Discover South America: Your Travel Guide to Buenos Aires and Santiago
This year, we have started sailing to sensational South America. With eclectic blends of ancient and modern cultures, diverse landscapes that range from lush rainforests to vast deserts, and some of the world’s most up-and-coming culinary scenes, there so much to discover on this captivating continent!
Many of our upcoming South American voyages begin and end in two incredible capital cities—Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile. If you’ll be embarking on one of these cruises soon, or if you need some solid daydreaming material, we’ve got you covered with helpful travel guides for each city. We’ll show you the best things to see, do, and eat, plus offer some insider tips and shore excursion suggestions.
Your Travel Guide to Buenos Aires
An enchanting blend of grit and glamor, Buenos Aires exudes a slightly faded European flair mixed with fiery Latin passion. Grand squares and opera theatres could have you thinking you’re on the wrong continent, but it won’t take long to discover the vibrant South American essence that permeates the city. We sail up the Rio de la Plata to dock in the heart of Buenos Aires, with the city center just a quick cab ride away. Your taxi will be metered in pesos, but US dollars are widely accepted and most often sought after.
What to See and Do
You could spend your entire stay just wandering the winding cobblestoned streets, but there are some certain neighborhoods that are must-sees. Palermo and Recoleta are on the posh northern side of town, with lavish homes and well-manicured green spaces. Enjoy some Parisian-inspired pastries and coffee at a confiteria, then set out to explore Recoleta Cemetery.
Home to over 6,400 graves and mausoleums, you’ll find dozens of architectural styles from Greek to Baroque—and everything I between. It’s the final resting place of Evita Peron, Argentina’s iconic first lady, plus countless poets, artists, and presidents. Take a map to explore the cemetery’s highlights—it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of marble!
The neighborhoods of La Boca and San Telmo are more working class but offer authentic experiences, and a chance to meet and mingle with famously friendly and chatty Porteños (what BA locals call themselves). These barrios are brimming with brightly painted houses and even more cafes, bars, tango clubs, and markets. The streets around here also boast impressive street art from modern graffiti to eye-catching fileteado. Originated by European immigrants, fileteado is a sign making style utilizing bold colors, bright flowers, and flowing lines.
You can’t leave Buenos Aires without taking in a little tango! It’s synonymous with the city, and sultry 2/4 rhythms emanate from clubs and parks at every turn. Go big with a night out that includes dinner, wine, and a spectacular, show-stopping performance, or for a more low-key experience that offers insight into the dance’s history and etiquette, head for a local milonga. These “dance salons” often allow onlookers to participate, so bring your dancing shoes!
Where to Shop
Speaking of dancing shoes, if you forgot to pack yours there are plenty of places to find authentic leather footwear and goods all around Buenos Aires. It’s widely regarded as the best shopping city in Latin America, so leave some room in your suitcase if this is the final port you visit. For high street fashion, head to the pedestrian street Calle Florida in the heart of the city. If you need to beat the heat, duck into Galeria Mitre—an ornate Baroque masterpiece that’s now home to an air-conditioned, popular Chilean department store.
The Palermo district we mentioned earlier includes an area called Palermo Soho and echoes the atmosphere of its New York namesake, with chic boutiques, trendy wine bars, and an eclectic collection of restaurants. Between Plazas Armenia and Soho, artisan shops selling enviable leather bags and accessories abound, and Plaza Serrano hosts dozens of booths with vendors selling unique handmade items.
What to Eat
Thanks to the cattle boom of the 1880’s that transformed Buenos Aires from a sleepy colonial town into a cosmopolitan marvel, steak reigns supreme. Parrillas (steakhouses) dot almost every street corner—and for good reason. Ranging from street stall to elevated fine dining, the parrilla can be considered the restaurant version of an asado. An authentic culinary and cultural experience, a family asado is an hours-long barbeque session where friends and family gather, and where Malbec and beer flow freely.
There are two particular food items that might not come to mind when you think of Buenos Aires, but trust us, they’re worth seeking out. First up—pizza! Called fugazzeta in these parts, this version is deep pan-style with cheese, caramelized onions, herbs, and olive oil, but no tomato sauce. One unique addition to this dish is faina. It’s a chickpea flour pancake served on top of a slice of fugazzeta. You can never have too many carbs!
Porteños are also crazy about ice cream. Another influence from Italian immigrants in the 19th century, traditional gelato has evolved for distinctively Argentinian tastes. Try the caramel-flavored dulche de leche, or sambayón—egg yolk, milk, and cream infused with wine.
Take note, Argentinians are notoriously late eaters. Dinner often doesn’t start until 10 pm, and many restaurants don’t even open until 8 pm. To tide yourself over, stop in at a wine or cocktail bar around 6 pm for a picada—a meat and cheese plate similar to a charcuterie board. Don’t be afraid to take your time. The Buenos Aires dining experience centers around company and conversation. It’s not uncommon for dinner to last several hours.
