With hills and mountains abound, Chile’s capital is filled with opportunities for great views. I’ll cover three of the must-see views in Santiago- San Cristóbal (the hill), Santa Lucía (the rock) and Sky Costanera (the building)- and why you should visit all of them.
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Spanish Vocab Lesson: What is a cerro?
Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of must-see views in Santiago, let’s start with the basics. If you’ve looked at a map of Santiago, chances are you’ve seen the word “cerro”.
Cerro means hill in Spanish.
It can also mean mountain, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll use cerro to describe hills. Santiago is filled with cerros of varying sizes popping up throughout the city.
The Hill: San Cristóbal
Cerro San Cristóbal is traditionally the most popular viewpoint in Santiago. You know that picture you see of the white Virgin Mary statue? That’s on San Cristóbal.
San Cristóbal makes up part of Santiago’s larger Parquemet- aka the “green lung” of Santiago for being the largest green area in the city. You can easily turn a trip to San Cristóbal into a half or full day excursion by visiting the entire park. I highly recommend that you do because you’ll get many incredible viewpoints of the city! You can also get to the Sky Costanera and Cerro Santa Lucía from there; I’ll describe the best route to do so at the end of this post.
How to get to San Cristóbal
There are two main entrances- the Bellavista district, where the funicular is, or the Providencia district, where the cable car is located. I did the Bellavista to Providencia route, so for the purpose of this post, that’s the order I’ll talk about. But you can just as easily do the route in reverse. Either way, make sure you take the time to see both sides, as they each offer must-see views in Santiago!
Taking the metro to Bellavista (Funicular entrance)
If the entrance to San Cristóbal isn’t within walking distance to where you’re staying, you can take the metro to the Baquedano station. This will get you to the Bellavista district, where you’ll find the entrance to the funicular (called the “Pío Nono” access point).
When you get off at Baquedano, look up and walk towards the hill. You’ll need to cross the nearby bridge. Then, walk straight down that road until you arrive to the entrance. It won’t take you more than 10 minutes.
You can also take the metro to get to the Providencia district, where the cable car entrance is located. However, the walk is a bit longer and isn’t quite as straightforward.
Ways to get to the top of San Cristóbal
Upon your arrival to the Pío Nono entrance, you have a variety of options to choose from to get to San Cristóbal- by foot, bike, car or funicular. Since I was itching to hike, I choose to go by foot. However, the funicular is the most popular option for tourists. If you’re interested in exploring the entire park, consider renting a car since there’s so much ground to cover.
All about the San Cristóbal Funicular
The funicular makes one stop along the way to the national zoo. The ticket to the zoo is extra, so no need to get off unless you intend on entering.
The funicular operating hours vary depending on the day of week, holidays, and time of year. Generally speaking, the funicular starts running at 10:00am. Mondays have reduced hours.
The price chart can be a headache to decipher since it depends on whether you’ll be taking the funicular one way or round trip, whether you’ll be combining it with the cable car and whether that cable car ride will be one way or round trip. Is your head spinning yet?
My recommendation is to tell the ticket issuer the route you want to take and have them calculate the price.
Child and senior prices are available.
As is typical for Chile, prices aren’t cheap, but this particular one won’t break the bank for being a tourist activity. Their website is in Spanish, but if you want to give it a go, you can take a look at prices and hours on the Funicular Santiago’s website. “Cumbre” refers to the cable car station in the Providencia district.
You can also purchase tickets for the funicular at the top of San Cristóbal (same goes for the cable car tickets). So, if you want to walk to the top but decide that you’d rather catch the funicular or cable car down, the option is yours for the taking.
Speaking of walking…
How to walk to San Cristóbal
I decided to walk to San Cristóbal as part of my quest to visit the must-see views in Santiago. It was a sweltering 95 degree, summer day! Not my finest choice at the time, but afterward, I was glad I did it.
The walk took me about 40 minutes from the entrance of Pío Nono. That involved some much needed stops under the sparse areas of shade along the path. If it had been cooler outside, I easily could have shaved 10 minutes off that time.
The walk begins along the road on the left hand side of the funicular. If you’re unsure, follow the “Cumbre San Cristóbal” signs.
Here’s the tricky part- you need to keep an eye out for a sign that says “Zorro Vidal,” which points up towards a set of stairs. Veer off here and continue your hike. Otherwise, you’ll follow the road that cars and bikers use, which is a much longer route…unless that’s what you’re going for!
Along the way, you’ll have plenty of views of the city. The path is made up of loose dirt, so if you’re there when it’s dry, be prepared to get covered in a healthy dose of dust.
Make sure to bring a water bottle with you. A great thing about Parquemet is that there are periodic water fill stations around. I came across two on this particular walk.
What to do when you reach the top of San Cristóbal
Whether you walk or take the funicular (or the cable car if you traveled from Providencia), you’re pretty much going to land in the same area.
From there, just walk up.
