Hitting the streets of Santiago

Chile’s capital is but a stage for our free tour guide. But there’s something about his stories that bring the city to life. And what a city Santiago is!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Santiago city tour, Chile

A light spray of spittle erupts from Felipe’s mouth. His eyes are animated, his hands moving wildly and his voice booming across the crowd.

As he tells stories of Chile’s fight for independence, his mood lifts with the jubilation of victory.

When he discusses the difficulties of life under Pinochet, his tone softens in respect for those who went missing or were killed. And as he explains the recent student riots in the city, there’s a muted anger in the way he talks.

Felipe is an actor and today Santiago is his stage and we his audience.

Free walking tour in Santiago, Chile

Every day Felipe guides a free tour of Santiago – sometimes two – in exchange for tips.

It’s a system that’s been adopted in cities all across the world. The one in Sydney uses to stop at my old office and point in the windows at us.

I’d been meaning to do one of the free city tours somewhere for a long time. This was my first, though.

Free walking tour in Santiago, Chile
Free walking tour in Santiago, Chile

Through the sites of the centre he led us, where we saw the Presidential Palace and the city’s largest church.

We went to the trendy nearby suburbs, with a small arts and crafts market, outdoor cafes and busy restaurants. And we walked through the park which follows the path of the river across much of the city.

The European architecture mixes with the South American lifestyles and the plaza is full of Chileans relaxing in the shadows of the old buildings.

And the whole time Felipe explains the context of the sites and how they fit with the history and culture of the city.

Free walking tour in Santiago, Chile
Free walking tour in Santiago, Chile
Free walking tour in Santiago, Chile

Visiting Santiago, Chile

Santiago is a lively and friendly place with a cosmopolitan feel and it’s enjoyable to stroll its streets.

On one side, the Andes keep a watchful eye over it and as the sun begins to set towards the end of our tour, they turn a shade of gold, a symbolic reminder that the valuable natural resources they hold have helped make this city and this country so economically stable.

Free walking tour in Santiago, Chile
Free walking tour in Santiago, Chile

In return, this city has helped make Felipe economically stable as well.

He joins a couple of us for a few drinks after the tour and tells us that business has been good recently.

The average person on the tour tips about US$10 each and with about twenty people per tour that’s US$200 for four hours work.

On the weeks he does two tours a day he can earn more than two thousand dollars.

Free walking tour in Santiago, Chile

Still, he’s an actor by training and this is just something to pay the bills while he struts the stage.

Although he brought all his skills to his tour he didn’t need to pretend that Santiago was a fascinating city. It sells itself.

20 thoughts on “Hitting the streets of Santiago”

    • It’s a great country and quite easy to explore because you just go up or down. It’s easy to see everything you want because you don’t need to go too far off the path.

      Reply
  1. Ooooh, I haven’t been to South America yet, but I really want to go! It’s on the list, no doubt about that. I’ve always enjoyed those ‘free’ tours as well, they’re mostly really well done (it does depend on your guide though).

    Reply
  2. I agree with you. People like Felipe are just icing on the cake. Santiago’s scenery, architecture and culture is enough to invite tourists in.

    Reply
  3. Chile’s been rising fast on my list since I learned it was named the world’s most ethical travel destination for 2012. We love South America (heading to Peruvian Amazon in two weeks!), so I’m sure we’ll get there soon enough. Thanks for the story!

    Reply
    • Oh, you’ll love Peru! I haven’t been there yet but everyone raves about it. It’s a pity our paths won’t cross seeing as we’re vaguely in the same area.
      Why don’t you just add a couple of weeks onto the trip and pop down south somewhere? ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  4. Love the photos (and the variety).
    Great shot of Santiago from up the hill.
    I didn’t know they’d painted the houses up near the ex-OZ disco (Bellavista). They look quite good, like a hint of Valparaiso there.
    Thanks for sharing the tip about the Free Tour too.

    Reply
    • Ah, you’re clearly an expert when you know that some houses have been painted ๐Ÿ™‚
      You should check out the free tour sometime, even if you know the city well. There’s sure to be something new that you’ll learn!

      Reply
  5. Looks beautiful! Kinda polluted? Ive actually never been to S. America. Going to Honduras in April, but that’s about all the traveling I’ve done south of the boarder.

    Reply
    • Santiago is actually one of the most-polluted cities in the world because of the way the mountains trap the smog. But I was there in February and that’s supposed to be a really good month. Imagine what it’s like the rest of the time!!

      Reply

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