Suggested Shore Excursions
With our immersive shore excursions, you can bring this travel guide to life when you visit Buenos Aires. Explore the contrasting Recoleta and San Telmo barrios on a Markets of Buenos Aires Tour, dig into an asado meal at a traditional farmhouse on our Gaucho Lifestyle and Lunch Tour, and soak in the art of tango with wine and dinner on our Rojo Tango Dinner Show by Antique Car evening out.
Your Travel Guide to Santiago
A scenic hour and a half transfer from the port city of San Antonio, Santiago is Chile’s economic, cultural, and political capital. Bounded by the Pacific coast and the Andes, it’s possible to ski and sunbathe all in the same day! But Santiago has more than enough nature, culture, history, and cuisine to fill an entire day—or even a few more before or after your voyage with us. Its climate is akin to the Mediterranean, and its vibrant energy stands out from the stark landscapes most associate with Chile.
What to See and Do
Museums, galleries, and markets make Santiago one of the most dynamic, cosmopolitan destinations in the country. Like Buenos Aires, Santiago is made up of distinct barrios within larger comunas (districts). One of the best? Bellavista. It’s got a cool bohemian feel with unique street art, and plenty of popular cafes, bars, and beer halls. It’s no surprise famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda made his home here. In fact, you can visit his home—La Chascona—while you’re here. Once a hideaway for Neruda and his secret lover, the quirky house is now a museum. Highlighting his love for the sea, the living room is modeled after a lighthouse, and the dining room a ship’s cabin.
From La Chascona, it’s a short walk to the funicular at the base of Cerro San Cristobal. This expansive park is home to a zoo, botanical garden, Japanese garden, dozens of picnic spots, and the best views of the city. Make your way across the park and take the cable car down the other side.
On the other side of the Mapocho river from the park, a treasure trove of museums, galleries, and cathedrals await in the Historico Centro and Lastarria barrios. At the long, narrow Parque Forestal, you’ll find the National Museum of Fine Arts and the Modern Art Museum. Stop at the iconic Plaza de Armas for some prime people-watching, then check out artifacts that predate Egyptian history at the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art.
Where to Shop
For Fifth Avenue-style shopping, head to Alonso de Cordova, a luxury store-lined street in Barrio Vitacura. For authentic Chilean goods, Artesanias de Chile south of Plaza de Armas is the place to go. Shop woodcarvings, organic textiles, ceramics and handmade jewelry, including deep blue lapis lazuli pieces Chile is famous for. Almost all of the proceeds from sales go directly back to local artisans so they can continue traditions and enhance their craft.
Estacion Italia is home to over two dozen intriguing boutiques. You’ll find everything from handcrafted leather shoes to graphic novels to art supplies. After a wine-tasting shore excursion in San Antonio, you’ll want to take some amazing Chilean wines home—and Vinomio is just the ticket. This boutique wine shop has incredible rare selections and very knowledgeable staff. If you’re in Santiago on a Thursday, stop in for a free tasting.
Persa Bio-Bio is a famous flea market that stretches several blocks and is full of vintage finds. It’s a subway or taxi ride away from the heart of the city, but it’s worth the trip—especially for the food!
What to Eat
The food stalls of Persa Bio-Bio are a delicious showcase of popular Chilean food. Empanadas are found throughout South America, and every country has their own variation on what goes into these (usually) savory pastry pockets. In Chile, most empanadas are stuffed with spiced ground beef and onions, plus hard-boiled eggs, olives, and raisins. It sounds like an interesting combination, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the spicy, smoky, salty, sweet flavor!
Other local favorites include anticuchos (grilled meat skewers with chunks of veggies), and mote con huesillo—a half drink, half snack featuring peaches and husked wheat soaking in sweet nectar.
Chile’s diverse landscapes lend to an abundance of delicious ingredients for chefs to draw inspiration from. 4,000 miles of coastline means all kinds of seafood from—seabass to shrimp and octopus—plus, the Patagonia region is famous for its beef and pork. Chile’s temperate climate also offers a cornucopia of fruit and vegetables. Head to La Vega Central Market for a taste of it all.
Santiago’s culinary scene is evolving into one that’s truly unique, and elevated dining experiences offer international flavors and authentic Chilean influences. Peumayen Ancestral Food in Bellavista, incorporates pre-colonial, indigenous ingredients and cooking techniques for an experience that goes beyond a simple dinner. To satisfy any carnivorous cravings, Ox is the place to go. This chic brasserie serves up prime cuts of beef and lamb and an extensive wine selection, plus delectable pasta and seafood.
Suggested Shore Excursions
Chileans are wild about wine, but really, who isn’t? From our entry port of San Antonio, soak in the cuisine and culture of Chile’s native Mapuche people on our Poetic Cuisine and Ancestral Flavors of Chile winery tour. For an experience that blends essences of Napa Valley with traditional Chilean rodeo, set out on our Chilean Traditions: Casablanca Valley & Santiago excursion. On our Santiago Highlights & Curacavi Village excursion, you’ll see the best of the city on a panoramic drive from San Antonio with a stop at a colonial village along the way for wine and empanadas.
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