There will be a few different paths, but the end result is the same- stairs that lead up to the Santuario de la Inmaculada Concepción statue. You can even take a peek inside the statue.
One thing I noticed is that despite the “No talking” signs, there was a lot of chatter around the statue. Remember, this is first and foremost a religious site. Respect the no talking signs and save your conversations for below.
The views are nice, but I was surprised that they are only partial, due to the stairs only going halfway around the statue. I found the views to be just as good below the base of the statue and I especially enjoyed the view of the Costanera building from the cable car entrance area.
Taking the cable car from San Cristóbal
Although the focus of this section is on San Cristóbal, in reality, the entire Parquemet park offers opportunities for incredible- and quite possibly more unique- views of Santiago.
I highly recommend combining your visit to San Cristóbal with a cable car ride. The ride lasts just under 15 minutes and includes a stop at the Centenario section of the park. Get off here and you’ll be greeted by a gigantic public swimming pool and the Centenario Plaza, where you can have a view of the Costanera building with palm trees in the foreground. For me, this area offers one of the most unique must-see views in Santiago!
Once you get off the cable car, you’ll be in the Providencia district. From there, it’s a 10 – 15 minute walk to the Costanera Center, as well as the two closest metro stations- Tobalaba and Los Leones.
I’ll let you in on a little secret- I enjoyed the views from the cable car more than from San Cristóbal! There’s just something about having unobstructed views of the Costanera building that I can’t get enough of.
San Cristóbal Conclusion
To get the most out of your experience, I recommend visiting San Cristóbal as a three-part phase.
- Take the funicular or walk up to San Cristóbal
- Spend time at the top of San Cristóbal
- Take the cable car from San Cristóbal to Providencia
Or, do this in reverse. Either way, San Cristóbal is step number two and a good starting point for visiting the must-see views in Santiago.
The Rock: Santa Lucía
Even though San Cristóbal is arguably the most popular must-see view in Santiago, my personal favorite is Cerro Santa Lucía.
Santa Lucía is much smaller than San Cristóbal, yet walking through it will make you feel like you’re worlds away from the city. With trees and grassy parks abound, it’s easy to mistake Santa Lucía for being an earthy hill.
Fun fact- it’s actually one large rock!
Entering Santa Lucía
There are a couple of entrance points to hike up to the top of Santa Lucía, but the main one is located by the “Santa Lucía” metro station. The entrance alone is pretty, so I recommend aiming to start from there.
The entrance is controlled with a sign-in sheet. It seems that the sign-in sheet is more for the purpose of tallying the number of people entering the park versus checking to make sure everyone exits okay. It’s easy enough to (accidentally) skip right by it, if other people are congregated around the small table.
Entrance is free, so the sheet just asks for your name, time, where you’re from and how many people are with you. Only one person per group needs to sign in.
Santa Lucía has a romantic feel to it and for good reason. Traditionally, the hill was an escape for lovers to hide out when skipping school. This practice still happens today. But, school aside, it’s common to see the young, and young at heart, cuddled up throughout the hill.
What to do at Santa Lucía
You may feel bewildered when you start walking around Santa Lucía. There are paths that lead to nowhere and paths that lead to plazas, parks and…more paths. For such a tiny area, it’s full of places to explore!
Since your primary goal is to visit the must-see views in Santiago, my advice is to just go up. Any upward path will eventually, somehow, take you to the tiny lookout point at the top of the rock.
To remove any doubt, this is what you’re looking for:
Walking from the base of Santa Lucía to the very top will take you 15 – 20 minutes max. That includes time to get a little lost and taking things at a slow pace.
Aside from enjoying the views at the top of Santa Lucía, make sure to walk around and explore the different plazas. There are a few vendors scattered about where you can grab a snack as you wander.
How to Prepare for Santa Lucía
Another fun fact about Santa Lucía- the rock used to be a former Inca territory!
As such, the steps leading up to the viewpoint were designed for tiny feet. You’ll have to walk sideways on some of them.
They’re also slippery.
Make sure to come equipped with footwear with a good grip. I went to Santa Lucía during Santiago’s dry summer and can’t imagine how slippery the steps would be on a rainy day. Unlike San Cristóbal, walking is the only option to arrive to the top of Santa Lucía.
If you’re visiting Santa Lucía on a sunny day, take care with the iron railings. You’ll be tempted to grab them to help you balance on those slippery steps, but they get painfully hot!
How much time to spend at Santa Lucía
You won’t need to allow much time for this visit as 30 – 60 minutes is plenty, depending on how much exploring you do outside of the viewpoint.
Since you’ll be in the Santa Lucía area, make sure to check out the neighboring Lastarria and Bellas Artes districts. You can easily turn your Santa Lucía trip into a half or full day event with a visit to these spots.
Travel Tip: Even if you travel to Santiago in the summer, you’ll still be able to get a glimpse of some snowy mountains. Thanks to its high elevation, Cerro El Plomo has snow-capped peaks year round.
