takes about two hours.
Isla Negra: A different kind of pilgrimage site entirely, this coastal town was the site of Pablo Neruda’s third and favorite house. Santiago’s La Chascona, Valparaíso’s La Sebastiana, and the sprawling seaside house at Isla Negra make up central Chile’s Neruda trail, each offering a different perspective on the great Chilean poet’s extraordinary life. For true enthusiasts, Isla Negra should be the last house on the itinerary – this is, after all, where Neruda died, and his body remains here along with that of his third wife, buried on the terrace, looking forever out to the crashing blue sea.
The town is practically equidistant from Valparaíso and Santiago, taking roughly 90 minutes from either. Buses leave Valparaíso’s central station constantly, while Pullman Bus company runs services every 30 minutes from the Terminal Alameda (Metro Line 1 Universidad de Santiago).