This capital and largest city of Chile, one of the largest in the Americas, Santiago was founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia in 1541, among villages that had been subject to the Inca Empire. Burned down and almost wiped out just seven months later, the settlement continued to be threatened by Indigenous attacks, earthquakes, and serious flooding, but soon began to grow rapidly. A series of wars between 1810 and 1818 secured Chile's independence from Spain.
Today's downtown core of 19th-century streets, is dotted with neoclassical, art deco, and neo-gothic architecture. Located in the country's central valley, surrounded by vineyards, the city is within a few hours of both the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The recently completed Gran Torre Santiago, with its 300 meter high Sky Costanera observation deck, is the tallest building in Ibero-America - part of the Costanera Center retail, office and hotel complex.
After years in the closet, gay life in Chile’s capital city has come out. The leafy, colonial, muraled streets of the bohemian quarter Bellavista district, over the river from the historic city center, have a cluster of gay and lesbian bars, not far from streets full of restaurants, outdoor terrace cafes, and boutique shops. Another cluster of restaurants line the streets of Barrio Italia, not far away to the south. Gay saunas are located to the west, towards the main train station. An area under the hill topped by a 50-foot statue of the Virgin Mary with outstretched arms, is where men cruise all night long and police turn a blind eye.
Same sex marriage has been legal in Chile since 2015. Compared to the pumping gay nightlife of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, Santiago's scene is a tad smaller, to be sure - mostly on or around Calle Bombero Núñez, and often devoid of outward rainbow/ triangle public identifiers - but it certainly isn't closeted anymore.
Santiago's Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport is about a 30-minute drive west of the city. Tur-Bus has reasonably priced shuttles downtown. Taxis are a bit on the expensive side.
The city’s Metro system is the best way to cover long distances. One of the most modern in Latin America, it has 5 lines, 108 stations, and 103 kilometres of track. See the GoChile website for English-language guides to Santiago public transport. If you’re not going too far, this is a very walkable city.
The Plaza de Armas is the name for the neighborhood surrounding the main square. It’s not one of the prettiest colonial capitals, but it has lots of atmosphere.
Bellas Artes is named for the fine arts museum. It’s an elegant neighborhood with graceful trees and a lovely park called Parque Forestal.
Wedged between San Cristóbal Hill and the Mapocho River, Bellavista is a bohemian enclave with plenty of students, stoners, and gay men. Most of the city’s gay bars and clubs are here.
What to do
Santiago’s annual Orgullo gay pride event takes place on a Saturday in June at Plaza Baquedano. It’s still small, drawing about 2,000 people to what is usually a street party. The Bellavista neighborhood has changed over the years, becoming ever more gay-friendly.
Currency and Money
The Chilean peso is the official currency, using the $ symbol within the country. In 2016-17 the exchange rate has averaged around 650 CLP per US$1. There are ATMs in most downtown neighborhoods, and most businesses accept foreign cards.
Gay Datos guide to the local LGBT scene maps the bars, clubs, restaurants, saunas and lists events for Santiago along with other cities throughout Chile and neighboring countries.
Closet is a digital magazine for the LGTBI community based in Santiago.
Opus Gay has info about the local gay scene in Santiago and elsewhere in Chile.
Movilh, the non-profit and autonomous Homosexual Movement of Integration and Liberation organization has worked since 1991 to defend human rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals. They organize a number of events each year, including the Festival de Cine LGBT Film Festival in October, and the Gay Parade in June.
Vamosgay.com has an LGBTQ guide to Santiago, along with other regional cities, in Brazil, Argentina, and Uraguay.
Amo Santiago is a gay-friendly online lifestyle and arts website with reviews and events listings.
MisterB&B lists 20-plus gay rooms and rentals in Santiago, right where you want to be, at the center of everything, for $20-80 per night.
Bar 105 (Bombero Núñez 105), after dinner/ before the clubs gay lounge, 10pm to midnight Thursday through Saturday Happy Hour drinks, sandwiches, snacks and easy conversations.
Blondie (Av Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins 2879), music zone, alternative/goth nights, live bands/performers, indie, pop, rock, electro music; very mixed young crowd of all genders, and orientations.
Bunker (Bombero Núñez 159, Bellevista/Recoleta), once or twice a month gay theme parties by various promoters; three bars, big dance floor, young gay mix, star DJs. Súper Sábado Barcelona nights. Technically known as Ex-Bunker - but the same thing/place to most people.
Club Ambar (Ernesto Pinto Lagarrigue 154), gay/mixed weekend club, pre-club lounge, dancing until 5am, live Rock, Electronica, Hip Hop, Cumbia and Pop bands/performers, drag shows, theme parties.
Club Burdel (Ernesto Pinto Lagarrigue 282), gay lounge and dance club, drag cabaret/comedy shows, karaoke nights; mini pizzas, empanaditas and snack plates. The former Ignorancia Club location.
Club Divino Santiago (Rte 68, km16, P), west of Santiago, the biggest gay nightclub around, with a young mostly male crowd, sexy gogo dancers, drag, cabaret and comedy shows, singers, plus special theme events and contests. They have a similar club, Divino Viña del Mar at Camino Internacional 537, Reñaca Alto, just north of Valparaíso.
Club Principe (Pio Nono 398), nightly gay bar; weekend club dancing on two floors, four bars, a smokers' patio, sexy bartenders and hot go-go boys.
Dionisio Divas (Bombero Núñez 111), gay cabaret club devoted to drag diva shows and stand-up comedy, with male stripper nights now and then..
Fausto (Av Santa Maria 832), local gay icon for over 30 years, male crowd, dance floor, cruise area, theme events, bear nights, drag shows.
Hangar Bellavista (Santa Filomena 10), Friday and Saturday reggaeton, dance remix, latin pop dance parties, young gay/mixed crowd, performances, foam, contests, theme nights and shows.
Illuminati (Antonia López de Bello 131), Tuesday through Saturday gay alternative dance club, mixed but mostly male.
Nueva Cero (Euclides 1204, Franklin), gay dance and show club, elaborate drag stage productions, men/women mixed local crowd, theme nights.
X Limon (Dardignac 142), every night gay cocktail video bar/ dance club, mojito and caipiriña specialities, young mixed crowd; live performances and DJs play pop to Reggaeton, Old Skool to Gaga.
Mondo Tribal at Espacio 93 (Antonia Lopez de Bello 93; Bellevista/Recoleta) - inactive since June 2017 - monthly Saturday gay dance parties.
CLOSED: Club Instinto (Bombero Nuñez 130), gay/lesbian mixed dance club, drag, comedy, male strippers, men's + women's nights; former Burdel site, now Coco.
Saunas + Sex
Chacabuco 33 (Chacabuco 33), daily 1-9pm gay bathhouse near Metro Estación Central, dry sauna, cabins, barber, internet zone, chillout lounge, and massage services.
Sauna 282 (Bellavista 282), men's dry and steam saunas, Jacuzzis, private cabins, heated pool, movie and porn cinemas, dark room cruising, massage services, cafe.
Il Palatino Spa (Maturana 96), daily 2-11pm, Fridays/Saturdays overnight until 8am, dry and steam saunas, dark room, glory holes, private cabins, video lounge, terrace and cafe.
Santiago still has some old-style straight porn movie theaters where guys of all inclinations get together. These include: Cine Apolo (Diagonal Cervantes 802); Cine Capri (Sto Domingo 834) with lots of men; Cine Nilo (Monjitas 879) with some gay films; and Cine Roxy (Huérfanos 1055), a downtown legend.