Santiago makes a great travel destination, and many people will choose to stay in the city for several days, making trips to the central market, the two iconic hills in the city, as well as the museums, taking long walks, appreciating the architecture and just generally getting the feel for the city.
But after a few days, especially if you’re not used to spending a lot of times in cities, you might want to take a day trip out of Santiago to check out what is nearby. Depending on your tastes, you might like to get up into the steep canyons to the south east of the city, called Cajon de Maipo (ca-HON de maipo). In this area, there are several guided hikes at the Cascada de las Animas, as well as hikes you can go on on your own, particularly from the Baños Morales area which is some 17 km up a dirt road from the last town in the Cajon, which is San Gabriel.
If hiking is not your thing, horseback riding can be arranged from several areas in the Cajon, and there are several cafes to stop at for coffee and kuchen (German-inspired dessert, with a pastry bottom and a fruit top), or many other restaurants to try the pan amasado (a toothsome, kneaded bread), empanadas, and, depending on the season, fresh humitas, which are Chile’s answer to tamales, giant steamed corn cakes in their husks, served with tomato salad.
Flower spotting is excellent here in the springtime and early summer, when the whole ridge opposite the highway turns pink with plum blossom trees, but pretty flowers like these asters can be seen well into February.
If you do decide to go, there are several tour options, or you can take a bus (weekends only) from Estacion Central up Baños Morales, at 7:00 AM, or buses throughout the week to lower areas of the Cajon, and then take a shared taxi up to the Baños Morales, or stop lower in the canyon for snacking, horseback riding, hiking elsewhere or enjoying the plaza in San Jose del Maipo, the largest town in the region, which is still quaint, small, and quiet.
Another good option is to rent a car, at which point you can stop at many points of interest, including an abandoned railroad tunnel on the left side of the road, the spot from which a group of non-Pinochet supporters tried to assassinate the then-leader of Chile (who came into power through a military coup), stop and buy jam, nuts, honey and other delectables by the side of the road, or even take a dip in the Maipo river. Serious cyclists can ride up to the Cajon as well, but it is a long ride from downtown Santiago, and parts of the road are very steep and don’t have a great shoulder. If you are driving, you should take special care to give the cyclists wide berth.