The Building: Sky Costanera
It’s time to set nature aside for a moment.
The Sky Costanera is the topmost part of the Costanera Center building complex. Simply referred to as “Costanera” by locals, the building is truly a sight to see and is the final step in your journey of visiting the three must-see views in Santiago.
The Costanera Center is located in the Providencia district.
It should. This is where the Cumbre cable car station is located to get up to San Cristóbal.
Not only will you be able to get 360-degree views of Santiago from the Sky Costanera, but those views will be from the highest building in all of Latin America. At over 900 feet tall, the Sky Costanera is about the same height as the Eiffel Tower. Talk about a must-see view in Santiago!
Now that I’ve piqued your interest, let’s get into the details.
How to get to the Sky Costanera
If you’re coming from Parquemet, hop on the cable car and walk 10 – 15 minutes to the Costanera Center. It’s not hard to find- just walk towards the tallest building you see.
Alternatively, you can take the metro to Tobalaba. Again, just look for the tallest building you see and walk towards it.
When you arrive to the Costanera Center, do as I didn’t. Like me, you may be tempted to open the door that leads to the tall tower.
That is not a public entrance and you’ll quickly be shooed out.
Instead, head around the side to the shorter building, which is the public entrance to the Costanera Center complex. It also happens to be one of the biggest malls you’ve likely encountered. There will be lots of people flowing in and out of the door, so you’ll know you’re in the right place.
It feels counterintuitive, but you’ll need to go inside the mall in order to take the elevator to get to the Sky Costanera.
How to take the elevator to the Sky Costanera
With six stories, plus a ground floor, you’ll likely be in awe when you walk into the mall. In order to get to Sky Costanera, you’ll need to go to the Planta Baja- aka PB, aka ground floor. Simply take the escalator down one floor and look for the Sky Costanera signs.
This is what you’re looking for:
All you need to know about the Sky Costanera elevator
The Sky Costanera is open every day of the year from 10:00am – 10:00pm, holidays included. Just make sure you’re on the elevator going up by 9:00pm, since it stops running after that time.
The elevator runs every 10 minutes and, in my case, took us up to the 62nd floor in less than one minute (although their website says in two minutes). I was surprised that there wasn’t a line for the elevator on a summer Saturday afternoon. Then again, the hefty 15,000 peso price for adults may have something to do with it…
The ride was quick and smooth. Aside from my ears popping, there was no other indication that we were barreling up the building. They have a staff member that rides on the elevator who gives a nice little summary- but only in Spanish- about the experience.
What to do once you’re at the top of the Sky Costanera
You’ve made it to the 62nd floor, hooray!
Try not to block everyone getting off the elevator as you gawk at your first sights of the view and the sky high (pun intended) ceiling.
Whether you go clockwise or counterclockwise it doesn’t matter, just enjoy the 360-degree stroll around the building. They have seats to sit and enjoy the views and even free WiFi, in case you can’t wait to post your pictures to social media until you’re home.
They also have facts about different buildings and mountain ranges around the city written on the walls.
For those who get dizzy easily, rest easy. If you’re standing even a few feet back from the windows, you won’t feel that you’re as high as you really are. Plus, the 62nd floor is completely enclosed.
To get up to the 63rd floor, which is the very highest floor of the Costanera, you’ll need to take the escalator up (located on the opposite side of the elevator). The 63rd floor offers a unique sensation because the walls are high, making you feel like you’re indoors, but the roof is open, allowing whatever weather to come in (in my case, a 95 degree, summer day).
People were comfortably spread out on the 62nd floor, so it didn’t feel crowded. At one point, on the 63rd floor, I was the only one there!
Don’t expect any spectacular new viewpoints by going up a floor. Nevertheless, make sure to pay the 63rd floor a visit. After all, can you really say that you visited the Sky Costanera if you didn’t go to the top floor?
When you’ve finished your visit and take the elevator down, you’ll be dropped off on the 5th floor of the mall where the food court is located. My guess is that people spend an average of 20 – 30 minutes, once at the top of the Sky Costanera, although you could certainly spend more or less time, depending on your pace.
Visiting All 3 Must-See Views in Santiago in a Day
If you’re looking to pack San Cristóbal, Santa Lucía, and the Sky Costanera into one day so that you have time to spend in other parts of Santiago or Valparaíso, it’s easy to do! Here is my recommendation:
- Start with a visit to Santa Lucía. Remember, if you’re not within walking distance, you can take the metro to the “Santa Lucía” metro station.
- Next, head to San Cristóbal. Walk (around 20 minutes) or take the metro to the Baquedano station. I highly recommend walking so that you can explore the colorful Bellavista district along the way.
- Take the cable car from San Cristóbal to Providencia and walk to the Sky Costanera. If you take your day at a leisurely enough pace, you’ll arrive at the top for sunset!
San Cristóbal, Santa Lucía, and the Sky Costanera are among the best places to get must-see views in Santiago. Do you have any Santiago viewpoint favorites? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.