Don’t sweat a layover in Santiago. There’s plenty to do.
Travelers on a round-the-world ticket, people travelling within Chile and other creative frequent flier mile users may find themselves in Santiago’s airport with a little time on their hands. Not to despair! The Santiago airport will keep you online, well-fed and shopped while you wait. And if you want to get out on the town, the airport has great access to the city on any budget, so you can do that, too.
Getting the lay of the land
Like many airports, SCL is divided into the national and international sections. But even before you go through security, there are a number of restaurants, cafés, a convenience store, and most importantly, free samples of Britt chocolate-covered fruit and coffee beans (careful with those, they pack a punch) at Rumbo Sur to snack on.
Before you go through security on either side, from the departure level you can walk up the stairs to have a vaguely diner-style meal at Gatsby’s, or head down to the arrivals section for great Chilean café fare and light meals at the airport location of Le Fournil. After you go through International Police and Security, there is another Gatsby (but it doesn’t have as good a selection), Dunkin Donuts, another café, and Ruby Tuesday’s.
There’s a Starbucks on the international side, as well as a Boost smoothie shop where you can get a spirulina smoothie or go a little more mainstream with my favorite, the mango soy smoothie. It’s close to the Havanna (Argentine) sweets shop, which isn’t a bad place to buy a souvenir either.
Need WiFi? We’ve got that, and free. In addition to all of the restaurants (including the Dunkin Donuts and Ruby Tuesday’s in the international terminal), there is also wifi throughout the airport. Your biggest problem may be getting juice for your computer, but there is a travel accessory store called Fotokina on the departure level over by the restrooms that has any and all converters you might need.
The international side has the best shopping, with lapiz lazuli jewelry at center stage at stores like Gundert and Piedra Linda. Also, should you have access to the duty free shop, there are some wines and piscos that don’t often make it into the rest of the shops that are worth checking out, and La Vinoteca also has an outlet here, where the salespeople are quite knowlegeable about wines.
If you leave
If you’re not up for a long wait in the airport, there are several easy ways to get into the city, none of which should take more than a half hour, and cost between $2 and $25, depending on which you take and where you want to go. The cheapest option is the CentroPuerto bus, at about $2, which leaves you very centrally, near the the Los Heroes metro. A shared ride to the same area will cost about $15, and a private taxi will run about $25.
What to see
If you start near Los Heroes or La Moneda metro, you’re close to La Moneda (the presidential palace) with its cultural center and museum below and the PreColumbian art museum, and a slightly longer walk from the Mercado Central, where you can try local Chilean fish specialties such as caldillo de congrio (a brothy fish soup) or pastel de jaiva (a sinfully creamy rich crab bisque/stew).
If you need to stretch your legs, you might consider a quick trip up Cerro San Cristobal, a hill in the center of the city with loads of gardens, vistas and the best mote con huesillo (a traditional drink of stewed peaches and wheat kernels in a sweet peach punch) in town. For more details on Cerro San Cristobal, see here where we featured it as a $5 cultural attraction, or if you get lucky enough that your visit coincides with the sunset, be sure to catch it from up there for some spectacular scenery.
A quick warning
And if you’ll be entering Chile and leaving the airport, make sure you read these tips on not running afoul of the strict animal and plant product importation laws. Also, be sure to plan for traffic on the way back. The best way to beat the traffic is to take the metro to Pajaritos and take the CentroPuerto bus from there. It cuts out a bit of the heavy traffic on the return trip in case you coincide with rush hour.